Evernote shocked the freeloading note-taking world last week when they announced their intention to restrict free users to just two devices. If you use Evernote on your computer and smartphone, you won’t be able to use it on your tablet or work machine unless you cough up for a more expensive premium subscription.
But Apple already has a free notes app, and it received a rather substantial overhaul with iOS 9 and El Capitan. It’s now a full-featured client for Mac and iOS, and with a few tips you can put Apple Notes to work for you.
But should you ditch Evernote for Apple Notes? That depends!
A Different Breed of Note-Taking App
The biggest difference between the two is that Apple Notes isn’t truly cross-platform like Evernote. You’ll need at least one Apple device to make use of it, but it’s completely free to use thereafter and doesn’t require or consume iCloud storage space. It’s worth noting that even though the service isn’t truly cross-platform, you can sign in to iCloud.com and access notes through a browser on Windows, Linux, and other unsupported platforms.
Apple Notes is absolutely at its most useful on Apple devices, for users who use both a Mac and an iPhone. If you use an iPad on the sofa or wear an Apple Watch on your wrist, then you’ll get even more out of it. Android and Windows users might want to consider something else. If you need to switch from Evernote to Apple Notes, you’ll need a Mac to do it the easy way.
Though Apple Notes is free, it’s also worth noting that it’s relatively light on features compared to Evernote and competitors like OneNote. You only need to look at each interface to see evidence of this. Evernote is full-featured and somewhat cluttered:
Apple Notes is barebones, but has a fairly clean interface:
Though Apple Notes is now a viable option for Evernote refugees, we wouldn’t have suggested it a year ago before it received much-needed update. Even with iCloud syncing, the old Apple Notes was incredibly simplistic, lacked decent support for attachments, and it was difficult to organize or find things. Thankfully Apple Notes now includes the basic functionality you’d expect from a note-taking app in 2016.
Even though Evernote still feels like the power tool, it’s worth asking yourself if you’re really using all the features that the heavyweight has to offer. If you’re currently using the free tier, this is unlikely, which is why you might want to consider switching after all.
Apple Notes or Evernote?
In order to make a comparison between the two, we’ve put together a list of features you’ll miss, workarounds, and shared functionality of both options. Despite the list of features that follows, personal preference will ultimately decide it — so if you just like the way Evernote does things, or maybe you find it a little too complex for your current usage then you might feel differently than we do.
Things You’ll Miss
You won’t find tags in Apple Notes. That means there’s no way of grouping notes together by tag across various folders (what Evernote refers to as notebooks), nor can you search for tags. You’ll have to rely on a suitably descriptive title, or put your tags in the body text of your notes instead (perhaps using hashtags).
There’s also nothing quite like the Evernote web clipper, which takes whole webpages (or small sections of them) and saves them — HTML, images and all — in a notebook for safe keeping. You can use the iOS Share button to send a URL directly to notes, but it will save only the link rather than the full body text. If you use this Evernote feature for research or saving articles for reading later, you might really miss this functionality, but consider using Safari’s Reading List feature (which saves pages offline) or an app like Summary Pro for clipping content instead.
Apple Notes also lacks the customizable interface that Evernote has had for many years now. There’s no ability to save a list of favorite notes or notebooks, no customizable start screen like in Evernote’s iOS app, and no colored themes to choose from. In fact, Apple Notes looks incredibly plain compared to Evernote, using a faux textured paper look (but at least it’s better than the pre-iOS 9 yellow mess).
Evernote’s collaboration features are also missing, though this functionality is rather limited in Evernote’s free option so it’s unlikely you have become too reliant on it. Switching to a shared folder or document in Google Drive for this purpose provides a free workaround.
There are also a few really handy features within Evernote that you might not use often, but appreciate every now and again. I’m referring to things like the ability to merge notes, or select multiple notes and change their combined tags. You can move notes en-masse to another folder within Apple Notes, but your only other options are delete and share. Apple Notes also doesn’t seem to register your GPS location when you create a note, and there’s no way to add a voice note (though you could record one with your iPhone’s voice recorder, then share it to Notes).
Another of these features is the document scanner that comes as part of Evernote’s mobile applications. There are plenty of other document scanners out there, so you could simply grab a scan and send the image or PDF directly to Apple Notes using the Share button instead.
Perhaps one of the biggest things you’ll miss out on by dropping Evernote is the surrounding ecosystem the company has built up. From integration with services like IFTTT, Feedly, and Pocket; to Evernote edition styluses and Moleskine notebooks; it’s the powerhouse of the note-taking world. Apple Notes only became useful less than a year ago, so it can’t come close in this regard.
