DEVONThink or Evernote?

I have been a paid user of Evernote for a couple of years and have always found it to be a very good service. However I have become recently more and more frustrated in it, in particular changing the MAC interface to a complex and unintuitive interface, and the reliability of the sycing between the cloud and the IOS app. So I have been looking for an alternative, and I think I may have found it in DEVONThink pro.

Since both DEVONThink and Evernote are used to store and find pretty much anything stored in notebooks (e.g. notes, documents, images, PDF etc), they pretty much do the same thing. In some ways DEVONThink does it much better than Evernote, but there are a few limitations as well.

Here is a feature comparison (this is not an exhaustive list of all the features, just what I consider to be most important for me), and some general comments after. While I have tried to keep this feature comparison as objective as possible, it is based on my own experience. Versions compared are Evernote v5.0.6 (MAC) and DevonThink Pro v2.5.1.

Feature Evernote DEVONThink
Platform Cross platform Mac and iOS only
Groups Notebooks can be stored in a single group (Evernote calls them stacks), but they cannot be nested in multiple levels Notebooks can be stored in groups, and groups can be nested.Notes can also be replicated and stored in multiple folders. EG I have a single list of items I need for photoshoots which is stored in both my photography and my travel folder.Smart groups allow for documents in different folders to be visible in a single place. For example I can view all WIP documents in a single place.
Tagging Tags supported Tags and labels (WIP, completed etc) supported
Browser plugins Yes Yes
Email notes directly to a notebook Yes No
Mobile Sync Over the air Over the air (mac to mac), but only via wifi for IOS. Note that version 2 of IOS is due soon which will support over the air sync. Of course the wifi sync is super-fast (since only the local network is involved).It is easy to select which notes or notebooks to sync (just replicate them to a “mobile sync” folder).You can also sync to dropbox and webdav
File formats Evernote; propriety format with limited export ability. Notes are all regular file formats (pdf, jpg, rtf etc), so it is easy to get the notes out should you wish to migrate the notes somewhere else
Search Saved searches supported. Search is slow Saved searches supported via smart groups. Search is super-fast
3rd Party support Lots of 3rd party applications that connect to Evernote, as well as apps created by them (eg Hello and Food app) Applescript support allows for extension of capability into other applications.
Editing internal editor Limited Since the files are stored in the file system, you can use any external editor (e.g. Textedit for RTF, preview for images etc). However the internal editor generally good enough.
Sharing Yes and very easy Yes but a little more complex
Note templates No Yes (eg: new agenda)
Size limits Limits depending if you have a free or paid package, but very generous limits. Since the files are stored on the computer, no limits
Costs Free and paid versions (annual fees) Pay for s/w, but no subscription costs, but it will take about 3 years to break even in cost compared to Evernote
Mobile version offline access (iPhone) Supported, but I never could get it to reliably work (at last check it told me that I had about 100tb used when I actually had about 100mb used) Supported via wifi

And now for some subjective comments.

Evernote

While the Evernote IOS application looks really nice, it is overly complex and cumbersome to use. In other words it looks pretty but is not friendly. When sync works it is great, but it constantly seems to be wanting to update notebooks, and the updates seemed to take forever. Of course it has online sync, whereas the DEVONThink products do not (yet – see below).

The PC desktop version is great, and the MAC version was until a recent update in which it became very unintuitive. I had to do an online search to find out how to do a simple thing like delete a notebook.

DEVONThink

The DEVONThink IOS application is very simple, but it is easy to use, search is accessibly (and fast), and navigation is really fast and easy. Sync can only be performed via wifi and not though the cloud (although a new version is due this year which will support sync via the cloud).

It reminds me of using the beautiful OmniFocus interface, similar, easy to use but powerful. This is a good companion product for the GTD junkies and OmniFocus users. While both are simple and intuitive, they are powerful products and have loads of useful features. It is not the cheapest products, but after using it for a few weeks you will wonder how you ever got by without it.

It integrates into almost anything, and getting information into and out of it is a breeze. I feel less “locked in” than with Evernote.

Overall (and yes I am coming from a grumpy Evernote experience), I think that DEVONThink is the winner, it will be my product of choice.

You can download a 30 evaluation version of DEVONThink, or the free version of Evernote and decide for yourself.

Disclosure: free license for both iPhone and MAC were provided by DEVONThink for my evaluation.

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