Evernote: I had such high hopes

I've been an Evernote Premium user since 2009. I used it for reference material (in GTD parlance): journal entries; class notes; scanned PDFs and documents (at that point, the OCR capabilities were a Premium feature and the main reason I upgraded). Back in 2009, I also had a netbook running Windows in addition to my MacBook Pro; Evernote's omnipresence across software platforms was a huge selling point. As a college student, my work life was nomadic. If I wanted the check my email in between classes and hadn't brought my heavy laptop, then I'd use a public computer. Evernote's webapp was a helpful way to have my reference material always on-hand. Over the years, I've made almost 10,000 notes.

In mid-2016, I set up Evernote to be my task manager as well. I'd been using Omnifocus for years. It's robust and reliable and deservedly one of the gold standards in task management. But Omnifocus is also designed for GTD. I would filled out contexts for my tasks but I never used contexts. It always made more sense to me to work on projects with my end goal in mind. I switched to Evernote, then, because I knew the app was so flexible that I'd be able to set up a task management system more reflective of how I naturally worked. Also, Evernote's crossplatform capabilities were again a boon: I was pursuing jobs where I'd have to use a PC rather than a Mac. I'd be all set up on any new computer just with a quick install of Evernote.

But, almost a year later, I'm reverting back to using Evernote just for reference material. The main reason is that Evernote's iOS app is bafflingly unusable. It freezes when I'm editing notes and when I'm switching notebooks. The app lags whenever it syncs: I get the best performance when I switch into Airplane mode. I've complained to their support team countless times over the past few months; they once asked me to take a video of the issue for them. Right now, I'm getting an "Unable to sync" error whenever I try to synce the mobile app. One of my notes apparently has "invalid content"—I'll need to delete the note in order to fix the issue. It's a simple fix, but I need to be at my computer in order to do it. In the meantime, the error message pops up repeatedly—every few seconds—while I'm using the app and makes the app unusuable. I find myself using workarounds to get content into Evernote: it's faster to write an email and send to my "email to Evernote" address than it is to open the app and write a note. Evernote for OS X seems solid, but Evernote's iOS team is horrible. 

A simple and cheap way to fix the performance issues would just be to have the app sync less frequently. If I'm using Evernote on iOS, then I can't be using Evernote somewhere—I can't be in two places at once. Why does the app sync every few seconds? The app could simply sync whenever I open or close it—and preferably have left it closed for a long enough period that it's clear I'm not just switching apps before returning to Evernote to finish editing a note. Best of all, changing the sync schedule requires almost no engineering time—it's not a redesign. I'm surprised their product management team hasn't suggested this solution, and I'm surprised their iOS QA team hasn't caught or surfaced these issues. They're clearly not testing with enough edge cases, such as the large databases their longtime users would be likely to have.

So I'm switching back to a dedicated task manager. So far, Things 3 is looking really good. I'll continue to use Evernote for reference material. I have so much content stored in it already that I can't switch without investing tons of time. I'm locked in.

Others have expressed similar sentiments:

  1. Evernote, the Bug-Ridden Elephant by Jason Kincaid (This article is from 2014, but it received some publicity, especially when then-CEO Phil Libin responded. The article's still a top hit if you search for "evernote bugs" and it's criticisms remain true. Especially disappointing is that Kincaid's complaints the iOS still remain problems, despite Evernote's major 8.0 release in 2017. The Evernote iOS app just consistently sucks.)
  2. Evernote's Redesign is Too Little, Too Late by Casey Newton on The Verge (2017)