App Shootout: Evernote vs Together 3
I want to state up front that, for the most part, the theme of this article is Mac-centric. For those writers who use Windows, the comparison between Evernote and Together 3 will be largely irrelevant, since Together (at the time of this writing) isn’t available for Windows.
But stick around, anyway, because if you don’t yet know what Evernote can do for a writer, you’re in for a treat — and Evernote is available on every OS going. On a further note, Windows using writers can still get a lot out of this comparison because, for the most part, the usage of Together 3 is very similar to the usage of Microsoft’s information shaping app, OneNote.
Let’s dive right in with an introduction to Evernote for the uninitiated. I’ve covered Evernote’s utility to writers before, but there’s never a bad time for a fresh look, not to mention the fact that new users are discovering this immensely popular application every day.
What Evernote is, very simply, is an external memory center for your brain. Think of it as the external hard drive you plug into your living consciousness to capture and organize all the random thoughts, ideas, and pieces of information that would otherwise pile up in the back of your mind, only to be discarded as new thoughts, ideas, and pieces of information take their place throughout the course of your daily activities.
Though it can be used for task management, I prefer to use it in combination with task management apps (such as my favorite, ToDoist) to provide context to my tasks. ToDoist helps me remember what, when, and where — Evernote helps me remember why and sometimes how.
It’s truly on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets, where Evernote can be with you and ready to hand any place and any time, that its full utility is unlocked; however, it’s no less powerful on a desktop — and, for the purposes of writers, anyone from bloggers to novelists to university students, that’s really where it helps you do your best work.
A major part of any writing project is research, and that’s where the Evernote Web Clipper comes in. Allowing you to clip part or all of any web page or .pdf document, if you find it on the web, you can save it to your notebooks.
On the Mac, Evernote’s helper app also lives in your menubar, enabling text notes, screen capture, and even audio recording.
But once you have the information you want captured, it’s time to organize it, and Evernote does a passable job. I say a passable job in comparison to Together 3, the next app we’ll be discussing. You see, while some people think visually, others think in terms of hierarchies. Basically, folders, subfolders, and sub-subfolders are a more precise and thorough organizational model for some, while a simple two-tiered system is optimal for others.
Evernote organizes information in the latter model, opting for the use of metadata:
To further sort lateral information into more precise results.
Now, I’ll admit this: While the use of Evernote at all makes me feel like a hip young punk, I’m really an old fart. I don’t really do tags, or metadata as they’re more formally known. I was a ‘90s teenager who cut his teeth on the version of Windows Explorer in Windows 3.1 and Windows 95. So while I get the idea of tags, I just don’t really lean on it.
One of Evernote’s greatest strengths is its ubiquity thanks to platform agnosticism. You can get Evernote on everything. (Well, everything that allows third party apps, of course.)
On the other hand, one of my favorite alternative information shaping apps is Reinvented Software’s Together 3. Available only on OSX and iOS, Together 3 offers an interesting alternative for Mac and iPhone/iPad users.
While I haven’t yet had the pleasure of test driving the iOS version, the OSX version of the app offers a markedly different mechanism for gathering information into the app, using a “shelf” which resides on the screen edge and into which files can be dragged, or into which the user can enter text notes, in order to save them.
Gathered information is then displayed in a more familiar “groups” or “folders and subfolders” hierarchy.
In addition, Together 3 allows for browsing of individual items in separate tabs, similar to the tab system employed in Safari 8, as well as browsing in external applications such as Preview for images and .pdfs.
In my opinion, Together 3 doesn’t quite have feature parity with Evernote yet, nor does it have the standout feature of platform agnosticism which will allow it to achieve the same ubiquity as Evernote. But the way in which it organizes and presents gathered information will give it a huge leg up over its competitor if and when it does take on those attributes.
In my real world use of the two applications, I’ve discovered that I use both, but for subtly different purposes:
I typically employ Evernote for gathering information directly from the web onto my desktop, thanks to its Web Clipper. While Together 3 offers the same capability through bookmarklets, that implementation is significantly less robust — Evernote’s Web Clipper offers the ability to select how much of the page’s information is captured, as well as allowing tagging and sorting into a target notebook directly through the Web Clipper, while Together’s captured content can only be organized and tagged after the fact, in the main application itself.
The importance of that distinction can’t be overstated: when content is captured, that’s when my full attention is on that particular piece of content. Going back to it later to organize and label it requires me to recall, at that later time, what its importance was and why I bothered to capture it in the first place.
On the other hand, I find Together more useful for organizing, reviewing, and tagging content which is already extant on my desktop; this is particularly true of archived documents which are no longer active, image and sound libraries, and electronic books which I still intend to read but the reading of which isn’t so immediately pressing as to outweigh my urge to clean out and clean up my Documents folder.
In short: there’s room in my Dock for both Evernote and Together 3; but for different (if related) purposes.
Links and Availability
Now we come to the final comparison between the two apps: price and availability. Evernote is available as a “freemium” app, meaning that while basic (and more than satisfactory) functionality is free of charge, Premium membership unlocks features such as Optical Character Recognition in captured images, a feature dubbed Context which displays notes related to the currently selected note based on the selected note’s context, the ability to chat in real time with collaborators or teammates regarding the currently displayed note or notebook, greater storage space, and more.
Together 3, on the other hand, is feature-full with a one time payment of $49.99 through the Mac App Store. Now, that’s a rather steep price compared to Evernote’s… $0.00. Even a whole year of Evernote Premium is only $45.00 (for American users; your exact subscription price may vary depending on where in the world you are.)
So, ultimately, while I use both products, if I had to pick only one, I’d have to give it to Evernote. If you haven’t already, why not give it a look? It just might be the last research assistant you’ll ever need.
Until next time, do good work, and be good to yourselves and each other.