Ask LH: What Makes Evernote So Popular?

Dear Lifehacker, It seems like everyone is always raving about Evernote, but I don't really understand its appeal. Isn't it just a notes app that other apps do better or simpler? What makes Evernote so great? Signed, Just don't get it

Dear Just,

You're not alone. I think the world might be divided into two groups: those who love Evernote and those who don't (or at least don't understand why so many people love Evernote). Evernote is a cross-platform app that serves many purposes; for example, it can be your digital file cabinet, note-taking tool, daily journal, task or project management system, and recipe-keeper. Because it has so many uses and different features, Evernote can both appeal to a lot of people and feel like overkill to others. (Our own Adam Pash has written about why he can't get into apps like Evernote because he prefers apps that do just one thing well.)

Although few other Lifehacker editors use the app, many How I Work guests and Lifehacker readers also love (and I mean love) Evernote. Heck, I use it myself. We asked our Evernote fans why they loved it so much, and here's what they said.

It's a Universal Inbox: Store Anything You Can Imagine in One Place

Evernote integrates with just about everything. It has browser extensions that allow you to save a web page — in its entirety — in one click for future reference. A dedicated Evernote email address lets you forward emails, tweets or any other type of content to any of your Evernote notebooks. Also, IFTTT (If This Then That) support means you can automatically send content from other servicesto your Evernote account, such as Gmail, Google Reader or Pocket. If nothing else, you could use Evernote to archive your digital life.

Evernote can thus serve are your "everything" inbox. Thanks to its cross-platform support (desktop apps, web apps, mobile apps) you really can offload all of your reference materials, ideas, tasks or other digital items to Evernote and never worry about where you've collected all those random bits of information. It's one container to store them all. Evernote's search is good enough that you can retrieve all those docs quickly, but it also has great notebook and tagging organisation (more on that in a bit) that really make it stand out.

Jay G. says:

I use Evernote for EVERYTHING. I use it for my daily journal. I use it with IFTTT to save all starred items in Google Reader to save interesting articles for future reference. I scan all donation and other important receipts by scanning and emailing. I use it to organise projects with quotes, ideas, snippets from the web, and typed notes. I use it to store all digital manuals and instructions for various electronics around the home. I also use it to save favourite tweets (again with IFTTT). I use it to store teaching notes, discussion ideas, etc. I use it to reference personal documents, contracts, medical documents, etc.

That's just off the top of my head, but these would be the most common uses. I am a Pastor of a church and I find this tool indispensable.

Chris K. writes:

I use Evernote every day. I'm a consultant and often meet with clients to discuss designs. It may be weeks or months in between meetings. Evernote makes it easy to catch right back up where we left off. By syncing between my MAC and my Droid I can even get caught up while I'm waiting in the lobby 5 minutes before a meeting. And I can share the notes with my peers.

Basically, you can dump everything in there — from written or typed notes to photo snapshots or videos to voice recordings — and count on retrieving them later either with the reliable search or your own tagging/notebook organisation.

It's Digitises Your Physical Notes and Backs Them Up in The Cloud

Because of its multi-platform support and OCR feature, Evernote also helps people who just want to go paperless. Mike U. says:

I can answer it simply that it helps the disorganised get organised.

Being an Evernote premium subscriber, I use the additional upload capacity to scan receipts, bills and letters, share household notebooks with my spouse, scan our kids artwork and tag it with date/event/grade. Additionally, I use it as a repository for documentation (read:work) in searchable PDF format.

It is totally the one tool I use every day multiple times a day.

There has been numerous times I've been on a call and needed something like insurance information, and it was easily retrieved, because everything goes into Evernote.

Evernote can quickly turn photos and scanned pics into notes — and also decipher the text in those photos. (The Evernote Smart Notebook by Moleskine is a nice marriage of the analogue and digital.)

