Guide: Ever­note vs OneNote: Comparison and Review

Over the past year, Microsoft deliberately disconnected OneNote from their Office Suite. Now it is a fully standalone service supported by OneDrive and available on all major platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and of course the web. When MS did that, many eyebrows went up all over the world at the same time. Here’s a company that produces industry-leading productivity software that just made much of their suite free for everyone. And it’s from MS, after all, so it must be fine, right? Well, that’s what we’re here to find out. We’re taking on Evernote, currently the most popular and versatile note-taking service. It’s cross-platform, has great features and has proven to be a reliable system for over half a decade. Let’s start.

OneNote has a lot of free stuff

OneNote is a very small part of MS’s business. Even if it were a paid service, the revenues wouldn’t dent the quarterly earnings of the multi-billion dollar giant. OneNote storage is supported by OneDrive. So as long as you have a few GB of storage there (or a few hundred if you’ve hopped on promotions) you should be fine.

Evernote is the opposite (you only get 60MB of free storage space every month). The note taking app is all they do (yes, they sell accessories too). This app is their main source of income. But they are smart about it. Evernote is set up in a way that most users can get by without paying anything (I’m a proud Evernote freeloader). A small portion of the user base pays a few dollars a month and that (along with the funding) keeps them going. The $ 2.99 Evernote Plus plan gives you offline access, a monthly upload limit of 1 GB, a password lock, and the ability to convert emails into Evernote notes. $ 4.99 per month gives you unlimited storage space and enables business research features OneNote, on the other hand, has features such as OCR in images and PDFs, add PDF files to notes for free, and more.

Evernote has a better user interface

Evernote looks better than OneNote on every platform. The web and Mac client is beautiful. OneNote, on the other hand, reminds me of Office apps. I hate Office apps. But that may be my personal annoyance. The clean Evernote interface. OneNote’s Mac and Desktop apps look like any other office apps with an added tab bar that doesn’t really make sense. My hobbyhorse for Office apps is being exploited considerably here. When I take notes, the last thing I want to see is options for everything from checklists to starring to audio recording. Please show me the important stuff. Evernote knows what up

OneNote has a complex Features, Many of them

If you are a user with multiple devices and you switch between mobile and desktop often for note-taking, the OneNote experience can be downright alienating. On the mobile apps, just tap and start typing like any other note taking app. But OneNote’s desktop app has this weird floating input field that takes a long time to get used to. When you click anywhere and start typing, you will get a text box that is not limited to the text area. This means that each piece of information is its own box that sits on top of a grid. You can do crazy things like drop an image or PDF in it, draw over it, put some text on it, overlap media, move objects back and forth, make images as backgrounds and a lot more. And I’m not done yet. You can insert tables, files and even calendars. This is usually limited to the desktop app (some of it is available on the iPad).

These are powerful things, but they are also complicated and not very intuitive to use. Must be a note taking app feature-rich, but it should also be simple. Evernote has none of the features I have described above but in my daily use I don’t need them. Evernote has basic text formatting options, voice recording, and the ability to import images and PDFs (can’t do crazy annotations, but that’s fine).

OneNote’s Android app sucks, but the iPad app is good

OneNote lacks the same features and UI parity across platforms. Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Someone at MS has not received the memo. The OneNote iOS app has a tabbed interface. The Android app as a panel-based interface (desktop has a drop-down menu + tabbed UI). The iOS app has a handy toolbar for creating checklists, formatting text, and indenting text (great for creating outlines). There is no such thing on Android. And the Android app just isn’t right. It’s slow and crashed in the first 5 minutes of use.

OneNote’s iPad app is killer (irony, amirite) and very different from the iPhone app. The updated app has support for stylus input, handwriting recognition and search through the handwritten notes. So you can use OneNote to take notes in lectures, draw things and more. You can do some of this from the desktop app like import PDFs and images and annotate / draw on them. I imported a 200 page pdf book for the kick. It was not going well. But for small files it shouldn’t be a problem.

Evernote is much easier to use

This may just be me, but I don’t understand the hierarchy of OneNote’s note. There is a notebook and there are sections (showing up as tabs in one app and panels in another), and each section has pages.

I’m not saying Evernote is without issues, but the app has a simple tree structure. There are notebooks and notes in them. While you can do crazy things like add tags, add shortcuts, or create a stack of notebooks, the basic idea is easy to understand. You can simply choose up Evernote and get started. And this is the same on every platform. Yes, Android has a material design UI that is a bit different from the iOS app, but the basic structure is the same.

Evernote is for the Always Online

The fact that Evernote doesn’t support offline access for notes can be a turnoff for many. But it is not as easy as it seems. Evernote’s support page says: Upgrading to the $ 2.99 / month Plus plan allows you to selectively save notebooks for offline use. In my experience: A dozen or two of my most recent and used notes are available on Android and iOS fully even when I’m offline. I can edit them and the changes will be saved offline until there is an internet connection, then the changes will be uploaded and synced across all my devices. On desktop, the entire Evernote library is available for offline use. All my notes are text-based, so it looks like the temporary file is large enough to hold all the notes important enough to my work (about 2 dozen). It is rare that I no longer have the internet and have to write something in Evernote. If nothing else, I can access 2G, which is enough for syncing text. But if you’re a note-intensive user – in the sense that you want to sync PDFs, images, and audio recordings – you won’t be able to access all of that offline.

So who is OneNote for?

I believe OneNote is for people who use specific needs that cannot be covered (for free) by Evernote or other note-taking apps. Want to take multi-page notes filled with floating text, images, PDFs, and annotations, but don’t want to invest in a Pro PDF app? There is OneNote for you. The experience won’t be great, but it will do the job. If you are used to Office apps, you will get the familiar Ribbon UI. Maybe you have a Windows Phone and you already use OneDrive storage, so you have 100s GB of storage space for free. For these types of Windows users, OneNote is for you. For the rest of us, there is Evernote. Become an Evernote Pro: To learn how to Search Evernote like a pro, the best integrations for Evernote and how it compares to Notability.

The winner: Evernote

I’ve been writing about software on the internet for a few years now and I like to consider myself a professional user. And I’m fine with the free Evernote subscription – for the reasons I mentioned above. But I use Evernote for taking notes with only text. I am not a college student or office user who may need to scan images and create OCR file or upload and annotate PDFs (if needed I use GoodReader for it).

Evernote’s basic plan is fine for most of us. And if you’re not a man with a spec sheet, you’ll understand why. Evernote is a joy to use. It’s easy if you want it. But don’t be fooled, Evernote is also very powerful. People have written books about it how to use Evernote to do all kinds of things. If you appreciate ease of use, thoughtful design, and an overall pleasant interface, go for Evernote. OneNote has a great spec sheet, and it’s all free. But unless MS takes the product and writes it again, UI brings and feature equality between all different versions, it is not a worthy contender. And something tells me this won’t happen anytime soon. I’ve been using Evernote for a few years now, and I don’t plan on stopping or switching. I will delete the OneNote apps from all my devices as soon as I submit this article.

Ever­note vs OneNote: Comparison and Review: benefits


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