OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

March 18 2014

Yesterday, Microsoft made quite a few announcements around OneNote. Here is a list of what is new:

  • OneNote for the Mac
  • OneNote is free!
  • OneNote API and a bunch of apps - including IFTTT!
  • OneNote email address
  • Web Clipper
  • OneNote Eye Lens for Windows phone - and I would love to see this on the iPhone

That is a long list of stuff! This excites me. I use both OneNote and Evernote. Yes, both. Why? Great question.

For work stuff, I mostly use OneNote. It connects to my ecosystem that I use daily like nothing else I have seen. Tied together with Outlook, Office, Sharepoint, and Lync. That connect is really powerful - but the real power is in the group sharing of notebooks. Using OneDrive or SharePoint, the power of group notebooks is amazing. PSC has teams using OneNote for our projects and the amount of data in there is out of control and head spinning. Yes, Evernote has the ability to share notebooks - but it requires everyone have a premium version. And I find the synching and team collaboration in OneNote has always been it's strength.

For a specific example, our Infrastructure group inside PSC has this team notebook

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

The Practice Leader owns the notebook, and the entire team has access. So does all of the sales team and the rest of the PSC folks who interact with this practice. Everything is in one place. That clients tab has LOTS of sections (each section is a client) and lots of pages under that. The multi-layered organization allows for a single notebook instead of multiple.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love Evernote. I use it for a lot of my personal stuff. Here is my Evernote Notebook structure

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

I have a few older work related stuff - and a few shared notebooks with the Collaboration and Enterprise teams. Because Evernote was one of the first to connect with IFTTT, I use it as a way to track what I do on social media. All my tweets and facebook posts are cataloged here - since both services have crappy archives and backup options. I also have a few apps that use Evernote as their backbone - much like many use Dropbox. That won't stop, so I will probably continue to use both. But with IFTTT integration with OneNote revealed yesterday, I might change that (well, once IFTTT gives us the power to select OneNote Notebooks).

Let me break down where I think the pros and cons of both OneNote and Evernote from my usage.

OneNote Positives:

1. The OneNote Editor - the core strength of OneNote is what you can do inside a Note. It's based on the Word editor, but has a lot of great additions.

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

This is the key strength of OneNote. I will get into specifics on the options here, but you can do so much in the editor. If you use OneNote or Evernote primarily for note taking, then it's hard to not give OneNote the win here.

2. The Insert Menu

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

Besides the basics with a table and file attachment, you can insert an actual spreadsheet (Excel) or diagram (Visio) into the note. This means flow charts and charting. I don't know how this works with the Mac yet, but this is a great feature. The audio and video recording directly is great, as is the screen clipping and scanned images directly in the app. Quick date & time insertion is great, as is the full equation and symbol engines from Word. Evernote has a fraction of these features. Again, the editor in OneNote is night and day above any other note taking software out there.

3. The Draw Menu

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

If you do note taking on a Microsoft Surface or another device like a Lenovo Helix, the options here compared to Skitch are very powerful. The key here - Ink to Text and Ink to Math. Both are far superior than anything with Evernote, unless you purchase a third-party product like the Jot pen.

4. The View Menu

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

Hard to see here - but OneNote allows you to change the page color and the rule lines of any page. You can really customize this - but I like the ability to have a note page look like a note page when I am doing handwriting.


5. Meeting Details

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote
This is a great feature. If you are using Outlook, you can create a Meeting Details page in OneNote with two clicks. Everything imports AND links back to the calendar entry.

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

A single click in your calendar brings you back to this page. I use this multiple times a day.

6. Section Locking via Password

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

You can lock down entire pages, sections, and notebooks.

7. Todo Linking with Outlook

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

This feature allows you to highlight any text in a OneNote note and create a task out of it.


Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

You can see the flag on the task there - that means it is an Outlook task item. You can then open that item in Outlook.


Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

This creates a link between the two. You can assign this to others, just like any task.

8. OneNote Tags in Text

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

While Evernote has tags per Note, OneNote allows you to tag any text with one or more tags. You can see the long list of tags that come out of the box, and you can full customize these. Here is a use case:

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

You can see I tagged this with the address tag. What makes this powerful is the next item.


9. Tag Summary

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

Tag summary allows me to find all the tags in a given collection (current page, current section, current notebook, all notebooks) and you can do it by a time rage as well:

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

From this, it generates a Page with a listing of all of the tags I selected:

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

While not a true Table of Contents, its a great way to get a master list of things to do from your note taking.

10. Page Templates

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

For me, this is the real power. The ability to save pages AND Notebooks with sections and pages is very powerful. You can setup new project Notebooks that have everything in it - including new page layouts. Its a massively powerful feature that makes note taking both useful and streamlined.

OneNote Negatives:

1. Mobile Applications

This is a key area Microsoft needs to work on. The biggest issue - the iPad version of OneNote heavily limits what you can do in terms of the editor, OneNote's biggest strength. The web version on Office365 is very good, but the native mobile apps need work. I expect this is something we will see improve as the coming Office for iPad gets released.

2. Integration with anything other than Outlook

Are you a IBM Notes user? Yeah, all that integration above doesn't work. Same if you are a Google user. I would really like to see this work with both the local machine default settings and with web mail options. My guess is that neither of these happen, except through third-party options.

