DEVONthink - Evernote for Folders (on acid)

My app habit has somewhat changed this past year. I'm now convinced that apps dedicated to specific tasks are far better than Jack of all Trades apps - obvious, on reflection, but it took me a while to get there!

The main surprise for me was stopping using Evernote and not missing it. I stopped using it about 3 months ago, despite still having 2 years worth of Premium access. Prior to that, I told pretty much everyone I met that it was the best application ever created, so what changed my mind?

  • It's way too clunky on iOS - it's come a long way in recent versions, but I still find it buggy, slow (on an iPad Mini Retina, which probably has better hardware performance than my server), unintuitive, awkward and prone to losing data on a mobile connection. Yes, it looks gorgeous, but this is my data, not a beauty pageant.

  • It keeps going pop - I've lost count of the number of times I've had to uninstall it (and lose the 2Gb + of data) and reinstall it, necessitating the re-downloading of 2Gb + data every damn time.

  • It doesn't really serve a purpose for me any longer. I realised I was just chucking stuff into it, without ever referring back to it. And I wasn't referring back to it, because, ironically, I find it hard to find stuff in Evernote. This is a bit bizarre, as it's kind of it's whole reason for existing. Maybe it's the data I have in it, or the way I use it, but I find it increasingly hard to find what I'm looking for.

I now use DevonThink for document storage and retrieval, Pinboard for bookmarks, OmniFocus for tasks, a combination of apps for plaintext note taking etc and they all do a far better job of their individual tasks than Evernote does on any platform.

DEVONthink - Looks Naff, Works Beautifully

DEVONthink does a wonderful job of searching. It even shows me stuff it thinks I'll like (in an intelligent manner) and it's nearly always right.

I'm using the same data as in Evernote (I imported it) and, doing side-by-side searches, DEVONthink wins every single time. Quite often, Evernote has probably found what I'm searching for, but it's just not obvious. I seem to have to search within the search results to actually find what I was looking for. DEVONthink just gives me the correct results, all the time, and makes it obvious where I should look.

The absolute killer feature that DEVONthink has for my workflow is Indexes. By this, I mean just point DEVONthink at any folder and it'll scan that folder and include that in any search results. This is too wonderful for words.

Here's my workflow to explain:

  • I'll scan a document with my ScanSnap, or create a new plain text note

  • I'll give it a useful filename in the Mac Sparky manner (e.g. something like 2013-12-20 - expenses - dinner)

  • Hazel will grab that file and stick it in the appropriate folder in my Dropbox account

  • DEVONthink - which points at my Dropbox documents - then indexes all of those lovely files for me so I can now text search across my entire Dropbox document folder as well as everything I've imported from Evernote (or just one or the other if I prefer)

Please take a moment to read the bullet points again, it's important. All I have to do is create and save a file. The rest is fully automated.

This is just magic. To make it even better, I've added those Indexed Dropbox folders to my Mobile Sync directory, so I can sync with the iPhone and iPad version of DEVONthink and take those docs - and the text search functionality - with me wherever I go. I love this more than I can say.

Sure, to be blunt, the application looks like it was written in the early 90's, but I'd rather have an application that looked a bit naff, but worked flawlessly, than one that looked gorgeous but didn't fit in with my workflow any day.

Will I go back to Evernote? I keep trying, mostly because of those 2 years of Premium left, but, every time I do, after about 5 minutes, I think, nah, I'll stick with what I have.

Do yourself a favour and go grab the trial version of DEVONthink and give it a go. I struggled to motivate myself to do so initially, especially after years of time and money invested in Evernote, but I'm glad I stuck with it.