As of this week, after the better part of a decade, I’m no longer an Evernote user. There are many reasons why — its ever-bloating feature set, its rising prices, its privacy gaffes — but the biggest reason why is named Bear. It’s another cloud-based note-taking app, and it doesn’t have half the features Evernote does. It is also exponentially faster and more pleasant to use. As it turns out, these things are related.
I didn’t think the day I dragged Evernote to the trash can would ever come. It’s easy to forget now, but the early version of Evernote started a revolution. At a time where most companies made software for a single platform, the note-taking company was building native apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. Years before iCloud, Evernote let you synchronize your work between an unlimited number of devices. And where every other online storage company capped you at some limit, Evernote granted you more storage every month.
The day I dragged Evernote to the trash
Strangely enough, the company gave nearly all of this away for free — charging only for advanced features, such as added monthly storage. One of the most charming things about the old Evernote was that it regularly made features that were previously premium-only items available on the free tier, which pushed the company to then develop new features worth paying for. For a time, everything Evernote did only made me love it more. Among other things, it developed excellent data exporting tools; former CEO Phil Libin said this was done based on the observation that people who were free to leave the countries where they were born were much less likely to ever do so.
Eventually I found a good reason to become a premium subscriber, and I paid happily for more than five years. But then Libin and his team left the company, the new team announced that employees planned to read private notes at random to improve the service’s machine learning, and I started looking for an alternative.
I found one in Bear, a year-old app for Mac and iOS by a three-person Italian design firm named Shiny Frog. Bear plays the sleek TextEdit to Evernote’s monstrous Microsoft Word: what you lose in absolute number of features you more than make up for in speed and ease of use. As a writer, I work in text, and text ought to be simple. Simplicity is Bear’s starting point — and, in my experience over the past few months, accounts for much of its success.
Simplicity is Bear’s starting point
Trying out Bear was as easy as downloading it on my devices and following its simple Evernote migration guide. The apps are free to download, but cost $15 a year to enable sync — a quarter of what I was paying for Evernote, and well worth the price for an app I now use every day.
Bear uses a simple three-paned design. The largest column is devoted to your current note. A smaller column to the left contains your notes in reverse-chronological order, topped by a search bar. The left-most column contains notes that you’ve pinned, as well as any tags you’ve created to organize your notes — #recipes, for example. I spent years trying to sort my notes into notebooks in Evernote, only to learn that what I really needed was a faster search box.
It’s at this point that people usually ask me why I don’t just use Apple’s default Notes app. Bear may look simple, but there’s power underneath the surface. To start with, Bear supports Markdown, a syntax popular with writers and developers that lets us quickly add links and format our text before exporting notes to our content management system.
Bear lets you tag notes by adding a hashtag to a word anywhere in your document; you can add as many as you like, and then browse them later from the left rail. You can export your notes as PDFs, rich text files, HTML documents, or even JPEGs. And it supports ultra-nerd automation, so if you use an iOS app like Workflow you can create shortcuts to your notes. (For an excellent and much more thorough walkthrough of Bear, read Federico Viticci at MacStories.)
If you’re a Windows or Android user, Bear isn’t the app for you. And if you use one of Evernote’s many tangential features, such as “presentation mode” or Work Chat, Bear will fall short. But after months of use, I’ve come to love Bear for the way it tackles just the right number of tasks, and accomplishes them in a way that feels effortless. I kept waiting to miss Evernote, but I never have.