Top choice for note taking software

Evernote logo

If you have random data scattered around your computer, a digital scrapbook of clippings, recipes, scanned receipts, reference data, web clippings… stuff that you squirrel away because maybe you’ll need it one day then Evernote is your friend.

I’ve been testing a number of other similar programs but, bang for buck, Evernote is still my #1 choice.

It’s come into a bit of flack recently because the company have changed the rules for the free version, and changed the pricing structure. We’ll cover that later in this post.

Evernote makes filing and quickly retrieving your data easy. Your notes, files and images are saved to your computers’ hard drives and simultaneously to Evernote’s own servers. Its main raison d’etre is quick and easy location of those data. You have the advantages of online storage, instant powerful search capability, and automatic synchronization between your computers, tablets, and smartphones and between them and the cloud.

Evernote is installed on your Windows or Mac computer, or on your tablet or smartphone and you toss in all the stuff you may later wish to access. With a free Evernote account you can create handwritten note files and normal text files, you can toss in graphic files (jpg, png and gif), and pdf files. All text within those files—even text in images—is searchable.

If you stump up for a paid Premium account it will allow you to store any type of file (although it can’t search for text within Microsoft Office, iWork, LibreOffice, or OpenOffice files). There doesn’t seem much point in using Evernote for saving Office documents; Dropbox or Live Sync are more suited to that task. You can then use a Desktop search program like Mac’s Finder, Windows Search, Copernic Desktop Search or Google Desktop to search that content.

I use Evernote constantly and I find it worth paying US$45 annually for the Premium service. Evernote is cloud storage combined with note taking software on steroids. I use it for everything that I need to access quickly. I scan or photograph bills, bank statements, magazine articles, newspaper clippings, business cards, library printouts, and invoices and I drop them into Evernote; clippings from web pages or complete web pages; random notes of all kinds. I can search for text within files, and I can add filtering tags to the note.


This morning I made bread: a wholemeal loaf from a recipe which I purloined from my daughter Coral’s cookbook. I’d used my iPhone to take a photo of the recipe and dropped it into Evernote’s iPhone app. I search for “Coral bread” in Evernote on my iPad and, voilà!, there’s the recipe. Evernote ran its OCR software on the uploaded photo and recognized the text. It’s uncannily accurate, even with scruffy handwriting.

It’s amazing. Get it here. Get it today.

Evernote is radically different from any other program so it pays to get a grasp of how it works before jumping to conclusions. A good way to see what it does is to press F1, browse the online help and look at the keyboard shortcuts file in the Help Menu. The free version is excellent, but if you upgrade to the Pro version it’s US$45 per year (alternatively: $5/month – do the maths).

What else?

  • If you wish, Evernote can be used as a web based application like Google Mail; or as a normal local application like Outlook; or as a combination of the two. I use the local program but it synchronizes with Evernote’s server at user defined intervals—I set it to 15 minute updates—and when I’ve finished with my notebook and wish to move to my tablet Evernote syncs when I close it. When I boot up my tablet it syncs immediately.
  • Searching text in all your notes at once is very fast.
  • If you use more than one computer your local Evernote data are automatically synchronized between them.
  • Evernote is available as a Windows or Mac local application, but if you’re a Linux user you need to use it online in a browser.
  • You can access your notes at Evernote online from a browser on any web-connected computer on the planet.
  • It has add-ons for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and Firefox which enable data to be sent directly from a web page to a new Note.
  • You can use it on your iPhone, Palm Pre, Android phone or Blackberry.
  • Evernote provide you with a unique email address so that you can email notes directly to your account.
  • Notebooks and tags can be nested.

I use nested notebooks sparingly. The excellent boolean search capability and the provision for unlimited note tags makes finding your stuff a breeze. You don’t need nested Notebooks or a tree structure. Think of the Gmail philosophy: search, don’t organize. Organizing data files can get in the way of searching.

  • Does Google need to structure the web? No.
  • Does lack of structure inhibit a Google search? Not a bit.
  • An example: your friend Egbert is a member of your squash club, he also owns your favourite restaurant and he’s your child’s Scoutmaster. Where do you put him in your data tree? 3 different places?

Easy answer — don’t have a tree. You can allot his note (or notes) tags which cover all bases. Egbert can be a tag too.

  • As noted above, Evernote even finds text in your images (OneNote does too) and your handwritten notes! How cool is that?
  • No maximum storage limit.
  • There’s a third party open source version called Nevernote which works reasonably well on Linux.


  • Maximum 60MB of data per month free, 10GB per month for the Premium version. If you don’t go mad with large images or music files, 60MB still a lot of data.
  • As mentioned, text within OpenOffice, Word and Excel files is not searchable.
  • The local client (i.e. the Evernote application on your machine) doesn’t link with your local files and folders as, for instance, Live sync does. It has it’s own folder hidden in your User files.


Over coming days we’ll look at the Cloud generally, and these Evernote competitors:

  • Bear, which is gorgeous, but not available for Windows.
  • Dropbox Paper is promising, but as yet has no app for PC or Mac, no tagging system, and is still in Beta.
  • Microsoft’s OneDrive is on a par with Evernote. On the one hand it’s more aesthetically pleasing, with better text editing; on the other, it’s more complicated to use.

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