The problem with Evernote is that it is absolutely horrible at taking notes. Actually there are more problems than just that, but the core of the issue is that, for a program that has the word ‘note’ in its name, it is pretty bad at just that.
For those of you not in the know, Evernote is an application for Macs, PCs and iPhones that is built for users to “Capture. Sync. Find” and “remember everything.” This sounded pretty cool to me, even without an iPhone. There was one problem, I already use note-taking software. OneNote has been my digital life partner since I first discovered it and I consider it the one piece of essential software on my computer. I use Microsoft’s OneNote for everything from work to play and its database goes deep.
However, right before the semester began, my aging Acer laptop literally melted down and I lost an entire summer’s worth of notes. It was devastating. I hadn’t backed up all of my OneNote directory and to lose as much as I did was horrifying. Evernote’s ability to sync up to the web was so attractive that I considered buying a subscription right away.
I decided it would only be fair to try the two products, side by side. So, I put OneNote on my new computer and restored my last backup. Then I installed Evernote and decided to split my classes between them. Evernote, I figured, should be targeted towards the student market segment, so it should work just fine.
The first thing I tried to do was import some of my old OneNote notebooks into the program. This did not work very well. OneNote uses a system recessed pages and my average notebook has sub-pages within pages within tabs. This just didn’t import into Evernote in a usable manor. That plan nixed, I went on to use Evernote in two out of my five classes.
The top six problems I encountered:
- I missed half of my first class just trying to figure out how to add bulleted lists without copying and pasting them from another program. Also, I found that once I’d created a bullet, increasing the indent was an exercise in annoyance and using enter to exit out of indented lists was counter-intuitive.
- Manipulating indents was a huge pain, because Evernote created them as a set of spaces.
- Tagging my notes was a waste of time compared to the ability to recess notes in OneNote. I do like tagging, but doing so in class is a waste of time. Putting in enough tags to make class notes useful takes forever and not doing so makes notes impossible to find. I take notes because later I know I’m not going to remember what is in them, without tags I wouldn’t know what to search for.
- Navigation was both counter-intuitive and difficult. There is a reason no one has ever tried to use two scroll bars for one axis before and it made navigating longer notes simply impossible, which had me almost screaming in frustration during mid-term reviews.
- It had no sense of citation and pasting content in from other programs was just weird, often causing odd paragraph spacing.
- Without OneNote’s multi-level structure, notes were just hard to find. Even with a search bar.
One of Evernote’s unique features is its ability to take photos, recognize text, and make them searchable. Everything I do on the web is already tagged and categorized. I never had the opportunity to use this feature of Evernote in the wild. When is there anything I need to take a picture of that I couldn’t just type out on my cell phone or text to twitter? I can even take a voice memo if I need to. What would I ever need to use this feature for? Every example I’ve seen has been on the level of “oh this is cool” but I’ve yet to see a useful photo. I certainly haven’t encountered one myself.
I already tag websites through services like Delicious, Digg, Friendfeed and Ma.gnolia and photos in Facebook, Picasa and Flickr; why would I want to keep them on my hard drive just to search their images? How much textual information is kept in images that this would even matter?
Is Evernote riding a hot air balloon of hype to the top?
I can’t imagine Evernote could ever become anything but a minor player without extensive adoption in the student community. Most PC users don’t know enough to care about the synchronize feature or are knowledgeable enough to use the photo feature if they even had the opportunity. With that in mined the only other thing Evernote has going for it is the writing recognition for tablets. One problem–almost all Tablet PCs ship with a very good handwriting-input program–OneNote.
The Apple student
The argument can be made that Evernote has a good chance with the growing segment of students using Apple computers, as OneNote doesn’t exist outside of Windows. However, almost all students who have Apples don’t bring them to class because of their weight and would never need a note-taking program. Of course there’s also the fact that for what the average student needs to do, Apple computers are high on price and low on function. While there was an increase in Mac users with this year’s freshman class, network compatibility problems and software issues have been driving them away. With the economy in the shape it is, I expect we will see a significantly smaller number of new students with Apple laptops next year.
Where’s the beef?
If all this is true and Evernote fails in appealing to what should be (in my opinion at least) its target market segment, who is it appealing to and why is there all this hype?
The reason Evernote has been so noticeable as of late is for one reason (besides the iPhone):
It is the perfect tool for hard-core bloggers who like pulling random info from the web to write about and sharing it with their audience and don’t like paying for OneNote or use Macs. These happen to be the same people who are writing the reviews. Unfortunately this function is essentially duplicated with a website like FriendFeed. This begs the question: what are people using it for?
Why is it still installed on my computer?
I discovered one amazing use for Evernote. Writing fiction. Especially this month, which is National Novel Writing Month. Evernote’s lack of formatting options, non-existent spell-check, and reassuring synchronization mean that this is a perfect tool for short fiction or speed writers. If Evernote added a word-count tool, I have no doubt they’d be able to capture the NaNoWriMo crowd with ease.
Other than that, I don’t understand what possible real-life use people have for Evernote, unless they own an iPhone. As for its future? I can’t see it going far without some serious changes, no matter how many people sign up for the service. No one will pay for it unless it is useful as a tool for… well… notetaking.
I’d like to know, how are you using Evernote? Is it in a way that actually helps your workflow or is it just a toy? I’m open to being proved wrong, but I just can’t see a way that Evernote in its current form can succeed as anything but a plaything for the techno-elite and perhaps some savvy writers.