Comparing Note-Taking Apps – Evernote & Trunk

Comparing Note-Taking Apps – Evernote & Trunk

February 20th, 2010 by

Are you someone who finds themselves needing to keep track of random bits of information, ideas, photos, voice memos, websites; and any other piece of flotsam that may or may not come in handy at some point in the future? Then one of these two apps is likely the answer to your prayers.

I’ve already done a review of Trunk Notes, but the basic breakdown is that it’s a customizable note-taking wiki. It stores text, photos, and audio; and being a wiki it can create linked relationships between all of those things with hyperlinks, tags, and contexts. Trunk also has what amounts to its own TextExpander-type system of text snippets, and dynamic note content creation via functions.

Trunk can basically be almost anything you would like it to be, you just have to get past the learning curve to know how to truly unlock the potential of the application.

Evernote on the other hand is a way to keep track of all of the same things that Trunk Notes can, but in an entirely different way. Let’s take a quick look at Evernote first.

Evernote Basics

Evernote has become an entire suite of desktop applications, iPhone app, and web interface that allows you to sync notes between all three services and drill down through layers of information about those notes to find what you’re looking for.

Since this is an iPhone app site, we’ll focus on the iPhone version.

The Evernote Dashboard

First of all, in order to use the iPhone app you need an Evernote account (available for free). The first page you see upon launching the app is one with four large attractive icons: Text, Snapshot, Camera Roll, Voice. These are your four basic note types (three really, the snapshot and camera roll are both picture notes coming from different sources). The other ways to get notes into Evernote include through the desktop clients, the web interface, and emailing to a unique email address (very handy).

Each note can of course have a title, be placed in one of a number of different custom notebooks, any number of tags, and then of course the main body of your note. Notes are automatically synced to the cloud while the app is open, but you can instruct Evernote to only sync notes when connected to WiFi. Along with the information which you explicitly add to your note, Evernote also tracks meta-information such as when the note was created and last updated, and the geo-location at which the note was created.

Evernote really shines in its powerful search options, available on the iPhone under “Advanced Search”. You can filter by notebook, tag, date, geo-location; by the note’s original source (email, desktop, web, etc), whether or not it contains images or audio; and even save searches that you repeat often. One neat trick: Evernote automatically scans photos using OCR, and searches that information when you perform a text search. It works really well and seems 100% reliable. No more grabbing those “free guitar lessons” fliers off of telephone poles, just snap a picture and search for “guitar” when you have the time to give the guy a call.

Evernote Vs. Trunk

Evernote and Trunk can each store essentially the same information, but the developers of each app have taken two different approaches.

My Custom Trunk Dashboard

Trunk allows you full control over your information, because it is stored in essentially plain text. You can dump information in with no thought to organization, then find it by searching later; or you can create a fairly organized and robust system of daily logs, tags, contexts, and use Trunk’s powerful functions to parse your notes in real time to find the information you need. Being customizable you can change this at any time, and it even comes with its own web interface (in the form of connecting your iPhone to WiFi and logging onto Trunk through its “back door”).

Trunk Notes however is entirely local, meaning no sync and no access from other locations: if you ain’t got your phone, you ain’t got your data. You also have to learn and understand how Trunk’s syntax and functions work in order to get a good organizational system out of it, otherwise it’s not much better than typing your notes into a Word document. The developers have tons of information on their site as well as a really handy Twitter feed for tips and how-tos (I learned something new from the Twitter feed just the other day).

Evernote on the other hand offers you a simplified method of entering information that it then organizes on its own, helping you find it later if necessary through filters and search. Your information is locked in (I could find no export option on the web interface, perhaps on a desktop app?), and you can build no relationships between notes using links, but you also have full access to your notes from several different sources and locations. The email-to-Evernote feature is one of my favorites and one I miss in Trunk but can’t think of how it could ever be implemented.

Odds and Ends

Each app also offers a string of smaller annoyances that are hard to quantify but can add up to a greater or lesser experience depending on your needs and expectations.

Evernote

  • no adding tasks on iPhone, only on web or desktop
  • no rich editing on iPhone, see above
  • no managing the creation or deletion of notebooks on the iPhone app
  • you can create tags but not delete them on the iPhone app
  • no due dates on tasks, at all
  • no badge – perhaps they could add one for unsynced notes, or undone tasks, or allow you to choose what the badge should show?
  • ability to view notes on iPhone is limited without a network connection (except for locally stored “starred” notes, so “star” that important note before boarding the plane)

Trunk

  • no sync – backup and restore is possible via email, but no sync
  • no access away from your iPhone
  • DIY – no buttons, graphics, or cues. Roll-your-own GTD solution, be that positive or negative
  • no true task system – due dates and priorities can be attached to items with contexts, but “checking off” the item requires several taps and some typing since there’s no actual check-box system in place

The Verdict

Though your choice on which app to use to keep notes depends on the type of person you are and your specific needs, I think the clear winner here is Evernote.

It’s almost a bit unfair to compare the two, since Trunk is not trying to be Evernote and Evernote is not trying to be a wiki, but the bottom line is that you really only need one or the other of these apps to keep track of information. I can’t personally think of a reason to use both since the differences between the two simply comes down to access to information and peripheral features (and of course the killer: Evernote’s OCR of images).

I personally use Trunk and have just never been attracted to Evernote, but that’s because I love to tinker with systems and don’t live at a computer all day. I am also NEVER without my iPhone. I email myself the occasional full database backup from within Trunk and that’s good enough for me.

If you want to access your notes everywhere, you need Evernote. If you wear a tin-foil hat, want total control of your information, or just like working with plain text, you need Trunk.

Evernote is free, while Trunk currently costs $3.99.

  • Mpg46-tempd9

    One item on the above comparison list is out of date. You can definitely add notes in EverNote for the iPhone. It’s a fabulously easy, flexible, and powerful app, which integrates beautifully with browsers and works fine on its own, with robust iPhone and desktop versions that remain in perfect sync. There’s no contest here. Evernote leaves Trunk Notes in the dust.

  • http://www.andrewstechnology.co.uk Paul

    I would just like to add, that the desktop version of Evernote DOES include an export function (at least on Windows, where I use it). It exports as an XML file, so it should be fairly straightforward to import elsewhere (the notes themselves are saved using HTML markup). It has an XML import function as well – I was able to save my Outlook calendar and bring it all in without too much trouble.

  • http://www.drewlanning.com dancemonkey

    Thanks JJ!

    One thing I can't stress enough is that I have no real good reason NOT to use Evernote… I just enjoy using Trunk more. Evernote is of course much much cheaper, has sync services, everything I went over in the review, but I just can't seem to continue using it every time I give it another shot. I'm just hooked on Trunk.

    YMMV though, and hopefully I was somewhat objective in my comparison.

  • http://intensedebate.com/people/jjmancini jjmancini

    Wow great review! It's really nice to see a couple of note taking apps side by side. It makes it a lot easier making a decision and comparing features.

    I have been an evernote user for a while, and one thing I'd like to add to the list of annoyances, is that evernote sometimes loses your style information altogether for a given note. Sometimes I'll use the WYSIWYG editor and add bold, italics, etc, then when I look at it on my desktop, I find that the entire not is BOLD. Also, it has advertisements, but that can be fixed really quick by purchasing the premium version.

    Once again great review! I enjoy reading them!

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