The Evernote Smart Notebook: Is It Worth the Money?

The Evernote Smart Notebook is an interesting new direction for the oldest note-taking app on the market. They’ve paired the Evernote Notebook app with a Moleskine journal to combine physical note-taking with digital notes synced to the cloud.

If you’re unfamiliar, the Evernote Notebook is a digital note-taking platform compatible with desktop or mobile devices. It’s one of the first to embrace the cloud. The idea is to make your notes available at all times. When it first came out, there weren’t many alternatives on the market. The Evernote Notebook staked an early claim in the cloud-storage landscape, and it kept that crown for years.

There are plenty of alternatives now—Google Keep, OneNote, and Apple Notes—which might explain why Evernote is trying something a little different.

What is the Evernote Smart Notebook?

The Evernote Smart Notebook is a physical Moleskine journal with a cover and pages. There are different options for the Notebook, including the size and type of page. We’ll get into those later.

The basic idea is that you physically write a note or draw a sketch in the notebook with a pen, same as any other pad. Then, you apply a smart sticker to the page. You can customize these stickers, and their job is to tell Evernote where to sort the note when it’s time to upload.

The upload is done with a snap of a phone camera in the Evernote app. You’ll find it in the app by looking for the “Page Camera.” The app grabs the code from the “smart sticker” and sorts the note into the correct Notebook—School, Meetings, Story Ideas, etc. The app works on iOS or Android as well, so it’s platform agnostic.

Stickers can also be used to create standardized tags, such as travel, comic, drawings, etc. These tags won’t sort the notes into a Notebook, but they will allow you to gather similar notes together or search for a specific topic in your notes.

The concept is to allow users who enjoy taking physical notes to still reap the benefits of digital. Notes won’t get lost. They’ll be easily categorized and organized. They can be accessed anywhere. They can include media, such as images and videos.

But is the Evernote Smart Notebook useful? Is it more than a gimmick? And how much investment does it require?

How much does it cost?

The physical Evernote Notebooks have different options, so pricing requires some explanation.

The price of the Evernote Smart Notebooks

The Moleskines come in four categories: Classic, Journal, Sketchbook, and Business. All of them come with smart stickers for tagging and organizing. They all come with a three-month subscription to Evernote Premium.

Classic Notebook: Classic can come with ruled paper or a grid of dots. In general, the grid of dots makes it easier for the Evernote app to turn handwriting into text. There is a pocket-size notebook, as well as a large size for working at a desk. The large will run you around $30, depending on where you get it. The small goes for around $20.

Journal: The journal comes in three sizes—pocket (3.5 x 5.5 inches), large (5 x 8.25 inches), and extra-large (7.5 x 10 inches). They also have flexible soft covers, and pages that can easily be torn out. For the journal, you’ve got the choice of ruled or dot-gridded paper, same as the classic. Again, you’ll find these run anywhere from $15 to $30, depending on size.

Sketchbook: The sketchbook comes in one size—5 x 8.25 inches. It has a hard cover and comes with thicker, acid-free pages. The pages are sketch-grade 81-lb paper. You can find an Evernote Sketchbook for around $30.

Business Notebook: Comes in one large size, with ruled pages. Not a lot of options here. It does come with the exclusive ruled paper that includes page sections, unlike the other notebooks. It has a hard cover and will run around $30.

You’ll notice that most of these prices are either the same or only slightly higher than a standard non-Evernote-branded Moleskine. And they add the smart stickers and a few months of Evernote Premium, so at least you’re not getting gouged for the branding.

The cost of Evernote

Evernote has a free option, but the uploads are limited. With text, this usually is fine. However, the Evernote Smart Notebook works by uploading the pages first as images. With the free version, you’re going to hit the 60MB upload cap pretty quickly.

That is why the notebooks come with a trial subscription of Evernote Premium.

If you’re going to use the Evernote Smart Notebook, Premium is necessary. A subscription will run you $7.99 a month. It’ll increase your upload cap and offer a few other useful features.

So now you’re in for a $20-$30 physical notebook and around $72 a year for the subscription, if you subtract the free three-month trial. And that notebook will run out of pages someday.

