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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Evernote Review (Part 1)

Part 1: Introduction

Evernote: one account, many devices.
(image courtesy of
What is Evernote? Evernote is a cross platform (windows, macintosh, iphone/ipad, android and browser based) application that replaces the traditional pen and paper note taking process. Notes consist of text, lists, hyperlinks, attachments (pictures, video/sound clips, text files, pdfs, sketches), etc., and are stored in the cloud.

The power of Evernote is the ease of access to these notes (apps on any platform) and the organization of all these individual notes. Notes can be organized into notebooks and notebooks can be organized into stacks. Notes can be tagged with keywords and are fully searchable.

In this article, I plan on reviewing the features of Evernote and why everyone should use it (or possibly one of its competitors). I will then follow up in Part 2 with some of my personal uses of Evernote and in Part 3 with how I use Evernote in the work environment.

Searching, Tagging, Notebooks and Stacks

Evernote makes every note searchable. Its search crawling bot even crawls pictures and pdfs, allowing you to search the text of attachments. This allows you to take a picture of a business card or a favorite product label and be able to fully search the image contents.

Notes are organized in notebooks, and notebooks are organized into stacks. Evernote also let's you tag notes. Tags let you organize notes in a less restrictive manner. Tags can be used to organized within a notebook or across notebooks.

For example:

  • Note 1 could be in notebook A but tagged X. 
  • Note 2 is also in notebook A but tagged Y. 
  • Note 3 is in notebook B but tagged X. 
  • When you pull up notebook A, you will see note 1 and 2. 
  • When you search for the tag X you will see Note 1 and 3. 
  • You could also have 10 notes in notebook A, half tagged X and half tagged Y. 

A word of caution. Use tagging sparingly at first. I found I tried tagging everything with a keyword, but what is the point of that when your text is searchable? It should be used as an organization tool.

Don't tag one time events. Don't tag notes with the name of the notebook or the note name. Evernote makes everything searchable, so don't go overboard with tags. Try to use tags as an organizational method; they should be used to cluster notes in the same way that you cluster notes in a notebook.

A couple examples of how to use tags:

  1. In my cookbook notebook I tag my recipes with main, dessert, cookies, holiday, bread, etc. 
  2. In my professional notebook, I tag notes regarding domestic drinking water with "water." Water may be too vague to be a keyword to search for, but as a tag I know exactly what I was thinking when I tagged it. When I look at my notes tagged "water," I know it will pull up some notes regarding pricing for water pipe, design notes, water district jurisdictions, etc. What it won't pull up is storm water or waste water information.

Create a Table of Contents

A new feature that I just discovered is the ability to create a table of contents. Simply right click a note, select "copy note link" and paste the link into another note.  This gives you another option for organizing your notes.  Read more from this Evernote blog post.

Cloud Storage

It seems like everything is moving towards cloud storage these days. We may have started by storing our photos online, but now it seems like you can store everything online. From documents, photos, music and videos, everything seems to be going to the clouds.

I recently bought a Chromebook which is nothing but an access point to the internet and cloud storage. Evernote stores your notes in the cloud. This is a benefit as unlike a physical notebook or documents that are stored on a computer, your cloud stored notes are accessible from multiple devices and are secure.

Your physical notebook could get misplaced, lost or stolen. Your computer could crash or get a virus. Evernote is safe.

When reading reviews of Evernote, I have seen many people concerned about the security and ownership of your cloud stored notes. Here are some posts to alleviate your concerns. From the Evernote Blog:
"Evernote has grown amazingly fast in recent months. It feels like we’re getting closer and closer to fulfilling our goal of being the permanent, trusted and ubiquitous place for all the world’s memories. Each of those words is very important to us, so I thought this was a good time to clearly spell out our core guiding principles for how we treat your data. 
"Everything we do at Evernote follows these three basic rules: Your Data is Yours, Your Data is Protected, Your Data is Portable."
Read the full blog post here. Another blogger, Michael Hyatt, discusses Evernote security here.

Why not just a word processor or Google Docs?

image courtesy of
Most of your notes could be written with just a word processor or, better yet, Google docs. However, the interface with Evernote, especially the mobile apps, is superior for quick note taking. If collaboration is desired and/or a more adept desktop word processor, then Google docs would be my recommendation.

Evernote does have a share feature, however the premium version needs to be purchased for true collaboration. Evernote has a great organization structure, searching and tagging system, while notes stored on a computer or in Google docs might get lost in clutter.

I find that Evernote is a very handy tool, but it also does not replace a traditional word processor. Each has its own pros and cons and are more relevant for different tasks. I find that Evernote is more handy for storing quick notes and making them more readily accessible than a word processor or Google docs. For more complicated writing, I find that Evernote is excellent for brainstorming, researching, outlining, and even rough drafting.

Evernote does not replace a traditional word processor. A computer based word processor or Google Docs excels in formatting and editing and polishing your writing. Google Docs excels in collaborative writing. To each their own.

Additional Features Available

Here are some additional features I find helpful.
Evernote Clearly
Evernote Clearly transforms cluttered, ad-ridden
websites into a more readible format. After converting
the page, save to Evernote.
  • Webclipper - I use the Chrome webclipper. At first I thought the webclipper was absolutely useless, until I realized the best way to use the clipper is to highlight what you want, then click either the icon or right click and send to Evernote. Otherwise trying to select afterwards with the arrows is impossible.

    I also sometimes just want the URL and an image, so I copy the URL, then right click the image, then select the option to send just the picture to Evernote. Evernote auto fills in the URL as the URL for the image, so I delete this and replace with the URL for the website. I then type up my notes regarding the image.

