Software

Review: Evernote knowledge management application

Evernote is a knowledge management application targeted at people who need to wrangle large amounts of unrelated or loosely related information.

Evernote is a knowledge management application that adds value by syncing to a central server. This allows for data backups and portability across a number of devices and operating systems, which some users will find to be highly valuable. Overall, though, Evernote is highly problematic.

Note: This review was performed based on the publically available free edition of Evernote for Windows.

Specifications

  • Requirements: The Evernote application is available for Windows, Mac OS X, iPhone/iPod Touch, Android, BlackBerry, and Windows Mobile devices, as well as a plug-in for Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Chrome
  • Cost: Free, or $5/month (or $45/year) for Premium version
  • Additional Information: Product Web site
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Who's it for?

Evernote is targeted to people who need to wrangle large amounts of unrelated or loosely related information. Business executives, "information workers," and researchers are all people who can benefit from Evernote. Users who frequently work from mobile devices or from a number of different computers will like its syncing system.

What problems does it solve?

Evernote's "killer feature" is the central sync functionality. For anyone who works at many different computers (such as someone who uses their home PC for work purposes), or who works from a mobile device much of the time, this functionality is priceless.

Standout features

  • Note portability: You can create notes on a wide variety of systems and devices, and they get synced to a central server, so that you can view them on other devices, computers, etc. Users who work from a large number of devices (especially highly mobile users) will appreciate this functionality.
  • Cost: Evernote is available in a free (with small ads) edition. The "premium" version (which adds "must have" functionality like SSL encryption during synchronization) is very reasonably priced at $5/month or $45/year.
  • Tags, searching: Evernote allows you to easily create your own dictionary of tags and use them for searching. Sadly, when typing a tag's name, it does not offer suggestions so a typo creates a new tag.

What's wrong?

  • Web page clipping: Adding a long Web page to Evernote brought the test system to its knees on multiple occasions. It took 30 minutes of effort to get the note deleted and stability restored. Other Web pages looked quite quirky after being added.
  • Note formatting options: Yes, the application is designed to be as minimal as possible. At the same time, it lacks formatting other than alignment and common text formatting options (bold, underline, italic, and strikeout), and two list types. Even basic table functionality is missing.
  • Buggy note emailing: When I tried to email a note (from a Web clipping), some of the HTML code from the original Web page was visible (in a broken manner, no less) in the email. In another case, I added text to a note and clicked the "Email" button, and the new text was not in the note. Clicking "Email" again resulted in the correct text being in the note.
  • Free version lacks encryption: If you decide to make regular use of Evernote, you will want to upgrade to the premium version, if only for the encryption. Otherwise, the transmission of your data will be performed "in the clear" during the synchronization.

Competitive products

Microsoft OneNote

Bottom line for business

In under an hour of simple tests, a large number of unacceptable bugs and problems were revealed in Evernote. Moving past the broken functionality, it is incredibly short on features. Sometimes this is a good thing, as it can lead to a minimal, useful user interface.

In the case of Evernote, the user interface is still overly complex. Forcing users to learn keyboard shortcuts or jump through the hoops of a right-click menu and then a text formatting dialog to make text bold is just unacceptable. This can be worked around by opening the note in a new window (which provides icons for the text formatting, but lacks all other functionality!), but it is still another hoop to jump through to get work done. Even the help system for learning the keyboard shortcuts is awful (it lists the command sequence and then the functionality, and is an external Web page).

As a caution, the PDF functionality is enabled by the Foxit technology; the TechRepublic community has had some extremely mixed reactions to the Foxit PDF reader, which does not bode well for Evernote's PDF functionality. Even before stumbling across any of the problems that the TechRepublic members had with the Foxit reader, the PDF functionality was discovered to be useless. There is no way to zoom in or out on the PDFs, forcing you to keep scrolling up and down within the note to read each page. To make it worse, scrolling too far up or down will have Evernote select the previous or next note; when you return to the note with the PDF, it will often reset itself to view the first page of the PDF!

It is impossible to recommend this application in its current form to anyone who has other options available to them. If it took less than an hour of simple testing to uncover this many showstopping bugs, one would imagine that full-time usage would induce the user to throw their PC out the window in frustration.

User rating

Have you encountered or used the Evernote knowledge management application? If so, what do you think? Rate your experience and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out in our review.

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About

Justin James is the Lead Architect for Conigent.

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