Evernote and Dropbox: Why I Use (and Love) Both

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I’ve gotten a surprising amount of email from folks asking if they should use Dropbox instead of Evernote since, in their opinion, the services seem to offer the same sort of basic features. The point of this post is two-fold. First, to quell this misconception. Second, to describe just how much I use the *shit* out of both of these services and, up until Evernote hired me, was happy to pay for both (I still pay for Dropbox). Before we get into that, I think it’d be interesting to try to sort out how people arrive at the conclusion that Dropbox and Evernote are similar enough to cause confusion as to which is best to the exclusion of the other.

Being a pretty experienced Dropbox user and a very experienced Evernote user, here’s my take as to where the similarities begin and end: both services specialize in keeping a given set of data in sync across multiple machines and the Internet. They both offer native mobile clients on multiple platforms for managing said data and they both, to one degree or another, deal in files (like spreadsheets, word processor documents, photos and such like). The ability to keep previous versions of said files is also present on both app’s feature lists, but this is executed in very different ways by each company. That’s it, folks.

This isn’t to say that, should one be so inclined, somebody couldn’t make Evernote into a kind of a Dropbox or Dropbox into a kind of an Evernote. The similarities are strong enough (barely) such that one could theoretically be used in place of the other. I’m not a fan of this idea because I’m a firm believer in using the right tool for the job.

Dropbox’s focus is files, so that’s what I keep there. Lots of them, in fact (about 89gb worth, as I type this). I keep all of my iTunes music in there, all of my current development projects and all sorts of other stuff. It’s also really great for ad hoc file sharing/hosting using the Public directory and it allows files of over 50mb (which Evernote does not). And it offers a sort of poor man’s version control system by letting you revert to all previous versions of a file going back 30 days incase you foul something up. Evernote supports this to some degree with it’s Note History feature, but it doesn’t keep a revision of every change you make, but rather a snapshot of the note at a given interval that you can revert to if you like.

Evernote deals primarily in textual and image content. It does allow you to attach files to notes, a facility that I use frequently, but not the same way Dropbox does. Evernote allows more versatile and customizable organization in the forms of notebooks and tags (instead of just nested directories). The vast (*vast*) majority of what I keep in Evernote is text: account numbers, throwaway SQL scripts that I might want again someday, scanned copies of Apple Store receipts (which are also searchable), etc. As far non-image, non-PDF files I keep in Evernote, it’s mostly blank forms that I use semi-frequently (like a time off request form or an expense report) and archives of files I want to keep but may never need again.

Some other examples:

  • Dropbox is short-term storage of files, Evernote is long term.
  • Dropbox is where I keep the music, Evernote is where I keep the list of bands to check out and the receipts for the music I buy.
  • Dropbox is where I keep records of client assets, Evernote is where I keep a log of client communication.
  • Dropbox is how I move files easily between computers, Evernote is how I move text easily between computers.

You probably get the idea.

I rely heavily on both Dropbox and Evernote to make my data available to me everywhere. They’re both fantastic ideas with brilliant execution and I’d be seriously bummed if I didn’t have either one. That said, I don’t think one is an adequate replacement for the other; they simply have too many disparate use cases to be considered competing products.

[Shameless Plug: If you're new to Evernote, you might enjoy this thing I wrote.]

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Comments

  1. Great article!
    I am also an avid user of EN.
    I would like to set up Dropbox on my new WIN 7 system, so I can drop files with a right-cklick in the menu. Anybody know how to do this?

  2. It’d probably be easier to create a shortcut to your Dropbox folder
    somewhere on your desktop (or maybe the task bar if Windows 7 supports
    dropping files there) and just drag files into it. The “Send To” context
    menu may work for Dropbox, but I’m not a frequent Windows user, so I’m not
    sure.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. I also use both services and love it.

    I use a set of symlinks to backup certain files in my Dropbox account, so I don’t have to constantly drag/drop stuff into it. I’ll backup most document folders, and other important data as a backup service, mostly.

    I use Evernote for everything that I need to store or access immediately, and it’s awesome.

  4. I am similar to Glen. I use evernote as a more immediate and fast response tool. Dropbox is for larger scale, more thoughtful operations. Both are great.

