Is Evernote Still the Best?
Will It Ever Be Again?
About three months ago, I wrote an article entitled, Why I Think Evernote Is Still the Best. It was (and still is) a very popular article, and I got mostly positive feedback.
So what happened to Evernote?
It’s hard to say. Hubris? Arrogance? Or an honest attempt to improve a legacy app and bring it into line with the competition.
A few days ago, Evernote made available version 10 of its popular note-taking app. The release was met with everything from wild applause to outright disgust and hatred. Why the disparity? Well, for one thing, there are many different types of users out there. People that actually use it as a simple note-taking app were probably pleased. It had a more modern, cleaner look and, of course, it took notes. But many of us that have been using it for a long time, ten years in my case, used it for much more. We used it for what it was truly designed for, a document storage and retrieval system. Sure, some of those documents were simple notes we type on the fly. But many of us used it as a full-fledged paperless environment.
And at that, it excelled. This new app, not so much.
As I said in the other article, I occasionally go out and try the competition. In my mind, that is primarily Notion, OneNote, and Nimbus Notes. There are others, including relative newcomers like Roam Research and Joplin, but they didn’t really click with me. A lot of people are excited about Roam, especially backlinks, which apparently, Notion now has. But, I’m not sure what that even means, so I wasn’t as attracted to it. I’ve never gotten up in the morning, poured some 2% milk over a heaping bowl of Post Toasties, and said, “Man, if only I had me some backlinks.”
So, for various reasons, those three were the ones I focused on. The problem is, they just didn’t have key features that I relied on in Evernote. For me, the most important of these and a deal-breaker was the input folder. None of the others had it, so I stuck with Evernote. Now, they’ve taken it away.
The input folder is a simple concept but was vital in my workflow. Any file that got put into a particular folder on my hard drive was automatically and immediately uploaded into Evernote. Apparently, this is a Windows-only feature, so maybe Mac users aren’t as disappointed as I am. (That’s not the case as apparently, the new IOS apps are a disaster also). But it has been my primary way of getting data into Evernote for years. Email attachments get saved into that folder. Everything I scan goes directly into that folder.
But here’s the thing that I think has everyone so upset. For ten years, there has been a feature request section in the Evernote forum. And long term users have requested a lot of things. Several of those things were extremely popular and asked for a multitude of times. Then two years ago, Ian Smalls, the new boss, began working on a new version of Evernote that was going to be better and faster. That app was finally released into a closed and then an open beta. During the beta process, veteran users made suggestions and requested changes and features.
Almost everything people have been asking for from the early days of the forum right up through the public beta was ignored. But that’s not the worst of it. They not only didn’t add much new stuff, they took away a lot of the old stuff. Like the input folder. For me, the main differentiating feature between it and the competition was now gone. They also broke or removed other features that have users up in arms.
To be fair, Evernote is trying to explain what it did and why. They needed to get the platform pared back to common ground so that all systems’ development could proceed on a level playing field. The problem is that all Operating Sytems aren’t the same. What’s easy in one system is problematic in another and vice versa. So they had to get down to the least common denominators. Least being the operative word. Now they can build and move forward.
But the problem with that is, it took two years to get here. Two years! And this is the result. So, how long do we have to wait for missing features to be returned if they ever will be, much less the ones we’ve been clamoring for the last decade.
So now, the forums are full of three basic camps. Long-time users who are pissed, canceling their premium subscriptions and jumping ship, cooler heads with a wait and see what happens attitude, and the people who think everything is fine and the new version works great. I suspect that the last group has only used a small set of Evernotes power, and thus, nothing has changed.
For people in the second group, the legacy version still works and can even be installed side-by-side with the new version. Side note, the legacy version is 6x — they jumped all the way to 10 for some reason, most likely marketing.
Then, there is the first group. They are angry, they are vocal, and they are leaving. They are all over the forums, including Evernote’s own, discussing what they are moving to and how. I have no idea what percentage of users are in each group, but the first is the most vocal. And most of them are long-time premium subscribers. I suspect most of the third group are free users.
I fall squarely astride the first two. Wait and see or taking action sound like two separate things, but you can do both. I’m not deleting my account or canceling my subscription yet. (Easy for me to say because I’m only six months into my last payment) So, I will keep checking on the new app and watching the forums in hopes they can fix this mess.
But I’m not standing around either. First, I finally jumped into my long-time planned, never executed process of cleaning up Evernote. The beauty of Evernote used to be the ease of getting stuff in, but that also led to getting a lot of things in that didn’t really need to be. Also, a lot of stuff should have had a short shelf life that’s still sitting around. Because, why not?
So, I’m not done, but I’ve paired by 12K notes in half. First, using their import process, I put a copy of everything into OneNote. More on that later. Now, I had a backup of everything. Being an Office 365 subscriber, I have 1Tb storage there, so that just made sense.
Next, I purged all old and archival notebooks from Evernote. That took care of about 25% of my total volume without impacting my day to day use at all. I hadn’t referenced most of that stuff in years, and I had the copy in OneNote if needed. Next, I did a quick scroll through, deleting things that are no longer relevant. I also got rid of most forwarded email. Months ago, I decided to start using my email system to organize my email, only sending to Evernote things that had long-term relevance and use, or those things I didn’t want to lose track of.
Finally, I spent time in each notebook, scanning each note and deciding two things, do I need this and where and how would I use it.
That is where I began my evaluation process of an Evernote replacement. Again the three I looked at were Notion, Nimbus, and OneNote. Apparently, there has to be a capital N in the name for me to consider it. Back about the time I wrote the previous article, I began building systems in Notion. They had improved their free plan, as opposed to Evernote, who crippled theirs. I wasn’t looking at replacing Evernote at that time, but Notion is just better at some stuff, and I wanted to take advantage of those features. A few things, such as books, movies, and recipes, got copied from Evernote to Notion with the intention of those things getting permanently ported over.
