Rodeo with the Elephant  – Why I'm back on Evernote

I've been an early user of Evernote, my first account dates back to 2009. I've stopped counting the times that I've left Evernote "for good" since then. Just as many times, I've decided to come back.

It's a seemingly endless cycle of being annoyed by lack of innovation (Backlinks? Transclusion?, Rich media embeds? Syntax Highlighting?), bad performance and company strategy that drives me away. Just to find out that other shiny tools lack in other areas. This is about what Evernote does right, and, in that combination, is not to be found in other notes apps I've tried.

Useful Exports

With Evernote being around for so long, its (proprietary) ENEX format as well as its API is accepted as an import target across many apps. It feels good to know that I can migrate my notes to Apple Notes, Bear, Notion, and many more tools easily, and keep attached images and documents. Ever exported notes with attachments from Notion, and tried to actually use those files? It was no fun for me.

Search, Search, Search

Evernote's search is very good:

  • it brings up relevant results

  • it indexes attached documents

  • it has great OCR

  • it performs OCR on images

  • it recognizes handwriting

  • narrowing results with filters works very well

Google Search 

Screenshot of a Google search for "Magnesium", with the Evernote extension showing results for the same query that it found in my personal notes

Evernote's browser extension shows notes relevant to a Google search right next to Google's own results. This is easily one of the most underrated features. I love how it makes me stumble upon things I've previously captured or written.

Document indexing alone is missing in almost all new-era PKM apps: Roam, Obsidian, Craft, Noteplan, Logseq all can't search across PDFs, let alone perform OCR.

Cards View

Screenshot of the Evernote Mac App, showing an excerpt of my "Design" notebook in the "cards" layout.

Evernote's Cards view certainly could be improved, but it's there, and it works for me. I've found myself missing such a visual overview a lot in tools like Roam, Bear or Amplenote. And while it's possible to achieve something like that in Obsidian using plugins, it's by far too cumbersome for my taste.

Capturing Data 

Again, certain other tools offer some of those features, but I've yet to find one that checks all boxes at once:

  • Web Clipper Extension: often praised, still unmatched.

  • API with many integrations

  • Readwise Export: I've not yet settled on the best long term solution to store and process highlights from things I've read, I certainly appreciate those things coming up in Evernote's search

  • Send via Email: not much to say about it: if an email is important enough to keep it around, I'll forward it to Evernote

Simple, in a good way

I'm the kind of person who, given the chance to tweak aesthetics, will spend excessively much time doing so. A Notion page without an Icon is causing me pain. Evernote's lack of such customizations is an advantage to me. 

Also, I've come to embrace the simple hierarchy of Stacks and Notebooks. It works really well for my (slightly extended) P.A.R.A. structure. It also fits my way towards putting less energy into structure. Given the good search this works out pretty well so far. 

And while I'd really appreciate to better interconnect and find related notes in Evernote, I've found it to be way less important for the kind of work I do than I've thought while exploring the Roam way of linking everything. 

Sharing Notes

This is also offered by many apps, but it might disqualify an app if missing because I use it constantly. Be it to share a solution to a certain problem or the notes I took while on a call.

It allows me to take a break

I like the fact that I can cancel my Evernote subscription anytime without losing anything I've put in there. For comparison, I really love mymind, but as soon as I stop paying, I'm going to lose everything, without even a way to import things once I decide to come back. 

To be fair, this is true for most apps, but a serious turnoff if missing.

Wrapping up

To my best knowledge, the combination of these features is exclusive to Evernote. And, at least for now, I've come to the conclusion that these are more important to me than the bells and whistles of the modern competition.

The next time I feel the urge to leave Evernote, maybe I'll be a bit wiser. At least I'll be consulting this list to know what I'll be missing.