After having signed up for an Evernote beta invite a while ago, I finally received one this week.

Evernote is a next generation note taking service. What sets it apart from similar applications are the numerous ways of entering as well as retrieving notes. First of all there is the Evernote Website. It is simple and straightforward, and seems to be very responsive. You can create as many notebooks as you want. Each notebook acts like a folder that contains individual notes as files, and can be viewed using different perspectives (such as thumbnail view or list view), much like a native file browser application like Finder or Windows Explorer.

Notes can be entered and edited on the website, but there are several alternatives. For example, you can email a note to a special email address that is generated for you when you sign up. You can also use this mechanism to send notes from your mobile phone, using your provider’s SMS-Email gateway. However, I have been running into some technical issues when I attempted this from my mobile phone (I’m getting the following error message: “Your MSG could not be DELIVERED because InvalidPduContent”), so I need to look into this. Curiously, sending a picture via MMS worked just fine. Speaking of pictures: Evernote’s support for images is pretty amazing. It uses advanced text recognition to extract text from images, such that it becomes searchable. I have tested this with a low quality photo of a poster snapped from my mobile phone, and it worked as advertised. Very impressive!

You can also use a nifty bookmarklet that allows you to either submit an entire webpage to Evernote, or just the text that you have selected.

But perhaps most importantly, Evernote has a downloadable client app for both Windows and Mac. I have only tested the Mac client, which was released very recently. It seems to lag slightly behind its Windows counterpart in terms of features, but on the positive side it looks and feels like a proper Mac application rather than a quick port. It relies on a Sync feature to synchronize notes between the server and the client (either manually or in a configurable interval). Otherwise, the client offers pretty much the same functionality as the website. In addition, it comes with a clipping service that shows up in the menu bar (and registers some convenient keyboard shortcuts) and allows you to easily submit any copied text to the client, or even to clip a screenshot.

Evernote also has many ways to browse notes. It has a search box that allows you to find notes using full text search, but also using other criteria. For example, notes can be tagged (much like emails in Gmail), after which you can search for them by tag (or just click on the tag in the navigation bar). Notes can also be located via various attributes, such as creation or modification date, source (website, email, mobile, etc.), or whether or not they contain images or audio. This works from both the website or the native client. Evernote also has a mobile website, which I have not tested. This should be convenient when you need to look up a note while you’re on the road.

Overall, I am pretty impressed with Evernote. I have played with various note taking applications, and this comes very close to perfect in terms of features. I often have ideas that I need to capture, and right now I’m using a personal wiki for this purpose. However, I would prefer to work in a native application when possible, since this is generally more convenient. The combination of native client and website for Evernote is quite powerful, with a well-implemented synchronization mechanism. I just wish there were some wiki-like features, such as easy linking between individual notes. But the most important drawback is the lack of formatting options. The website only supports straight text entry, with no formatting at all. The Mac client supports rudimentary formatting (such as font, color, bold, italic, underline, alignment), but unfortunately this formatting appears to be lost when the note is uploaded to the website. The thumbnail view does show the properly formatted note, but the full view does not. And any edits on the website completely reset any formatting that might have been applied on the client. I don’t require any sophisticated formatting, but at the minimum I would need support bullet lists (which neither the Mac client nor the website supports), headings, and emphasis.

As it is right now, Evernote seems like a somewhat useful scratch pad to collect short notes, web clippings, etc. Particularly the mobile features might come in handy. With a bit of additional work, I think it could be extended to become a more comprehensive solution for organizing information, but right now I am going to continue using my wiki for this purpose.

If you would like to see it in action, there is a short Evernote Screencast.