Home Evernote Opens to All: Fantastic Promise, Disappointing Execution

Evernote Opens to All: Fantastic Promise, Disappointing Execution

The highly anticipated “memory augmentation” service Evernote opens to the public Tuesday and you’ll probably want to check this service out just to see what it tries to do. We may change our minds after more lengthy testing, but so far this combination of a bookmarking, note taking and photo cataloging service with apps for the desktop, web and mobile – not to mention the Optical Character Recognition powered search – adds up to a whole lot of potential … and frustration.

It’s worth a try, and your workflow might work better with Evernote than ours has so far. It’s probably not going to change your life as much as it says it will, though. Fact is it just doesn’t work that well.


The basic premise of Evernote is that you can throw all kinds of files at it and then search for particular words in those files later. Full or partial screenshots are easy to add as are photos emailed from your phone and text entered directly into the application. The company says you can take photos of signs on the street and labels on bottles of wine, then search for text in those images to recall them later. There’s all kinds of other features like annotation, sharing, a widget etc.

Storage space is limited and Evernote is now announcing a premium account at $5 per month for 500MB per month of uploading, free users get 40MB each month. That 40MB will go fast if you’re uploading full screenshots.

There are a number of services similar to Evernote, but few are as lightweight, inexpensive and multi-platform as it is. Last100 writer Dan Langendorf is excited about Evernote and says it compares well in terms of features to more heavyweight competing services like Yojimbo, Soho Notes and DevonThink. Another marginally related service is Iterasi (disclosure: a consulting client of mine) though that service and Evernote are not as similar as I suspected.

Evernote has a whole lot of promise that’s well articulated in the company’s demo video. Check it out and then read on to learn about the problems we had in trying to use the service.

The Problems

The OCR search in Evernote is far enough from perfect that it’s a real disappointment. False positives are annoying, but missing what should be readable text means that Evernote fails to recall documents that it promised to find. We saw a high percentage of false positives and too many cases of failure to capture text even on screen captures of web pages. The webcam capture wasn’t good for much as small images are too fuzzy, but we’re told by other users that a good point and shoot camera can get business cards into the system recognizably.

Evernote thought it saw the word “sun” in a big blank space, it didn’t find the words Belmont, Hawthorne or Belmont/Hawthorne anywhere in this image.

We ran into other little problems like an inability to login to the mobile web interface, the desktop app freezing up and a Mac desktop interface that was not as intuitive as we would have liked.


If Evernote’s OCR could improve then we’d love to see additional features like:

  • the ability to capture the current contents of a particular application instead of just the screen or a portion of it.
  • search from the desktop application.
  • adding items by RSS feed.

We’ll keep trying Evernote for non-essential uses, but we were really looking forward to it and are disappointed with the performance issues it faces right now.

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