The cheap alternative to Evernote’s new Moleskine notebook

This is a bit outside my usual topic area, but as I’m someone who covers digital publishing tech, and as I sometimes find myself at a conference table or in a convention hall, I know about integrating handwritten notes with Evernote. If all this recent coverage about the new Evernote Smart Notebook from Moleskine is making your eyes water with productivity-lust, you should know there are cheaper solutions that already exist.

To scan your handwritten notes and search them in Evernote

You can already do this! It’s part of the free membership plan.

And just to be clear, Evernote never displays a full OCR version of the entire document, not even with this new Moleskine product. Evernote uses OCR to index all the text it recognizes in any image you send to your account, so you can then search your images using text strings.

To de-skew and otherwise improve your page photos for greater legibility

Your iOS device can already do things like crop an image, rotate it, and “fix” contrast (with limited success) — just tap the Edit button when you’re viewing an image in your Photo roll. For all-purpose image corrections that are a little more sophisticated than what the Photos app offers, use the free Aviary app.

However, if you want more OCR-centric tools, try something like ABBYY’s FineScanner ($3), which lets you de-skew and fix contrast issues before sending them out.

Or try something like FrontView ($1), which lets you de-skew images and then save them to your Photo album.

By comparison, the Moleskine notebook makes this process a little more dummy-proof by using dots and lines to automate the de-skewing, and by bringing contrast tools directly into the Evernote app. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay $25-30 for the added convenience.

To tag pages quickly

I like the sticker idea that the Moleskine notebook uses, but I don’t like that you have to rely on a pre-printed set that can be quickly used up, or that you can only use the seven icons included. (You can remap the tags, but you’ll still be stuck with a bunch of little airplane icon stickers.)

For more flexibility, don’t use the Evernote app to upload photos! Instead, email them to your personal Evernote address, and use the Subject line of your email to tell Evernote which notebook to add the image to (@notebook), then which tags to apply (#tag1 #tag2 #tag3).

To get offline access to your Evernote notebooks

Evernote Premium is definitely worth the upgrade if you want to collaborate with others, make your PDF documents searchable (the free OCR feature only works with JPGs), increase your monthly upload quota, or get offline access.

However, if the only thing you need from the Premium level is offline access, there’s a cheaper option. Buy the $4 Awesome Note app for iPhone. (The iPad version is separate, and $5.) Under Awesome Note’s sync settings, you can connect it to your Evernote account, and then you’ll have an offline copy that you can sync whenever you like in order to keep the content up-to-date. You can also create new notes in this third-party app, and when you sync they’ll be uploaded to your Evernote account.

Bonus feature: Awesome Note also lets you assign PIN passwords to individual notebooks, which is comparable to Evernote Premium’s app PIN lock feature.

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