Evernote has been one of my favorite tools for staying organized and productive, but changes to Evernote's plans and pricing have burned its users, who now face having to pay a lot more or find an alternative. The problem is that Evernote jacked the price on the highest tier of service by about 55 percent and gutted what's included in the lower tiers of service, including the free offering. Loyal users aren't getting grandfathered into a better deal, and the community is pretty ticked off. Many, including our own Sascha Segan, are talking about leaving Evernote, showing their dissatisfaction by taking their money—and their notes—elsewhere. But doing so is much easier said than done.
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Imagine taking all your clothes out of the closet and trying to rearrange them into your kitchen cupboards instead. The space is different. There's no bar for hangers. And where the hell am I supposed to put my shoe rack? You could make it work, but do you want to? If you're an Evernote power user, that might be how it's going to feel when you try to switch to another note-taking app.
Alternatives to Evernote do exist, but most pale in comparison in terms of functionality. None of them offers a truly comparable experience, and they're all structurally different to some degree. If you migrate, your notes and all their attributes aren't guaranteed to come out the same way on the other side. If you use Evernote's full range of features, including tags, notebook stacks (i.e., nested notebooks), reminders, and internal links to other Evernote notes, these elements of your organization won't transfer into any other app that's currently available.
Let's talk about what some of those alternatives are and the shortcomings you can expect with them.
Alternatives to Evernote
Microsoft OneNote. The strongest alternative to Evernote at the moment is Microsoft OneNote. On its own, it's a fine service. It has apps for Windows, Mac, the Web, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone. It supports text notes, audio notes, image uploads, free-form handwriting, OCR on handwriting (that is, your handwriting becomes searchable text), a Web clipper browser plug-in, and more. It's also a key part of Microsoft's cloud-syncing service OneDrive.
But if you're moving to it from Evernote and are used to the Evernote way to doing things, you're in for a lot of adjustments.
Migrating notes and notebooks from Evernote into OneNote is a pain, even when using the tool that the OneNote team built specifically for this purpose. The OneNote importer tool for Evernote is only available on Windows at the moment. A Mac version is supposedly in the works, although in March, it was said to be "a few months." Four months later, it still hasn't shown up. The migration is slow. It preserves notebooks (yay!). It turns your Evernote notes into OneNote notes (hurray!). And it turns your tags into a curious mess (huh?).
Tags get turned into hashtags, and that's fine, but the first tag on every note also gets turned into a section. Sections are like a tab within a notebook, and that's entirely different that being a tag. It can really mess up your sense of organization and order because the first tag you put on a note isn't necessarily one that you want to call special attention to.
Another tool for moving Evernote notes into OneNote (it's also for Windows only) turns all Evernote tags into OneNote sections, but in doing so, it duplicates the notes. If a note has five tags, you now have five copies of that note, each with its own section. That's just too messy.
Even if the migration goes well, it still takes a while to get used to the different interface and the OneNote lingo. I have moments when I can't even distinguish OneNote's Web app from the Microsoft Word Web app, except that one is purple and the other is blue.
On top of the migration issues, there are still so many differences between Evernote and OneNote, and if one of them affects some kind of functionality that you need, it might be a deal-breaker.
Google Keep, Google Docs. Google Keep is a note-taking application that looks more like Stickies than Evernote. The interface looks like sticky notes on a computer monitor. It's a place to jot down information, and it does a nice job of keeping recent notes in front of your eyeballs, but it's not very capable at handling notes in the same way that Evernote does.
Some people have made the case that Google Docs is a better alternative to Evernote than Keep. It's not a terrible idea. Docs certainly has more functionality than Keep, and the search function is strong. Plus, Google Docs and Evernote are already able to integrate, both on their own and through automation tools like Zapier and IFTTT.
But fundamentally, Docs is a word processor, which is different than a note-taking app.
To me, the difference between a note-taking app and a word processor is the kind of content I put into it and how I use that content later. I return to notes and search them often. They contain business card information, summaries of research that I read, recipes, and other information that I call upon more than once and use on an ongoing basis. The appeal of Evernote has always been how easy the app makes it for me to get at that information no matter where I am or what device I have on hand.