  5. I’m curious about Dropbox vs iDisk…. iDisk is part of MobileMe’s subscription so there is that cost, but what about function, and all the other aspects of multi machine syncable storage.

    The iTunes thing is a definite attraction however

  6. For me, iDisk pales in comparison for several reasons. First and foremost,
    it’s far cheaper than iDisk (by way of MobileMe, which I don’t need thanks
    to Google Apps), pound for pound. Couple that with Dropbox’ ability to sync
    two machines locally via the LAN instead of the Internet, Dropbox’ support
    for file versioning and intelligent history and being able to, you know, run
    it under Windows – all this adds up to a pretty easy decision in my mind.

    As far as syncing two discrete iTunes libraries, I’m still searching for a
    truly functional solution to that problem. Simply adding your iTunes folder
    to Dropbox and symlinking doesn’t get the job done, I’m afraid. I’ll keep
    looking :)

    • 100% agree with the first paragraph! He is absolutely correct! iDisk really does not come close!

      DropBox is my folder where I manage my files (whatever they may be) just like I would if I only had one computer. This allows me to have the same files and folder structure on several computers that I use. Evernote is my electronic filing cabinet, where I store receipts, warranty info, personal information, photos that are dear to me, and general information one would want to keep in a daily planner. I mean, just about any type of paperwork that comes to my home is filed away in Evernote. Things I don’t want to forget are stored there. Shopping online information (the URL for… where did I purchase those shoes?). My grandsons drawings are scanned and stored in Evernote. Genealogical records. Letters from my son while he is away, etc.

      To say the least, any awards Evernote receives are well deserved! I pay for Evernote and I pay for DropBox. They are two services that I can not do without.

      And thanks for the article Brett! You hit a home run with it!

  7. Hi, I liked the article, thanks! I’m using Dropbox a lot (I am a payed subscriber), to sync a backup all my files. And I’m a beginner with Evernote (I’ve just bought you ebook!). But what really piss me off with Evernote is the lack of Linux support. There is no a Linux desktop version of Evernote. Only Windows and Mac versions. Dropbox is really cross-platform. But Evernote not yet… I wonder why… (btw, “use Nevernote” is not an answer :) )

    • While I understand being frustrated by the lack of a native Evernote client for Linux, I think you need to consider the business perspective. Linux on the desktop has definitely gained a bit of traction over the years (particularly with Ubuntu), but it’s still an incredibly small portion of the total market. Couple that with the sheer number of disparate window managers, desktop GUIs and other swappable OS components and I think you’ll agree that making a viable Linux desktop app would be a pretty huge undertaking for a relatively small amount of users.

      *Note: Just to reiterate – These are my opinions, not those of my employer (Evernote).

      • Thank you for the reply! I understand your point. But if the huge variety of options in the Linux world could be a problem, I think that Evernote developers could focus the most popular Linux distribution (Ubuntu) with its default desktop manager (Gnome) only. It would be very nice! I am sure that it’s only a matter of time to appear a Linux native client… In the mean time, I’ll give a try to Evernote+Wine.

      • It’s funny, as much as I enjoy Ubuntu Linux, I have not made the complete switch to it because of the lack of support for Evernote. I know you can access Evernote from the browser, but I only use the browser for “special” searches on non-Evernote computers.

        Actually have not thought of trying Evernote via Wine. That’s my next step.

      • cruiser says:

        What is the code to get a discount for your book?

  8. I used DropBox to store ebooks so far, because I am not paying customer, I use Google Storage instead, because for 5$ you get 20 gigs of space, plus if you tweak it up a bit, you can use it via FTP, but it’s soon gonna be available. Add up Groove Folder Synchronisation and you will have the same effect.

    Anyway, Google is going to allow file storage by themselfs soon, hence I won’t “invest” in Dropbox.

    • The problem with most Google products (and I’ll admit I’ve never used — or even heard of, honestly — Google Storage) is that they were designed by engineers. Finding a place to put crap on the web that you can access from your desktop and mobile isn’t terribly difficult since there are plenty of different services that offer that functionality. The reason I’m happy to pay for Dropbox is the seamless experience it offers. I can snap a photo from within the iPhone app and it will be on both of my Macs within *seconds*. Sharing is a snap and Dropbox’s OS integration on both Windows and OS X is awesome.

