State of Notetaking 2020 Edition

Long time readers may know I’ve dabbled here and there with other platforms for my personal knowledge management such as Apple Notes, Agenda, and DevonThink. Time after time, though, I always seem to Evernote.

The reason for my dabbling was due to a feeling of uneasiness when using Evernote. For years, I’ve been increasingly less and less confident in the Evernote’s future or the company’s values, but in the absence of no better alternative, I stuck around hoping the tides would turn.

Suffice to say, the tides haven’t turned, and their recent app updates removed several of my most used features. Sure, Evernote keeps saying that they’ll bring these features back in the future, but this is also the same Evernote who said the new versions would be better than ever. Spoiler alert: They’re not.

One thing that has changed, however, is the world of Evernote competitors. It’s hard to say there are no better alternatives anymore, especially now that my needs have simplified, which is why I started thinking about what I truly needed out of a personal knowledge management system.

Topping the list of must-need features:

  • I need to be able to save important emails easily for reference.
  • I need to be able to add multiple file types.
  • I need to be able to link to notes both within and outside of the system.

My obvious first choice would have been Apple Notes, which I’m already using for sharing notes with my other half. Unfortunately, while it does meet most of my needs, it doesn’t have any sort of integration with my email app. Note links are also quite clunky. You pretty much have to pretend to share the note with someone to get a note link.

The highly-praised Notion was next on my list, but quite honestly I don’t have the patience to set up a database from scratch.

I also tried OneNote, but, my gosh, the interface is “oh-so-Microsoft Office” and seemed way too fiddly for my needs. No thank you.

At this point, I’ve settled with Bear. I’m still getting used to the tag-based structure, but overall, I’ve been liking it a lot more than I expected. This is in part to the simplification of my organizational needs from when I last tried it. There are a few things I do miss, like tables, but those seem to be on the road map so hopefully, the wait won’t be too terribly long. It’s also worth mentioning that Bear’s Pro subscription is around 20% of what a year of Evernote Premium would cost me.

With that said, I really do hope the best for Evernote. As a note-taking service, it’s still a pretty great option for most users, I’m just not sure I’m most users anymore. If they can prove me wrong, I’m still keeping my options open, but for now Bear seems to be my best bet.


15 thoughts on “State of Notetaking 2020 Edition

  1. Sharon says:

    I just went through this exact same thing, in about the same exact order (Apple Notes, OneNote, Notion, then back to Apple Notes). I’ve used Evernote for years and years and I’ve finally had enough. I’ve settled with Apple Notes for now, but am tempted by Bear and spent quite a bit of time watching Youtube videos about it and reading about it. One thing I love about Evernote that I haven’t been able to find an adequate replacement for (yet) – is clipping web pages. That’s a very handy feature that no one else seems to do well yet.

    Either way, this is a very timely post! I think a lot of people will need to find an alternative to Evernote.

    • Andrea says:

      I really wish I could like Apple Notes, but for whatever reason, it just doesn’t integrate as well with the rest of the apps in my workflow.

      Bear has a web clipper, but it’s no match for Evernote’s. I do hope they improve it, but for now, I’m trying to be more intentional when I clip a website. I’m finding all those websites I did clip from Evernote don’t export well to other applications, and worse, I don’t know what I saved it for in the first place.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Mark says:

    It’s insane to me that no developer can get this right.

    I’m about to test drive Ulysses because:
    – Apple and Bear won’t let me sort notes manually
    – Apple doesn’t have mass export (so I’d get trapped in there)

    I’m coming from 14 years in Yojimbo which was always sort of good enough but has sadly turned into abandonware.

    I found this handy table comparing features across Apple / Bear / Ulysses / OneNote:

    • Andrea says:

      I agree!

      Ulysses is another great app. I think I rely too much on including files in my notes to consider them a replacement for my needs, but I did enjoy using it as a writing app when I did use it.

      Best of luck, and thanks for stopping by!

  3. Rob Lambert says:

    Great post. Been through this same thing a few times and am currently in the process of removing myself from Evernote again.

    I did use Apple Notes really well for about 6 months only to find one day all of my notes had gone!

    Lesson learned.

    Tried bear, Notion, Bear and many others, before finally simply settling on Google Keep. So far, so good.

    And yes, Onenote…..I just can’t get past that interface either 🙂


    • Andrea says:

      Oh no! I haven’t had any issue with disappearing notes when using Apple Notes. That sounds like a nightmare.

      Best of luck with Google Keep. I haven’t tried it much myself, but I have seen plenty of folks that love it.


