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Even you’re a diehard Mac or iOS user, you still may find the stylish Microsoft OneNote for MaciPad and iPhone a worthy option for capturing notes and creating page designs.

I thought I’d give Microsoft’s free note-taking platform a try because I’ve never been satisfied with Evernote’s user interface. I already use multiple notebooks for various productivity purposes How & Why I Use 5 Digital Notebooks to Stay Productive How & Why I Use 5 Digital Notebooks to Stay Productive I use five different notebooks. Why? Because each has a distinct purpose or feature that helps me stay productive. Read More , and OneNote at least takes a slightly different approach to organizing content.

The cross-platform Microsoft app is pretty easy to set up, albeit with a few features new users might overlook. Let’s check them out.

The User Interface

To get started with OneNote, you must sign-up for a Microsoft account which saves and syncs all of your OneNote content between supporting devices. Unsurprisingly, the apps don’t include iCloud support.

In many respects, as I will cover, OneNote can’t compete with Evernote in terms of capturing various types of documents and integrating with other Mac and iOS applications or other online clients. That said, its visual design will appeal to those of us who find Evernote’s layout somewhat cluttered and cumbersome.

As with Evernote, users can create multiple notebooks in OneNote. Each notebook can contain multiple color-coded sections (tabs) that hold individual pages of notes, tables, and images.

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OneNote interface

The app’s toolbar resembles the ribbon style setup found in Microsoft Office apps, which I’ve always found a huge distraction. Thankfully the ribbon in OneNote can be tucked away for a cleaner, more minimalist look.

OneNote is also less cluttered than Evernote because individual notebooks are tucked away in a drop-down panel instead all remaining visible at once. Only one notebook can be open at a time, and individual notebooks can be closed, which removes (but not deletes) them from the drop-down panel.

OneNote__notebooks

You can create new notebooks from the drop-down panel, or by opening the notebook manager using File > Open Notebook…. Some users may not like using the drop-down panel to switch between notebooks, and for some odd reason, the titles of notebooks can’t be renamed.

OneNote__notebooks

Each section of a notebook consists of individual pages (notes), which are added by clicking the plus “+” button or File > New Page. Each new page begins with the current date, which can be replaced with a custom title. Groups of sections (File > New Section Group) can also be added to notebooks, which allow for another hierarchy of content management.

OneNote group

Notes & Importing Content

Unlike with Evernote, you can click anywhere on a page and start typing a note, which puts the content into a text box that can be moved, resized and reformatted. Note pages can include multiple text boxes and image files that can be arranged in a non-linear fashion.

OneNote note

OneNote has a lot of catching up to do when it comes to importing content into notebooks and sections. The application does not support the dragging and dropping of text files (not even Word or Excel files) into a page. You’re supposed to be able to “print out” documents directly to OneNote, but that option doesn’t show up for me. Text files also can’t be attached to notes.

OneNote links

Images however can be dragged and dropped into a page, but the same can’t be done for webpages – for that you’ll need to download and install the OneNote web clipper, which is similar to but not as robust with multiple options as the Evernote web clipper Evernote Releases New Safari Web Clipper Featuring Annotation Tools and Reader View Evernote Releases New Safari Web Clipper Featuring Annotation Tools and Reader View If you like reading, annotating and clipping web content, you might be interested to know that Evernote has just released a new update to their Web Clipper for Safari. Read More . There’s no option for clipping just the article of a page, or for designating which of your notebooks to save the article to. Clippings are automatically saved to your first OneNote notebook.

Compared to Evernote, OneNote contains some pretty powerful features for creating tables. To create a table, click on the Insert button in the ribbon, and specify in a thumbnail grid the number of rows and columns you want.

OneNote grid

As it’s done in Word and Excel, right-click on a row and column, or use the buttons in the ribbon, to edit and resize the table.

