Katherine Boehret

Fresh Design Brightens Evernote 5

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Evernote 5, currently available for Mac and devices with the iOS operating system, features a complete redesign, with an improved ‘Cards’ view, top, of saved items.

Ever miss the simplicity of file cabinets and manila folders? Although today’s digital lifestyle is supposed to be easier, it can quickly turn into a muddled mess of out-of-sync devices, forgotten account passwords and misplaced files.

Since its debut in 2008, Evernote has tried to change that. This free service gives people a place to store all kinds of documents and uses a system of virtual notebooks to sort things like PDFs, text notes, audio snippets and drawings. One of Evernote’s strongest features has been its usability on almost all devices and operating systems, including Macs, Windows PCs, BlackBerrys, devices running iOS (Apple’s mobile operating system) or Android, and browsers and printers.

But like a ho-hum, reliable car that merely got you where you wanted to go, Evernote hasn’t always been a particularly delightful thing to use.

Meet Evernote 5, a revamped version of the service that purrs with fluid features and playful design elements. In place of a dull list view of notes and notebooks, a handsome Cards view shows better images and details for saved items; on iOS, each card spins around and floats toward you when it’s selected.

A new Atlas section sorts all Evernote entries by where they were captured, displaying attractive maps that bring life to boring notes. Searching has improved. And a handy left-side panel includes new sections for Shortcuts to notebooks or notes, which you set up, and Recent Notes, which displays the five most recent things saved to your Evernote account.

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A new ‘Atlas’ section sorts all Evernote entries by location.

Evernote 5 recently launched on Apple’s Mac computers and iOS mobile devices, and the company will bring out versions for Windows, Android and the Web early next year. A free Evernote account gives you 60 megabytes of usage a month, while a Premium account includes 1 gigabyte of usage each month, no ads, offline usage and other extras. Premium costs $45 a year or $5 monthly.

Last summer, when I finished my final project for graduate school, I relied on Evernote to organize all of my notes, files, emails, photos and interviews. It did the job, but Evernote 5 is simply better looking, more functional and more enjoyable to use.

If you like collaborating with other people on notes, you can share anything from your Evernote account with others via Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or email. Evernote 5 has a smarter way of displaying notebooks, with a small people icon in the top right of each shared notebook. The covers of these notebooks also tell who owns them, and notebooks can now be sorted by Name, Note Count or Owner in one simple step.

Evernote makes seven different apps and works with various products from other companies. To keep track of all these offerings, a Trunk section in Evernote 5 sorts them and directs people to links where they can buy or download products.

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Notebooks can be organized by subject, as shown on the iPhone app.

My favorite app is the Evernote Web Clipper, which works with browsers including Google Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Apple’s Safari to help you save anything you find on the Web. This can include entire Web pages or just a particular image or selection of text. I used Evernote to gather gift ideas for family and friends, keeping them all in a notebook labeled Christmas 2012.

I also like using Evernote’s Clearly, which is a browser add-on for Chrome and Firefox that works like the Reader tool in Apple’s Safari browser. I use it with Chrome, and anytime I click on the Clearly icon, the text of the blog page or website that I’m reading appears without cluttered ads and other distractions. I can adjust the background color and text size on the page, or clip pages directly to Evernote.

A few keyboard shortcuts are extra helpful when using Evernote on your computer. Pressing Control + N on Windows, or Command + N on Macs, will instantly create a new note. On Macs, tapping Command + Z will undo your last action in Evernote and pressing Command + ; will check spelling.

One of the little-known Evernote features is its integration with email. Each account, free or Premium, is assigned an email address. This address is your account name added to a forgettable string of letters and numbers, but it can be added to your email contacts. Anything you email to your Evernote account gets saved just like a note would.

When you go into Evernote, you can manually drag that email you sent into a specific notebook. Or, by adding @[notebook name] to the end of your subject line, the email will automatically be added to a specific notebook. I did this with email confirmations for gifts I bought, forwarding these emails to my Evernote email address with @Christmas 2012 in the subject.

Evernote’s iOS app has a special Page Camera option that allows users to digitize entries made into physical notebooks by taking pictures of the pages. Evernote recently joined with Moleskine notebooks to make Smart Notebooks. These are specially designed for use with Page Camera and feature stickers to give notes pre-defined or personalized tags. These Smart Notebooks cost $25 or $30, depending on size, and come with a three-month Evernote Premium account code.

Evernote has come a long way from its original design, and people who use Evernote 5 will delight in this revamp of the trusted service.

Write to Katherine Boehret at katie.boehret@wsj.com


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