One of the big additions to Notes when Apple overhauled it in 2015 was the ability to add attachments of varying file type. Despite looking, I haven’t been able to find a list of supported file types but I’ve tested the feature out and managed to upload (and sync) an .MP3 file, a Mac disc image (.DMG) file and a compressed .ZIP archive. The fact that you can send files to Notes from practically any app on Mac or iOS makes this even better. Some users have reported that certain notes cap out with a “note full” message, but I haven’t had that problem myself yet.
Both platforms separate content in virtually identical ways (aside from the aforementioned lack of tags). You can create multiple folders on Apple Notes, and assign content there from various apps within a share sheet on Mac or iOS. You can select multiple notes and move or trash them en-masse, and there’s even a Recently Deleted folder which stores deleted notes for 30 days, just like Evernote’s Trash notebook.
Finding what you need is pretty straightforward on Apple Notes too, with the option of dividing content by photos and videos, sketches, maps, websites, audio, and documents. Evernote has more powerful search parameters, but most users can get by with what Notes offers. If you use notebook stacks on Evernote, you’ll be pleased to hear you can put folders within folders in Apple Notes.
Evernote has its own system of reminders that puts certain notes on a to-do list. While no such functionality exists within Apple Notes, it is quite closely linked to Apple’s own Reminders app. You can share a note directly to Reminders, and while you can’t keep a checklist of reminders like you can on Evernote, you could always create an “Apple Notes” list within the Reminders app and add everything to that.
Apple Notes places great emphasis on sketching, allowing you to draw and jot down handwritten notes right there in the app. It’s actually pretty good (Evernote has an app called Skitch dedicated to this task) but it lacks annotation tools.
Apple Notes Benefits
The first major benefit to Apple Notes over Evernote is that there are no restrictions for free users. You no longer have a 2 device limit, there’s no upload quota, and you can access your notes offline — something users of Evernote’s free tier are limited by. There’s no premium tier, and no requirement to shell out for iCloud storage either.
You’ll also be able to use Siri to create, search, and add things to your notes using voice commands. This functionality will be coming to other apps in iOS 10, but it’s ready right now for Apple Notes users (and it works pretty well).
You can now password protect your Apple Notes, and use TouchID to access them on your iPhone and iPad. While you can encrypt certain Evernote content from Mac and Windows clients, Apple Notes allows you to do so from mobile as well.
A few other caveats I’ve not mentioned are the “On my Mac” or “On my iPhone” accounts for Apple Notes, which allow you to just store notes on your device if you want to keep things locally. You can also change some default settings, like default sorting, where the cursor appears when you start a new note, and an option to save your media to the Camera Roll on iOS devices too.
Ready to Switch?
One thing to keep in mind: Evernote has a reliable feature for exporting all of your notes, whereas Apple Notes does not. You can only export Apple Notes, one by one, to PDF format. This might make moving your content elsewhere tricky in future.
Luckily there are third party apps like Exporter (free) and Notes Exporter (free) to do the job for you, and though many such apps claim to maintain metadata like creation and edited dates, they should still be viewed with scrutiny. There’s every chance Apple could change something, and these apps would stop working (or mess up your content).
Export Evernote Content on Your Mac
- Update your Mac to ensure you have the latest version of Notes, which includes the recently introduced importer tool.
- It’s best to do this by notebook to retain structure. First open a notebook, then hit Edit > Select All.
- With all your notes selected, hit File > Export Notes and choose .ENEX format (not HTML). Give your file the same name as your notebook to keep track of what you’ve done. You can also access this option by heading to Notebooks, right clicking one, then clicking Export Notebook.
- Repeat this for all of your notebooks until you have a collection of .ENEX files.
- Open Apple Notes on your Mac and select File > Import notes, then select one of your .ENEX files.
- Your content will be imported into an Imported Notes folder, which you should rename as per your original notebook title.
- Repeat the process until all of your notebooks have been imported.
Of course, you can also do this by selecting all notes, exporting everything, and importing it all in one go — but you’ll lose notebook structure by doing it that way.
Use Your iPhone (Not Recommended)
On your phone, you can only export notes one-by-one using the Export Note button under the Share menu. This will actually open an email with the .ENEX file attached, so you’ll have to send it to yourself too. Then you can import it by tapping on it in the email you received. This is a terrible way of switching over, so we recommend using a Mac instead.
If you really have no choice (you’re using Windows or Linux, and don’t have a Mac) then you can export your .ENEX files using steps 1-4 above on your desktop, send them to your iOS device using email or a cloud services like Dropbox or Google Drive, then open them in Notes. Again, it works best notebook-by-notebook to maintain structure.
You Have Options
If you’re serious about using Evernote, then you have options. Apple Notes isn’t for everyone, especially if you don’t use a Mac or have other non-Apple devices. It’s also limited in terms of features, reliant on third party applications to export your data, and the font size on the desktop version is annoyingly tiny by default.
Do you use Apple Notes? Have you ditched Evernote recently? Let us know what Evernote’s change in policy means for you.