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Outline+: A Microsoft OneNote for iPad alternative

Will Kelly reviews Outline+, an alternative to the Microsoft OneNote for iPad app.

When I was writing "Get Microsoft Office 2013 to play nice with your iPad," I didn't cover third-party apps. Recently, I heard about Outline+ by Gorillized, which is an iPad note-taking app that costs $14.99 (USD). This may seem a little pricey, but it's a definite option if you're seeking a note-taking app for the iPad that's compatible with Microsoft OneNote.

With all the cloud moves that Microsoft makes in Office 2013, the Microsoft OneNote for iPad app remains largely unchanged. It almost seems like they aren't even interested on competing with Evernote and some of the other cloud and multiplatform note-taking solutions, because Microsoft could really be raising the bar higher for these apps. Enter Outline+ as a potential alternative to the OneNote for iPad app.

OneNote support in Outline+

Outline+ has full support for the OneNote (*.ONE) file format. It's compatible with OneNote 2013/2010 (reading and editing) and OneNote 2007 (limited support). However, it doesn't support OneNote 2003. When it comes to design, Outline+ pretty much outperforms OneNote with notebook pages that look great on an iPad's retina display. Figure A shows a notebook page open in Outline+. Figure A

A  notebook page open in Outline+.

The beautiful presentation even extends to OneNote notebooks that you import into Outline+. I especially like the fact that page attachments come through intact as well. Tap on an attachment in Outline+, and you can open it in Adobe Reader or other compatible app. At the time of this writing, attachments don't transfer over in the Microsoft OneNote for iPad app.

Editing notes in Outline+

You have a full range of editing options in Outline+. They really preserve the OneNote experience when it comes to editing notes. You can tap anywhere on a page and just start typing, and they don't skimp on text formatting options, adding images, or creating sections and sub sections. You can also add photos from your iPad's camera. I particularly like being able to move the order of my notes around on a page, using just my finger. Figure B shows an example of a quick note in Outline+. Figure B

Typing notes in Outline+.
Outline+ lets you create sections and subsections just as you can in OneNote. It's small touches like this that help preserve the OneNote user experience between apps, which is great for corporate end users. Figure C shows how similar creating a section is to how you create a section in OneNote. Figure C

Creating a section in Outline+.

Unfortunately, naming sections wasn't as fluid as it could be. I had a few occasions where the name I typed in for a section "didn't stick" and reverted to the default. This isn't a showstopper, but it could prove to be a nuisance for users who are sticklers for organization. I'm sure this bug will be remedied in a future release.

If you make sketches and drawings as part of your note taking, you'll be happy to find that Outline+ lets you bust out your favorite iPad stylus and freehand draw using a variety of pens and markers (Figure D). Figure D

Freehand drawing in Outline+.

Syncing Outline+

From a feature set and user interface perspective, Outline+ is quite impressive, but you currently have to use Dropbox, Box, iTunes, or a USB key to get your OneNote notebooks into Outline+. USB isn't going to be a sync option in a security-conscious enterprise, and iTunes is brain dead for any other task than managing music. The current lack of SkyDrive and SharePoint support in Outline+ detracts from what is otherwise a stellar application. While this may not be an issue with personal users, corporate users may be inconvenienced. However, the developer is promising SkyDrive support in a future release.

Worst of all, at the current time, getting OneNote notebooks into Outline+ is a manual exercise to get your notebooks into the cloud so that you can use them in Outline+. It also means you have to save each OneNote notebook you want to access in Outline+ individually as a OneNote package. This will definitely help you trim down your OneNote notebooks library, but long-time OneNote users may have many notebooks they want to use in Outline+. At first, such a manual task may not seem so bad, but three months from now might be a different story.

Outline+ uses security as one of their selling points, especially with no need for desktop clients or random clouds. At first glance, Outline+ appears to be an alternative to the OneNote for iPad app, but as of now, it can't plug into the SkyDrive backend that mobile users need to keep their notes synchronized with their PC and other devices. Therefore, security as a selling point might be open to interpretation until the app gets support for SkyDrive and/or SharePoint.

Final thoughts

Outline+ is a well designed and beautiful iPad app. In many ways, I like it better than the Microsoft OneNote for iPad app -- especially its layout, appearance, and support for attachments. And since Microsoft is making the cloud a major element of Office 2013, the upcoming SkyDrive support the developer promises is going to complete this app as a viable alternative to OneNote on the iPad.

Have you used Outline+ for business or personal use? Please share your experience in the discussion thread below.

About

Will Kelly is a technical and marketing communications writer based in the Washington, DC area. He has written about SMB technology, data center management, project management applications, mobile computing, Microsoft Office, and productivity applica...

1 comments
david.leiser
david.leiser

I use box where I have a large account. the way I solved the lack of support for skydrive is to create a Junction from my OneNote folder to the MyBox folder. the MyBox gets synched to the cloud, and this makes it available to Outline+. Something a a kludge, but it takes 5 mins to set up if you know what you are doing, (I usedd the wonderful X2 explorer for this) and then you can forget about it.