OneNote Mobile app for Android

Donovan Colbert takes a look at OneNote Mobile and how a corporate user might leverage this free Microsoft application.

In previous posts, I've discussed OneNote 2010 as a native Windows app, part of the Office 2010 Pro suite, and the OneNote Web app that works with Microsoft SkyDrive for online document collaboration. In addition to these two options, a OneNote Mobile app exists for Windows Mobile (for Intel and ARM-based Windows 8 devices and Windows Phone), Android, and iOS. Today, I'll be covering the features of the Android mobile OneNote app.

OneNote on the go

The mobile version of OneNote is not only cross-platform, but it also works on tablets and other handheld devices. While it isn't as full-featured as either the native or web app, it lets you make or access your notes on the road and allows you to do many of the things covered in my previous posts. An important caveat is that you can only have one Microsoft account associated with your Android device or account profile. If you have a Jelly Bean 4.2 device that supports multiple accounts, you could make multiple Android user profiles to support multiple Microsoft accounts. This issue also affects iOS, Windows 8, Pro, and RT users.

When you first install and run OneNote Mobile, you'll see the OneNote splash screen that requires you to accept Microsoft's license. Tap Accept. If you've already created a Microsoft account for another product, you'll be logged in automatically. However, if this is your first Microsoft application, you'll be asked to sign in to your Microsoft account (Figure A). Figure A

Tap Accept to confirm Microsoft's Use terms.

At the Windows Live login screen, touch Next (Figure B). Figure B

The Windows Live login screen.

From the Sign in page, enter your Microsoft account credentials and touch the Sign in button to continue (Figure C). Figure C


You'll be taken to the Notebooks view. This will become the automatic default when you open the app. Depending on how many notebooks you have on SkyDrive and what size they are, it may take a while for the sync to complete.

Along the top bar are three icons: a clock, a page with a lightning bolt, and a camera with a lightning bolt (Figure D). The clock brings up a list of recent notes. The page creates a new page, and the camera allows you to snap a photo and import it into OneNote. Figure D

Three icons on the top toolbar.

On the bottom bar, the menu soft-button brings up three options: Sync, Sync error, and Settings (Figure E). Figure E

Three selections on the bottom toolbar.

When you open a notebook, it will sync from SkyDrive to your device. Once again, the presentation is not consistent with SkyDrive native or the Web app. In this case, your initial view of the notebook will be a screen that shows the title at the top and the tabbed sections of the notebook (with title and last sync date) on the left (Figure F). Password protected sections are only available through the OneNote native app and will always appear as Never synced. Figure F

Notebook presentation on the OneNote Mobile app.

When you press one of the tabbed sections, you'll open that section, and the title will change to reflect the tabbed section's name. Now, your list will display the pages that exist in that section, with nested documents indented beneath the master documents they belong to (Figure G). Figure G

Nested documents in a tabbed section of OneNote Mobile.

If you touch a document page, you'll be in the view mode. The title bar changes to the name of the document you're in, and you'll see the three familiar icons on the right of the top bar (Figure H). Figure H

OneNote Mobile view mode.

Touch the body of the document to switch into edit mode. The top bar icons change to a camera, a numbered list, a bulleted list, and a checkbox. These are fairly self-explanatory. If you plan on doing serious content creation, whether you're on a smartphone or a tablet, you should consider purchasing a Bluetooth keyboard. Otherwise, OneNote Mobile is best for reviewing notebooks and maybe checking off some To-Do boxes.

To mark off a To-Do item, place your cursor on a line and touch the checkbox icon (Figure I). Figure I

Mark off a To-Do item by placing a checkmark at the beginning of the line.

When you touch the camera button, the Insert... request will appear with the following options: Image from gallery and Capture a photo (Figure J). The Capture a photo selection allows you to tap Retake if you're unsatisfied with the photo or tap Done if you're happy with the results. Figure J

You can insert an image or take a photo.