It's Great for Task/GTD Management

Productivity consultant Daniel Gold says he uses Evernote as a "life management tool":

It allows me to leverage it as a document management tool to incubate all my reference related materials (both scanned papers and electronic) with my action items. With note linking, I can connect the dots between tasks and reference items. Add in saved searches and I can quickly filter through projects and tasks to focus on what must absolutely go right in order for me to be more productive & successful. 

Even though Evernote lacks the typical trappings of a to-do list manager (e.g., reminders and checkboxes), it can be a worthy replacement if you set up a system for using it.

Evernote templates make it easy to turn Evernote into a project/GTD tool, but perhaps the most thorough GTD Evernote system is previously mentioned The Secret Weapon. TSW takes advantage of some of Evernote's unique features: multiple tags selection (quickly find: "Active Project", "2-Next", "@Work") and email integration.

Whether you use a structure like The Secret Weapon with Evernote, Evernote could manage your tasks and projects, thanks to the easy email integration, tagging capabilities and also notebook sharing (for collaborative project management).

It Rocks for Note-Taking

A lot of people also use Evernote as a note-taking tool and for studying or reading. The app has built-in audio capture support and integrates with tools like the LiveScribe digital pen (great for students and constant meeting attendees).

Personally, I find the note-taking to be a bit slow and cumbersome on Evernote. If I want to just quickly jot a note down, it's not the best tool for the job (except for the fact that it's a great universal inbox, as above). I think this sort of dissatisfaction with easy note-taking and syncing is why a lot of Lifehacker editors have resorted to simpler solutions like using plain text files and Dropbox. (I'm defaulting to index cards.)

Still, Lifehacker reader feedback suggests many of you are also using Evernote not just as a digital file cabinet but as a digital notebooks or notepads. Nathan A., a graduate research student in chemistry at the University of York (UK), uses Evernote as an electronic lab notebook:

Each experiment I do has a dedicated note for it, and on the note I note down the COSHH/risk assessment information, safety procedures, procedures and any references I've used. ... After the experiment, I copy up my observations and measurements from the lab book into the Note. This is great as it means I can write my reports with full access to my notes, and easily share a copy with my Academic or the rest of the research group.

It might sound a little laborious, but it ensures a contaminant-free 'paper trail' and it makes writing reports up a whole lot easier.

Matthew B. uses it to quickly note milestones in his son's life. And Zef C. uses Evernote to jot down recipe ingredients.

Many readers said they liked Evernote's ability to not only sync across all devices and organise with tags, but preserve the note creation date. And Grad student Andy K. says Evernote comes in handy when you have to compile multiple media formats into one cohesive format. (Also, did we mention it was free for all this multimedia archiving/recording goodness?)

It Works as a Digital Reference for Everything

I use Evernote as a digital file cabinet and also as a place to offload and organise ideas. The web clipping browser extension works really well (although sometimes it makes me wait longer than I want to). Instead of saving just the URL, like Springpad does, Evernote saves the full article and the URL — which is great for reference purposes. With multiple tags selection and the ability to link notes together, Evernote is the ultimate reference system. As frequent Lifehacker contributor Shep McAllister says, it's great for doing research and highlighting how different things are connected.

It Allows for Multiple Special Notebooks

You could put Evernote to any task that involves archiving, journalling or otherwise recording information.

Adam R. says:

Evernote is perfect for a beer drinking history of the different microbrews I have had. I include pictures of each bottle or glass of beer along with tasting notes for each one.

I also use it for work items I need with me everywhere I go, including IP addresses, network ID's and server names. Easily searchable and hasn't failed me yet.

Others use Evernote to preserve their:

  • Meeting notes
  • Client/project notes
  • Home contractor phone numbers
  • Songs (chords, tablature, etc.)
  • Technical knowledgebase
  • Travel plans
  • Motivational quotes
  • Usernames and passwords (I might think twice about that)
  • Recipes
  • Important documents
  • Bucket list

There are many other ways to record information, but perhaps really none as feature-rich and universally accessible as Evernote. There are heaps of plugins for Evernote too, so you can pretty much mould it to your exact needs.

