An Experiment In Notes

When I originally tried Evernote a long assed time ago, I didn’t really care for it because I was seeking a solution for my non-homogeneous network and disliked the lack of structure. But when the 90% of use cases were an Android tablet, they eventually one the war and displaced my previous solutions. In the end things worked out quite swell and its data model has fit my style of digital brain quite nicely. Twelve years later, I’ve stuck through Evernote’s more lack luster periods and high points, but I’m a little less enthusiastic about the recent transition.

As such, I decided to conduct an experiment that I’ve been thinking of for a while: which is investigate runners up. In this case, Apple Notes. But I’m afraid to say that it appears to be a washout for my use cases.

Much like a younger version of Evernote, I view Apple Notes as a kind of “Meh, good enough” experience. Both offer a more word processor than semantic experience. Level of detail are formatting like headers rather than sections, and the common formatting yada, yada. Outside of differences like Notes offering short cuts like shift+cmd+h and Evernote ‘# and your text’ as alternatives to the GUI, that’s mostly distinctions in taste and finer details. The typical stuff is all there.

I personally dislike that Notes uses inline hash tagging rather than separate metadata given its use of a database oriented storage model, and prefer Evernote’s handling of attachments. But neither is a hill to die on. For a great majority of tasks, I don’t think the differences are enough to moan about beyond preference, so I’d mostly say: use whichever you like, or whichever works best for you.

The parts where the experiment fails for me is performance: Notes is slow.

As an initial test case, I imported most of my Evernote data and used this opportunity to update my local backups with fresh ENEX exports. Notes supports importing Evernote’s native export format of ENEX which made it the first candidate for experiment. And it even performs fairly well importing large numbers of notes. I decided to collect data under an “Evernote Imports” folder to serve as the root of recategorizing my notes, and that’s where the first failure point comes into play. Dragging and dropping lots of notes or a folder with lots of notes to a new destination is SLOW. Performance of folders on the order of 40 to 300 notes is slow. The kind of slow where you see Apple’s spinning rainbow (Mac’s take on Microsoft’s hour glass of yester-year) for 30 seconds and then walk off for a fresh glass of water. Based on the experiment, I believe this has more to do with folders that contain many attachments more so than many notes in general, as it goes executing a rather bulky database transaction. To be fair this isn’t a common occurrence, as I’m more prone to moving handfuls of notes than entire “Notebooks” worth unless I’m reorganizing and cleaning out my notes, which I typically do every few years. Less excusable however is the sync. For comparison, I’m used to initial syncs of Evernote taking some hours. Notes on the other hand was a screw it / going to bed / still not done in the morning, level of sync performance syncing to my tablet. Likewise, opening Notes after a long while equals a “Huh” level of slow and the sync and I’m finding that often folders aren’t in the correct location after it finishes. For me, that’s a deal breaker.

In my case, Evernote represents just over 3700 notes and exports to somewhere between 2.5 and 3 GB of ENEX files. My test subset is more like 2200 notes, so the strain on iCloud should be considerably less give or take the database overhead. Perhaps this is a lot more notes than the typical user, but for me I’m finding the performance enough to preclude Apple Notes as an Evernote replacement — Evernote handles sync just fine while Notes chokes.