Evernote 3: My External Brain [Software Review]

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When I introduced “Productive Tactics”, I wanted to make articles about productive software and ways to help reader be more productive. So, I decided to take a break from my usual posts and review my current piece of software, Evernote 3 aka Evernote Beta.

What is Evernote?

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Evernote 2.2

Evernote 3 (The Current Beta)

Evernote is a note-taking/clipping software and is expanding it’s current Evernote 2.2 software into a new way of cataloging and indexing what is most important to you. I showed this software to my friends and they think of it as your own personal “Google”. Basically, Evernote is my Personal Database which I refer to as my “birthplace”. (I used the word “birthplace” as a place where I jot down my ideas and most of the ideas take off from here, hence giving birth to them.)

I was introduced to Evernote via Lifehacker and since then, I’ve been using Evernote to capture quotes, create my wish list, jot down ideas of lyrics and poetry, and even notes from clients. It always starts up when I boot up my laptop and is rarely shut down while the computer is on (not even while I’m doing web development work).

Evernote 101 – What makes Evernote Special

One thing about Evernote is that you are not limited to typing, but you can also write in Evernote (if that’s your thing, of course). You can format your notes, just like a word processor. You can also create links to files, which is excellent since I have a nasty habit of naming a file “logoXX.jpg” for the umpteenth time. Just drop the file along with a note saying “client X files” and it’s a done deal for me.

One thing I love about Evernote is that it recognizes handwriting and words in images. Let’s say I’m out and about and I saw a special flight discounts to and from the Virgin Islands posted on a flyer. I would take a picture with a mobile phone and import it to my Evernote along with clippings of web sites of prices of flights to Virgin Islands. A friend of mine also handwritten a note about a place where I can get cheap flights to VI. I took a snapshot. When I’m ready to refer to these prices, I search for Virgin Islands, and everything… from the picture I’ve taken of the flyer to the website links and postings to even the handwritten note pops up. This is what makes Evernote powerful.

I’m also able to tag notes. For example, I jot down a quote that I may use for my comic writings. I tag it and when I want to refer to it, all I have to do is look for my tag, “comic ideas”.

Also, you might notice with Evernote is that it’s a long “tape” with dates. So, you can browse by dates, which is usually cool when you want to recall something you written down a few days ago.

Evernote 3 – What’s New

Evernote 3, which is currently in Beta, is going through a rebranding. Evernote now sports an elephant logo. Very smart move to show that Evernote acts like an external brain and it will “never forgets”.

The first thing I noticed of the new Evernote is the interface. The Interface is a lot more simple. Instead of a old “Windows Media Player” like skin, it sports a much clearer and it looks like a (dare I say it) website.

Instead of several Databases like the previous version, it uses one account at a time. I’ll get into why the “one account” a bit later. You now have the ability to make several notebooks. So, instead of one “long tape” with tags, I can place my lyrics in its own Notebook, my business ideas in another, and so forth. I can still assign tags to my notes, which of course is still useful.

However, the categories and templates are now gone. It seems that Evernote is axing the templates feature out. I rarely use the “To Do” checklist, but I do use the “Expenses” part and lost the Spreadsheet function that the previous version once had. But again, since I only use it for note taking, it’s really no skin off my nose.

Other than that, Evernote 101 remains the same. So, why is this version so much better?

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One new feature which you have to dive into is that… well, it’s just one program. Instead of having a separate portable version, it allows you to make a portable version for your flash drive and you will be able to sync your notes on your flash drive with the notes on your computer… as well as your account online.

Remember when I said you have one account? Well, this is the account I was referring to. You will be able to sync your notes up via the web to all your Evernotes, wither it’s on your PC, Flash Drive, Mobile Phone… or Mac. Yes, Evernote now has a version for Mac, which in my opinion has a flashier appearance.

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On the mobile as well as for your account on Evernote’s new website, you’ll be able to search your notes, as well as add new notes. But it only gets better. Say you took a picture of a business card with your mobile phone. Now, you have an option of sending that image to an e-mail address which will then file it into Evernote for you, giving a few less steps. This is also great if you want to text yourself messages and quick ideas into Evernote.

Sharing notes with your co-workers, friends or family is not a problem either. All you have to do is select the note(s) you want to e-mail and it will open up the e-mail client you have installed on your local machine. Or you can go to your Evernote web account and send it off there. You can also drag and drop notes inside your Instant Messager.

