Evernote, once considered a tech "unicorn" with a valuation of over $1 billion, is on the receiving end of much criticism and scrutiny this week, following the announcement of a price hike and device limitations for free users.
One thing is clear about the recent changes: no one is happy, since Evernote wants you to start paying for features that were once free. For some, paying for the new plans is a no-brainer, as the chat and sharing features built into Evernote make it a powerful collaboration tool, as do its helpful integrations with IFTTT and Zapier.
Still, the pricing changes force us to ask, is paying the higher prices for Evernote worth it?
Evernote's new plans
Until 2015, Evernote had two tiers, Basic and Premium. Last year, the company introduced a middle tier called Plus, which was slightly more affordable than Premium with a cap on its features. Here's what the plans look like today:
- Evernote Basic was and is still entirely free to use. It still limits uploads to 60MB per month and allows you to use the web clipper tool, search for text within images and share notes with other users. What's new is a passcode lock on the mobile apps, previously a feature reserved for paying users, and a limit of two devices on which you can sync Evernote.
- Upgrading to Evernote Plus unlocks features like accessing notebooks offline, emailing notes to your Evernote account and the ability to email customer support. It also increases the upload limit to 1GB per month. This plan went from $2.99 (£2.99 or AU$3.99) per month or $24.99 (£19.99 or AU$29.99) per year to $3.99 (£3.99 or AU$4.99) per month or $34.99 (£29.99 or AU$49.99) per year.
- Evernote Premium, the top tier, adds the most features, such as the ability to search for text in Office documents and PDFs, annotate PDFs, scan business cards and suggested notes and content from the web that are relevant to the note you're currently working on. These features, plus up to 10GB of uploads per month, will set you back $7.99 (£4.99 or AU$11.00) per month or $69.99 (£44.99 or AU$89.99) annually. That's up from $5.99 (£3.99 or AU$) per month or $49.99 (£34.99 or AU$69.99) per year.
For those looking at paid tiers, that's roughly a 33 percent to 40 percent increase, depending on whether you pay monthly or annually. The monthly rates saw the smaller percent increase in price, while the annual pricing became less enticing. And, no new features were introduced -- you'll be paying more for the same set of features.
Evernote is, however, offering a grace period to free users who need sync across more than two devices. This grandfathered plan will only last for a few weeks and the new changes and pricing will roll out for users at different times, the earliest being August 15. Keep an eye on your inbox for an email from Evernote within the next two weeks detailing the exact time frame for the changes to be applied to your account.
Is it worth the money?
Whether you can justify paying for Evernote or not certainly depends on your personal usage, but with zero new features added, the blatant price hike is hard to recommend.
For plain note-taking: Save your money
With only plain text notes, you're not likely to reach the 60MB limit. Evernote Basic comes with 60MB of uploads per month. Very few plain text notes in my Evernote are over 4KB in size, which means I could upload approximately 15,000 notes to my account in a month with Basic. That's a lot of notes to take in a month -- approximately 500 per day.
But if your needs exceed what Evernote Basic has to offer and you just want to take notes, services like Google Keep or Simplenote provide everything you need for free. And if you're within Apple's ecosystem, the inbuilt Notes app uses iCloud to sync your notes between your Apple devices. While iCloud may not be free for you, the note taking will likely have very little impact on your total iCloud storage.
My personal solution for syncing notes between all my devices is using a cloud storage service I already pay for -- Dropbox -- and finding individual applications on different platforms for taking notes. Currently, I use iA Writer on Android, iOS and Mac, which together cost less than a year of Evernote Plus.
Consider device limits
I don't expect the device limit to affect most Basic users, despite how off-putting it may be.
Basic users will only be able to use sync in the official Evernote apps with two devices at once -- such as a computer and a phone, a phone and a tablet or two phones. Most people will only need Evernote on a phone, computer and maybe a tablet. If you only install the Evernote app on your two mobile devices and opt to use Evernote in a web browser instead of a desktop app, you will still have access to notes from all your devices.
If you have multiple phones or tablets you wish sync notes between there are a number of free alternatives that don't restrict the number of devices you can use with sync.
For web clipping and other files: Maybe
One of the draws of Evernote for me is the web clipper tool. Think of it as a more powerful version of Pocket that allows you to save full web pages as PDFs or screenshots directly into Evernote, as well as save or bookmark articles for later reading.
You can also use Evernote for storing documents, such as PDFs, spreadsheets or photos -- much like Dropbox. However, when you branch out from plain text notes, you will chew through the 60MB upload limit very quickly, as note sizes can jump from a few kilobytes to several megabytes each.
Having web clippings, important files and notes all under one roof allows for some helpful organization and consolidation of apps. But you still can't use Evernote to edit or alter most of those file types -- just notes and PDF annotations. At that point, Evernote becomes a weird combination of a collaborative cloud storage account with upload limitations and inbuilt note taking. But it's not particularly efficient for cloud storage and we've already established that there are great, free alternatives for note-taking.
Bottom line: If you want to use Evernote for anything beyond simple notes and you're heavily invested in the app, you're better off upgrading.
But there are alternatives. Microsoft OneNote, Evernote's biggest and most direct competitor, offers almost everything you will get with Evernote Premium for free. OneNote works with Android, iOS, Mac and Windows. It also works from the web for platforms that aren't officially supported, and includes its own web clipper, offline access to notes, email to OneNote and most other Evernote Premium features completely free.
For the last three years, I've been a big fan of Evernote despite some of its quirks. I have hundreds of notes in my account and spent time meticulously organizing everything with tags and in different notebooks. I gladly paid for Premium to get more out of Evernote.
But without any new features or major changes, the price hike stings quite a bit. It just doesn't make sense for me to upgrade to Evernote Premium when the annual price of Microsoft Office and 1TB of storage in OneDrive is the same price and OneNote is free.