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May 7, 2013 — by Brian Lashbrook
When people ask me what is the one app I cannot live without, I don’t have to even think about it. The fact that nobody ever asks me that question doesn’t stop me from volunteering the answer. The answer is…wait… let me look it up in Evernote. Oh yeah, the answer is “Evernote”!
A few years ago I was tasked with finding a Mac alternative to Microsoft’s OneNote application. The company I was with at the time was considering a switch from PC to Mac, and several employees had collected vast reams of notes in OneNote. While most Microsoft Office applications are available on the PC and the Mac, OneNote was relatively new and therefore exclusive to Windows. Microsoft used OneNote as leverage to keep customers from doing exactly what we were planning to do, switch to Mac.
At the same time, I desired a universal note-taking application for my own use. I had just acquired my first smartphone, and decided to make a valiant effort to shake off the bonds of pen and paper. One of my job duties was to research database products for storing and sharing content, and the amount of information I amassed was growing exponentially. I had handwritten notes in my scattered notebooks, website bookmarks in my browser, files stored to an array of USB drives, Post-It notes stuck to every flat surface, pictures and video on my smartphone, stacks of printouts stacked yonder and fore and jammed in binders and folders, and myriad emails-to-self infesting my Inbox. To make matters more difficult, I was collecting this information on two PC’s, a MacBook, and a Linux server, as the different operating systems were a vital part of my research. In the infomercial dramatization of my plight, the actor playing me would twist his face in frustration and throw fistfuls of paper and electronics in the air and shout “Serenity Now!” In the viral video version, a large elephant’s foot would flatten my character and a serious voice would intone “Evernote! Remember Everything.” as the green and black logo was stamped upon the screen.
“What is Evernote”, you ask? Evernote is a cloud-based note taking and organizing application. “Cloud-based” simply means your notes are stored on the Internet, across multiple web servers. You never have to worry about backing them up or losing them. As long as you can access the Internet, you can access your notes. You can create, edit, search notes using any web browser or the Windows or Mac OS application. However, the real power of Evernote is unleashed on your smartphone or tablet. Armed with the Evernote app and your smartphone’s camera and microphone, you can literally accomplish Evernote’s slogan “Remember Everything.” Let me give you some real-life examples of how I use Evernote.
Say I’m attending Conference XYZ in Anywhere USA. I’m staying in the same hotel as the conference hall, and I carry my laptop to my morning conference. Using Evernote.com or the Evernote application, I diligently type notes. I’ll create a Notebook in Evernote specifically for Conference XYZ to organize my notes. The speaker informs us that the PowerPoint presentation she’s using is on her web site. I browse to her web site, download the presentation, and attach it to my note. I add “tags” to the note to help me find it later. Tags are keywords that help you categorize notes by subject or content. I add tags that have meaning to me. For instance, I might call Conference XYZ the “XYZ fest”. No one else knows what I mean by XYZ fest, but that’s the first term that pops into my head when I think of the conference. So I add the tags “Conference”, “XYZ”, and “fest”. Now in the future when I can only recall “XYZ” or “XYZ fest”, or I can only remember it was “that conference”, I’ll be able to locate the correct notes using my custom tags. Not only that, Evernote will add a location tag including the street address. If the only thing I remember from the XYZ conference is that it was in Anywhere USA, I can search for all notes created in Anywhere USA.
The next day of the conference, we are going on a field trip. Instead of lugging my laptop around, I rely on the Evernote app on my smartphone to record notes. If you text very often, you should find it easy to take notes with your thumbs. Luckily (or perhaps unluckily) we are presented with another PowerPoint slideshow. I use Evernote to snap pictures of the slides and type a few brief notes when necessary. Later I will be able to search the text of the slides because Evernote recognizes words in pictures and makes them searchable. Cool, huh? Now the presenter is answering a question that is not covered in the slideshow and my thumbs are too slow to capture everything. I have a couple of options: I can record the presenter’s voice in Evernote, or I can take old-fashioned pen and paper notes. I opt for taking notes on paper. After the presentation, I use Evernote to snap a picture of my notes. Evernote even recognizes my sloppy handwriting! Later, I will be able to search my handwritten notes in Evernote as easily as I search my typed notes.
The third and final day of the conference, I happen to have acquired the company tablet. The tablet Evernote app has all the perks of the smartphone app – camera, microphone, and portability – with the added bonus of a large screen. I can still record audio and snap pictures, but now I have a larger keyboard. However, there is a stylus with this tablet. Goodbye, paper and pen! So long, awkward glass keyboard! I’m going to handwrite my note directly into Evernote! This tablet is already loaded with a couple of apps for doing just that – Evernote’s Penultimate and MyScript Notes Mobile. MyScript Notes Mobile is enticing because it will convert my handwritten notes into text before placing them into Evernote. This would save me time if I had to re-type my notes for sharing. I’m a doodler and these notes are for my eyes only, so I choose Penultimate. I like the way it smoothes out my writing like a nice ballpoint pen. So I write directly on the tablet’s surface, letting Penultimate capture my words and doodles as if I were writing in a notebook. Evernote will allow me to search through the text of my notes later.
That night Conference XYZ winds up with a big networking blowout at Chef Boy O’ Dee’s Cuisine in downtown Anywhere. The meal is so delicious, I use the Evernote Food app on my smartphone to remember it. I meet new friends and capture their contact information in the Evernote Hello app.
Later that evening, I check my email. My boss wants me to recap the conference at next week’s staff meeting. I forward his email to my Evernote address. I open Evernote and move the email from the Inbox to the “Conference XYZ” notebook. All of my notes are there, from the laptop, smartphone, and tablet. I create a new note, a to-do list complete with checkboxes, for next week’s meeting. I go to sleep without worries, knowing Evernote has remembered everything for me.
Check out Evernote.com or Evernote in the App Store or Google Play Store for more details. Evernote plays well with numerous apps and devices. Evernote is “freemium” software, meaning you can use it for free or access additional features for a small fee.
Would you like to try Evernote, but don’t have a smartphone or even a phone of average intelligence? No problem! At the Daviess County Public Library you can check out an iPad — yes, an iPad! — for up to three hours a day. You can test drive many of the apps mentioned in the SmartPhone Companion. Not only that, you can use the iPads to surf the Internet, play games, stay in touch with friends, and much, much more.