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Evernote works to keep current users and tries for new ones

A redesign and new price plans are the latest in the app’s fight to stay relevant

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The new Evernote features include calendar integration and proper task lists.
Image: Evernote

It can take a lot of work for an app like Evernote, one of the first major note-taking apps to hit the market, to survive in an ever-changing and fickle marketplace. In an effort to keep its place at (or at least near) the top of its niche, Evernote has recently announced new price plans and features. Will these new features — and new fees — help it keep loyal users and encourage new ones? It’s hard to say.

First, some personal history: I’ve been an Evernote user — well, seemingly forever. Forever when it comes to the life span of apps, anyway; I’ve had an Evernote account since May 2008, when it was about to go into open beta; I used it to make notes for the review I was writing. I’ve had Evernote on my devices ever since — and although I haven’t used it nearly as much recently as I used to, I have a lot of history recorded in the application.

Evernote has gone through some changes, some good, some not so much. In 2008, it offered what at the time was an innovative service: a place where you could type in or upload notes, organize them into folders, and try to get your online life into some kind of order. Over the years, it had added a number of good features, such as a web clipper, an improved ability to pick up text from photos, and many others. By 2011 it was available in two versions: an ad-supported free version with some limitations and a $45 / year subscription with no ads and additional features. In June 2016, prices went up, and the free version could only be synced to two devices, a limitation that alarmed quite a few of its previously faithful users and no doubt caused a number to move to other apps. At the time, I thought seriously about moving on; but in the end, I bit the bullet and subscribed.

By 2019, Evernote had also weathered a brief privacy upheaval, among other issues. I wrote, in an article on Evernote alternatives, “Evernote’s reputation has suffered due to an aging interface, increased fees, a series of layoffs, and a new CEO.”

But despite everything, Evernote is still here, and now it has added several new features (including a long-overdue task listing) and has once again revamped its price structure. The company has apparently learned from at least some of its mistakes; a few days before the new prices went into effect, I received an email that assured me that, as a current subscriber, I was grandfathered into my subscription level and that my annual subscription price would not change. In other words, Evernote doesn’t intend to piss off its established users yet again.

Evernote’s new homepage is well-designed and useful.
Evernote’s new homepage is well-designed and useful.

Admittedly, many of the app’s recent changes — some of which came through earlier this year, and some of which are brand-new — are quite good ones, adding new functionality while trying to fix the perception that the application has become top-heavy. A customizable and attractive homepage now gives you a quick view of your most recent notes and can also include a scratch pad, pinned notes or notebooks, the new task listing, and a calendar. The calendar allows you to handily associate notes with dates on your Google Calendar (Outlook is next in line).

However, which of these features you can access depends on what type of subscription you have. Evernote now offers four subscription levels: Free, Personal ($7.99 a month or $69.99 a year), Professional ($9.99 a month or $99.99 a year), or Teams ($14.99 per user per month). There is a significant difference between the free app and the Personal one — non-paying users can still only sync between two devices, cannot personalize their homepages, set due dates or reminders for tasks, or use the calendar feature. On the other hand, most of the features that an individual user would want to use are included at the Personal level; the Professional level adds more customization and other business-like upgrades.

It’s nice that Evernote has finally added a tasks manager...
It’s nice that Evernote has finally added a tasks manager...
...but you need to be at the Personal level before you can use it effectively.
...but you need to be at the Personal level before you can use it effectively.

As for me, I’m currently in the weird in-between limbo of one of Evernote’s long-term users. When Evernote’s latest changeover happened, I was at the Plus level (at an annual fee of about $38), so I still don’t have limits on how many devices I can sync, and I have a monthly upload limit of 1GB, which is more than the free version’s limit of 60MB but less than Personal’s 10GB. I also don’t have access to much of the really cool new stuff.

So if you’re using the free version or, like me, are grandfathered into a less feature-filled version, is it worth the upgrade? Possibly. Evernote has a lot of competition these days. Several people I know have moved to Microsoft’s OneNote, which doesn’t have a lot of the restrictions that the free version of Evernote has. Free apps like Apple Notes and Google Keep have gotten a lot more useful over the years and might be good enough now for even some power users. There are also other interesting apps out there with vastly different formats that allow you to enter text and collect other types of data. (For example, I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with Notion lately.)

My own decision is that, for now, I’m going to stick with Evernote (especially since I’ve just paid my annual fee), and work with the version I’ve got. It’s possible that I’ll decide eventually that I want all my notes and schedules and tasks integrated into one package, and will yield to Evernote’s frequent hints to upgrade. However, it’s more possible that I will continue to be happy using Evernote for some things and Notion (or another app) for others.

Whether I would do the same were I not already heavily invested in Evernote is a question that’s hard to answer. I still really like the app — I like its flexibility, its ability to save articles and sites on the fly, and its excellent search engine. But the free version remains unusable for anyone with more than a single computer and a phone, and with other alternatives out there, I’m not sure I’d splurge for the annual $70 fee.

As with most productivity apps, it all depends on what fits you — your needs, your working habits, and the way your brain works. If you’re looking for a way to save notes, clippings, and other data, I’d suggest you spend some time with Evernote, OneNote, Zoho Notebook, Google Keep, Apple Notes, Notion, or any of the many others that are out there, and see what suits you best. After all, that’s what free trials are for, right?