Those are the main reasons/ways all of us are using Evernote. It's not without its flaws (Alexio R. has a love/hate relationship with the app because of its automatic formatting), but it's like the Swiss Army knife of capture tools.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    I was much the same as Just. I'd heard of Evernote, but didn't really "get" why people loved it. Until one day I installed it on a whim and created an account (using my Gmail and a short password, not my proper email, that's how enthused I was :\). I still haven't realised it's full potential, but for what I do, it's perfect.

    Half way through every work day I travel to our second location to drop off and collect repaired computers. If I come across machines that haven't been fixed up yet, I take a shot with Evernote, and it's waiting for me when I return. No phone cables, no running extra apps, I just click my EN bookmark and there it is, ready to be followed up.

    One thing I DO wish the Android version had, was a shortcut that went straight to the image capture page for my "work" workbook. Because 80% of my EN use is for photos, it's a little time consuming to open the app, go to a new photo note etc., when I could just press a button and go.

      I think you can do this.
      You simply go to the note/search/notebook that you want to open straight away.
      Then at the bottom right hand corner there is a icon with 3 dots. Tap on that icon and choose create shortcut.

    How is it better than OneNote and Skydrive?

    Interesting read.
    I have the same problem. I installed evernote and signed up recently. I guess I can see the appeal, especially if it's set up properly. But to be honest, I only need an note taking app, and a to-do list.
    I like to write quick notes when I'm out an about to remind me to look something up later, and I like to-do lists so I don't forget to do certain tasks.
    One thing that I've found Evernote sucks at is To-Do lists.
    And the lack of a easy to-do list widget on android is annoying for me. I like having a list on one of my home screens, so I can swipe to it and instantly remember to buy milk or something like that.
    For an app that seems to do everything, it lacks some very basic functionality.

    As for a digital filing cabinet... well I already use dropbox for things like that. I keep documents in dropbox, which auto syncs to my various computers and laptops. I store important docs like scanned passports and ID in there too for when I travel.

    I want to like evernote... I really do, But I can't see it being any good for my needs. It takes notes pretty well, But for to do lists and could storage I think there are better and simpler solutions.

      I also much prefer dropbox for storage, but still prefer Evernote for storage of scanned and photographed documents, because Evernote makes the contents searchable (OCR in the background), while Dropbox does not.

        Cheers for the tip.
        I don't scan stuff much but it's good to know.

    I don't use it for most of the things it could do, because single-purpose apps are better for some things. Notify for note-taking, for instance, and Todoist for to-dos.

    What I do find Evernote unsurpassed for, however, is archiving physical bits of paper, and making them searchable: receipts, insurance details, recipes that I find in physical magazines and want to keep, and the odd set of meeting notes that I write by hand when I don't have my iPad or Livescribe pen with me.

    The search function is brilliant on evernote. I have a little over 150 notes and it is easy to search keywords. Being multi-platform also helps a great deal.

    Place a small Evernote widget on your android launcher, with the camera action selected.
    It will let you take a photo, then make a new note with that photo in your default notebook.
    make the work notebook your default

    I use it mainly for taking notes at lectures or minutes during meetings, where I want to record the thing I'm taking notes for, and re-listen to what was said to cross-check against my notes.

    For straight note-taking, though, I use Documents Free.

    You have to commit to Evernote for it to work for you. Only then does it work, that's why there are the two camps, those who get it and those who don't.

    Evernote is an excellent application. I primarily use it for work related notes, and have it installed on both my work and personal computers, for when I am working at home. I also use it to store all of my product keys and text that I regularly copy and paste.

    I also didn't get it - use dropbox why do i need it- until i read that you have to start using it to appreciate it. So i decided i'd really try and if it didn't seem great, that would be it. It is great. I love that there is just one place to look for anything. Manuals, notes, etc etc like everyone else. One other thing is family history. I can put in scanned photos with names, tidbits of information, process for for ordering birth certs in other countries, old stories i remember, possible leads for other generations. Doesn't matter how big or small the information, it can all be dumped into evernote and than easily searched and retrieved.

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