I had an account at Nimbus from evaluating them a couple of years ago. It also had a copy of my Evernote data as it existed at that time. For anyone unfamiliar, if you are looking for an Evernote replacement and you don’t want the pain of learning a completely new system, Nimbus Notes is your guy. It’s very similar but has added a lot of the features people have wanted in Evernote. They have also added many features that attract people to Notion.
And of course, I had a copy of OneNote/OneDrive from being a Microsoft customer.
So, as I evaluated each notebook in Evernote and continued to purge things that weren’t current, I also began porting them to all three. I wanted to do some real-life testing of the three systems and see which one(s) I might want to move to. The import methods are fast and straightforward; either point to a notebook in Evernote or export a notebook as an .enex file and import that. Of course, you can import your entire Evernote, but except for a quick archival copy like I did, I wouldn’t recommend it.
I’ve only been at this for a few days but wanted to give you my impressions so far. Before I delve into the individual programs, I should let you know a couple of things. I am a Windows/Android user. Second, concerning Android. All three have Android apps, and before I got much further, I wanted to test their search capabilities. That’s how I use Evernote 90% of the time on the Android. I think of something, I search for it, and find it quickly. The good news is, all three performed just as well. Nimbus had a slight edge, but from touching the icon, typing in a search term, to seeing the results, all apps worked in 15–20s. I’ve read horrible things about Notion, and it used to be worse, but whether it’s because of their recent update or my new phone, it was just as speedy as the rest.
I probably have the most experience with Notion. I won’t go into a ton of detail here, but there are links below to articles I have written about it. It’s like Evernote as it has notebooks down the left. The big difference is that these are all pages, which you may think equates to notes in Evernote. But each page can contain any number of other pages nested as deep as you want. And each page is also a database, which can be viewed in a myriad of ways.
The ability to store your data in different formats, slice and dice it any way you want, and display it any way you want is the strength and weakness of Notion. Many people use Legos as a metaphor for Notion. The problem with that is, everybody knows what to do with Legos. With Notion, you are given a pile of Legos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, an erector set, and the transmission from a ’57 Chevy. And a blank page. If you are confused, read my other articles.
Notion is also a program I am likely to continue using no matter which of the others I go with, except maybe Nimbus. The databases and the graphical nature lends itself to certain types of data. If you check videos on Youtube, you will find people that tout doing everything in Notion and those that say it’s only suitable for a couple of things. I think it’s somewhere in between those extremes.
They have upped the game on their free plan so that it will work for most people.
You’ll need to decide for yourself.
If Evernote weren’t already using it as a logo, I would call OneNote the elephant in the room. After all, it’s Microsoft, the biggest behemoth on the planet. I tested the 2016 version of the desktop software, which leads to one of my problems with OneNote. All of these apps have a web and a desktop version. And for the most part, except for the legacy Evernote app, they are similar. With OneNote, not so much. Which one should you use? Well, it depends. 2016 had more features and a more familiar feel to long time Microsoft users. But they are going to get rid of it. No, they aren’t. Yes, they are. Maybe. It’s Microsoft.
Another problem I have with OneNote is where your stuff is stored. Some of it is in OneNote, some of it is in OneDrive, some of it is in both. Some you can decide where and some you can’t. It’s Microsoft. This dual existence of data probably leads to my biggest problem with OneNote, syncing. Some stuff syncs; some don’t. I’ve imported all folders from Evernote into OneNote the exact same way. Some appear, some don’t. Some I find in the Android app, but not in the Windows desktop app. Most appear automatically, some only if I do an Open File operation. It’s Microsoft.
The thing I liked about OneNote when I first saw it and still do is their notebook, section, page hierarchy. I could get used to that. One side note, when you import from Evernote, it will try and take advantage of that structure. Each notebook will be a notebook, but all the notes will be scattered across sections 100 at a time. You’ll have to fix that yourself.
Since I am an Office365 subscriber, I get 1Tb of storage, which I am hardly using. So, if OneNote worked and did so easily, it would probably win the day. I know many people use it and love it, but you will also find many people complain about the flaky syncing, so, other than archival storage, it’s probably a non-starter.
Free, but with limited data unless you have an Office subscription.
Who? Not many people have heard of them, and I guess I blame their marketing for this. Although they have a U.S. address, Nimbus is actually a Russian company. Many people seem to have a problem with that, but those people should take a deep dive into the history of Evernote.
What they do have is a very active and responsive development team. Their support is also top-notch, quick, and responsive. I am getting some quirky results with my Evernote imports here as well, but not near as many as in OneNote. And, like I told their support person who got back to me within a few hours (impressive considering the time difference), it’s working well enough that I’m not going to spend a lot of time troubleshooting. After all, it’s a one-time thing.
Those looking for something that works closest to Evernote should definitely take a look. It has a similar structure, except you can nest as deep as you want to. It also brought across my tags, but I don’t use tags that much, so I can’t address them here. Nimbus also has many features available in Notion, such as markdown, blocks, and tables/databases. The tables operate very similarly to Notion’s, but I haven’t dug into relationships and views.
Nimbus is the one if you are looking for something similar to what you are used to with a responsive and agile development crew.
A limited free plan, but an annual fee about half of Evernote’s and a month to month plan. They will also work with you on their 30-day trial, making sure you have the time and data to port everything from Evernote, after which the free plan may be good enough.
I am going to continue doing the following for the near future.
- Monitor Evernote and see if they can right the ship. I don’t know if they can keep my data, but I’m pretty sure they won’t get more of my money.
- Move things into and use Notion for areas in which it excels.
- Continue evaluating all four products and settle on the platform(s) by the end of the year.