Evernote 3 – Kinks In the Armor

As much as I love my digital birthplace, there are a few kinks in the armor that needs to get ironed out. First off, the templates system was a good idea and it helps set up notes like Phone Messages, Contacts, and Shopping lists. While I don’t feel lost without the template system, I do think others use it.

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The second kink is that while the imaging recognition is great… it doesn’t work well 100% of the time. I took a snapshot of a British Airways website flight. I looked up London (a word which appears twice in the snapshot) and while it pulled up all the London references, it didn’t pull up the British Airways snapshot. However, if I search for New York, John F (Kennedy Airport), it finds the words. I would like to note that as I type in John, it highlighted “June” and we clearly know that there’s no “o” in “June”. It’s amazing how this software can pick up on small, almost unidentified words in photographs (as show in the demo video below), but can’t pick up “London”, which was clear as day, from a snapshot.

Speaking of snapshots, I have to launch the “Universal Clipper” every time the program starts. While it does allow me to start up with Windows, it took me a while to figure out how (go into settings of the clipper). This is probably the minor kink that I can work with.

Another kink that I found out as I explored the software is that I don’t all my notes to sync. To get over that, I have to make a “local notebook” and move the notes that I only want on the local machine in that notebook.

I found no use for the “View In Google Earth”. I guess they are trying to be everything to everyone. I doubt that I will be using this feature of my “external brain”.

Evernote comes with a spell checker, but it will only come up in note mode. If you try to expand the note area, you won’t be able to access the spell checker. Hopefully, this bug will be fix before the release.

The last kink, is that there don’t seem to be an obvious way to share a notebook, a trait that Google Notebook currently has. So, if I want to share a bunch of notes and thoughts with my business partners, I have to e-mail them or place them in Google Notebook. While this is my Personal Database, there are some notebooks that I want to make accessible to others. Hopefully, as before the Beta becomes final, they will resolve this issue.

Conclusion

I’ve been using the Evernote 2.2 Trail and was happy to get an invite to use the Evernote Beta and I’m happy with a lot of the new features. The image recognition could be tweak a bit more, you should be allow to share certain notebooks with collaborators of your choice and the templates need to make it somehow into the final version.

However, I am happy with the way this is version is going so far. Unlike Google Notebook (which I still use), I’m able to search images and that it’s a Desktop application as well as website. Using the mobile version (which I can’t really test due to my dataplan.) will be a dream come through for me, since I always carry around birthplaces (notebooks). Now, I just need a smartphone! Of course, I will still need to carry around a notebook, because there’s some things having digital equipment can’t replace… like… notebooks don’t need batteries.

The final version of Evernote will be free to everyone, with pricing of different services to be announced. At press time, they didn’t say what will be charged. However, as a guy who have a difficult time capturing ideas, I’m pretty happy to finally have a digital birthplace I can count on.

P.S. – This review was not written in Evernote. While it’s wonderful to have an External Brain, there’s some things I’ll still use OpenOffice and a text editor for… like… editing the ideas that was generated in my birthplaces, written or digital. 😉

Update 3/27/2008: A developer from Evernote, Andrew, made a comment about my review and did point out that I can share my notes out in the public. All I have to do is visit my Evernote account online, highlight the notebook and go to the dropdown menu blow the Notebooks and choose “settings”. Then I will be able to public my notebook in public. Now, if there’s only a way to password protect it…

However, all in all, this product is still in beta. So, I can’t wait to give a final review once this is finished.

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  • http://www.productivityplanner.com Tina Russell

    I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

    Tina Russell

  • Andrew

    Wow. Great review. Glad to hear that the new Evernote is working out for you.

    We’re still in the early stages of our Beta, so you can expect to see improvements across the board, with many of those kinks ironed out.

    I would like to point out that Evernote does allow you to publish a notebook so that it can be viewed by anyone on the web. This functionality is coming soon to the Windows client, but can be accessed for the Web and Mac clients. On the web, all you need to do is select the notebook, choose “Settings” from the Actions dropdown, and click Publish. Copy the URL that appears in the box, then click OK. Others can then access that notebook, subscribe to the feed, even search for text within images.

    Thanks,
    Andrew
    Evernote

  • rjholla2003

    Sounds like Microsoft OneNote, with easier sharing, and easier online backup. Since I LOVE OneNote, I’ll definitely have to give this a look once my laptop comes back from HP.

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