Let DevonThink Personal Organize Your Files

DevonThink Personal is an amazing piece of software to organize your notes, PDFs, bookmarks, articles, and anything else you can think of. It’s one of those apps you’re bound to have heard of semi-frequently if you’ve been using a Mac for any decent amount of time, most within articles about paperless workflows. But that’s not everything DevonThink is up to.

The Personal edition of DevonThink offers most of the features which made the application well-known for organizing your snippets of text, and the famous artificial intelligence to find references among your files. It’s time to do DevonThink some justice and see why you should be using it.

Want to check out other similar bucket apps for your files? Check out our recent bucket apps comparison article featuring DevonThink, Evernote, Yojimbo, and more.

Why DevonThink Personal?

You’ve likely read about every Professional version of DevonThink, but did you know they had a personal edition? It is the only product from the DevonThink family available through the Mac App Store, and it stands on a competitive price to other similar applications, close to Yojimbo or the annual plan of Evernote.

As a lower grade from the advanced editions, you may miss a few features you automatically assimilate with DevonThink as you hear the name, like OCR (the feature – like popularly used in Evernote – that reads text within images and scanned PDFs) and mobile Sync (DevonThink To Go is only available if you have the Pro Office edition Edit: turns out, the mobile app will work with all versions of DevonThink). If you’re not looking for a business powerhouse, you may not even miss several of its features at all. You can check the whole comparison between the editions here.

Interface and Navigation

It doesn’t matter how much you love DevonThink, it still looks outdated. If you can get past the interface, though, the app itself is still interesting enough to check out. Seven views are available, but each one of them offers different resources. The best way to navigate through your tags is with the Tags view, where you may select multiple tags to refine your results. Not as good as Yojimbo or Evernote, but better than Together.

DevonThink seems like it expects you to navigate your files as a wiki, and often the views will force you into it. Some of the views display the same information in their multiple panels, like the Column or Three Panes views, as you select a folder from the sidebar, it will only display the files, not the child folders, in the second panel, so you keep relying on the wiki structure to go through my files. Analyzing the pros and cons of its views may require an article on its own, so I’ll stick with my favorite: the Split view.

Remove all the excess and you find a decent looking application behind.

Looking at the sidebar options, DevonThink offers you an Inbox to drop any file and organize later, a list of your Tags, a few Smart Folders already embed and, of course, the viability to create as many Smart Folders and Groups as you wish. You’re also allowed to keep a folder hierarchy just like in Finder, a feature amazingly missed by a few contestants.

Since I’m sticking with the Split View, I’ll also change the Toolbar accordingly, taking away the organization methods you can quickly access with a right-click to more robust options to perform editing on PDFs and articles you write on DevonThink. Actually, if you took a look at the Tour Guide video, DevonThink promotes itself as a word processor as well. Let’s tackle that next.


As you write on DevonThink, several of its features are available. You have styles, alignment and spacing options and a way to display your lists. Even though the options don’t justify the self-promotion, the quick access to your references is worthy. It may be not the place you choose to write your whole article, but a good start for your first drafts or outlines.

A simple text editor, enough to organize your thoughts.

You may easily share your text or lock it up to prevent further changes. Also jump between your highlights, add tags as you go from the status bar and use the magical features: See Also & Classify and Keywords. We’ll take a look on these two later.

But it also comes with many limitations: resources available for PDFs, like creating annotations, are not here. And if you’re looking for a good environment to write, it’ll only work good for you if you want to write in Rich Text, as that’s the only way to preserve, say, highlights and other DevonThink features. You may convert everything to plain text later, but will lose all formatting including highlights.

Artificial Intelligence

But let’s leave it behind, since you wouldn’t consider DevonThink for a word processor, would you? The artificial intelligence is what stands out in comparison to other information database. The Keywords feature analyzes your file to find, guess what, its keywords. Each keyword has a score of importance and as you click on them you’ll visualize the files which relate with that keyword.

Search by relevance and find similar files to enrich your research.

If you need a more abroad way to compare your files, you got the See Also & Classify, which will display recommended groups to place your file and similar items from your database. Everything with a score right next to it so you can see how close they actually are. If you use the Auto Classify feature, it will send your file into the group that gets the highest score of comparison.

This feature appears again whenever you use DevonThink’s powerful search, as the results are shown with their scores related to the search terms applied.

Capturing Stuff

It doesn’t matter how good an application is to organize the information within if there’s no easy way to add files into it. DevonThink Personal offers many ways to grab stuff. You got the basic things, like Saving as PDF from the Print window, the Services menu option or dropping a file onto the Dock icon. However, it stands out with its Browser Extension and the Sorter.

You can also pick between Rich Text, PDF, Plain Text and other formats.

I’ll put my neck on the line and say that DevonThink is the best information manager to store articles you find online. Its Browser extension offers several options to classify your files as you add them. It picks the URL and Title automatically and allows you to include notes and tags, choose a different format or placement. Yet it is the Instapaper checkbox that shine, which lets you save your articles using the Instapaper formatting for better reading, giving you a quick way to get rid of all visual distractions.

You can drop files into DevonThink even when it is closed thanks to the Sorter.

Then there’s the Sorter that doesn’t stay behind in DevonThink, but instead lives on as a discreet tab hiding by the screen border, no matter what app you’re using. There you can include folders to quickly organize dropped items and also take Notes fully featured with automatic title, URL and tags for reference. Among its preferences, you can customize its visualization and set up hotkeys. As an independent feature, you don’t need DevonThink open to use the Sorter, neither will the application open as you drop a file on it.

Web Integration

I consider this to be the main panel of DevonThink, as it gives you all the great aforementioned options to take advantage of its artificial intelligence, but also show a great responsiveness to deal with web content.

You got the browser-like navigation arrows which work for the whole database history, quick access to the source URL in the browser or at DevonThink and as you find more links within your article, you can just open them in new tabs and check them altogether, which is great if you’re writing and must keep your references close. Put that together with the See Also and possibility to create links to other files within your database and you got the game. And you can highlight these web archives.

You can add any references you find within your stored articles with a right-click.

But you can’t talk about web these days without discussing synchronization to mobile devices. DevonThink To Go is a mobile application that syncs some selected files to be viewed in the mobile, however, it is only available for those with the Pro Office edition Edit: turns out, the mobile version will work with DevonThink Personal too. In its latest update, DevonThink can store your whole database on Dropbox, so every user can check their files from anywhere that way, too.

Many Little Things

It is barely possible to cover everything DevonThink has to offer even in its lowest version without missing a few things. There are good features and bad absences this article couldn’t tackle without turning into a series. It has great annotation features for PDFs, but none for images. You can merge almost any kind of files, and we could go on all day.

Despite what the rumor says about DevonThink being a beast to learn, it is not entirely true. You can easily just open the application and start archiving your files, but it is inevitable that if you want to use DevonThink at its full potential, a peek at the Help files plus some exploring won’t harm. It’s a nice app that’d you should definitely try out, at least with its free trial.

From now until March 18th, 2013, you can get DevonThink Personal and up to 10 more apps in the PickABundle for $49.99 together. Be sure to check it out if you’re wanting to grab DevonThink Personal, so you can get a bunch of other apps together – essentially for free!


DevonThink Personal is an information database with artificial intelligence to help you organize your files.