Bailing out of Evernote. DEVONThink, Obsidian, both, or something else?

Evernote has served my needs since around 2008. I have around 1800 curated notes at present. The closed format has always been a concern but I think now might be the time to make the switch. I’m hoping the collective wisdom of the MPU audience might help steer me in the right direction.

Content

Most content is in Evernote. I have a handful of items in Apple Notes for things I need to get to frequently / quickly when I’m away from my Mac.

Evernote is primarily a personal reference database. There are some notes I’ve made about things but the majority is reference information from other sources. Content includes:

  • lots web clippings of articles I found useful
  • product manuals, part numbers and places to by consumables etc
  • process documentation for things I have to do repeatedly but not often enough to remember the steps (like how to automate a task with lauchd)
  • a swipe file of quotes, ideas, and images that might be useful one day in an article or presentations
  • reference information about projects (images, ideas, examples)
  • checklists for all kinds of things
  • notes about ideas that are important to me
  • notes about key life events, scans or photos of things the kids have made for me etc

Content Areas

Notebooks mostly map to my areas of focus:

  • Career
  • Family and friends
  • Music
  • Tech
  • Work

There are also some more general purpose notebooks:

  • Inbox
  • Checklists
  • Swipe File

Requirements

The ideal solution would meet the following needs:

  1. Easy to get data out of the replacement application(s) or read data with other applications. Markdown would be great with support for tables and checklists.
  2. A migration tool from Evernote to replacement(s) including metadata (source url, creation date). It’s a lot of work if it’s a manual migration.
  3. A local mac application with some sync capability to iOS. Even local wifi sync would be sufficient. Web-based access to notes is not required.
  4. A web clipper for easy capture of web pages. Doesn’t need to perfectly preserve formatting but needs to be readable.
  5. Support for images and PDF files with the ability to index the contents of these files.
  6. Ability to search text (including handwriting) in images. I’m a big fan of paper and pen. I can take a photo of a notebook page and Evernote does a great job of recognising my cursive handwriting. This could be the most difficult feature to replicate.
  7. Tagging support. I have probably about 250 tags in Evernote
  8. Saved searches - ability to quickly pull up a set of notes (using search strings, tags or other attributes)
  9. Internal cross-linking between notes. All the apps seem to handle this fine.
  10. Happy to pay for the right solution but I greatly prefer non-subscription models.

Other tools

I’m running Hazel, Keyboard Maestro, Alfred and OmniFocus. Might be able to paper over some shortcomings using these.

Options

DEVONThink seems to handle most of this with the exception of no 6. I will give that a run with the free trial to see how well it works. I’m currently doing some early experimentation with Obsidian.

Any ideas or suggestions would be welcomed. Getting your head around the paradigms the applications use always takes some time. Bringing the Evernote paradigm to other apps isn’t likely to produce the best results.

Thanks

DT sounds like a good replacement for you. I’ve never been in the Evernote club, but there is a lot of previous discussion here on the forum.

https://talk.macpowerusers.com/search?q=Evernote%20devonthink

2 Likes

Yep, DT, and I believe it does have OCR of handwritten images doesn’t it? I could have sworn it did that for me once or twice? Or maybe I imported the images OCRed already from somewhere else?

It’s funny, reading your post it makes me think Evernote is some sort of amazing program. Then I remembered I have actually used it and hated it. It doesn’t do anything well. DT is one hundred times better. :slight_smile:

I know it’s more of a writing app but I use Bear with a very close use case as yours with Evernote. They have a web clipper (at least in Safari) that is quite good, tags, Markdown and it’s much lighter than DT. Worth to have a look I think!

It’s also possible to deep links notes in Bear, and it’s something I use very regularly - within Bear, where I think that you can even reference parts of a note in another note, and outside (in Craft, Ulysses, GoodTask, and so on).

Thanks for the input everyone. I’ll kick the tyres with DT and see how it goes.

I started out with Evernote back when I was still using Windows. There weren’t a lot of alternatives back then. The transition to Mac actually went really smoothly. The web clipper and the ability to recognise text in images are probably Evernote’s best features. But I agree, it’s “everything bucket” concept makes it ok at lots of things and not really great at anything. It’s been good enough for me for a long time. It’s only going to get more difficult to get out as time goes on.

@WalledGarden I tried Bear a couple of years back but there was something about it that didn’t click for me but I can’t recall what it was.

Thanks for your help everyone

2 Likes

How does evernote OCR images? One option to get around that is to setup a smart rule that creates a pdf of the image and then OCR’s it.

@r2d2 Evernote does all the OCR in the cloud automatically. This happens for all images added to EN. If you take a photo of a sign you’d be able to use search to find any words in the sign.

It does a remarkably good job of understanding handwritten notes so they become searchable with no extra effort. A bit creepy but I don’t store anything of a sensitive nature in EN.

Update:

The number of usable notes apps has exploded since I last looked. There is no lack of alternatives but all have their own nuances that might decide how well they fit your individual use case.

  • DEVONThink: Will absolutely do the job but it seems like overkill for my use case. It feels like a heavy app to me and the UI feels a bit cumbersome. Despite others saying great things about the web clipper, I haven’t had the best results but it’s entirely possible I’m doing something wrong. Not off the table yet.
  • Obsidian: I like the interface much better. There’s something about Obsidian that pulls be in where DEVONThink kind of pushes me away. I’ve been experimenting with Obsidian for some notes but I’m not sure it’s a good fit for a reference library of documents from other sources. No web clipper but I might be able to work around this with something like MarkDownload.
  • Notebooks, Keep It and Up Note: I’m still to try these out but at first glance they look like they could be viable options.