  • Evernote Clearly - Get this extension for Chrome! Especially if you like clipping articles. This cleans up the page, stripping navigation, ads, etc, but maintains the actual content of the article. Then you click the share to Evernote button and it saves the whole article to Evernote. A very nice improvement for your webclipping experience!

  • Skitch - This is great for annotating screen captures on your phone/tablet. I've used this to annotate a screen capture from Google maps, then sent it via text message to a friend.  Update: This must have been a common use, so they now have an integrated maps feature in Skitch. It is also now available on Macs.

  • Dolphin Evernote and Skitch plug in - I use the Dolphin browser on my Android devices.  I find the best thing to do is to highlight what you want to clip, then select the share feature and just share it to Evernote. The plugin can be used to grab the whole article (minus pictures), but I find that it tends to collect too much irrelevant text.  I wish there was an Evernote Clearly for Android.

Emailing to Evernote

Click to Enlarge
Emailing to Evernote. Click to enlarge.
(image courtesy of
Find your email address under your account settings. It will be a randomized email address based on your user name and some numbers. This is to avoid others from spamming the email address and sending garbage to your notebooks. If you ever find that you get spam to this email address, there is a button to generate a new email address.

You can send emails to specific notebooks with tags with a note name. Here is how:
  • Note Name = Subject

  • Notebook: Add @[notebook name] to the end of the subject line. Name can be multiple words. Has to be an existing notebook.

  • Tag: Add #[tag name] at the end of the subject line. This feature works with existing tags in your account. Use a hash tag at the beginning of each new tag.

  • Be sure to follow this order: subject = note name @notebook name #tag1 #tag2

Example subject line: Recipe for Bouillabaisse @Yummy Recipes #soup #fish #french

Here is a more detailed explanation from the Evernote team.

Even More Additional Features: the Evernote Trunk

Check out the Evernote trunk! The trunk features some great third party apps that work side by side with Evernote.  Apps are available for desktops, browsers and mobile devices. The mobile section favors iPhones and iPads, which is unfortunate, but I'm sure once Android tablets gain more traction the Android apps will catch up. They also list hardware for purchase and books. Here is an example of what the trunk has to offer:
  • Document Scanners - turn your android or iphone device into a document scanner or purchase a document scanner and send to Evernote

  • Instapaper - Save articles to read later, then archive the important ones in your Evernote account.

  • Penultimate - Take handwritten notes and sketch on your iPad, then save everything into Evernote.

  • Read It Later - Save articles and webpages to read later, then remember them forever in Evernote.

  • Seesmic - Save items from your Twitter and Facebook streams into Evernote.

  • Eye-Fi - Wirelessly send photos from your digital camera into Evernote.

  • Livescribe - Smart pen that digitalizes your notes and sends them to Evernote.

Evernote Blog

I love reading the Evernote Blog. I'm constantly learning something new (like making a table of contents note!). Here are a couple of articles that I thought were inspiring:
Evernote Blog
image courtesy

Premium vs Standard (free) Subscription

I attach pictures and even sometimes an audio clip. I initially never used up the 60 MB monthly limit. I've tried attaching a video clip, but it exceeded the limit per note.

In general, the standard (free) subscription is more than enough for the average user. The apps tell you where you are in meeting the monthly limit and when the limit resets. This is handy as I will often try to max out the limit if I see that it is going to reset soon or pace myself better if I see it is going to run out soon.

After starting documenting my jewelry hobby in Evernote, which requires more pictures and larger note sizes, I've started hitting the max limit pretty easily. Pictures from my camera/phone are much larger than pictures from the internet. Update: My usage of Evernote has actually settled down and I no longer am contemplating an upgrade.

I suggest sticking with the free and seeing how it goes. Premium costs $5 per month or $45 per year. There are also group discounts available. Here are ten advantages of the pro service (as listed from the Evernote site):
  1. Supersized uploads: Evernote Premium boosts your monthly uploads to 1GB each month, enough to store high-res photos, lots of files, and thousands of text notes and web clips.

  2. Top priority support: Have a question or problem? You’ll be sent to the front of the queue for faster support response.

  3. Offline notebooks: Take entire notebooks offline for easy access when you don’t have a network connection. A perfect option for when you’re traveling. Available on iOS and Android.

  4. Work together: Evernote Premium users can allow others to edit their notes, making Evernote a great tool for working on a project with others or planning a trip with friends.

  5. Note history: Go back in time. View past versions of individual notes in your account. This is a great option when you’re working with others.

  6. Larger files, bigger notes: As a Premium user, the size of a single note is increased to 50MB. That means you can put more stuff into each of your notes.

  7. Faster image recognition: Evernote makes images containing printed or handwritten text searchable. As a Premium user, your images get processed faster.

  8. PIN Lock: iOS and Android users can add a lock to their Evernote app for an extra level of security.

  9. Hide promotions: Our promotions are designed to give you great ideas for using Evernote. If you prefer a distraction-free interface, you’ll be able to easily hide the promotion box.

  10. PDF Search: Whenever you add a scanned document into your Evernote account, we’ll make the PDF searchable so you can find it anytime.

Note taking competitors

There are several other note taking apps out in the market. Many of them do pretty much the same tasks. I like that Evernote has a tablet sized app, which is much cleaner looking than a blown up version of the phone app.  I also use Evernote extensively on my home laptop and work computer.  The cross platform function is essential. I would suggest checking some of them out and verifying what you're preference is. I started with Evernote and fell in love.


So now that I have covered what Evernote is and why you should use it, what are you going to use it for? Well I have got you covered with some examples of how I use it for both personal and work uses. I have also followed up this three part series with a review of some of the flaws that personally bother me. Here are the next posts:
Why do you like or dislike Evernote? Do you use a competitor note taking app? If so, which one and why do you prefer it? Post your thoughts in the comments below!

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