There are very limited photo editing tools in OneNote Mobile. You can't crop, resize, or edit the photo. When you long-press the photo in the document, you'll be presented with a list of external viewing apps (Figure K). Figure K

You can open photos with these applications.

To remove the photograph from your document, place your cursor behind it and hit the backspace button.

If you touch Image from gallery, you'll see a list of apps that can import images into OneNote Mobile. Browse and select the image you want, and it'll be loaded into the document in the same manner as above.

Practical application

Let's tie this together with a functional demonstration of where a corporate user might leverage OneNote Mobile. In this scenario, I'm on a business trip and want to make a notebook recording of my receipts for travel expenses. Here are the steps to complete this task:

  1. Open OneNote Mobile and touch the new document icon (Figure L)
  2. Figure L

    Open a new document.
  3. In the new page that appears, click in the Tap to add title area and enter a title (for example, Business Expenses)
  4. Tap in the document workspace, and then touch the camera icon (Figure M)
  5. Figure M
    Enter a title and then click the camera icon.
  6. Tap Capture a photo to take a photograph of your receipt
  7. If the photo is legible, touch OK, which will import it into OneNote (Figure N)
  8. Figure N

    A photo of a receipt captured in OneNote Mobile.
  9. Touch the numbered list icon if you want to add items
  10. In this example, on item 5, I backspaced to exit the numbered list mode, then added a line to remind myself to submit my invoice to corporate. I also touched the To-Do checkbox to add a checkbox to my reminder (Figure O).
  11. Figure O

    You can add bulleted lists and To-Do items.
  12. Tap the menu button on your Android device and select Sync
  13. Open SkyDrive on your PC and browse to your Documents folder (Figure P)
  14. Figure P

    SkyDrive Documents folder.
  15. If you didn't select a specific notebook when you created your mobile document, it will store your information in your Personal (Web) notebook (Figure Q)
  16. Figure Q

    SkyDrive Documents Personal (Web) notebook.
  17. When you open the Personal (Web) notebook, you'll see the new Business Expenses document under the tabbed section called Unfiled Notes in the left column (Figure R)

Figure R

Unfiled Notes appear in the left column.

Here's a tip. If you've deleted or misplaced your Personal (Web) notebook (or any other notebook) on the OneNote 2010 native app, click the File tab. From there, click the Open menu on the left column. Under the option called Open from the Web, you'll see a list of notebooks on SkyDrive that aren't synced to your local native app. You may need to click the refresh icon (Figure S) to get a current list of the SkyDrive notebooks that meet this criteria. Figure S

Hit your refresh icon to see a current list of SkyDrive notebooks.

Once your notebook is synced to the native app, the full feature set of OneNote is available to you, including the ability to resize photographs you've inserted using the mobile app.

In the native app (not the mobile or web versions) it's also possible to move a tabbed section from one notebook to the other. Simply click on the page you want to move and drag it to a tabbed section in another notebook. In the following example, I moved the Business Expenses page from the Unfiled Notes tabbed section of the Personal (Web) notebook to the Quick Notes tabbed section of the notebook called Donovan's Notebook (Figure T). Figure T

You can move tabbed sections from one notebook to another.

Allow the native application to sync with SkyDrive, and you'll find that the page has also moved to the proper notebook and tabbed section there. Sync OneNote on your mobile device, and you'll see the document has changed locations there, as well.


As you can see, OneNote is really a suite of multiple different application platforms that all access the same data, depending on the system available to you and your current needs. Many users can get along with just one of these choices, but you'll find the most productivity by using all of the available platforms: the native app when on a desktop, the SkyDrive Web App when at a foreign machine or as a shared cloud repository, and the mobile app when doing light duty document management and creation when traveling. Note that functionally, OneNote Mobile should operate nearly the same on iOS and as a Windows Modern UI mobile app on Windows 8 and Windows Phone.

For additional information, I recommend reading the following Microsoft OneNote Mobile FAQs:

How do you use OneNote in your organization? Share your experience in the discussion thread below.