I’ve been procrastinating on writing this post for years. Partly it was because my post on how to use Evernote to implement Getting Things Done is by far the most popular post in this blog’s history. Partly it was because Evernote gave me a Pro account to review and I felt that one negative review was enough for a while. Then after I had procrastinated for a while, I wasn’t sure if my criticisms were still valid: maybe the platform had been improved since then?
So I just reinstalled Evernote and NOPE.
Evernote’s clients follow a strict hierarchy: desktop client > web client > mobile client. There are things you can do on the higher level client that simply cannot be done on the lower clients. I’ve noticed this is particularly common with platforms where the primary client is on OS/X. That follows Jakob Nielsen’s recommendations for mobile app design, but I am an early cloud adopter: my phone is my primary user interface and I have no interest in downloading stand-alone clients.
I ended up dropping Evernote for Getting Things Done in favour of using email for one simple reason: phone developers put a lot of effort into making sure email synchronization works right. On my old iPhone, Evernote synchronization was very unreliable. Evernote for Android has background synchronization, which should approach the reliability of email push synchronization, but you need to have a Pro account to sync folders for offline reading (the star feature in the old version of Evernote appeared to sync things for offline reading but it didn’t).
Evernote is designed as a web clipping and note authoring service – it does those tasks pretty well. But it is advertised as a kitchen sink platform, and some of those uses are simply hacks. A vivid memory was when a version of Evernote came out that was unable to synchronize notes with no content – in my Getting Things Done implementation all the notes had no content! It made it clear to me that I was using the app outside its intended use cases.
In response to my insanely popular (Google top 10) post on how to use Evernote to Get Things Done, the people at Evernote kindly gave me a Pro license for a year so I could test out Evernote as a to-read list. Gettings Things Done says that when you come across something you’d like to read and you’re not in a reading context, you shouldn’t just leave it open in a browser tab or whatever. Instead, you should have a central place where you can put to-read items, that you can dig into whenever you find yourself with some spare time. My to-read items consist of both HTML and PDF, so I’d need Evernote Pro to hold the bulky PDFs.
Owning an iPhone means that you can do something productive – or at least distracting – when you find yourself with time to kill out in the world. My plan was to populate Evernote with the clipping bookmarklet and then use the iPhone app to burn through the stack.
Unfortunately, the iPhone app is designed almost exclusively for inputting notes, not reading notes:
- On my 3G the app is slow and takes a long time to load, so you can’t use small slices of time. Even worse, it crashes all the time.
- Every time you close and reopen the app (like when you get a txt), it goes back to the new note screen – it takes a number of clicks to get back to the note you were reading.
- It doesn’t save your place in notes, which is catastrophic for long PDFs.
- The PDF viewing interface sucks. 3rd-party PDF viewers are never as good as iBooks, but Evernote particularly sucks. And there’s no “open in Safari” button, never mind a “save to iBooks” button for when you have a PDF that needs the full-strength viewer.
Some of these issues could be solved if I had an iPhone capable of multitasking. If I had iTunes on my desktop, maybe I’d just put all my PDFs in iBooks. But Evernote is definitely not designed with the to-read use case in mind and it fails at it.
I’ve switched to keeping my to-read list in Instapaper: I’ll review it once I’ve had some more experience. Thank you to Evernote for being confident enough in their product to allow me to evaluate it.