      There are Google products that I rely on heavily (Gmail, Calendar and, to a lesser extent, Documents), but Dropbox picked one thing and did it better than anybody. That’s why I pay for it. :)

  9. Thanks for the article. I also use, and pay for, both.

    I’m interested how you use, or would recommend using, PDFs. I currently have them in a folder in Dropbox, but if you’re an Evernote premium user you can store them in there and they’ll be indexed along with everything else.

    Would you say Evernote would be a more appropriate place to store them for that reason?

  10. Came across this article and the comment by Steve…

    I use and pay for both Evernote and Dropbox. I have an automated process setup from a sheetfed scanner that places all of my searchable PDFs into an Evernote notebook. I use this as a digital file cabinet and I couldn’t be happier with that solution!!!

    My only reservation is that I’m still on the hunt for an Evernote backup solution (i.e to Dropbox or another cloud service)… any ideas anyone?

    -Keith

    • Well, since everything you keep in Evernote (aside from local notebooks) is already synced to at least two discrete places –your computer and the Evernote servers, which are also backed up– I don’t personally see a need to back up your local Evernote database file.

      If you’re on a Mac, you could create a symlink in your Dropbox folder to your ~/Library/Application Support/Evernote folder, which would back it up. If you’re using Windows (sorry), you could maybe use Cygwin + rsync + cron to do a regular backup, but that may be the nerdiest thing I’ve ever typed on this site, so… yeah :)

  11. Brett, I didn’t have a question for now — your punchy style is an inspiration and so’s your life story. I was wondering about how Evernote and Dropbox could complement each other, and lo and behold from Google, here I am! Keep being creative.

  12. Does anyone know how to log out of Evernote on the mac? My primary computer is a Windows pc at work and on my home Mac I wanted to occasionally be able to access my evernotes. Having downloaded Evernote and logged in (without checking the ‘keep me signed in’ box) now I’m finding that the notes are always available even if I quit Evernote and start it again. The mac at home is shared and I don’t want it to show Evernote except when I’m logged in.

  13. Good article, friend. I was trying to think this through for myself yesterday and my first though was to ask what your thoughts were via toot. My second thought was that because this was an interesting question you had probably already written something brilliant about it.

  14. Great article. I’ve been looking for a good comparison of evernote and dropbox. I was considering one or the other but now I see why I need both. Nice site for viewing on an iPhone too.

  15. Hey Brett. Great article. Since you are a MAC user, any idea as to how to add my local folders in Evernote to Dropbox? I’ve seen discussion around this on PC. Every time I physically move the database it recreates itself obviously. Is this possible? Thanks

  16. I’ve been using Dropbox for over a year and like it a great deal, especially the fact that the Dropbox agent is available for Linux, Mac and Windows. I run both Windows and Linux systems where I have Dropbox installed to handle the file sync chores and it does a terrific job. I’ve just gotten into Evernote and I did buy your “Evernote Essentials” .pdf to get up to speed. I discovered Evernote while I was investigating OfficeDrop (formerly Pixily) which is a “scan to the cloud” service with a Windows app called ScanDrop. ScanDrop will allow you to store your scanned documents on OfficeDrop or Evernote or Google Docs, which I found very interesting. The Evernote client app is available for Windows and Mac but not Linux, which I think is a serious omission. Do you have any insight as to whether or not Evernote will publish a client app for Linux? BTW, you can’t beat the price for Evernote…about the same as one year for Google Apps Business Edition, which I think is an outstanding value.

  17. Philip M. says:

    Brett,

    Great post that I found while researching how to organize my stuff better and get a whole lot more paperless. However, there was one sentence that I guess I did not understand at all: You said that Dropbox was for short term storage of files, and Evernote for long term. I would almost have had the idea that it would have been the opposite, if we’re talking a lot of scanned documents. Would you please elaborate? Thanks!!

  18. shelley says:

    How do you save your itunes songs in dropbox?

    • Dr. Charles Payet says:

      I would also like to know how to use iTunes in Dropbox? Does that mean you can connect an iPhone or iPad to any computer and sync it? That would be great, as my office T1 line is apparently too slow to download the newest iOs, but my home PC with Win7 doesn’t play nice with iTunes.