Monday, May 6, 2013

Why I Chose Evernote over Springpad

This weekend, I tried to play around with the new Springpad (4.0) as possible replacement to Evernote. Long story short, it failed. Now let me explain why. 

First off, the usual disclaimer. My requirements are my requirements, which are probably different than yours. Springpad is working for over million users out there (if I'm not wrong), and for a good reason. However, this particular post criticizes Springpad. 

I also want to mention that the discussion here was originally started on Google+ and developed there (as most good discussions are), and if you like what I wrote here, I encourage you to check the other, very insightful comments. Specifically make sure you check +Art Gelwicks's pro-Springpad blog post and the discussion Google+ that followed, it will give you a more balanced perspective.

  • Offline access: Springpad does offer offline access to the skeleton of the note (no images, no attachments) which is fine when you live in an area that has constant data connection. For most people who travel in their car with unlimited data plan between their office and home WiFi, this is hardly a problem. A person like me however, who lives in New York City, spends a lot of time underground in subways and in big buildings that block data connections. Subways are a major productivity hub for me, and as such, I need my notes available offline - and not just the bare-bone skeleton (the Springpad version): I need my PDFs, my images, audio recordings - everything. Evernote is the only one that delivers so far. 
    (I should mention over here that offline notebooks are a premium service offered only for paying Evernote customers)
  • Reliability:  with the new update to Springpad, I somehow managed to "lose" an entire notebook which contains over 400 "springs" or notes. These springs still show up when I search for them, but trying to go to the notebook (from the spring) results in an error, and I can't browse my old notes. The Springpad team does an excellent job at helping it's customers (in my humble opinion, they try much harder than the folks at Evernote, good job guys!) but this is the third time a major loss (or confusion) of data like this happens to me. I simply can't trust Springpad with my data. This never happened to me with Evernote. More so, I have a backup created for me automatically on my hard drive through the Evernote Desktop Client. Springpad requires that I do this backup manually, and it's not exactly as user friendly looking as the rest of the app online. I also do not think there's an "import" option in Springpad for old backups, something Evernote has.
  • Consistency: This is a big per peeve of mine. Springpad might do an excellent job at "going the extra mile" for you and find information about what you put into it, but this system has two flaws: first, Springpad is pretty limited in the information it can find, as its partners are limited. For example, I can only find about 50% of the places I visit in Springpad, because the rest are not on Yelp; I can only find books that exist on Amazon and or Goodreads; movies on IMDB, etc. This problem gets worse because of the second flaw: I have an option to insert information manually, but it will never look like the information Springpad fetches for me. In other words, manual notes will always looks "off" next to the full-featured automatic ones. This remains true even if the information does exist online; Springpad will not "upgrade" old manual notes, you will have to create new automatic ones from start. This happens often when I get back online after I added a note manually. especially annoying if I add links or files or additional pictures, because I have to recreate the whole note from scratch. 
  • Usability: After toying around with the new Springpad for a week, I discovered some shortcomings in the app that really stood out. Most of these are the result of Springpad promising or seems to promise something to you, but fails to deliver. One examples is with locations again. There's no way I could find to go from a spring directly into the Google Maps app. Clicking the place's address does nothing. I can't even copy-paste it, since it disables the select-text option on my phone. I have to manually switch to Google Maps and type the address from memory. Another example is that the Android app supposed to look like the Web app, but it doesn't. It's very close, the layout is basically the same, but your notes are slightly different and some information (like that link to Google Maps!) would show up on the web version, but not on the Android version. Searching options and tags also look different. Another thing I found annoying in Springpad is the limited search abilities. While it is true Springpad aims to be visual and the emphasis is on minimal hierarchic structure, there's still a large gap between the app's visual organization abilities and the minimal search. 
  • Evernote does not offer any visual organization (coming up) which is a problem, but at least I know that I'm dealing with an old ugly Outlook UI. I know what it does well, which is search. Evernote doesn't promise to deliver anything besides notes and a powerful search, and that's what it does. No empty promises.

So why did I even bother checking Springpad in the first place? Here are the problems I currently have with Evernote: 

  • Bad UI: as a matter of fact, I feel the app is 5 years behind when it comes to user interface, at least on a Windows PC or, more importantly, my chromebook. The Evernote Web app is a joke compared to the powerful desktop clients, with many of the functions unavailable. I often reach for my Android phone to use Evernote when I'm away from my desktop (which is 90% of my time), which looks very different from the desktop app - a problem in itself. 
  • My brain is wired differently: it would appear that Evernote works for many code-folks and analytic people out there, but for me, a visual person who likes color associations over tags and streaming big-screen interfaces over small panels, this is a problem. Evernote feels like a constant effort, as if I'm trying to fit a cube into a round hole. Springpad has tags and notebook as well, but the visual options in it make it fun to use, so much so that it is addictive and productive. This is not the case with Evernote, sadly. 
  • Integration with other apps for access: this is a little pet peeve perhaps, but accessing Springpad via my Google account or even Facebook makes me feel safer than Evernote's current access protocol. Many Evernote users complained about this in the past already, and I'm quite surprised that Evernote, with all it offers for other developers, has not integrated with Google or Facebook or Twitter yet and does not allow at least a two-step password verification.  
  • Disconnect from clients: Evernote has a great support platform made of volunteers. They have excellent Evernote "gurus" out there, called ambassadors, which find amazing creative ways to use the app and reading their blogs is a pleasure. But when it comes to actually talking to the Evernote staff, especially when it comes to workarounds and suggestions, I feel I'm left in the dark. Evernote feels cryptic and distant. Compared to Springpad, where I can get someone on Twitter within an hour if not minutes and have a whole conversation going back and forth, Evernote doesn't even come close. Further, the huge gap between Mac and PC (and now, chromebooks and the cloud in general) is favoring the Mac platforms, big time. Mac OS and iPhone users usually get the first upgrades, major UI changes, and enjoy a larger support for Evernote-supported app which are inside the Evernote "trunk". Sometimes talking to Evernote, especially as a non-Apple person, feels like talking to the wall. You're on your own. And when you pay for service, people tend to have higher expectations than talking to walls. This fact alone makes me bitter enough with the service to consider alternatives. 
Overall, when it comes to usability, Evernote still wins for me. I feel I have to think about workarounds much less and even though the service is somewhat hard to work with (especially mentally), I know it's reliable, functional, and usable.