If you thought Evernote, the multipurpose note-taking and organisation program, couldn't get any more useful, wait until you get a look at all the new bonuses in version 5 of its free Android app. This latest release overhauls the camera feature used for taking photos and saving them into your cloud-based Evernote account to make it more efficient, and adds shortcuts to frequently accessed notebooks, tags, and search terms via a right to left swipe gesture.
It also adds some really exciting new possibilities for what you can do with the Evernote Android app in conjunction with paper notebooks, the kind you'd use to keep sketches and handwritten notes. Online meets offline – what a twist. Evernote's Android app goes above and beyond what any mobile user could reasonably expect it to do, earning it a full five out of five stars.
For the uninitiated, here's the 30 second explanation of what Evernote is: It's a freemium note-taking program that stores all your notes in the cloud so that you can access and edit them from any place where you have an Internet connection. You can type notes, upload images as part of your notes (think whiteboards, recipe cards, phone numbers scribbled on napkins), and record voice memos.
Metadata, such as tags and your geographic location when you wrote the note, are stored with it too, giving you a dozen or more ways to search for your notes later when you need them. The free version gives you a lot – there are no major shortcomings to working with it – but the £35 per year Premium account is a sweet deal (we’ll talk more about the differences between these options later in the review). You can create Evernote notes in the desktop app for Windows or Mac, through the Evernote web account, via its mobile app for iPhone or iPad, and of course in the Android app, which is the focus of this review.
In many ways, Evernote is similar to Microsoft OneNote (which is part of SkyDrive), although on Android devices, it's more comparable with the newly released Google Keep Android app. Evernote is a clear distance ahead of Keep, though, partly because it works so well in all its various forms, whereas Google's Keep online version is but a pitifully lightweight program with obvious bugs.
Head-to-head against Evernote, OneNote pales in comparison, especially in terms of how well it helps you organise, find, and edit your notes. More importantly, Evernote integrates with dozens of other third-party tools, not to mention other useful apps and plug-ins under the Evernote umbrella (for example, Evernote Web Clipper is a browser plug-in that quickly saves the contents of a web page without making you copy and paste anything). The Evernote service simply can't be beat.
What's new in version 5.0?
The noteworthy features in Evernote's latest Android release are many, but my favourite is a new shortcut menu, which appears when you swipe from right to left. Shortcuts bring you to a search result of your choosing in just one swipe and one tap. For example, you can set up shortcuts to particular notebooks or tags.
On a small smartphone screen, having these shortcuts makes a lot more sense than scanning through a scrolling list of all the available options.
Another new feature for version 5 of Evernote on Android graces the camera side of the app. When you snap a photo to upload now, you can shoot multiple photos at once and select the ones that you want to include after their thumbnails are on screen. It's a great time saving feature for when you're taking multiple photos of pages of a document or book.
The special twist in this release pertains to how Evernote plays nice with other apps, in this case, real paper notebooks (and more specifically, the Moleskine brand). You can now buy special Evernote stickers (included with select Moleskine notebooks, starting around £17 plus shipping) that you apply to real paper and that turn into tags when you upload an image of that paper to Evernote. And you can customise the sticker's meaning. For example, one of the stickers is a blue square with a white airplane. Under settings, you can customise your Evernote Android app so that this sticker adds a tag called "travel" and automatically saves any images that use this sticker into a notebook called "Itineraries." It's all highly customisable, and quite frankly, pretty darn cool.
Another new feature is voice-to-text speech. In other words, you can now dictate notes, and Evernote will save an audio recording of your voice memo, too.
Back to basics
As with all the other versions of Evernote, the Android app gives you access to a lovely set of organisational tools: Tags, notebooks, and stacks, which are groups of notebooks. These tools hide behind the left side of the screen, but are laid out spaciously here in a way that makes them easy to access even on a small screen.
Within your own tags and notebooks, you can click on any one to show content that meets your search criteria. An additional text search bar, found through the eyeglass icon, gives you more ways to get to the notes you need. One very cool feature that isn't new (I still love it though) is that if you have any uploaded images that contain the keywords from a search – even if they are handwritten on a scrap of paper or whiteboard – Evernote will find them. In the desktop and web apps, the matched words are highlighted in yellow, although they're not called to attention in the Android version. This OCR feature isn't fool proof, but it's an incredible addition that's available in both free and Premium accounts.
Evernote Premium vs. Free
Evernote Premium costs £4 per month or £35 per year, and it adds some noticeable perks to the free Evernote account. Free account holders can only upload 60MB of data per month, whereas paid users max out at 1GB per month, which comes in handy if you upload a lot of images and documents, or clip a lot of web pages. When Premium users enter search terms, Evernote not only scans typed content and images, but also hunts through PDFs.
Another perk for Premium users is offline notebooks, an amazingly useful option when working on a mobile device. This feature lets you save the most recent copy of selected notes locally on your Android device, so they're available to read and edit when you don't have an Internet connection.
Premium users can give other users the ability to edit a note, adding collaboration to the experience. When you decide to share a notebook, you can make the files viewable only, or both viewable and editable. You can also stipulate that your collaborator must be an Evernote account holder – or not. When you're ready to share, one click sends a short email with a link to the files. (For additional details on the Evernote Premium account, see Evernote's information page).
You can do a lot with the free version of Evernote, and I would only recommend upgrading to Premium if you're so committed to Evernote that it will be your one-and-only note-taking app. Luckily, committing to Evernote is not a difficult decision, especially if you're an Android user, as this edition of Evernote is one of the more complex and rich ones available. Most of the new features aren't yet available in other mobile versions of the Evernote app – sorry, iOS users, you'll have to wait.
Evernote is easily the best note-taking service you'll find. It integrates with so many other programs and services, including actual paper-based notebooks now. All the thoughtful features and excellent search tools just make Evernote a stellar service. If you want to get organised, Evernote deserves your attention.