OneNote…the note that rules them all (not really)

Name: OneNote (2016)
Cost: Included with MS Office, free app version available
Type: Software, plus app
Rating: 4/5

OneNote logoI love Evernote. It is simple. Not just easy to use, but it doesn’t distract me with all the possibilities. But, I didn’t think it’d be fair to praise Evernote without also giving OneNote a good look over. They are very similar in features and functionality, but if you’re a Windows/PC/MS Office user, then you may take to OneNote very quickly. I’m a Windows-person (…I can feel whatever “cool” factor I had with some of my readers decline significantly with that admission). But, I really wanted to not like OneNote. I had tried it over five years ago and didn’t really get into it, though, that can also be said for my first experience with Evernote. One of my main issues with OneNote was that I wanted to color coordinate EVERYTHING, and play with all the features. I had nicely organized and colored notebooks, but no notes because I used up my writing time with customization. That’s a “me” issue, not a software issue. So, this time, I did my best to work and not customize.

Inevitably, this will be an Evernote vs. OneNote review. But, I also want to emphasize that since they are similar, it may really come down to personal preferences. You may need to further consider personal preferences if working in a group. Personally, I’d go with Evernote for group work due to its simplicity (lack of distractions).

Goal: See if there is an alternative for Evernote.

Benefits:

  • Auto-correct while typing. I’m the worst speller…just ask my mom who agonized over spelling and vocabulary lists every Thursday night in order to prepare me for Friday’s tests while I was in 2nd through 8th grade. I’m also a bad/lazy typist (e.g., I know that auto-correct with capitalize the first letter after a period, so I don’t take the extra key stroke of hitting Shift).
  • There is a Quick Start Guide, which provides a decent overview if you’re patient enough to go through it. I, on the other hand, am a just jump in and figure it out (i.e., break it) and then go find YouTube videos for answers.
  • It works much like MS Word. I’ve worked with Word for so long that I feel like I have muscle memory for common actions and don’t think about what to do to get the expected result. Although the actions are similar to Evernote, the layout and functionality mimic Word for the most part.
  • App is available for my fruit (i.e., iPhone, iPad) for free.

    App view of a note

    This is a view of the blog post I’m working on in the app version on my iPhone. Yep. It’s small. I’m pretty sure I’d only use this app if I had to do a quick edit or create a new note.

  • You can start audio recordings and embed them into a note. The suggestion is to use it to record a meeting, and then correlate the note with the time in the meeting that’s relevant.
  • Pretty extensive help, though you can also probably find lots of help with a Google search. The Support page is about as helpful as the rest of the support offered by Microsoft…sometimes it’s short and clear, and other times you really have to hunt around for answers. Sometimes, it’s a bug and only a miracle with get it fixed.
  • One of the reasons I wanted to try OneNote is because Evernote limited access for the software version to two devices. Granted, I can still use the web version on multiple devices, but if I have it open on my laptop and PC, then I’ll be logged out of the app version. There doesn’t seem to be any restrictions with how many devices I can have my software account on.
  • It plays well with Outlook. I haven’t tried out this feature, but I like the idea of being able to move between email and OneNote easily.
  • There are group-work features similar to Google docs, where as you type, it is updated in the version anyone synced with your notebook. It’s kind of annoying to see my additions since I’m the only person in my group, but it’d be helpful if I figure out how to clone myself.
    OneNote Workspace

    Here is the view of a note I’m working on (this blog post). You can see the notebook tabs at the top, and the notes off to the right. The green bars with “CH” indicate the text I’ve added, which would be useful if working with a group of people or clones. Unlike Evernote, there isn’t a “tree” navigation field in the desktop version so that I can bounce between notebooks, notes, favorites, etc. [The <..> are mine since I write my posts with HTML tags for posting to my blog. I just don’t want anyone to think that OneNote automatically tags in HTML.]

  • I really like that I can plop a graphic in at any place in my note. Evernote puts it as an attachment at the bottom of the note; this may be due to user error, but then it’s a matter of not being as intuitive as OneNote.
  • You can click anywhere in the note to add start typing in a new text box. In other words, you can have “modules” of text all floating around the page.
  • It saves automatically, which makes me a bit leery since I want the ability to save just after writing the most enlightening paragraph. But, I can sync, which will force a save on to the rest of my devices (thus making me feel like the enlightenment won’t be lost).
  • You can add subnotes to notes. For example, I might have a main note, but then need to collect random/related ideas in a separate note.

Drawbacks:

  • This is a totally personal issue. I’m easily distracted. I will spend an hour color coordinating the tabs and browsing through all the other features.
  • When you start OneNote for the first time, it populates example notebooks/notes with suggested content and tips. I really dislike this. My brain wants everything in the notebooks to be my content and set up for me to create without distraction, but I also don’t want to lose the examples and tips. It makes me a bit crazy to have the “help” mixed in with my stuff.
  • You need a Microsoft account (e.g., Hotmail, Outlook, 365) and access to OneDrive (cloud storage) to get everything to sync. You’ll need to specifically save the notebook you want to see across devices to OneDrive, otherwise, it’s only available on your hard drive. I realize not everyone is on board with Microsoft or PC. If you’re hardcore Google, Apple, or whatever, then even dipping a toe into the Microsoft world by creating an account and storing stuff on OneDrive might be too much to handle.

    OneNote OneDrive workspace

    If you prefer the online version, here’s what it looks like. It’s subject to the quirks of using a browser (i.e., crashing), but works mostly the same as the software version.

  • No “favorites” option. In Evernote, there are a few notes and notebooks that I need all the time; in order to not have to hunt them down, I can mark them as a favorite so they appear at the top of my notebook list view. I can be in a note, click over to a favorite, which may be in a different notebook. This is a big loss for me since it’s part of my workflow (for work).
  • Ctrl+a doesn’t select everything. I know. It’s not a big deal since there are other options, but I’d like to quickly select everything in the note’s textbox so it can be copied or formatted. You need to scroll to the top of the textbox and click on the gray bar for options.
  • You can add “ruled lines” (like loose leaf paper) to a note, but the textbox doesn’t line up with the lines. Unless you just like the nostalgic look of ruled lines, and either want to figure out the spacing so that the lines line up or you’re handwriting with a tablet, then the lines are useless.

    OneNote note with ruled lines

    As you can see, there are ruled lines on this page (which can be added/removed in View). My text doesn’t automatically line up with the lines, so I suspect this is a feature for mobile devices using the handwriting feature.

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