What if you could collect, in one well-organized, searchable, private digital repository, all the notes you create, clips from Web pages and emails you want to recall, dictated audio memos, photos, key documents, and more? And what if that repository was constantly synchronized, so it was accessible through a Web browser and through apps on your various computers and smart phones?
Well, such a service exists. And it’s free. It’s called Evernote. I’ve been testing it for about a week on a multiplicity of computers and phones, and found that it works very well. Evernote is an excellent example of hybrid computing—using the “cloud” online to store data and perform tasks, while still taking advantage of the power and offline ability of local devices.
The idea behind Evernote is to be a sort of digital file cabinet. It allows you to create “notebooks” containing items called notes. These notes can range from text to photos to many kinds of attached files. You can locate, group and peruse them quickly, without having to dig through a computer’s file system. When I first reviewed the product, back in 2005, Evernote was a Windows-only, purely local information organizer. Now it’s a multi-platform, Internet-savvy, synchronized place for your ideas.
You can sign up for Evernote free at evernote.com, and use it entirely as a Web-based application, through any of the major Web browsers. But Evernote also comes in customized versions for a staggering array of devices: Windows and Macintosh computers, and for all the major smart phones, including the iPhone; the BlackBerry; phones running Google’s Android operating system; the latest Palm (PALM) phones; and Windows Mobile phones.
This week, Evernote, which is made by a small Silicon Valley company of the same name, is introducing a totally revamped Windows version that brings the platform into parity with the company’s previously more advanced Macintosh version.
I tested Evernote on two Macs and two Windows PCs, as well as an iPhone, a Palm Pre phone and the new Nexus One phone from Google (GOOG). I also tried free plug-ins the company offers that make it easy to insert all or part of a Web page or email into an Evernote note. These are available for the Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari and Chrome Web browsers, and for the Outlook email program. There are also system-wide Evernote buttons, which make capturing notes quicker, for Windows and the Mac.
I found Evernote works well for gathering ideas for business or personal projects, hobbies, or events you’re planning. When you see something or think of something you want to add, you can do it from whatever computer or phone is handy, and it will shortly appear on all of them.
Here are a few examples of how I used Evernote. I typed notes to myself on my desktops and laptops. I dictated a reminder to myself using the Evernote app on my iPhone. I used the Nexus One’s camera to take a picture of a person’s business card. I also copied text from Web pages, emails, and Word documents, and pasted them as notes. I even attached whole files to notes.
Within a few minutes, all of these notes were available on my personal Evernote Web site and from within all the Evernote apps on my computers and phones. I could search through them, email them, print them, group them with related items, or edit and annotate them.
Every Evernote user also gets a unique Evernote email address, and anything you email to that address goes into your repository as a new note. You also can use Twitter to get a note into Evernote.
The program has a few extra-cool features. If you create a note from a photo that includes printing, Evernote’s servers will try to figure out the words and make them searchable. This worked well in my tests with photos of business cards. And some smart-phone apps can save items directly into Evernote notes. One example I tested successfully was the Associated Press news app on the iPhone.
There are a few minor downsides to Evernote. While there’s no overall limit to the amount of data you can store, you can only upload 40 megabytes a month with the free version, attach certain types of files to notes, and you are forced to view ads. A premium version, which costs $5 a month, or $45 a year, increases the quota to 500 megabytes monthly, removes the ads, allows attaching any file type, and adds more features.
Also, I found the Evernote programs and apps, while similar, differ slightly depending on the capabilities of the platform they run on. Among the phone versions, for instance, the iPhone app is by far the most full-featured, and is currently the only one that can store whole notebooks offline, though the Android version is due to get that feature soon. Finally, the Evernote plug-in crashed Outlook on one of my Windows computers.
But, all in all, I found Evernote to be a valuable, easy-to-use tool that simplified my work and made good use of both the Internet and all my devices.