Evernote vs OneNote: Which is king of note-taking?

We compare Evernote Premium with Microsoft's OneNote

A pen and notepad are not always to hand. When you have those brilliant ideas in the small hours, it can be a pain trying to find stationary to jot it down before the idea drifts away to the unreachable part of the brain.

Pens also run out. It can be quite frustrating to get halfway through a list and find you have no more ink. If you use a pencil, that can be worse. Sharpeners are also items can go missing.

Maybe it is time to upgrade to a note-taking app? We don't all carry a pen and pad around, but almost everyone in the world has a smartphone. Most people use it as an alarm clock, ergo, it's not far away from you in the night.

Two of the best note-taking apps available right now are Evernote and OneNote, downloadable on iOS and Android for as little as nothing, or for a few pounds if you want access to a wider range of features.

It's time to forget the pen, it's no longer required, like the quills and the typewriter, technology has a better. But, to help you chose which note-taking app is best for you, we've given both a comprehensive testing for the ultimate comparison between Evernote and OneNote Premium.

Microsoft OneNote

Verdict: 3/5

Pros: Neat division of notebooks into sections and pages; Premium version comes free with Office 365.

Cons: Inconsistent features across different platforms; Free version is dependent on internet connection.

Supported Platforms: Android, iOS, PC (Windows XP/Vista/7/8/8.1/10/RT), Windows Phone

One of the main selling points of OneNote is its integration with Microsoft's OneDrive cloud storage, although this connection is compulsory for free versions of the app.

Both free and premium tiers offer an integrated dictionary and thesaurus, as well as the ability to draw diagrams and place text anywhere on a page, which is great for creating quick mind maps or unstructured lists.

Importantly, the free much of the functionality of the free version is tied to a permanent online connection. This means you're unable to save your work, embed files, record audio files or place password protection on notes if you're offline. These functions are instead tied to the paid tier.

Web and desktop apps

One of the frustrating things about OneNote is that its interface changes dramatically according to how you're using it. For example, on web, its functionality and functionality lack far behind its desktop counterpart. The desktop app provides you with a huge space for jotting notes, with tabs available to link to other parts of the document's content. This makes it insanely easier to navigate around documents. 

You're also able to jump between notebooks using the tabs on the left side of the screen. Simply tapping on one of these means you can copy and paste content between pages an adding new pages a case of tapping a few times.

Along the top of the desktop app, there's the editing menu, with all the familiar tools you'll find in Microsoft Word. These include the regular text formatting options, such as bold text, italicised, underline etc. There are some added extras that allow you to highlight different parts of the text with priorities, which is a very handy feature indeed. All of these icons will appear and disappear by default when you're not using them, which offers up a tiny bit more real estate for you to add your notes on. If you'd rather it stays in the same place, you can tweak the settings to pin it in place.

If you use OneNote often, there's a strong chance you'll have a whole lot of content to trawl through if you're trying to find a certain note, for example. Luckily, if you've tagged everything up correctly, there's a search bar so you can easily find tagged content. There's a range of predefined shortcuts to help you out here, but you can add your own if you'd prefer.

Alongside this search bar, you'll find the area for inserting external content, such as photos, videos, audio files etc. There's also a playback interface as well as the ability to record your own videos and audio. Although it's pretty basic, it'll do the job if you're just using it for simple content. Other things you can insert include equations (Excel-style) or an entire Excel spreadsheet, timestamps, links and other tables.

You can also add pictures from your hard disk, your OneDrive account, Office.com’s clipart stash, Flickr, Facebook or via a Bing search. If you have a scanner connected, you can capture images from this, too. We liked the ability to directly add a screenshot, which proved handy when writing notes on software setup procedures and making records of errors requiring technical support.

