Evernote 5 for iPad and iPhone looks new but it isn't functionally better, except for one or two new features. Evernote should have spent its time overhauling the desktop version instead.

Dino Londis, Contributor

November 9, 2012

4 Min Read

Evernote has reinvented the look and feel of its popular iOS app by adding -- and subtracting -- a few features. The four-year-old company chose not to simultaneously update the desktop client, which is a shame. Both mobile and desktop apps needed a make-over. The desktop app looks old when compared with partners like News360 and is overdue for a performance overhaul.

If we're lucky Evernote will upgrade desktop client to coincide with its December launch of Evernote Business. In its current form it isn't ready to challenge let alone displace Microsoft Word and Sharepoint.

So is Evernote 5 for iOS worth upgrading to? It promises:

  • A new home screen with quick access to notes, notebooks, tags, places, and premium features.

  • The ability to create new notes with fewer taps using home screen quick note buttons.

  • The note list redesigned in a card style to showcase note content.

  • The added ability to quickly create new notebooks from the Notebooks list.

  • Notes on a zoomable map.

The new interface is cleaner and more colorful. The tabs that used to run across the top now look like hanging file folders. Notebook stacks look like square Moleskine notebooks. The cleaner look comes at the expense of some features, though. For example, the top note used to display the first words of the most recent note, almost like a Windows 8 tile. That's gone. It looks cleaner but you get less information at a glance.

The sort feature is now hidden. However, once you find it by pulling down the home screen, accessing it is not too inconvenient. Although Evernote has made it easier to create notes on the iPad, it's now harder to delete them. I found no way to group delete a bunch of notes from a notebook or the All Notes tab. You need to open each note and choose delete.

The Premium Features tab is nothing more than an ad for paid features available to free users. It would be nice if paying customers could remove it. That would free up a bit of screen real estate.

One feature that is definitely an improvement is the Recent Notes scrolling row at the top. Evernote understands that we use it in a continuum. When I finish and sync at my desktop I can continue on the iPad and iPhone.

I use Evernote every day. It stores all my digital files in the cloud but allows for a local offline copy of every file. I bought the premium services for $45 primarily so I can forward news to my iPad with Clearly and Clip to Evernote. It saves me on cellular costs and I can read news where there is no Wi-Fi. I frequently type notes on the news stories and couple them with others in a notebook for later reference. I can keep anything in it. For example, when I'm testing a Microsoft hotfix, I'll store my correspondence with Microsoft, notes of the conversation, the link to the download, the hotfix itself, and my results all in a single note. I can find it literally at a glance.

Evernote's greatest weakness -- ironically -- is creating notes from scratch. By design it's a stripped-down word processor. Where Microsoft Word is bloated with features, Evernote has just enough, such as cut, paste, font resizing, keystroke shortcuts, and an adequate spell checker. But it fails as a day-to-day word processor.

It's the little inconsistencies that add up. For example, if you move a block of text in Microsoft Word and it has to go higher on the page, you just hold the mouse at the top of the screen and the document will scroll. Evernote won't do that. When you double click a word such as "it's," the word should highlight so you can italicize, move, delete, and so on. But if I happen to double click the apostrophe, the word won't highlight -- it makes me find another letter in the word to double click. There is always some small thing that gets in the way.

Occasionally some formatting embeds itself into the text somewhere and the words that follow are formatted incorrectly. To fix it I jump ahead and backspace to remove that formatting. In Word, I'd only need to show styles to find the problem -- but it doesn't have that problem. Another quibble: Resizing the application’s screen resolution is only possible by changing the font. Word has a slider.

Evernote 5 crashed five times the day and a half that I used it. I installed it on a first-generation 5.1.1 iPad so it's not the most robust hardware. Still, Evernote 4.4 rarely crashed or hung. When version 5 crashed, I got several "'undefined' is not a function'" errors when saving an audio file. It worked on the second try, but I was able to reproduce it so clearly it's a bug.

Other than the new Recent Notes feature, Evernote 5 isn't better. This effort should have been saved for the desktop client.

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