First of all I need to tell you why I left because if I don’t do it straight up nothing makes any sense. You only have to read one or two of my reviews to know that I don’t like apps that hog memory and space for no good reason. I’ve mentioned many times that I really don’t like Evernote with all of it’s functionality and pomp. I’ve never actually felt comfortable with using it, even felt at times a bit hypocritical. For some people it makes sense because they use it to manage their workflow. I don’t need a behemoth, I need a note taking app that’s quick, easy and doesn’t hog my memory or storage space.
I’ve looked at the storage space required for Evernote on my tablet…. 96M. As text files my data takes up 1.5M. I mean “What The….” why am I using an app which takes up 64 times the size of the data when the most I’m using it for is note taking and searching?
*Edit – I’ve dropped BananaText for Epsilon Notes*
Requirements and Options
I decided that I had to leave the Evernote world but I had to work out what the requirements were:
- Cloud syncing so that I can access my notes from my tablet, phone and computer
- The notes must be searchable
- The notes must be rich text (as in it allows a bit of formatting)
- Must be able to import or read the notes extracted from Evernote.
- Must be light and quick
- Must not lock me into their world just in case they get bought out or closed down.
I then started looking for the obvious options and started to cross all of them off. Some of these are listed below, along with the reason why I didn’t settle on that solution.
- – Couldn’t import my Evernote, I’d need to copy and paste everything
- Simplenotes – Same as above
- Syncnote – Couldn’t import straight text files
- Keep – Couldn’t import anything
- Others – Either couldn’t import txt files or locked me in to their world (just like Evernote)
I resolved then to use Dropbox, a text file Editor and a search tool. Since I already had Dropbox installed all I needed was an app that would automatically sync a folder on my device with a folder on Dropbox. The App Dropsync allows a user to sync two folders, one on your device, and one Dropbox folder.
I said Text files, but one of the requirements was rich formatting, is this possible? It turns out it is. There’s a simple markup language that is easy to learn, simple, and human readable. Have you tried reading HTML? Try right clicking on this web page and select “View Page Source” it’s a nightmare. However the markup language ironically called “Markdown” appealed to me because it’s text file based, and easy. The original purpose of Markdown is an easy way to produce html so that it’s human readable. Most editors should be able to export your txt file to html but we don’t really need to do this. What we want though is an editor that opens a file in preview mode.
The editor was a bit of a problem since most of the ones I tried were very primitive, opened in edit mode, locked me into their world, or did not interact well with file managers. I found one that was released for the first time in January this year called
BananaText Epsilon Notes. BananaText comes in two flavours Lite and paid ($0.99). Expect a review later.
For searching I’ve found that the file manager “Total Commander” allows you to search for text in files. Another tool “Doc Full Text Search” provides the ability for advanced text search.
Let me tell you that the process of finding this solution took the better part of a week, a bit of coffee, a little loss of sleep (I’m a problem solver) and a bit of lost hair. But I’ve now got a solution that works. Now that I’ve told you the end of the story, let me tell you roughly how to do it for yourself.
Phase 1: Extract Notes from Evernote
Evernote does not make it easy for anyone to export to something that works however I think I’ve done it. Here are the steps that I used to extract my notes.
- First of all I used the Evernote program on my computer to export my notes in the .enex format, it’s an XML form, which they have developed. This is the easiest part.
- I went to the website http://www.clevernote.co/ where it will extract each note to your google drive. Each note will have it’s own file but will be marked up with some html tags for formatting.
At this point all my notes were on my google drive and the text looks something like
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?> <!DOCTYPE en-note SYSTEM "http://xml.evernote.com/pub/enml2.dtd"> <a href="http://www.mabishu.com/blog/2012/12/14/get-better-performance-and-life-from-your-ssd-in-linux-based-systems/">http://www.mabishu.com/blog/2012/12/14/get-better-performance-and-life-from-your-ssd-in-linux-based-systems/</a>
Phase 2: Replace HTML with Markdown
As you can see, it’s not really human readable, all those < and > and rubbish that gets in the way. What we want is something a LOT simpler. The Markdown language turns that same document to:
[Optimising SSD's in Ubuntu](http://www.mabishu.com/blog/2012/12/14/get-better-performance-and-life-from-your-ssd-in-linux-based-systems/)
In order for me to clean out the HTML I searched the internet for tools and scripts that I might use. I stumbled on a piece of TCL script which was a good starting point. Using my previous geeky skills I combined it with another TCL script which resulted in striptag.tcl. Now I’m not really a coding guru and I’m sure that someone else out there will be able to make it better so I’m fine with someone perfecting it.