My Word docs, however, tend to be useful in the moment until a project is complete, and then they typically retire or expire. I only ever open a handful of them again. My word processing files tend to be text-dominant. My notes are a mix of text, pictures, audio recordings, and PDFs. If you don't make these kinds of distinctions, then Google Docs or even Microsoft Word might be a totally acceptable replacement to Evernote.
Zoho Notebook. Zoho recently released a new app called Notebook that aims to become an alternative to Evernote, but it's not there yet. So far, it's only available on iOS and Android. The company says that desktop apps and a Web app are in the works, but even still, Zoho Notebook is very light on features so far.
In trying out the app, I was immediately limited by the fact that an audio note cannot have text on it, too. I often record interviews and transcribe right into the same note where the recording lives. I like the full text and the recording to stay together. In Zoho Notebook, I can have an audio memo or a text note, but not both together.
There are so many other features missing, too, like tags, that Evernote users would see Zoho Notebook as being way too basic to consider using it yet. Zoho Notebook might be a viable alternative to Evernote in a year or so, but right now it's not close to offering a comparable experience. This is a brand new service, however, and I look forward to seeing how it develops.
Moleskine, Simplenote, Laverna, OpenNote, and Others. There are plenty of other note-taking apps besides the ones I mentioned above, but they either lack critical features or have a unique angle that makes them significantly different from Evernote, and thus not a good replacement. Moleskine is simplistic. Simplenote doesn't have notebook organization or stacks of notebooks, and like Laverna, it's really more of a markdown text editor. OpenNote has you host all your own notes (good for privacy, but not if you want someone else to foot the storage bill) and is missing some key features, too.
Should You Stay With Evernote?
Sticking with Evernote is also an option, of course. I've been a Premium member for a few years, and I'm not happy about the price hike, but I am more than satisfied with the service overall.
Let's review the pros and cons of each tier of service and its price.
Evernote Basic, free. Evernote Basic is the free tier of service. The main drawback is that it limits you to using Evernote on only two devices, plus the Web app. Say you have a smartphone, a personal laptop, and an office computer. If you primarily use Evernote for personal reasons, you could get by just fine by having it your phone and laptop. On the rare occasion you want to access your Evernote account from your office computer, you can do so in the Web browser.
The other big limitation with the free account is that you can only upload 60MB of data per month. That means you can't upload a gazillion photos a month, but you can make text notes and not really worry about hitting the ceiling.
Evernote Plus, $34.99 per year or $3.99 per month. The mid-tier service Evernote Plus honestly wouldn't seem so bad except that longtime Evernote customers compare it with what came before, and by comparison, it's skimpy. There are no limitations on the number of devices you can use to access your Evernote account. Plus users get 1GB of storage space each month for new uploads, but they can only upload files with a maximum size of 50MB. One big benefit is the ability to save notes offline so that you can edit them when you don't have internet.
Evernote Premium, $69.99 per year or $7.99 per month. Premium is now really expensive, but it gives you the real-deal Evernote in all its glory. Premium members can upload 10GB of new notes every month, and the maximum file size is 200MB. In addition to all the features included with Plus, Premium members get the ability to search for text in PDFs and attached Microsoft Office documents. Premium users can also browse the history of any note, scan and digitize business cards, and turn an Evernote note into a presentation.
No Need to Rush
My current Evernote subscription ends in February, so I have time to make a decision, and maybe you do, too. In that time, it's possible that OneNote's migration tool will improve and become available to Mac users. Maybe Evernote will change its mind and decide to grandfather in existing users to a better deal. If not, I'll probably downgrade to a Plus account and wean myself away from Evernote and into another productivity tool that meets all my requirements. There's no urgent need to a shift to another service. The problem right now is that there is no other tool that does it all, at least not to the deep extent that I use Evernote.
If you're not an Evernote power user, your options are much better. The fewer features you've used in Evernote and the fewer notes you have, the easier it is to switch to another service.