Evernote works to keep current users and try to get new ones

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 volatile market. In an effort to maintain its place at (or at least close to) the top of its niche, Evernote recently announced new pricing plans and features. Will these new features — and new costs — help it retain 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 app life, anyway; I’ve had an Evernote account since May 2008, when it was about to go into open beta; I used it to take notes for the review I was writing. I’ve had Evernote on my devices ever since — and while I haven’t used it as much as I used to lately, I’ve captured a lot of history in the application.

Evernote has gone through some changes, some good, some not so much. In 2008, it offered what was then an innovative service: a place where you could type or upload notes, organize them into folders, and organize your online life in a certain way. Over the years, it had added some good features such as a web clipper, improved ability to extract text from photos, and many others. In 2011 it was available in two versions: An ad-supported free version with some limitations and a $45/year subscription with no ads and extra features. In June 2016, prices went up, and the free version could only sync between two devices, a limitation that alarmed quite a few of its formerly loyal users and no doubt made some move to other apps. At the time, I was seriously thinking about moving on; but in the end I took the plunge and subscribed.

By 2019, Evernote had also endured a brief privacy upheaval, among other things. I wrote in an article about Evernote alternatives: “Evernote’s reputation has suffered from an outdated interface, higher costs, a series of layoffs, and a new CEO.”

But despite everything, Evernote is still there, and now it has added several new features (including a much-anticipated to-do list) and revamped its pricing structure again. The company has apparently learned from at least some of its mistakes; A few days before the new prices came into effect, I received an email assuring 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 again.

Evernote’s new home page is well designed and useful.

Admittedly, many of the recent changes to the app – some of which were made earlier this year and some are brand new – are pretty good, adding new functionality and trying to correct the perception that the application has become top heavy. A customizable and attractive homepage now gives you a quick overview of your most recent notes and can also contain a notepad, pinned notes or notebooks, the new to-do list and a calendar. The calendar makes it easy to associate notes with dates in your Google calendar (Outlook is next in line).

However, which of these features you can use depends on the type of subscription you have. Evernote now offers four subscription levels: Free, Personal ($7.99 per month or $69.99 per year), Professional ($9.99 per month or $99.99 per 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, 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 on the personal level; the Professional level adds more customization and other business upgrades.

It's nice that Evernote has finally added a task manager...

It’s nice that Evernote has finally added a task manager…

...but you have to be on the personal level to use all the features.

…but you have to be on the personal level before you can use it.

As for me, I’m currently in the strange gap of one of Evernote’s longtime users. When the last Evernote switch happened, I was on the Plus tier (at an annual fee of about $38) so I still don’t have a limit on how many devices I can sync, and I have a monthly upload limit of 1 GB, which is more than the 60 MB limit for the free version, but less than Personal’s 10 GB. I also don’t have access to a lot of the really cool new stuff.

So if you’re using the free version or, like me, grandfathered into a version with fewer features, 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 many of the limitations that the free version of Evernote has. Free apps like Apple Notes and Google Keep have become much more useful over the years and may now be good enough for even some power users. There are also other interesting apps with vastly different sizes that allow you to enter text and collect other types of data. (For example, I’ve been experimenting a lot with Notion lately.)

My own decision is that I’ll stick with Evernote for now (mainly since I just paid my annual fee) and work with the version I have. I may eventually decide I want to integrate all my notes, schedules, and tasks into one package, and give in to Evernote’s frequent hints to upgrade. However, it’s more likely that I’ll continue to use Evernote for some things and Notion (or any other app) for others.

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

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