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How to create searchable notes from books using Evernote and your smartphone.

Taking photos of books with Evernote on iOS

Note: This is an update to a previous post.

During the summer holidays before I headed to university I worked in a secondhand bookshop on Broad Street in Oxford. And then, to help support myself during my MA in Modern History I worked in Waterstones bookshop in Newcastle. I love books.

But, despite my affection for the printed word, I still prefer, on balance, reading on my Kindle. One of the main reasons for this is the ease by which I can highlight sections of text (non-destructively) which are then available at kindle.amazon.com.

Whilst I’m waiting for everything that’s ever been written to be digitised I need a solution for physical books that is:

  • Quick
  • Accurate
  • Citable

I think I’ve got that with the following system. Here’s what to do.

The Basics

  1. Sign up to Evernote. You can experiment with a free account but, like me, you’ll no doubt go Premium for the added data storage/transfer and functionality.
  2. Install the Evernote app both on your computer and your smartphone (I’m using the iOS version)
  3. When you start reading a new book, create a new notebook for it and take a photo of the front of the book. Title this first note something like Author (Date of publication) – Title, Place of publication: Publisher
  4. Every time you come across something you want to make a note on, take a photo of the text. Add any comments or thoughts you have and title it something like Author – page number(s)

After syncing, Evernote provides OCR (Optical Character Recognition) on the text of images, so you could stop here as you’ve now got searchable notes from books (as promised in the title). However, I’ve gone one step further.

Going Further

Now that the notes you want are in Evernote, it’s time to tidy them up and make the text copy-and-pasteable. Here’s what to do after carrying out steps 1-4 above:

  1. Create a Book Clippings notebook
  2. Sort the notes in the notebook to make ensure the note with the front cover is at the top
  3. Select all of the notes, click on ‘Note’ in the top menu and then select Merge Notes
  4. Type out the text you want from each photograph underneath it. Add the page number in brackets afterwards and delete the photo and references.
  5. Repeat. Yes, this takes time.
  6. Drag your tidied-up note into the Book Clippings notebook.
  7. Start reading your next book.

Conclusion

I’ve found this an extremely effective way of getting searchable notes from physical books. As a bonus, you might want to try using Evernote’s Web Clipper to import your Kindle notes so that everything’s together in one place.

Have you tried this? Have you got a different system?

Hands-on with the Dell Streak.

So yes, I bought it, took it back and bought it again. But I’m keeping my Dell Streak now. It’s great. And this is my last post on mobile phones – well, this month anyway… 😀

Usually new mobile phones are known about well in advance of their launch. Everything from specs to early reviews are made available in order to create a buzz around the product. For example, a couple of years ago I was sent an LG Shine and encouraged (although not instructed) to take photos of it and blog about it. With the Dell Streak, however, apart from a great video at jkkmobile I stumbled across on the night before it was released in the UK, I’d heard nothing about it!

Full specs of the device can be found here, but the highlights are that it’s an Android tablet/smartphone hybrid with a 5″ screen. Yes, five inch! :-p

Let’s just get past the two (related) questions I’ve been asked most frequently over the last couple of weeks:

  1. Is it too big?
  2. Don’t you feel a bit stupid putting it to your ear to, you know, make phone calls?

My responses:

  1. It’s certainly on the upper limit of what counts as a phone size wise. Some, undoubtedly, will find it too big. But given that I tended to use my iPhone more for Twitter and other internet based activities than for phone calls, I don’t!
  2. It’s not Dom Joly size and I don’t really suffer from self esteem issues anyway. As for people who think that phones should only be able to make phone calls, get back in your cave please… 😉

Things I really like:

  • The whole experience and speed of the device makes it über-slick
  • Spotify, Dropbox and other official apps are better (to my mind) than their iPhone counterparts
  • The size of the screen makes everything… just better
  • It’s really quite thin
  • Several virtual desktops means you can organize your stuff
  • I don’t have to jail break it to set it up the way I want it
  • Widgets provide real-time updates
  • The camera is legendary and the in-phone editing functions are actually useful
  • It’s got a ‘gorilla glass’ screen – check out this video showing it being torture-tested!

Things I’m not so keen on:

  • The placement of headphone socket
  • Volume buttons alter up or down depending on orientation (confusing!)
  • You can’t delete things (e.g. emails) by swiping
  • It’s not running the latest version of Android (v1.6)
  • Proprietary power/ sync cable
  • Current lack of third party support (eg cases, speakers, other add ons)
  • The quality of sound recording when shooting video isn’t gerat

Stuff other reviews might not tell you:

  • As with the iPhone, music stops playing when you remove the headphones
  • Sometimes tasks don’t shut by themselves and drain your battery (a force close app is pretty much essential)
  • It’s not really possible to use the Streak with one hand whilst walking for texting, etc.
  • With Android apps you’ve got 24 hours to get a refund if you don’t like it or it didn’t perform as you expected
  • The power cable is similar to the iPhone’s in that the USB end plugs into the power cable

10 apps that are awesome on the Streak:

  1. Dropbox
  2. Fring (for Skype & instant messaging apps)
  3. Google Listen (podcasts through Google Reader)
  4. Handcent SMS (iPhone-like text messages)
  5. Opera Mini (web browser)
  6. Profiles (change between ‘Normal’, ‘Night’, ‘Outdoor’, etc.)
  7. Quick Addroid (add stuff to your Google Calendar quickly)
  8. Realplayer
  9. SlideScreen (really classy home screen replacement)
  10. Spotify

I’m happy to answer any questions you’ve got – including making another video, so ask away! 🙂

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