In the years since Evernote cratered, ambitious note-takers have been searching for an app that matches its utility, speed, and ease of use. Some ambition would be nice, too — a sense that the developer will go beyond the simple text notes and tables that are possible today and invent new ways to make us more creative and productive.
Notion, a two-and-a-half-year-old San Francisco startup that makes a sophisticated note-taking app, is a leading contender to claim Evernote’s crown. As of today, it’s easier to migrate from Evernote than it had been before. The company is introducing one-click importing to bring your Evernote notes into Notion. It also added a web clipper and share sheet extension for iOS and Android to help you more easily bring content from the web into your notes, just as Evernote has done for more than a decade.
“A lot of people are moving from Evernote to Notion,” says Ivan Zhao, Notion’s co-founder and CEO. “This upcoming release is all about tailoring to those people who want to move over.”
The importer works just as you would expect. Connect your Evernote account to Notion, and it can slurp down all of your notes into the folder of your choice. If you have many thousands of notes, the process could take a while; it’s rate-limited by Evernote. But while Zhao says Notion may make some errors in the importing process, the company’s tests with thousands of users have shown that it is highly reliable for downloading notes involving text, tables, PDFs, and images.
The web clipper, which is now available for Chrome, will be familiar to people who have used similar tools in Evernote and elsewhere. (It is coming later to Safari and Firefox, Zhao says.) Click the icon in your extension bar, and you can decide where in Notion to save the page. From there, you can add notes, share it with a teammate, or convert the link to a task. The clipper also saves the page inside Notion.
The share sheet extension works similarly: tap and hold on a link, tap Notion, and you can save pages while you’re using your mobile device. Both tools should prove useful to people who often use the web for research, whether they’re a student, an office worker, or someone planning to buy a new couch.
Why pick Notion over Evernote? Zhao makes the case like this: for individual users, Notion offers a cheaper price ($4 a month versus $8 a month for Evernote). It also offers a sleek, art-school aesthetic that hides a surprising amount of power. Every note is a page, and you can embed any page inside any other note. Power users like the ones featured on this fan page effectively use Notion to build their own custom apps like a personal contact database, a meal planner, a bullet journal, or a personal wiki.
It’s part of the resurgence in so-called “no code” tools that let laypeople build app-like experiences without having the technical skills of a software engineer. (In some ways, Notion resembles Coda, which seeks to reinvent the spreadsheet for the modern age and recently came out of private beta.) Notion may be leading the pack: the company has more than 1 million users, Zhao says, and it’s profitable.
As a writer who works almost exclusively in text, I often find Notion (and Coda) to be too much software for the job at hand. (I mostly use Bear, a Mac and iOS app for more basic note-taking.) Create a new note, and Notion asks you to pick a template, rather than simply opening up a fresh white page. Tapping into its power requires research and some tinkering. I have no doubt that I could learn it with a bit more patience, but so far, I haven’t taken the time.
But Notion wasn’t designed primarily for individual use. Unlike Evernote, it was built first for teams. And when you’re working on a team, Zhao says, the most important thing is that the data is well-structured. That means asking the user to fill in a few more form fields when creating a page, but it results in a document that is legible by everyone in the company.
“Collaborating with a team is easier when you structure the data,” Zhao says. “No one will ever read your Bear notes or Evernote notes, so it doesn’t have to be structured. But for team-based work, you need a super-powered structure to make things collaborative, and less ambiguous.”
Still, Notion has good reason to focus on what Zhao calls “the lightweight use case.” People who like the app for personal use are more likely to bring it into their workplaces where Notion can sell it to entire teams.
Getting there could mean introducing a touch more whimsy into Notion’s rigorously black-and-white art-school aesthetic. (Zhao jokingly describes the app’s aesthetic as “if The New York Times made Legos.”) A more approachable version of Notion would do a bit more hand-holding for more basic users in ways that might benefit the product overall.
“I want Notion to be as flexible as a piece of paper,” Zhao says. “There’s a gap even for myself.” If the new tools are any indication, though, Notion still may close it.