3. Integration with third-party apps

This was an issue until the announcement yesterday, but still a long way to go to match Evernote.

4. Only a Windows application

The release of the Mac client yesterday took this off the table.

5. Requires a Microsoft account for synching

Not an issue for me, but I have heard others say this is an issue. I have a Microsoft account for Windows 8 and XBox, so no brainer here. Evernote requires a Facebook or Google or Evernote login (well, if you use one of the first two it creates an Evernote account for you on the backend). Microsoft could give other login options. But typically not their way.

6. No 'All Notes' view

This is a great feature in Evernote and hope it gets added.

7. No Import functionality

Volker mentioned this. I hope they fix this. The Evernote .enex format is documented and open.

8. File Clipping

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

The 'Send to OneNote' functionality is good, but it's not as good as Evernote. This needs work - especially around PDFs.

9. No Web Clipper

While not an addin like Evernote has for a browser like Chrome, there is now a bookmarklet that works well.

Evernote Positives:

1. The multiple note selection options

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

Selecting multiple Notes gives you a great menu where you can email them, merge them, save them as attachments externally, and create a table of contents note. The ToC feature is a great one. I also like that you can move and tag them in mass.

2. The Share Menu

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

OneNote has no features that allow you to post a link to an Evernote page on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn. I also like that I can stop sharing at the source.

3. Encrypt Selected Text

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

A great feature in Evernote is the ability to select text and encrypt it. The bad news is that if you lose the passphrase, it is lost forever. Ouch.

4. Evernote Tags

Evernote tags are at the note level. And they work just like tags on a blog. Type-ahead works. And the Tag view which shows all notes with an associated tag works great. Very tag-cloud like.

5. Atlas

The Atlas feature shows all tags created at a specific location. Very cool for mobile notes - especially if trying to find tags that you created at a client in Boston, for instance.

6. Evernote Market and Addon Apps

For me, this is a huge strength. The sheer number of apps that use Evernote as a backbone is pretty incredible. IFTTT is a great example. Evernote becomes a storage facility for anything you want to throw at it. This ties in to #7

7. Integration

The integration of other apps into Evernote is exceptional. It starts with their own apps, like Skitch, Penultimate, Food, Clearly and Web Clipper. Than you have third-party apps like EasilyDo, Expensify, Postachi.io, Lightly, and DocScanner. The ecosystem is awesome.

8. Evernote Moleskin

Extending the application market and integration, the products like the Jot Script Evernote Edition Pen and the ScanSnap Scanner are awesome. But the best integration by far is the Evernote Moleskin Notebook. With the camera-enabled paper, the smart stickers, and lots of sizes, colors, and even a sketchbook - this is the best paper-to-electronic option out there.

9. Flat Note List

A weakness of OneNote, having a single All Notes view is a great feature. I use this almost daily. Especially with all of the stuff that gets pushed to Evernote automatically.

10. Mobile Applications

The mobile applications for Evenote are great. One thing that makes them great is that the editor works the same across all of their apps - Windows, Mac, iPhone, iPad, etc.

11. Presentation Mode

Not something I use often (or ever), but you can present directly from Evernote.

12. Web Clipper

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

Hard to argue about this - the best out there. Great functionality and works like a charm.

13. Evernote File Annotation

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

A great feature available to any image or PDF - and doesn't disturb the file itself.

Evernote Negatives:

1. The Evernote Editor - it's the weakest part of Evernote actually.

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

It can do basic formatting and a few things like bullets, lists, a checkbox that links to nothing, really basic tables, a line spacer, basic file attachments and a voice recorder. Tags are for the note and there is also a basic reminder option. Reminders are only visible within the app or sent to your evernote account email. Really, this is the core weakness of Evernote - if it has one. What you can put inside the editor is far less than OneNote. Some people will say this is about simplicity - but it's the biggest limitation for me.

2. Encryption limited to text

Direct from the Evernote User Guide: "Note: While you can encrypt the text content of a note, you cannot encrypt an entire notebook or note."

3. Tags are limited to Note level

You can not tag specific text. I am so used to doing this in OneNote that I find it a huge limitation.

4.  Evernote Integration with productivity tools (Outlook, Notes, etc.)

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

The integration with Outlook is not just less than OneNote, but it's buggy and clunky. As an Outlook addin, it often crashes Outlook. But Evernote doesn't integrate on the platform it is running on well. This isn't just about Outlook. It doesn't integrate with Notes, Mac Mail/etc., Apple Mail and Calendar on iOS, etc. This is a big weakness. I am glad Evernote has a great backend API, but I need front-end integration in my day to day life.

5. Search Criteria Limited

Image:OneNote vs. Evernote - no, make that OneNote AND Evernote

You can only search in the current note or all notes. No other option. I think the ability to search and navigate as tags as seen as the reason not to expand this, but it pales in comparison to OneNote.

Conclusion:

So that is a lot of opinion and information. Reality is I will still use both. I like that Evernote works as a giant collector of information across the various hats I wear, but I also love that OneNote is now a more viable alternative. I hope that OneNote being free, a Mac client, and an API that can build an ecosystem forces Evernote to ramp up its internal development. The Evernote editor needs a lot of work and there is quite a bit of missing functionality - for me at least. I am not sure I will ever just get to use one or the other - but competition is good for both products. Happy note taking.