Over the past 5 years, I’ve probably spent more time in Evernote than most any other productivity app. I’ve created thousands of notes across Evernote’s OS X, iOS and web clients, becoming intimately familiar with the limitations of each. Over the years, I’ve periodically tested alternatives, mostly when Evernote obliterates my changes via merge conflicts with unsynched notes. I had high hopes for Onenote when I gave it a few weeks’ test run recently, but ultimately determined it was even more fatally flawed than Evernote (not to mention how difficult they make it to import past work from Evernote).
A couple days ago I discovered Quip. It is a multiplatform note-taking app that apparently started as a collaboration platform, and was acquired by Salesforce for $750m in 2016. It sports a reasonably effective built-in Evernote importer, plus an impressive suite of free features. Based on my initial impressions, I’m giving it even odds to replace Evernote as my note-taking app of choice. Yet, like Evernote, it too comes with a set of warts.
Given how powerful-yet-flawed both products are, I’m going to attempt to enumerate, from a note-taker’s perspective, where each shines. Hopefully this list (ordered roughly by impact on my everyday productivity) helps others decide which set of drawbacks is most forgivable to them.
- Notes can be displayed in grid while ordered by recency of update or other criteria (Quip only allows user-defined sorting in list view…and only on desktop clients at that. C’mon dudes, allowing notes ordered by recency of update is utterly essential feature)
- Can navigate from note to note with single click, since list of notes remains visible in left pane even when a note is being edited
- Better UI for text formatting: resides permanently at top of each note (in Quip, text formatting options are hidden behind a sometimes temperamental popout in left gutter)
- Support for searching phrases (not just individual words)
- Essentially instant search
- Not as aggressive about trying to spam all my contacts during install (unlike Quip — forcing me to manually uncheck every Google contact during iOS install. Not a great approach to build goodwill with a new user, Quip)
- Notes are saved in real time as they’re created (!). The note’s text is automatically synchronized to all devices that have the note open. Not only does this fix Evernote’s most fatal shortcoming (merge conflicts), it also allows multiple people to edit the same document concurrently, a la Google Docs
- Less janky checkboxes for todo lists. They don’t slow down the note when there are lots of them, they can be copy-pasted without introducing weirdness, and their line gets crossed out when you check off your todo item.
- Spreadsheets with full Excel-like functionality (functions, etc) are natively supported, and can be inserted inline into any note
- Code blocks can be inserted into any note (!)
- Variety of attractive pre-built font themes can be selected and set as default for notes
- Can use across more than two devices for free (Evernote now charges for this functionality)
- Note’s edit history can be viewed without paying monthly fee
- More robust feature set for collaboration (collaboration seems to have been the initial purpose behind Quip’s existence) than Evernote. Can add inline comments to any line of any note.
- More intuitive interface for working with multi-level lists (arrows to move back and forth between list level, rather than needing to use tab+shift)
- Can organize notes into subfolders within a notebook
- No upsells as yet in free version
Both apps allow chatting (because everyone wants to chat in their note taking app…right?), and both allow some degree of collaboration on notes (Quip much stronger here). It’s my goal to use Quip as my primary app for the next couple weeks before I make a final call on the victor. If you have experience with either app, would be delighted to hear your power user tips in the comment section below!