GeekDad Review: DEVONthink 3.0

Software

We are firmly in the digital age, which means we all collect a ton of digital information. But how do you find the information you need when you have so much at your fingertips?

Reproduced by permission of DEVONtechnologies

What is DEVONthink?

I reviewed DEVONthink right here on GeekDad back in 2017 and have been using the tool ever since. Just recently DEVONtechnologies released version 3.0 of DEVONthink. DEVONthink is a very powerful and complex software tool that helps you capture, organize, edit, and find just about any kind of data you can possibly throw at it. If this is the first time you have heard of DEVONthink I will point you over to my original review for the basic description rather than go over the same information again here. But before you ask, DEVONthink is only available on the Mac (sorry PC folks).

What’s New With DEVONthink 3.0?

DEVONthink 3.0 is more than just an update to the app, they literally revisited every aspect of the app. Here is a run down of the changes that were implemented in version 3.0:

  • Extensive user interface changes and additions including new sidebar items and a less instructive activity pane
  • A ton of new Inspector views and capabilities
  • The Clip to DEVONthink browser extension for Safari is now a native extension
  • Adds “Placeholders” – New, easy to use data placeholders for templates, imprints, smart rules, and batch processing.
  • Databases can now be encrypted
  • Added dark mode support
  • Extended the DEVONthink search language
  • Added a new menu extra for capturing notes
  • Custom metadata (Pro feature)
  • Imprinting for images and PDFs (Pro feature)
  • Better OCR engine (Pro feature)
  • Completely rewritten web interface
  • New automation option like smart rules and flexible reminders (Pro feature)

New Version Structure and How to Upgrade

Another change to DEVONthink 3.0 is the overall product line. There are now only two main versions of DEVONthink, DEVONthink and DEVONthink Pro. Ok, technically there are three if you count DEVONthink Server (a version meant to run and be used in a server environment) but that is for a very targeted set of people and not the majority of customers and isn’t covered in this review. DEVONtechnologies has a web page dedicated to explaining the new product line structure and the various upgrade choices you have here.

Another important change to highlight is a change to the licensing model. DEVONthink is now using the “seat” concept as part of their licensing model. So now, every license for DEVONthink 3.0 comes with two seats which allows you two install the software on two different machines (typically one work and one home computer). If you need to run the software on more than two computers you can purchase additional seats on your license. You can also manage which computer is using each seat from your license using your customer account with DEVONtechnologies. I got my review license for DEVONthink 3.0 just before the whole pandemic hit and I think somehow in all that chaos I must have installed DEVONthink on my work computer twice because during what I thought was my second computer installation I was told both of my seats were already in use. But I was able to login to my customer account and revoke one of my seats and complete my second installation. I’ve had a lot of bad experiences with this on other software platforms so I was happy to see that DEVONtechnologies made management of seats simple and intuitive.

One last mention about versions. DEVONthink 3.0 is ONLY available from the DEVONtechnologies website and is not yet available from the Mac App Store. But they are working on it. They just need a bit more time to make the modifications necessary so that they conform with Apple’s sand boxing rules associated with the Mac App Store. So its coming…

Using DEVONthink 3.0

While there were a significant number of updates and new features added as part of DEVONthink 3.0, many of the improvements were under the hood enhancements and may not be apparent right away to all users. Examples would be the completely rewritten web interface and the better OCR engine. Things are just going to work much better, but it may not jump out immediately at the user. But there were a few updates that I think are worth going into more detail about.

The first new feature I wanted to showcase is new note menu item for quickly capturing new notes. This may not sound like a very big deal, but the implementation of this new feature is quite impressive.

The new DEVONthink menu bar shortcuts (upper right hand corner) lets you capture information even faster (Reproduced by permission of DEVONtechnologies)

As you can see from the screenshot above the new menu item feature is accessed by clicking on the “DEVONthink” text in the menu bar. That pops up a new note menu with 5 icons across the top. Each icon lets you create a different kind of new note/entry item:

  • Take a Note: New text note entry
  • Voice Note: New audio note entry
  • Video Note: New video note entry
  • Screen Capture: New screen capture
  • Web Clip: Lets you capture content from a web page

Before this update all of these types of new entries were possible with DEVONthink, but not within just a click or two like it is now. The new text note entry is a feature I use many times a day now as I go from one meeting to the next. I used to use a dedicated outlining application to take notes, but the drawback there was having to start up the application, create a new outline, save the outline and then later move the outline into DEVONthink. I also had the complication of having my new outline/note get covered up with other windows on my computer during the course of the meeting and then I would have to hunt around for my note taking application again to take more notes. With this new menu shortcut my note is always a click of the menubar away and when I’m done with my meeting I just click the “Add” button at the bottom of the menu pop-up and it is added into DEVONthink for me. Just that one simple change took a ton of daily friction out of my note taking workflow and that is just one of the 5 features of this new menu item. I can see where other people will find a lot of utility in being able to quickly create new audio or video entries as well. The screen capture tab is also incredibly useful and it even presents you with 3 different types of screen captures (screen, window and selection). And finally the web clip tab lets you quickly capture all sorts of information from a page in your web browser.

The new quick selection for screen capture gives you three different options from which to choose (Reproduced by permission of DEVONtechnologies)
Now the web clipper is just a click away with the new DEVONthink menu shortcut (Reproduced by permission of DEVONtechnologies)

The other new feature I wanted to highlight was the custom meta data feature. If you are buying a tool to store and later search large quantities of data then having the ability to customize your meta data is huge, so that is a very welcome new feature in DEVONthink 3.0. So how does it work? The first thing you do is go into the “Settings” menu in DEVONthink and select the “Data” tab. From there you can activate and customize a long list of preset meta data as well as add your own. The screenshot below shows you what the setting menu looks like and the selected meta data is “Status” and you can see that you can customize the various values you can specify for status.

Within the setting menu you can customize and even create your own meta data fields (Reproduced by permission of DEVONtechnologies)

Once you are done setting up your custom meta data values you can then set the meta data for various items in your databases. Shown below is a web archive I took of our GeekDad website using the new web clipper menu extra for capturing notes and off to the right you can see that the meta data options lets me specify the type of status I would like to set.

The upper right corner of the above image shows how you can now tag an item with the custom meta data I just setup (Reproduced by permission of DEVONtechnologies)

Verdict

I’ve been a daily user of DEVONthink ever since I started using it for my original review on GeekDad back in 2017. DEVONthink 3.0 brings a whole lot of powerful refinement and some surprise killer features too that I think more than justify the price of the upgrade. If you run a Mac and have a data need that needs to be scratched then DEVONthink is a tool that is worth consideration. In my opinion when it comes to data capture and search there is no real competition out there for DEVONthink. It is such a powerful and effective tool that it really is in a class all its own. Over the years I have run into a few technical challenges and their customer support has been superb. One more very important feature worth mentioning is that your data isn’t locked into a proprietary format. I recently had to move a massive amount of data out of DEVONthink and it was a simple drag and drop operation to move all of the data in one of my databases out and it took only a few seconds. I knew it was supposed to be easy but that pretty much blew me away.

DEVONthink 3.0 is available now ONLY from the DEVONtechnologies website (it is not yet available from the Mac App Store but that is coming in the future). The Standard edition is $99 and the Pro edition is $199 and upgrades are also available if you already own a previous version of DEVONthink.

Disclaimer: I was provided a demo license of DEVONthink Pro for the purpose of this review, but DEVONtechnologies had no input into the review content.

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