When it comes to cloud note-taking tools, no name resonates more with scribes, scholars and other … word people … more than Evernote, and it’s not just the cool elephant logo. If you don’t already number among the 200 million users that have hopped on the bandwagon since 2007, this Evernote review will help you decide if you’d like to take the leap.
While cloud-based and capable of storing file attachments, Evernote is no substitute for the best cloud storage services. However, with tons of built-in features designed around pounding out notes, clipping websites and organizing thoughts, we have no trouble affirming that Evernote stands at the top of the digital notebook class.
In fact, for some of us, Evernote is something of an obsession, even if its subscription options aren’t quite as cost friendly as they used to be. Stick with us as we run down the reasons why Evernote rules, plus point out a few areas where the service falls short.
Alternatives for Evernote
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Unlimited storage (kind of)
- Unlimited sync (not free plan)
- Notebooks and note tags
- Affordable subscriptions
- Web clipper
- Optical character recognition
- Monthly bandwidth limit
- No built-in video notes
- 250 notebook max
- No ink-to-text conversion
Evernote is a cloud-based tool that lets you take notes on your computer or smartphone, providing several advantages over the traditional pen-and-paper approach or a word processor.
For one, because notes get stashed in the cloud, you don’t have to worry about spilled coffee, hard-drive crashes and other mishaps wiping out your recorded thoughts. There is, sadly, a cap of how much data you can load to the Evernote cloud per month, which we cover in “pricing,” below. However, that will only impact the most prolific note takers.
Another advantage to cloud-based notes is that they can be synchronized across devices: type a note out on your laptop, and you can access it in near real-time on your smartphone. Evernote clients are available for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS. Notes can be accessed offline, although for smartphones that requires a paid subscription.
If you need to access your notes on a computer that’s not your own, and you don’t want to install the Evernote client for security (and pain-in-the-ass) reasons, you can also get at your notes using the Evernote online tool, although it doesn’t have all the features of the desktop client.
The ability to take notes and store them in the cloud isn’t what makes Evernote a favorite among the record-everything crowd, however. It’s the added features that do that, particularly the organizational ones.
Far beyond the ability to group notes into notebooks, those organizational features include tagging notes for sorting, crosslinking notes, saving attachments to notes and inserting checklists and tables.
Text in notes can be searched, of course, but so can text in images thanks to optical character recognition (OCR). That includes scans of handwritten notes and camera snaps of whiteboards. Evernote Premium subscribers can also search text in Microsoft Office documents and .pdfs, plus annotate .pdfs.
For gathering research, Evernote has a handy web clipper for Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Opera. Prior to clipping notes, you can highlight text and add visual callouts so you remember why you clipped the page later on.
Plus and Premium subscribers can also save up to 200 emails daily to your Evernote account by forwarding them to a special Evernote email address, although this is only available for paying users.
Within the desktop client, you can create special “ink notes,” which are handwritten notes.
While useful for tablet users, Evernote doesn’t have a built-in feature to convert handwriting to text like OneNote does. If that’s a need, one way around it is to use a smartpen like Livescribe that can convert to text and has automatic Evernote forwarding.
For those that prefer voice notes, Evernote has an audio recording feature available for both desktop and mobile.
Video notes aren’t supported, even though you can snap pictures with your webcam and embed them directly from the Evernote client. You can, however, record videos using other tools and add them to Evernote as attachments.
If you want to automate certain note-gathering tasks to save time, Evernote works with both IFTTT and Zapier. These tools, used to link different apps together with cause-and-effect behaviors, will let you do things like automatically save new contacts added to your phone to a notebook, or compile your Facebook statuses, or save emails from specific individuals.
(For those looking to get a better handle on how to use IFTTT, by the way, we have a handy guide on backup recipes that should help.)
Those are the Evernote feature highlights, although we’ll be the first to admit we’re skipping over some good ones. That’s unavoidable, unfortunately: there are enough to fill a notebook or two.
We’ll take a look at the desktop client and general note-taking process when we discuss user experience, below. First, let’s talk about how much Evernote will cost you.
Evernote has three different plan options. That includes Evernote Basic, which is free, and includes most of the features of the Evernote Plus and Evernote Premium.
1-year plan $ 2.92/ month
$34.99 billed every year
Save 27 %
1-year plan $ 5.83/ month
$69.99 billed every year
Save 27 %
The limitations to Evernote Basic are that you can only sync two devices, you’re limited to 60MB of uploads per month and notes can’t be larger than 25MB.
Evernote Plus lets you sync unlimited devices, while increasing your monthly upload limit to 1GB and note size cap to 200MB. Plus also lets you email notes to your Evernote account, and gives you access to email support.
|Evernote Basic:||Evernote Plus:||Evernote Premium:|
|Monthly Upload Cap:||60MB||1GB||10GB|
|Max Note Size:||25MB||200MB||200MB|
With Evernote Premium, you get bumped up to 10GB of uploads per month, which should be enough even for the most fastidious notetaker (a.k.a. the teacher’s pet). Live chat with customer support is also unlocked, plus some advanced features like Office document searches, .pdf annotating and business-card scanning.
While Evernote increased the costs of Plus and Premium considerably in 2016 to much disappointment from its legions of fans, the value is still good overall for what you’re getting.