For those of you with a Mac or Linux computer running this script is a fairly easy thing to do, let me step this through:
- Find a good location to create 2 folders on your HDD, one called “Clevernote” in which goes the files created by clevernote. The other, named “Cleaned” is where the resulting files will be found.
- Download your Clevernote files from Google Drive into the “Clevernote” folder
- Right-click and Save-As the striptag.tcl and save it in the directory in which you created the two folders.
- Start a terminal application and change to the folder in which you have saved the “Clevernote” files
- type “../striptag.tcl” and press Enter
- Watch for errors, if there isn’t any your nice, clean Markdown files will be produced.
Unfortunately I don’t really know the process you’ll need for Windows but I’m sure some of it will be to install a TCL interpreter. The top link in google points me to http://www.activestate.com/activetcl so you might start there.
Phase 3: Setup your devices and folders.
At this point all of your notes will be in the same directory. I suggest that you create some that make sense to you and move the relevant notes into them at this point. There may also be some minor formatting to do and if you want to add search tags then you can do that at your leisure.
Once you have sorted out your notes upload all your notes to a Dropbox (Maybe called “My Notes”) then:
1) Set up your device
Setting up your device is pretty easy, in a suitable folder on your device (phone or tablet) create a “My Notes” folder. The folder should not be on the external SD Card because of the limitations that Android has for the read/write access to the external storage.
2) Install Dropbox and Dropsync
If you haven’t already got them, go to the play store and install Dropbox and Dropsync. I won’t go through the setup of Dropbox, but when setting up Dropsync select the Folder on Dropbox, and the “My Notes” Folder from the step above. The sync should be “2-Way” to ensure that all the notes you change on one device syncs to all your others.
3) Install Total Commander
Technically you won’t need Total Commander, most decent file managers should work. I have however noticed that the standard Android file manage may not open the .md files, but others will. I have ES File Explorer on all my devices and this would work fine, though it’s another app that’s big and can be a bit sluggish. For optimum speed you want a lite file manager that allows you quick, easy access to your files. Total Commander also has a search tool which will perform simple searches for text inside your notes. The only one I’ve seen that will do this.
Start up your file manager of your choice, find your “My Notes” folder and copy a link to your home screen. On Total Commander you do this by Press and holding on the folder which brings up a context menu. There’s an option “Create link on Desktop”. In ES Explorer Press and hold till the folder is selected. In the bottom right there will appear a menu item “… More” selecting that will show a menu list which you can select “Add to desktop”.
4) Install Epsilon Notes
There’s a number of different Markdown editors, some of them require you to pay for extended functions. Some of them large, others small. What we want is an editor that works well with file managers, that starts in the preview mode first and allows you to easily edit the file.
I’ve tried MarkdownX, Writer+, iA Writer, Neutrinote, Monospace, Jotterpad, Writeily, Plain.txt, Writer, Markdrop, BananaText and I’m sure others, but the one that I have found that ticks all the necessary boxes is Epsilon Notes. I have been given the version with extended functions but the standard version is quite good and I can recommend it.
Once you install Epsilon Notes, open your notes folder from the link on your home page and try to open one of the notes. I expect that the file manager will ask you what application to use, (if not you will have to clear the default app that opens txt files) choose “Epsilon Notes” and set it to Always open that type of file. Additionally you can, from within Epsilon freeze the file manager to a top folder.
5) Install Doc Full Text Search
While Total Commander has a simple search function for text inside files sometimes you want more advanced searches. The best solution that I’ve found so far is to install an app called Doc Full Text Search. This app uses standard boolean type searches and creates an index of words so searches are quite quick. Once you have searched for what you want press and hold the file in the top portion on the file you want to edit. The interface is not particularly intuitive, but if you take 5 minutes you should work it out.
I know that I’ve installed three apps and dropped one. Net effect, I’ve added two more apps to get rid of Evernote however Epsilon Notes is about 9M, Doc Search is about 11M, Dropsync is about 10M. The total memory space for this new solution is 30M which takes my overhead to 20 times the size of my data from 64 this also means that my storage space has been freed up by a whopping 66M. (I’ve worked out since that Doc Search isn’t really necessary because Total Commander has the basics of what I need and is half the size)
You may want to make bulk changes to your notes by either cleaning them up or renaming them etc. I suggest that you install a good editor on your PC and edit them there. On my Mac I found MacDown suits my needs. I’ve set MacDown as the default application for all txt files. It works fine and renders *.txt and *.md files with ease.
All in all I’m fairly happy with my solution. If you decide to leave the Evernote world by following this kind of process let me know how you go. Please also understand that this isn’t a step by step walk through. There may be other things that you will need to do but it should work as a guide.