Review of the core features

Okay, let’s take a hard look at the features and the notebooks themselves. Are they any good?

The notebooks are high quality, and there’s nothing really bad to say about them. No surprise, since they’re made by Moleskine. They’ve been the name in personal journals and bound notebooks for a long time, for good reason.

The covers are tough, and the embossed logos on the covers look good. The paper is high quality all around, and the binding is sturdy. No problems with the physical notebooks, and the price isn’t bad.

As for the app integration itself? It’s fine. The handwriting recognition works well most of the time. The Page Camera doesn’t have too much of a problem recognizing the page or the stickers. You do have to make sure that the stickers are close to the text and that the lighting is good.

Speaking of stickers—if you have a lot of notebooks in your Evernote app or use a wide variety of tags, the stickers could let you down. There are only a few, so you’ll want to tag them to your most-used notebooks.

As a product, it’s solid without really blowing us away. There are plenty of alternatives for about the same price, like the Rocketbook Everlast.

Who is the Evernote Smart Notebook good for?

The Evernote Smart Notebook is ideal for notetakers in love with their pens. Those who enjoy the process of putting pen to paper, of carrying around a Moleskine—likely the same people who enjoy the smell of old books.

Secondly, the Evernote Smart Notebook—and other hybrid note-taking solutions—might actually lead to better retention. There are studies that show that writing in longhand has different effects on your brain. Writing notes with a pen takes time. You can’t copy a speaker’s, presenter’s, or lecturer’s words verbatim. You have to process and summarize it, which has measurable advantages. The Evernote Smart Notebook could work for people wanting to take advantage of the benefits of physical notes.

That doesn’t make the Evernote Smart Notebook the only option, though. Rocketbook Everlast, Brill, Paper Saver, and apps that convert handwriting to digital text can perform similar tasks.

The Ideal User: The Evernote Smart Notebook is best for people who are already Evernote Premium users. The users who have years of notes wrapped up in the Evernote ecosystem, power users who sync their notes to their calendars or make liberal use of the Web Clipper. And, finally, the Evernote Smart Notebook suits users who like writing their notes the old-fashioned way but don’t want to have to worry about misplaced notebooks, fire, or flood.

Who is the Evernote Smart Notebook not right for?

The Evernote Smart Notebook isn’t going to impress purely digital users. If you’ve already transitioned into taking notes with your smartphone, you won’t see the point.

The Evernote Smart Notebook probably isn’t going to win over people who already use another note-taking app. Evernote has its advantages, but it’s far from the best option on the market.

Even people who use the free version of Evernote—with no desire to upgrade—will run into the upload cap quickly.

Lastly, the Evernote Smart Notebook is a physical journal made of paper. The notebook can get lost, be destroyed, etc. It takes up space in a bag or pocket. If you like to stay streamlined or pack light, the Evernote Smart Notebook may not be the best choice.

And if you’re looking to go paperless for environmental reasons, there’s not much for you here. A Rocketbook Everlast notebook has similar features, but the pages are erasable and reusable.

To buy, or not to buy?

There may be a market for the Evernote Smart Notebook, but it’s going to be reserved for the ideal user we described above.

While you won’t be disappointed with the product, it may not be necessary. The Evernote Page Camera, which is already in the app, can upload pages from any notebook. The Page Camera doesn’t seem to struggle grabbing handwriting from any page of notes. At least, no more than with the Evernote Smart Notebook.

So you can use a standard Moleskine or any notebook you already have. You’ll lose the benefit of the stickers, but you can categorize and tag notes you upload to the Page Camera manually. Which means, considering you have to take the time to put a sticker on, there’s not much time saved.

The Smart Notebooks with the gridded pages claim to be more recognizable to the app. However, we haven’t found a huge difference from standard paper during regular use. The Page Camera recognizes text on both.

At the end of the day, the Evernote Smart Notebook has a niche use case. If you fit into that niche, if you’re an Evernote power user who wants a physical journal, we’d recommend it. But a regular notebook and the Page Camera can do 80% of the same work.

If you’re not in that niche, we wouldn’t recommend the Evernote Smart Notebook. It isn’t a bad product; it’s just either unnecessary or one-upped by its competitors.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

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