Academic note taking: Circus Ponies Notebooks versus Evernote

In several previous posts on this blog (see some links below), I have sung the praises of Circus Ponies Notebooks, and I still think it’s one of the best note taking apps around for mac. However, Evernote is a strong contender and recently I have considered doing more of my academic work in Evernote. Rather than full reviews, here are my initial thoughts on some of the pros and cons of each app: 


Circus Ponies Notebooks 

What I like: 

Very powerful outlining features. I’ve written in more detail about this in previous posts – but CPN really excels for outlining, which in turn is an extremely useful way of writing up literature notes. It makes it very easy to distinguish between author’s text, own ideas, and  to organise concepts in hierarchical relationships to each other. 

You can tag cells of text in outline mode. I absolutely love this feature, and CPN is, to my knowledge, the only note taking app for mac that offers tagging of text (as opposed to tagging of a whole note). It’s a great way of organising pieces of text across a large number of notes (or pages, as they are called in CPN).  

You can combine text input with hand writing on the iPad version. Having said that, the hand writing feature is not very advanced compared to apps such as Notability or 7NotesHD – BUT if you need to sketch a quick diagram, figure or table while you are entering text, you can. 

The multidex (see my previous post) – you’ll never not find anything again.

In the mac version, you can link to files on your mac without actually importing the file into the notebook. 

CPN can synchronise text and audio notes. This is very useful for recording lectures, or for any other context where you are combining audio notes and written notes. 

The physical notebook-looking interface – working with CPN on the iPad is a bit like browsing through a ‘real’ notebook.

What I’m missing: 

– lack of consistency in formatting between mac and iPad (it’s not too bad – it’s just not consistent)
– proper hand writing features in the iPad version 



What I like: 

Evernote works on ‘everything’. For me, this is a huge bonus, as I work in a Windows environment, have a mac and iPad, and also an android phone. Evernote syncs seamlessly across everything. 

Evernote has an efficient system for tagging each note. I’m a big fan of tagging as a form of organising notes, and Evernote does this extremely well. You can also create one level of hierarchical tags, in addition to using notebooks as a form of organisation. 

Evernote has great integration with other apps. A lot of my apps communicate directly with Evernote, including Postbox, Safari (through the web clipper), Cloud Outliner, Curio and MagicalPad.  

I can email notes directly to Evernote, and add tags and the designated notebook in the process. Extremely convenient. 

You can share your notebooks, as read only for free accounts, with editing features added with paid accounts. 

Powerful search function where you can easily search across all your notebooks, and also attached PDFs. 

The user interface has a nice short cuts and recent notes menu, which makes it easy to access your most important/recent notes. 

What I’m missing:

– full outlining features 
– hand writing option on the iPad 

In both apps (mac versions) you can:

Create links between different notes. This is extremely useful for organising your notes. For example, I often have thematic notes that I then link with source notes. Thematic notes can be ‘assessment’, ‘professionalism’, and so on, where I discuss different dimensions of a concept, theme or theory – then I link to source notes where relevant, which are the notes I make for individual publications. 

Choose a range of formatting options for your text, such as bold, italics, underline, and different fonts and colours. 

View pages side by side – very useful when reviewing literature. 

Make voice annotations and also import a range of files and media


The conclusion? It basically comes down to individual needs and preferences. There are also a range of other criteria that are relevant to consider, which I won’t go into here – for example, their user interface is very different. If you’d like to save a bit of money, Evernote gives you a lot for free. I use the Premium account to get offline notes on my iPad, but the free version goes a very long way for most people. 


Related posts on this blog:

Reviewing Literature with Circus Ponies Notebooks
Circus Ponies Notebook part II: the iPad version
Circus Ponies Notebooks part III: Organising review notes with Notes Pages
Hand writing on the IPad: Note taking with Notability

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11 Responses to Academic note taking: Circus Ponies Notebooks versus Evernote

  1. mountaingirl says:

    Good news for Evernote users like me – they have incorporated a handwriting app. Now my iPad is truly a note book. Enjoy.

    • macademise says:

      Oh, that’s great – I have Penultimate but didn’t realise they had Evernote integration. Thanks for the tip!

      • mountaingirl says:

        It’s read for iOS 6 and they are working on updates for iOS5. yay

        • macademise says:

          I just tried Penultimate again and linked it to EN, but couldn’t find a zoom window for hand writing – am I missing something? If that’s missing, I’ll probably stick with Notability and 7NotesHD and email my handwriting to EN instead – I need that magnifier! 🙂

          • mountaingirl says:

            Good to know. I have been waiting for the iOS 5 update. Here is a good discussion thread that might be helpful.

            As well, I have been using the Evernote/Moleskin app. The OCR is incredible and it is search word ready as soon as you upload.

            • macademise says:

              Thanks for those links! The reason why I haven’t used Penultimate in a while is that I think it’s lacking a lot of features for hand writing – I really like it for sketching, though, it’s very smooth.

              I’ve looked at the Moleskin stuff before and I think it looks really smart – but personally I do 100% of my note taking on the iPad, so I don’t really need it at the moment. I’ll probably reconsider it for the next round of field work. While many people use iPads these days, I still often attract extra attention when I do my hand writing on the iPad, and that’s not something I’d want in a data collection situation. For that purpose, I think the Moleskin set up would be perfect. Yay for supportive technology 🙂

            • mountaingirl says:

              Ditto on the ‘attract extra attention’ – the Moleskin has helped.

              Incidentally, I also use livescribe. It does not have OCR but it does upload your handwritten notes and syncs with the MP3 file. Tap anywhere in your notes and the audio file is synced to that point. Any OCR adaptation would be … christmas!

              It is also Evernote friendly – of course!!!

            • macademise says:

              I was looking at that, too, a while back. Another smart piece of technology. If you had to only invest in one (livescribe or Moleskin), which one would you go for? It’s very rare that I do audio recordings, but I guess for ethnographic field work settings where I’m recording anyway, it would be perfect.

            • mountaingirl says:

              I think I would stay with Evernote/Moleskin because I can also record in Evernote if I need to. It’s a more seamless app. I received livescribe as a gift when I entered the field 3 years ago, long before I had heard of evernote.

              Interesting to note: Evernote’s OCR is not limited to the moleskin partnership:

              Worth looking into!!!


            • macademise says:

              Right, that makes sense about Moleskin.

              Yes, the OCR feature in Evernote is awesome – I really should have mentioned that in the blog post.


  2. Finally – a really good review from a bonafide user of both Evernote & Notebook. I am actually torn between buying the Notebook or sticking it with Evernote. With your conversation with Mountain Girl – I finally will stick with Evernote. I have the Moleskine Evernote & I am a premium subscriber. I don’t do that much research but being a virtual assistant with several clients at a time, I needed a way to organize not only my To-Do’s, writing, researches for a particular client. And yes, I also have Postbox.
    Great and fantastic post. Thank you for the help!

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