Taking Note: “DEVONthink To Go” Gets an Update

Note-taking enthusiasts are probably familiar with well-known iPad apps that have “note” in their titles such as Apple Notes, Evernote, OneNote, and Simplenote. I’ve written a lot about Evernote here on my blog. DEVONthink To Go 2 is not as well known, but it is another great app worth considering. It was updated earlier this month, and I’ve got a few screenshots below to show you what it can do. I highly recommend it, especially for researchers (I am a historian of pre-modern Japan).

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Offline Access to Everything

DEVONthink To Go provides offline access to all of your files. This means that you can work with everything even when you are not connected to the Internet.
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In the screenshot above, you can see that I have 13,878 notes in my database (you can have multiple databases), 12630 files with tags, 19 files in the Trash, and on the right is a PDF I was viewing. The app can go from 100 to 10,000 files with only a tiny bit of lag in some screens, an impressive feat if you ask me.

In this screenshot, the PDF shows an article in the Kōgakkan University 皇學館大学 newspaper about a performance of traditional court music and dance (gagaku 雅楽) put on for visitors to the G7 Summit in Ise by our students who are studying to be Shinto priests (see this link for a beautiful nighttime demonstration by our students at Nachi Shrine).

Easily Move Content In and Out of the App

The screenshot below shows the range of options you have for moving content in and out of the app. One of the nice things about DEVONthink on OSX (I’ve written a little about it on this blog) and DEVONthink To Go on iOS is that they play well with the Apple operating systems and other apps.
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Plenty of Information Density and Options

DEVONthink To Go gives you a lot of options and plenty of information density — the screen is packed with data. In this case, you see the title of the PDF, a place for the URL (if applicable), all kinds of organizational tools (Tags, Labels, Flags, Read/Unread, and a lock to keep the item from being accidentally deleted), Comments, and metadata explaining its size and so forth. This is a huge amount of information compared to DEVONthink To Go’s competitors. And, most of it is editable, so you can easily work on the go (hence, the name of the app).
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Powerful Search

You can search quickly inside your entire database and individual documents. In general, the search is more effective with Western languages, but even Asian character (CJK) searches perform pretty well.
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Organize Files However You Would Like

It’s easy to manage your content with options to move files, replicate them (this is a unique DEVONthink feature that creates an automatically updated version of a file in one or more other locations), duplicate them (this creates a copy of the file), or throw them away. Having these features is quite handy, because they allow you to do a lot of the organizational work without firing up DEVONthink on your desktop.
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PDF Editing

I haven’t gotten around to purchasing the PDF editing upgrade, so I cannot show it here, but it is yet another possibility.
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Viewing Options

You can work in full-screen mode, which is very, very handy when you are dealing with the relatively small 9.6″ iPad Pro.
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And, you can sort the data in several different ways, depending on how you want to navigate it. To the best of my knowledge, DEVONthink To Go offers the most options available for any of the apps mentioned in this blog post. Pretty impressive for an artisinal app maker with a handful of employees — their competition boasts hundreds or thousands of staff.

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Settings Galore

The screenshot might not be much to look at, but what it shows is the lengths to which the designers have gone to make an app you can customize for any use case. I put a priority on security and privacy (see my thoughts on this), and DEVONthink does a great job of addressing my concerns.

  • Premium Features: You can buy additional features including the ability to choose whether you do a “shallow sync” (only download file names, and choose which files you want to download in their entirety).
  • Locations: You can use just about any form of syncing available including ad-hoc (create a direct wifi connection between your computer and iPad for syncing without the need for a network), Bluetooth, Local (on your local network), and “cloud” (upload things to the cloud — this can be done with encryption, so it is extremely secure). All of the other apps mentioned in this blog post only allow for cloud syncing (putting your files on someone else’s servers), and they have varying encryption capabilities, but DEVONthink To Go 2 is the only one that can bypass the cloud entirely or sync with 100% zero-knowledge encryption. To put this feat into perspective, remember that the company consists of only a handful of folks, and they have managed to best a couple of the largest companies in the world. Wow.
  • Bonjour: This is used to set up a local sync with your computer.

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Sync Status

DEVONthink To Go 2 tells you the sync status in quite a bit of detail, compared to other apps. IMG_1168

Creating Files

As you can see here, you have the ability to make all kinds of files. Personally, I generally stick to the regular text files, but I have found the others useful as well, on occasion. The important thing is that the developers have made sure that you have all of the options at your fingertips.
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Split-Screen Support

DEVONthink To Go 2 is designed to take advantage of many features that have only recently become available on iOS, including split-screens. It’s a lovely app to take notes in while reading, or you can use the notes in it while writing with another app. Thanks to this feature, I can easily go for weeks just using my iPad Pro and leave the computer at home.

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Caveats

  • DEVONthink is only for OSX (Mac) and DEVONthink To Go is only for iOS (iPad / iPhone). Windows users are out of luck with this one. Sorry.
  • There is no Apple Pencil support. However, I have found that making files in GoodNotes and exporting them to DEVONthink works great.
  • It costs money. Yes, I know that many people will immediately reject the app for this reason, but it should be noted that you are not the product with DEVONthink — they don’t mine your data, they aren’t trying to get you to buy their hardware, and they don’t have a subscription service that adds up to huge amounts of money over time. It’s a conventional software model where you buy it and can use it as long as you would like. Nice. Of course, if you are only using the app for shopping lists, it is a little overpowered, kind of like driving the Space Shuttle down the street to the store.
  • You need DEVONthink on OSX to really bring out the potential of the app.