For the past few months, I have been using a number of apps for various, productivity-related functions. Briefly enumerated below:
Day One: journaling
Simplenote: quick notes, rough drafts
Genius Scan: scanning physical documents into PDF form
Notify: annotating PDF’s, digital signatures
Over the course of my random researches, I have found a solution that encapsulates the function of the above four into a single app: Evernote. Evernote can, in theory, do the job of the four different productivity apps and do them just as well, if not better than each of the dedicated apps. The fact that these four functions: Journaling, note-taking, PDF capture, and PDF annotation, are consolidated into a single app gives Evernote an advantage over the four apps assuming there are no major flaws in function or stability.
Journaling vs Day One – In my opinion, what makes Day One the best journaling app is the way the interface is designed. Each entry is laid out on a timeline allowing you to pinpoint the development of thoughts and ideas. There is also a calendar view similar to the Calendar app of iOS that allows you to view all of the entries in a given day. While Evernote also displays entries in a timeline format, the way this is implemented emphasizes content more than the chronology of the content. Finally, Day One’s timeline view is the first thing you see upon opening the app. To get to Evernote’s timeline view, you’ll have to open an individual notebook which translates to an extra step. Where Evernote takes the lead is in what you can put into entries. While Day One allows for a single picture and sound file, Evernote allows you to post PDF’s, web pages, multiple pictures, and multiple sound files. For true, dedicated journaling, being able to create multimedia rich entries is a must which is why Evernote is my initial winner here.
Note-taking vs Simplenote – Note-taking is all about speed and organization. A good dedicated note-taking app will enable you to input notes expediently as well as effeciently index these entries for quick reference. For this first function, Simplenote is the winner: no matter where you are in the app, you’re only a single press away from inputting a new note. Evernote, on the other hand, sometimes requires that you press through a separate menu before being able to input a new note. While this slight delay may seem inconsequential, sometimes it makes all the difference when catching a thought or idea. Where Evernote pulls ahead are in the areas of multimedia rich entries (as with Day One), and in indexing notes. First, Evernote allows you to capture pictures and recordings in addition to text. Sometimes the only way an idea can be effectively captured is through either one of these forms of media. Second, while Simplenote offers a clean, accessible interface as well as tagging, Evernote offers an additional level of organization in notebooks. This is crucial when it comes to managing a higher volume of notes. For indexing, Evernote also references the contents of pictures and PDF files whenever you do a search within the app. This means that you can, in theory, store handwritten notes in Evernote (this will be further discussed when we go to the. Ext function). These additional features give Evernote the advantage over Simplenote.
PDF capture vs Genius Scan – A good PDF capture app should be able to take legible scans of paper documents, stitch together multiple scans into a single PDF file, upload said file to various cloud services, and do all of the above quickly and efficiently. Genius Scan offers all of these features: it allows you to snap a quick picture then define borders, choose enhancement, and change rotation later on. Genius Scan also allows you to consolidate multiple photos into a single PDF file. Finally, the app allows you to upload the final PDF to a number of services, notably: Google Drive, Box, Dropbox, Skydrive, and even Evernote. It’s worth noting that the upload services requires an in-app purchase of $2.99, well worth the cost considering the upgraded functionality. Evernote’s version of this function is decidedly anemic by comparison. The borders for the document capture window are predefined as are the options for enhancement. Consolidation of multiple pages is limited to placing all the pages into a single note and even then you can only capture 4 pages at a time. Uploading is limited to Evernote. Most decisively, Evernote saves the captured document as an image that you can annotate within the app, not a PDF that can be exported and marked up elsewhere. This automatically excludes Evernote from use in most business activities as these usually involve signing and printing out of PDFs as well as the uploading of said files to various enterprise-oriented cloud services like Box. Given this disparity in features, it looks like Evernote cannot completely replace Genius Scan for PDF capture functionality. When it comes to PDF capture for the purpose of simple note-taking, however, Evernote is adequate.
PDF annotation vs Notability – Notability’s advantage, as with Genius Scan, is it’s ability to interface with various cloud services such as Dropbox and Box. It also outputs to PDF making it the easy choice when it comes to business use. Notability also allows you to import PDFs from various sources making it a perfect fit for Genius Scan when it comes integration into a business workflow. Evernote, on the other hand lends itself more towards simple annotation of images for the purpose of note-taking. While it can work with images from the Camera Roll, it can only output these back to Camera Roll or indirectly to cloud services via email. This means that images annotated within Evernote are designed to be viewed and studied within Evernote as well. Thus, Evernote is not a full replacement for PDF annotation. It’s inability to export outputs as PDFs makes it necessary to resort to another app especially when it comes to business use.
After some preliminary testing, I now realize that Evernote’s greatest feature is how self-contained it is. Used properly, Evernote becomes your one-stop-shop for all things related to note-taking and basic productivity. Unfortunately, it’s also Evernote’s self-contained nature that provides it’s greatest weakness. Some productivity-related tasks inevitably require exporting documents to PDF format either for annotation, peer review, or digital signing. As of now, there’s no way to do this from within the app. This one missing feature spoils what would otherwise have been the perfect productivity suite. Regardless, Evernote makes a perfect productivity solution for nearly everything else. In the coming days I will be exploring just how well it handles these other productivity functions as I integrate Evernote into my daily productivity routines.