While it offers an incredible range of features packed into a generally friendly client, at first Evernote all seems a bit overwhelming. It certainly doesn’t present quite as clean a look as some of the other cloud note-taking tools available, including Google Keep.
The default desktop view shows your notebooks in the left-most margin, followed by a column for notes to the immediate right and a pane for the actual note to the right of that. You can resize the navigation columns and note pane, but it still all tends to get in the way.
If you want to clean things up some, you can turn off the left panel (F10) and notes list (F11) for mostly the same effect.
Or, just right-click on any note and choose “open note” to open it in a separate window.
Before you start crafting notes, you’ll need to create a notebook to keep them in. This can be done easily by clicking the “+” icon beside where it says “notebooks” at the top of the navigation column.
Choose a notebook name, click “okay” and your notebook will be ready for your ramblings.
To create a note, click the blue “new note” button on the top-right side of Evernote. This will open a separate window where you can start typing out your note. From within the note, you can give it a name and pick which notebook it’s kept in.
Notes have formatting toolbars at the top, just like a word processor, so that part of the process should be instantly familiar. You can change up your font and font size, bold, italicize, underline and highlight text, and add bullet lists, checklist and tables.
As mentioned, notes also have a voice-record feature which you can activate with a press of a button. Another button turns on your camera, letting you snap and add a photo, though not record video notes.
For other file types, you can quickly add them from your file system as attachments. Evernote also integrates with Google Drive, letting you attach files from cloud storage.
While it might seem at first that sorting through notebooks packed with notes can be a real hassle, Evernote includes several features to help you navigate the madness. That includes the ability to “tag” notes to quickly sort related thoughts later using a special “tags” tab.
The text in notes is also searchable, making finding recorded thoughts pretty easy.
We also like that you can switch the notes-list column between snippet, tile and thumbnail views. Increase the size of the column, and you can eyescan notes pretty quickly to find what you want.
To facilitate collaboration with others, you can share both notebooks and notes by right-clicking on the object and choosing “share notebook” (or “share note”). Then, input the email address of the person you want to share with and set permissions (view, edit and invite) for them.
There’s also a chat feature so that you can talk live to others without leaving the Evernote app, although it’s no Slack (which Evernote integrates with).
You can also share note links with others, letting them access your note via a browser (these same links can be pasted into other notes for cross-referencing.)
While the Evernote user experience is pretty smooth once you get acclimated to the tool, if you do run into trouble, the “help” menu in the desktop client can be used to access a searchable online knowledgebase.
Direct support is also available, but only for paying customers. Evernote Plus subscribers gain access to email support, while Evernote Premium subscribers also have live chat.
Security & Privacy
Evernote doesn’t maintain data centers of its own, but instead uses Google Cloud for infrastructure. Google Cloud provides strong data center security, which can be attributed in part to the fact that its hosted in the same data centers as Google’s own information databases.
Data stored in Google Cloud is encrypted at rest using 256-bit AES. However, encryption keys are managed by Google, not Evernote. Evernote has a option for private encryption, but it’s limited to scrambling specific highlighted text. Disappointingly, you can’t encrypt entire notebooks or even notes.
We have some general security concerns with Google, too, that we detail in our Google Drive review, including the use of data for marketing. However, it’s unlikely that Google would have access to your Evernote files for those purposes (we hope).
Files in transit are encrypted by Evernote using transport-layer security (TLS). That should protect you against man-in-the-middle attacks and other forms of WiFi eavesdropping, but if you’re on a public network, you’ll still likely want to use a VPN to stay incognito. Any of the picks ranked in our best VPN guide should work well with Evernote.
Encryption isn’t end-to-end. Once arriving at the data center, your files are reverted to plain text for indexing, which is used to speed up retrieval later, and then encrypted.
That said, Evernote does work with a handy third-party add-on called SafeRoom. SafeRoom, which can also be used with OneDrive, encrypts your notes with a private key that only you know, adding an additional layer of security.
As with any cloud-based storage, you’ll want to watch out for phishing attacks, too. If your password is stolen, your Evernote account could be accessed from any browser. However, there’s good news: Evernote supports two-factor authentication.
Turn on this feature, and when logging into your account from an unfamiliar machine, you’ll have to enter a security code to access Evernote. You can receive this code using Google Authenticator or, if you’re a subscriber, via text message. We recommend using it, lest your personal journal end up on 4chan for all to see.
Overall, Evernote isn’t nearly as good a collaboration tool as an EFSS solution like Egnyte Connect (read our Egnyte Connect review) or even Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive. We much prefer Evernote for personal projects, like academic research, journaling and belligerent manifestos. For those purposes, however, we can’t think of a better tool.
The ability to organize your thoughts into notebooks, tag them, add attachments and voice memos and have all of that available from any device makes it the perfect tool for gathering your haphazard ideas and turning them into a searchable library of you.
While we don’t much care for the two-device limit and 60MB per month upload cap on the free account, Evernote Plus fixes that problem and won’t set you back more than the cost of a cup of coffee each month. With unlimited storage space, Evernote ranks as the best cloud notebook we’ve reviewed, beating out OneDrive, Google Keep and the rest of the field.
Are you an Evernote super fan or do you think we made a mistake? Leave us a note in the comments below, and thanks for reading.