22182 Notes. Evernote to Apple Notes (Fail) to DEVONthink.

I’m looking for a scan of a blue note, and I simply can’t find it in Evernote.

Evernote versions 4 and 5 were the prime of Evernote. Kris and I used it extensively as our document management system, document knowledge management, and notetaking application. It was a great way to organize things. Every note, every important piece of paper, we scanned into Evernote.

I’ve been a huge fan of Evernote, but over the last 6 years the product has become unusable. I suffered through it, but I really want to find my blue note. So, I moved everything to Apple Notes. Apple Notes couldn’t handle my 22182 notes without running out of storage, so I moved everything to DEVONthink (but left a few thousand with Apple Notes) and that seems to be working.

DEVONthink

If Evernote could have simply stopped making their program worse, and instead focused on making version 4 or 5 robust it would still be the most loved notetaking application today.

Application Tip #1. Don’t destroy yourself.

All the ways Evernote Destroyed Themselves since version 4 and 5

  1. Removed the Atlas feature. Now we can’t visually see where we created notes (I know where I scanned that blue note so if I had this feature I could zoom in on the location).
  2. Moving from Native C# and Objective-C apps to Electron. Electron is the worst possible way to write a program. The one thing that made Evernote successful was they released native desktop apps when everyone else was releasing webapps. They took their biggest competitive advantage and shredded it. I do not like Electron.

Application Tip #2. You may think rewriting your app in Electron is a good idea. You are wrong.

  1. Performance on desktop apps and mobile apps got significantly worse (because of Electron). 20,000 notes is not that big, and when I have to wait 3 minutes for the app to respond and I’m trying to take a quick note while on the go the moment is gone and lost.
  2. Removed the thumbnail view–if I’m looking for that rectangle-shaped blue document I could easily find it via thumbnail. Snippets are not thumbnails.
  3. Capped exporting notes to 100 at a time (used to be unlimited).
  4. Can’t select more than 100 notes at once (used to be unlimited).

  5. Removed the local copy of the remote database. So… combined with the 100 export cap, just how are we supposed to backup Evernote in under 600 clicks?
  6. Removed all of the OS integration. This prevents people from printing directly to Evernote or doing manipulation via AppleScript.
  7. Removed API access.

  8. Added a chat – why does a notetaking app need chat?
  9. Used RC4 (I am not making this up) for inside note “encryption”.
  10. Never implemented Encrypted Notebooks.
  11. Never allowed versioned notes to persist across notebooks.

  12. Removed offline cache. Evernote now takes forever to load.
  13. And finally… after making all those bad changes. I just got a notice that my subscription is increasing from $70/person/year to $170/person/year. We’re already pressured from inflation, it’s hard to justify paying a huge increase like that. Evernote argues they’ve added new features to justify the cost, but there have been zero new features that I want and many of the features I did want have been taken away!

Evernote to Apple Notes Migration (Fail)

Apple Notes iOS

So, I attempted to Migrate all our notes to Apple Notes. The new Evernote client only lets you export 100 notes at a time. I’m not going to manually create 220 export files, so I downloaded an old unsupported version of Evernote which lets you export everything at once. I created an Export file per Notebook and imported each into Apple Notes. The notes all imported perfectly which surprised me. I imported about 4,000 notes per day and then let Apple Notes catch up.

After importing, my laptop and phone got hot from trying to process all of those notes. For each set of 4,000 notes my laptop which normally lasts several days ran out of battery within a few hours, and I had to charge my phone (which normally lasts 2 days) multiple times per day. After a week or so, and a few reboots, Apple Notes finally settled down and it was looking good.

Application Tip #3. Not every single note needs to exist on the mobile device.

But, I ran into one problem. I had a final batch of notes to import. I found out Apple Notes is not storage efficient. My 30GB Evernote Database became 60Gb and my iPhone ran out of space. Apple Notes claimed it was taking up 418GB (I don’t think that’s right). My 64GB iPad had no hope at all, and my MacBook also started running out of space. I left my phone in this state for several days to see if it would clear…but it never could sync all the data.

Apple Notes out of space on iPhone

One of the big problems with Apple Notes is there is no way to exclude certain folders from syncing to your mobile devices. If I could have brought in a few thousand notes to the mobile devices, that would have been enough to have access on the phone and the rest would have been fine on the MacBook.

Rule #1 for Apple Notes. Always buy the devices with a lot of storage capacity.

I think Apple Notes would have worked if I had more capacity. I think it could handle my 22,000 notes if I had more storage. But I would have to upgrade 2 MacBooks, 2 iPads, and 2 iPhones to the 1TB models. That starts to get a little expensive.

That said it has good OCR, you can scan to a document using your phone. There is not a good way to scan from my SnanSnap into Apple Notes, but I could have automated it. There is also not really a good clipper.

DEVONthink

Ultimately I decided to leave only 2,000 notes in Apple Notes, and move the rest to DEVONthink. DEVONthink Pro is $200 for the MacOS (2 device license which is perfect for me and Kris) and $50 for the mobile app (family sharing). This is actually cheaper than Evernote considering DEVONthink is a perpetual license. I expect to pay for a discounted upgrade every 5-7 or so years. It’s certainly going to be less than $170/person/year.

DEVONthink

I had run across DEVONthink nearly a decade ago and decided to take a second look and saw the product has improved significantly. I also like to support local businesses, DEVONthink is located in Couer’d Alene, Idaho.

Import Process

DEVONthink

Application Tip #4. If people keep having to download the legacy version of your app to do basic things, like export their data, you are doing something wrong.

