For the last few years, I’ve been flirting with the idea of switching from Evernote to something else. I’ve spent a lot of time dithering back and forth, but I never decide to switch. I started thinking about it again this week, after noticing this post on Hacker News about most of Evernote’s staff being laid off. (And here’s an article from SFGate that fills in some details.)
Evernote was purchased by a company named Bending Spoons a while back, and it seems like this move is just to essentially shut down Evernote’s old US operation and move the work over to the new owner’s offices in Europe. So it’s maybe not as bad as the headline “Nearly all of Evernote’s remaining staff has been laid off” sounds. But it got me looking at alternatives again.
There was some discussion of the HN post on Mastodon and Reddit, so I looked at the discussions there (and on HN too of course) and went down some rabbit holes. So I thought I’d write up a blog post with some of my findings and thoughts.
The first mention of Evernote on my blog is from back in 2005. And looking at my actual Evernote account, I see that I started using it in July 2008. And I know that I started using it heavily in 2013/2014. So it’s been my main note-taking / task management system for about a decade.
In addition to the acquisition, layoffs, and general turmoil at Evernote, they’ve also put through a price increase, so Evernote Personal now costs $130/year, which is pretty steep. But price isn’t my main concern. I’m more worried about whether or not the new owner will keep both the front-end software and the back-end infrastructure up & running smoothly.
So here are some alternatives I’ve looked at, and some notes on each.
A lot of people seem to like Notion. It can import from Evernote, so that’s one item checked off my list. It also allows you to attach reminders to notes, which is another one of my must-have features. Pricing is $96/year for their “Plus” tier, which is probably what I need. So, less expensive than Evernote, but still not cheap.
But it also potentially has the same issue that a lot of people are having with Evernote: It’s a VC-funded startup that’s liable to run out of money, or get acquired, or whatever, and that could screw things up.
Two other possible negatives: (1) it’s using its own proprietary file format, and (2) it’s using its own sync back-end.
Obsidian is a popular Markdown-based note-taking app. It’s also a commercial product, but from a much smaller team, and not reliant on huge wads of VC cash. It’s free for personal use. If you want to use their sync back-end, that costs $96/year, the same price as Notion’s Plus tier.
My concern with it is that it’s primarily a plain-text product. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing, really. I appreciate that my data will all be in plain-text files, rather than a proprietary format. But I use Evernote as a place to dump image files and PDFs too. That’s possible with Obsidian, but I’m not sure about how robust the support is, or how easy it is to use.
There are a ton of plugins for Obsidian, and I suspect that a lot of the stuff I want to do would be supported by a plugin. But I’d have to play around a lot to figure out how well that would work.
The app is open-source and free to use. There’s a paid sync service, if you want it. The prices are all in Euros, but it looks like the basic tier would cost around $20/year and the pro tier would be around $63/year. So that’s reasonable.
I’m not sure that Joplin has enough task management features for me, but otherwise, it seems to be pretty solid.
Microsoft’s OneNote should probably be my preferred alternative. It’s got a lot going for it. I already subscribe to Microsoft 365, so I’m already paying for it. It’s from a large, stable, company, and it’s used by (probably) millions of people, so it’s not likely to be going away any time soon. And I use it extensively at work.
But I don’t use it at work because I like it, I use it because it’s the only approved note-taking app at my company. I know it well enough to know that it won’t work well as a full task-management system. If I wanted to stay in the Microsoft ecosystem, I could probably pair it with Outlook reminders and/or Microsoft To Do to get what I want. But I’m not sure I want to do that.
OneNote used to have an Evernote importer, but it seems that they discontinued that a while back. So I’m not sure how I’d get my notes from Evernote into OneNote. There’s a third-party tool that might work, though it looks kinda iffy.
So that’s four options. I looked at a bunch of other stuff too, but I’m (for now) rejecting anything that isn’t cross-platform (Mac, Windows, and iOS/iPadOS), so that eliminated some interesting Apple-only stuff.
Note synchronization is a big thing for me, and I’m not sure how some of these options are at it. With Evernote, I frequently switch between my Windows desktop, my MacBook and my iPhone and iPad, and it’s frustrating any time the sync doesn’t work seamlessly. If I only had Mac and Windows to worry about, then I could use one of the options that lets you keep your notes in local Markdown files, and just rely on OneDrive for sync. But I’m not sure how that would work on iOS, and the documentation on some of these apps doesn’t do a good job of getting into details on that.
And, to bring things full-circle, I came across a thread on the MPU forums this morning from somebody who left Evernote, and now kinda regrets it, and is thinking about going back. So maybe I should just stay put!