  4. Alvin says:

    I never thought of leaving Evernote even 2016’s privacy issue until this update. Their mistakes together with the reluctance to communicate with and apologise to users will certainly lead to other disasters, so I will not wait and see, or my money will keep losing.

    I have tried Notion and I find I will fall in the trap of making my dashboard perfectly. No. I also try Bear and Apple Notes. The latter should accommodate my needs but finally I’m tired of the search results which contain too many irrelevance. Widget doesn’t show my content and I don’t know why. I am happy with Bear now.

    Yesterday they have just released their iOS 14 widget function. They are not easy to promise something but their customer support is so far so good, and some great functions will finally be delivered. Looking forward to their new editor Panda.

    • Andrea says:

      I’ve been following the Bear team on both Reddit and Twitter, and I have to say coming from the PR disaster of Evernote, the folks at Bear really seem to care about their customers’ needs. I can’t confidently say that about Evernote these days. I’m also excited about the new editor as well. I can’t say I have a need for widgets, but it is nice that they added them for those that might. Bear’s not quite an Evernote replacement, but it’s been working well for me.

      Thanks for stopping by,

  5. Pamela says:

    It isn’t realistic to think any software (or hardware, come to that) is going to exist forever and file formats are not set in stone. It may seem like the digital revolution is a done deal, but we’re actually in the very early days; tectonic shifts are still likely!! I don’t trust anything I really care about 100% to any digital format, I at least maintain a hard copy somewhere. I’ve left enough of my past in obsolete software to have much trust left. Computers are absolutely brilliant tools, but they’re just tools.

    • Andrea says:

      You’re right, and it’s why I’ve been gradually moving to a simpler, text-based system of notes. Bear at it’s heart is just markdown. I’m primarily digital at this point in my life, and have backups in numerous places, so I’m still happy with keeping most things digital. That being said, if hard copies work for you, do what works.

      Thanks for stopping by,

  6. Rachel says:

    Have you tried Zoho Notebook? There are a few minor things I don’t like about it, though I’m struggling to remember what they are at the moment since my daily needs are met. The items you mentioned (attaching any file types, linking to notes internally and externally, and add-ons to save emails) are there and then some.

    Some of the features I appreciate beyond the basics:
    – decent web clipper
    – multiple note formats
    – multi-platform support with no limits, plus a web app
    – multiple organization choices – notebooks, note groupings, and tags

    • Andrea says:

      I’ve admittedly not tried it, but I have looked at it. Ultimately I can’t get past the look of it. It is nice to see that it’s free though. I may check it out if Bear stops suiting my needs.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  7. Darren says:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    I’m just about to try switching from Evernote to Notes. I like the idea that it’s just there across devices rather than having to pay extra. I only want something fairly simple, I don’t store documents in it (but do link out to files on my hard drive or in Google Drive). It’s reasonably scriptable from tools like Keyboard Maestro. I don’t need much in the way of formatting etc.

    I’ve just started using OneNote on my work Macbook, because my employer is very MS-based and they don’t want us using “non-standard” tools. I really don’t like it, it’s neither fast nor convenient, and has a lot of usability and navigation quirks. It also isn’t very scriptable, but at least I’ve figured out how to get Keyboard Maestro to grab a link to the current note.

    The weirdest thing about OneNote on macOS is that you can’t print a note to PDF properly – a one-page note ends up as two pages, cut VERTICALLY about 3/4 of the way across the page! It’s infuriating! I’ve Googled it, and lots of people have the same problem, but couldn’t find a solution. So I have to select all, copy, and paste into a Word doc, then generate a PDF from that. Ridiculous.

    And don’t get me started on having to use Outlook For Mac for email 😢.

    • Andrea says:

      Hi Darren,

      I really would love to stick with Notes, both because I’m already paying for it, and I have a handful of notes I share with my partner. Unfortunately I’ve kind of fallen in love with the tag structure of Bear unexpectedly, and not being able to save an email from Spark to Notes natively is also a huge dealbreaker. If and when those things get solved, I’m sure I will try switching back to Notes.

      OneNote still bugs me. My employer also provides OneNote, but thankfully they provide other services as well and tend to be pretty agnostic on deciding which services we have to use other than giving up Slack for Webex (ugh!), otherwise I would probably lose my mind a little. The printing thing is definitely an odd quirk.

      I’ve heard good things about Outlook for iOS so maybe MS will take some pointers from that and bring them to the Mac. Wishful thinking I guess.

      Thanks for stopping by,

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