The import process is to install the Legacy version of Evernote and let it fully sync to your computer, then DEVONthink will simply bring in every note perfectly. Every piece of metadata is preserved. Geotagging, source url, created/modified dates, etc. I found no mistakes at all.

It took about half a day for DEVONthink to process all the new notes. It was indexing, running OCR, generating thumbnails, probably going some AI stuff, etc. But once complete, it is fast.

A few notes on DEVONthink

  • DEVONthink Pro comes bundled with Abby Finereader’s OCR so I set it up to automatically OCR every PDF that comes in.
  • Sync: supports iCloud (CloudKit), Dropbox, CloudMe, or WebDAV. I started with CloudKit but found you can’t share it with your wife, so I ended up setting up the sync on our WebDAV on our TrueNAS server.
  • Mobile devices can search the entire database (including OCRed documents) without pulling down all the entire database. You can sync the entire database. I set mine to keep the last 100 opened notes on the device so it doesn’t take up much space.
  • For backups and versioning, the entire database is stored locally on MacOS so it is still backed up to iCloud and TimeMachine. Also it’s easy to backup via Cloud Sync using TrueNAS’s tools and version using ZFS snapshots.
  • DEVONthink databases are actually available as a filesystem in Finder and indexed in Spotlight.
  • Tags on the MacOS filesystem are available in DEVONthink, and tags in DEVONthink are available to MacOS. So if you tag a note in DT it shows up in a finder search for that tag.
  • DEVONthink has it’s own database, but you can also add folders from the MacOS filesystem (so files act like they’re in DEVONThink without moving them) so I can access my filesystem from DEVONthink as well. This is actually incredibly convenient with AI.
  • AI Classification. Any new document coming in can be automatically filed. The AI learns your filing method and is pretty accurate. In fact, it files things better than I do because I sometimes forget about the folders. The AI Classification can also be used to file documents on the filesystem.
  • AI finds similar documents. Open any document and the DEVONthink AI finds similar or related documents (even if no keywords are shared). I’m impressed at how good it is.
  • Annotations not as good as Evernote. In Evernote, the PDF was always embedded in a note. You can create a new note and link it, but that’s a bit tedious. DEVONthink annotations work but are not as visible as Evernote notes.
  • No automatic versioning. DEVONthink has no document versioning and certain actions cannot be undone. That said since it’s all stored on TimeMachine you can get to previous versions but it’s not as good as Evernote’s versioning which is well integrated and easy to restore from.
  • It is fast compared to Evernote or Apple Notes. DEVONthink is instant when creating notes.
  • There’s no mobile document scan. There is the camera to take a photo but that’s not very good for documents. You can do a scan from iOS Files and add that to DEVONthink but that’s cumbersome compared to Evernote or Apple Notes document scan which uses the camera then processes it as a document.
  • Multiple database support–so you can separate personal and work, or different major projects. I ended up creating one for me and Kris, and one for work, and one that just references my filesystem documents.
  • Automatic Geotagging works perfect. It also imported all the geotagging from Evernote, but now I have an Atlas view so I can zoom in on a location and see the notes I created there.
DEVONthink Atlas
  • The Notes themselves are not as good Apple Notes or Evernote. You can create a note, but there is no concept of some features I’d expect like checklists in DEVONthink. Ultimately I decided to use Apple Notes for most notes (especially if they have action-items) and DEVONthink for documents and more reference type notes (no action-items).
  • You can import Apple Notes into DEVONthink which makes it a great way to archive them.
  • Can import / archive emails from Apple Mail or Outlook
  • Extremely fast. I can load all 22,000 notes and scroll through them with no lag.

Application Tip #5. Always pre-generate all the thumbnails to allow for fast scrolling

  • Encryption. Data is encrypted on cloud storage. So all data is encrypted with a key before being loaded to the WebDAV server. Additionally the DEVONthink databases can be encrypted locally with a key so if for some reason you can’t enable FileVault and Advanced Data Protection you can still fully encrypt the database.
  • Onboard PDF editing. It is so nice to be able to edit a PDF (rotate or flip a page, re-order pages, delete a blank page, etc.). This is a feature lacking in Evernote.
  • All of the features are local. There is no cloud service you are relying on. Even AI processing is all done using Apple’s onboard processors. It puts Evernote’s model of being entirely cloud-based with no encryption to shame.
  • One other drawback to DEVONthink is it’s not really meant to be a multi-user application. You can share it with a handful of users…but if I had more than 5 users I’d be looking at something else that had better a revisioning/recovery and per note or per folder access controls.
  • The Evernote clipper is bar-none the best web clipper. DEVONthink’s web clipper isn’t terrible, but it could be a lot better.
  • DEVONthink is fairly complex. I’d say it has a steeper learning curve than Evernote, but in the long-run it will save you time.

Overall it is much better than Evernote. But I’d like to see five features added:

  1. Add checklists to the notes
  2. A better way to do annotations or embed PDFs into notes like what Evernote does. Grouping things together is not the same.
  3. Add support for iCloud CloudKit database sharing with multiple users.
  4. Better Clipper.
  5. Better camera document scanner.

But those are fairly minor. I mean, just scrolling through the thumbnails (that Evernote took away) is like flipping through a file folder. I’m a visual person. I don’t always know what I named a note or what keywords to search for. But I remember the shape and color, so it’s nice to quickly scan through my notes visually.

And look! There’s the blue note I was looking for.

DEVONthink notes

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