Mobility

Showdown: Evernote vs. OneNote

Which is better? Evernote or Microsoft's OneNote? This review compares and contrasts both note-taking applications in the first of a two-part series.

evernote.jpg
 Image: Evernote
One of the original applications for computers was creating and manipulating documents, and once computers became portable, replacing the paper notebook seemed like an obvious application for technology. However, note taking on digital devices has remained a somewhat clunky affair, made difficult due to everything from a sub-optimal interface to difficulty sharing and organizing notes.

A decade ago, Microsoft attempted to solve this problem with OneNote, a note-taking application that let users capture free form and handwritten text and promised more natural use than a word processor for taking notes. For reasons I've never been able to uncover, OneNote became the poor stepchild of the Office suite. Despite a conceptually sound product and some novel and compelling features, the application was rarely promoted and updated by Microsoft and languished after its introduction. As tablet computing experienced a huge resurgence due to the iPad, Microsoft stubbornly limited OneNote to the Windows platform, which was missing a compelling tablet offering at the time.

Evernote enters the market

Into this gaping hole in the market came Evernote, designed from the ground up as a multiplatform, cloud-based note-taking application that quickly exploited the growing prevalence of mobile devices.

evernote-marketing.jpg
 Image: Evernote
Evernote soon supported most desktop and mobile operating systems and offered relatively seamless synchronization between all of them. Evernote was also licensed on a "freemium" basis, allowing users to start using the application for free and paying for a subscription to access premium features or additional storage.

After a long silence, Microsoft has fired back at Evernote, launching mobile clients on the iOS platform, and most recently releasing a full-featured Mac OS desktop client and now making the product free of charge. Microsoft has also integrated current versions of the software into its cloud storage, offering OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive).

I'd been a OneNote user since it was first released in 2010, using the application in conjunction with a tablet PC to take handwritten notes, share notes with colleagues, and quickly retrieve past notes. Despite the negatives cited above, the application largely lived up to my needs until the iPad arrived on the scene. The iPad revolutionized mobile computing, yet lacked a client for the iPad. A quick search for a OneNote-like application that worked on mobile devices pointed me toward Evernote, and since 2010 I've used the application almost exclusively in lieu of OneNote.

onenote-image.jpg
 Image: Microsoft
More recently, I began using a Windows 8 tablet for my note taking due to the availability of active pen input. I was pleasantly surprised to find Microsoft had updated the Windows version of the application, created a free version for the "modern" Windows 8 interface, and tied them all together with cloud-based sync. As icing on the cake, a free Mac version of OneNote arrived this month, removing the last missing element for returning to OneNote for my personal note taking. However, the past four years have seen me largely in Evernote; has Microsoft done enough to merit switching back?

The tale of the tape

Before delving into use of both applications in a business environment, let's look at the features and specifications of each application:

onenote.jpg

I've never been a huge fan of feature charts, since they only tell part of the story. In this case, they show that these two contenders are relatively evenly matched. Evernote offers a wealth of third party integration and mature applications on every platform, while OneNote has a strong heritage of handwriting support. Clearly, spec charts won't settle this contest, and in the next installment I'll take OneNote and Evernote to work, using each to replace the trusty paper notebook in a work setting.

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

8 comments
turbit
turbit

I have used OneNote since 2003.  Currently running on 2007 which cannot use Skydrive.  I tried to install the free upgrade to 2013 but it will not work on Windows 7.  Maybe if I delete OneNote 2007 and start again it might but don't want to loose all my notes.  Anyone else have this problem?

iIekead
iIekead

Like others I had tried OneOne when it first came out.  I guess I didn't see the value in it because I tried several times but never kept with it.  Then along came Evernote and it immediately and ever since captured my imagination, and provided value as a productivity tool. 

Now that OneOne has come back strpmg wotj a new user interace and with all the cloud-based synchronizing and storage tools, I'm trying it again. I'm finding I like it "pretty well." My biggest struggle is getting used to the single view where you have the Notebooks along the left and the tabs across the top and pages along the right (yes, I know you can move the tabs to the left).  I wish it had more view choices.  Evernote, for instance, has the ability to choose from among "list," "snippet," or "card view."  Perhaps I just need to spend more time to get used to OneOne's GUI, but I am finding it bit harder to find what I want if just browsing.  Searching is more efficient of course, but it doesn't have the same ability to order notes by create date or last edited date, etc. 

I guess I would say OneOne is looking much stronger, but Evernote still gets my nod. I am continuing into the near future with my experiment of using both.  But right now, if I had to pick one, it would be Evernote.

User3D
User3D

I have both in my iPad, but prefer ZoomNotes. More flexibility.

jlg
jlg

The big thing I use Evernote for is the Web Clipper. Stuff that I want to remember goes into Evernote . The other thing is the email support - mailing an attachment to my Evernote account (with tags) is too convenient.


I don't remember OneNote having either of these features.


jfreedle2
jfreedle2

I too had used OneNote since it arrived on the scene in 2003 and have missed the application when I replaced my Tablet PC and the following Notebook PC with an iPad. Now that I have OneNote once again on all my devices, I believe that I will slowly migrate back to using OneNote for taking all my notes. Although I really miss the ability to draw in OneNote for Mac & iOS, I can largely supplement that functionality with a drawing application and paste the drawing into OneNote. Hopefully Microsoft will correct this short-sighted omission soon.

anders43-9e396
anders43-9e396

The deal-breaker for me was that Evernote has such poor encryption. 64bit-RC2 is ridiculous

a3LeggedCat
a3LeggedCat

One Note was first released in 2003 not 2010.

bsalloum
bsalloum

When OneNote first appeared in my Office suite several years ago, none of my activity was cloud-based. Smart phones were not as common and certainly not as powerful, and consumer tablets didn't exist. I had a home pc and a work laptop, both Windows with Office, but the few things I wanted to keep had little to do with each other and so were stored locally. I looked at OneNote out of curiosity and after playing with it for a bit wondered, "what would I ever use this for?".

Fast forward to a year or two ago when I suddenly have multiple devices and easy online storage access, and a new desire to keep notes and web snippets in an organized, synchronized way across my devices. So, I re-visited OneNote. What I found was quite a nice product full of sync bugs, resulting in online copies, local copies, copies of copies, and endless hours on user forums trying to figure out problems Microsoft apparently wasn't interested in fixing.

So, on to Evernote. It has worked from the start on every device I've used, has sync'd itself flawlessly, and does everything I want in a way which makes sense to me.

If OneNote is a "poor cousin", then from my experience it deserves to be.

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