You can even “print” documents and images to OneNote, where you’re then prompted to select which notebook you’d like them to appear in. This works best through Windows’ standard print dialogue box. There’s a shortcut to do the same thing on OneNote’s Insert ribbon, but this method wouldn’t work with file types associated with non-standard applications, such as TXT files associated with the Q10 text editor and PDFs associated with ABBYY PDF Transformer+.

A final highlight of OneNote’s import options is its ability to automatically recognise text from a scanned document, screenshot or imported image. A right-click on the image in your note allows you to copy its text and paste it anywhere. Its OCR is remarkably good, making it a handy way to extract text from non-selectable dialogue boxes, or transcribe an interesting snippet from a book or document. We found this to be a far more effective than EverNote’s mobile-oriented Document Camera, which OCRs pictures to make them searchable, but doesn’t produce exportable text.

Other ribbon bars provide drawing and shape placement tools, so you can make everything from sketches to flow charts; a history bar that shows edits, versions, and contributions to shared notes by various authors, and a review bar with a spelling checker and even a language translation option. This calls on Microsoft’s web-based Translator, and translations are limited in length. Accuracy isn’t too bad, although we noticed an occasional tendency to generate inanimate objects when we translated a document from French. Finally, the View ribbon lets you configure the way you want your page to appear.

With its ability to place text and image boxes anywhere on the page, OneNote provides far more versatile formatting options than Evernote, but this also means that you have to pay more attention to where and how everything fits together on the page. It’s easy to create a confused mess of notes, sketches and images that can then require effort to separate out. It feels like working with a real notebook, but if you don’t have much innate design ability, the choice available to you can feel overwhelming and distract from the writing process.

The ability to layer notes in different places relative to what else is on the page is great for making annotations, but OneNote can’t compare to Evernote when it comes to capturing web content for references and citations. Instead of capturing the text of a document, the OneNote Clipper plugin just grabs a screenshot, which OneNote can OCR, but which often leaves you with an incomplete fragment of an article.

The web app shares the basic functionality of the desktop application, but lacks many features, such as the ability to draw, scan in documents or record audio, although you can still insert pictures, tag you notes, carry out minor text formatting and share documents with anyone whose email address you have. Rather than the neatly tabbed interface above your notes, two index bars showing section and page lists intrude from the right. We were pleased to find that these disappeared to make more room when we reduced the size of our browser window, but overall, the OneNote online experience feels limited after the desktop application.

Mobile apps and web extensions

OneNote is available in app form on all major mobile operating systems. We’ve taken a look at the most popular: Android, on an LG G3 smartphone, and iOS, on an iPad 3. Of the two, the iPad app is by far more pleasant to use, and looks like a cross between the desktop and web apps. We were pleased to see our sections arrayed in a series of tabs across the top of the screen, above a clean-looking main page. Above that, ribbon bars let you format text, inset tables, files and pictures, adjust the page view and add password protection.

Unfortunately, the Android version has fewer features. A menu at the left lists either your different notebooks, the sections in your currently selected notebook, or the pages of your current section. Swipe right, and you get a clean page-view. You can create lists, record audio, insert or capture a video, and start a new note. However, features such as tables and password protection are missing from this version of the app.

OneNote integration is supported by third-party apps, services, and plugins, but there are nowhere near as many as Evernote. While many are dependent on a specific piece of hardware, such as a Brother MFP or a Livescribe smartpen, some provide integration with services such as the Feedly RSS reader and Zapier web-app connector. A particularly useful add-on allows you to use Microsoft’s Email to OneNote add-on to authorise an email address to send content directly to OneNote, just as you can with Evernote.

Price

The Premium version of Microsoft OneNote 2013 comes as part of Office 365, the price of which starts at £3.10 per user, per month if you don’t require the full desktop version of Office as well.

A Business version provides an offline version of Office but lacks a full Outlook Online mail server and costs £7 per user per month. A stand-out value for businesses that need both on- and offline functionality is the Business Premium version at £7.80 per user per month. You also get OneNote Premium with all Home and Student copies of Office 365.

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