EverNote Review and Invite Give Away

EverNote LogoI love to hoard information. Be it links, images, pieces of text or anything else I stumble across. So, naturally, I’m always on the look out for a good way to manage all the information I gather. I’ve tried DEVONNote, Stikkit, Back Pack, Google Docs (and Google NoteBook), Plain Text files (with Quicksilver) and a bunch of other stuff, like MoleSkines.

As you can probably guess from the length of the list above, I’ve never really hit on anything perfect. Each system had it’s flaws, and none really suited my style. To compound this, I use these tools for different things. I like to collect information, highlight information, record my thoughts, set myself tasks, remind myself of things and share things with others. Quite the list. And really, no surprise that no system has completely met my needs. So in steps EverNote. After grabbing an invite to the beta (I’m giving some away, see the end of this post), I was really excited to try it out. Mainly because of one thing, the ability to search text within images.

Setting My Expectations

Adding a note with EverNoteGiven the list of things I want my information collecting tool to accomplish, I had to be careful when approaching EverNote. It doesn’t do task management, or reminders, it just collects information. It’s a replacement for DEVONnote, not Stikkit or BackPack. Luckily, I’m currently researching two projects, so there is a lot of information I need to gather quickly. And fortunately, neither project is at the stage where I need to task myself. So I have the perfect test cases for EverNote. If you do intend on using EverNote, I’d thoroughly recommend checking out the videos and other posts on their blog.

Something I was particularly excited to try out, was the concept of having local access, through a Mac client, to my information, which is otherwise held online. This is something missing from every other tool I’ve tried. And I can see the advantage. If I’m online, everything’s there, if I’m on my Mac, I’ve got quick and convenient access with all the extra bells and whistles.

Getting Information In

EverNote System Bar ToolA key test of information managers is the ease with which you can get information into them. If it’s not easy to get information into your information manager, you just don’t use it. In my experience so far, only DEVONnote has been easy enough to add information to for it to become part of my daily workflow. For those of you who don’t use DEVONnote, or aren’t familiar with it, the easiest way to add information is to simply drag it into the application. You don’t really get much easier than that. I was glad to see that the Mac version of EverNote was the same. If I have the application open, I can simply drag information into it. Easy.

In addition to this, you also get a bookmarklet and a system bar tool. The bookmarket is similar to that found in other information gathering web apps. You highlight something on a web page, click the bookmarklet, and it gets added to your account. The system bar tool allows you to either paste anything currently on your clipboard into EverNote (without it having to be open first) or to take a screen shot an automatically insert it into EverNote.

Both new features are welcome additions to the usual bookmarklet and work well. The only gripe I have is that it’s difficult, nay impossible, to properly retain the formatting of a web page you want to clip. If you clip the entire page, by clicking the bookmarklet without first selecting anything, it strips all the style from the content. This is annoying when, as in my case, the style is what you want to clip. And using the screen shot feature gets only the visible area, not the whole page. This is the same whether you use the bookmarklet, the copy & paste functionality or drag the page into the application (which is the recommended approach).

Organising Content

No real surprises here. You can organise content into NoteBooks as well as tagging everything that’s been added. You can also add notes, which may be formatted. One very nice feature is that when you clip content fron the web, it automatically associates the source URL. This can be particularly handy when you want to give attribution for something.

The content is also displayed nicely, with varying layouts. There is also a nice visual mirror between the online version, and the offline version. You don’t have to learn EverNote’s interface twice, it’s the same in both places. Which is such a relief.

Finding Content

Search is really the feature that makes EverNote stand out from the pack. Note only can you search tags, titles and text within notes, but you can also search the text within images. This opens up a whole new world of opportunities and really allows you to be lazy in your approach to information gathering. You don’t have to worry about diligently tagging and describing images, you can just search for text within them. In the short time I’ve been using it, it has changed my approach, and removes one more barrier to me storing information in such a tool.

EverNote Image SearchI can almost hear your skepticism. “Text recognition is sketchy at best, and won’t work with text that isn’t perfect.” Fortunately, your cynicism is off the mark in this case. The text recognition actually works, and works well. Even on non-perfect text. I’ve dotted some images around this post that indicate some searched within images it handled. In the example of “DANSK”, you can see that the text with clearly roughly hand written and non-uniformly written. Yet it still got picked up. EverNote Image Search 2Very impressive. It’s also refreshing to see the text actually highlighted when you view the search results. it would be nice if this was followed through when viewing the list of results, and not just individual ones, but that’s a minor gripe really. Another really impressive thing about EverNote is the speed with which the text recognition is performed. As soon as the note appears in your online account (you have to sync images before they become searchable) it is searchable. To the user, this is near instant.

EverNote Search Results 1The only slight, niggling, problem I have with the search is the fact that it filters the results based on the selected notebook. This would be fine, except for the fact there’s no real visual indication that this is happening. Considering the search box is visually removed from the notebook selection pane, it can be difficult to discern what’s going on. To compound this, if you click on a different notebook, your search criteria is lost. This is a usability issue more than anything, and it could be quickly solved by putting a little more thought into the search result mechanism.

Room For Improvement

There is room for improvement, although I’m wholly impressed with EverNote, especially seeing as it’s just a beta. Personally, I’d like to see images searchable before you sync with the online account. If I’m on the road, for example, I may not get the chance to sync. So EverNote is effectively taking away its killer feature as soon as your disconnected from the net. Almost negating the benefit of having a desktop version.

I’m also hoping they overcome one of the major failings they currently have, no FireFox 3 support. Yes, I know FireFox 3 is in beta, and I know EverNote is in beta, but there’s going to be a fair cross over in both audiences. Especially during the beta period. I’m not a Safari user, so I’m having to break my workflow to use the bookmarklet, which is the most intuitive way of clipping content. I’d also like to see support for my mobile phone. With that in place, you could really live the EverNote dream of snapping a picture on your phone and having it searchable by the time you get back to your computer. You can currently get around this limitation by emailing pictures from your phone to a special email address you get. This is something else I’d like to see expanded, so that I could send pictures and notes to specific notebooks for example.

Something else that I’ve noticed. When syncing, my internet connections gets eaten by EverNote. I’m not entirely sure what’s happening, but all my other applications lose connection to the internet, or at the best take a huge speed hit. I’m not sure whether this is because I’ve been syncing lots of images or not, but it’s not exactly welcome.

As for future features, I’d like to see the ability to annotate images after they’ve been added. One of the research projects I’m currently using EverNote for is focused on design. This involved adding a bunch of images to my account. I’d love to just highlight within those images the bits I’m actually interested in. It would be nice to see some more publishing-like features, similar to BackPack. Where I could share (properly share) my notes with others and work collaboratively. It would also be nice if I could merge notes and import/export them in a variety of formats. ideally, I’d love to see the service integrated with the smart text processing of Stikkit and the collaboration tools of BackPack. But I fear that’s a pipe dream.

Conclusion and Give Away

Overall, I’ve been hugely impressed with EverNote. As far as gathering information goes, it’s become my new go-to tool, usurping DEVONnote. There are some improvements to be made, no doubt, but considering this is in beta, I find it hard to criticise it. The unique selling point is both useful and well implemented and there are some really nice visual touches, especially in the Mac Client. There are some minor usability issues to be overcome (see above) but overall it’s a joy to use, and the similarity in design, layout and approach between the web and desktop clients is a huge bonus.

Hopefully that’s whetted your appetite for EverNote. Fortunately, I’ve got a handfull of invites to the provate beta to give away. If you’re interested, leave a comment and I’ll get back to you.