OneNote tables 2

The ribbon tools also include many of the formatting features in Word, including header styles, numbered and bulleted lists, custom font styles, a highlighting tool, URL links, checklists, etc. There’s also a Format Painter tool that allows users to copy the format of selected text, and automatically apply that format to another selected text.

I particularly like the collection of tag icons that can be used for marking content, but unfortunately there’s no way to sort content based on assigned tags.

OneNote icons

You can also create hyperlink of a selected note and paste it in another note.

Sharing Content

OneNote allows you to share a link to selected notes or notebooks with other OneNote users. Shared notes can be edited, which doesn’t require a premium subscription as with Evernote’s collaborative features.

OneNote sharing

You can print and export notes as PDFs, via Mail or Outlook, but you can’t post notes to the web for public viewing, or share links directly to social network sites.

OneNote also integrates with a number of other third-party applications, devices, and services, including the smartpen Livescribe 3 Livescribe 3 Smartpen Review and Giveaway Livescribe 3 Smartpen Review and Giveaway Who doesn't want a Livescribe smartpen? Whether you're a student, a journalist, attend meetings a lot, or just need to easily record writing and audio, you can make good use of a smartpen. Read More , automation web service IFTTT and iOS scanner app JotNot Pro Go Paperless By Scanning Your Important Documents With Lemon & JotNot [Web & Smartphone] Go Paperless By Scanning Your Important Documents With Lemon & JotNot [Web & Smartphone] Read More .

Worth Downloading

OneNote has been thoughtfully designed and provides powerful formatting tools not available in Evernote, but because of its lack of support for importing PDFs and other files, OneNote may not be the viable replacement you’ve been looking for.

Let us know what you think of OneNote and what features you would like to see improved or added.

Download: OneNote for Mac / iPad / iPhone (free)

  1. lottie
    March 26, 2015 at 9:00 am

    Thanks for this article Bakari! I agree with CoCatGo Evernote lacks of note taking. I found another great solution on the Evernote Trunk, called Beesy. It is an all in one iPad app where you can manage your notes, projects, to-dos.. I saw that they've integrated Livescribe 3 smartpen, which I find so innovative because all your handwritten notes become digital notes! You should check it out!

    • Bakari Chavanu
      March 26, 2015 at 8:02 pm

      Hi Lottie,
      Yes, Lottie, I’ve heard of Beesy. I need to check it out again. I just use my Livescribe notebook last night, but still need to update old pages on my digital device. Thanks for your tip.

  2. Bill Morey
    March 4, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Thank you Bakari for the ever informative posts.
    I'd like to add to the picture a new kid on the block called MagicalPad. It can afford to be different since they are a small startup. it combines the flexibility of free-form layout of OneNote with some twists of Evernote. it combines outlines, mind maps, images, links, tasks, notes and more in a free-form canvas. It allows for unlimited nested pages and notebooks just like OneNote and syncs across Mac, iPad and iPhone via built-in Dropbox sync.
    You can check out more info at MagicalPad including videos. Quite interesting. I use it and have fun with it.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      March 4, 2015 at 10:04 pm

      Thanks Bill, I would definitely check it out.

  3. homayoon
    November 29, 2014 at 10:14 am
  4. Mac W
    July 16, 2014 at 9:22 pm

    One Note requires MAC OS 10.9 and Evernote 10.6 If you have one older device then Evernote is more handy as it can be used on all

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 25, 2014 at 8:32 pm

      Good point, Mac W, thanks for pointing that out.

  5. Stefan Wischner
    July 16, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    OneNote is an absolute gem, but onlyOneNote 2013 for Windows (and not the free version but the one which comes as part of MS Office 2013, cause both are not quite the same)!

    Microsoft just refuses to catch up with any of the other seven(!) OneNote versions (7, that's right: Win 8 Store App, Android, iOS, WP 8, Mac, WebApp, 2013 Free). All of them are offering a rather sad subset of the featured found in OneNote 2013 and its really good office integration). Especially iOS and Mac versions are badly crippled and disappointing (you mentioned some of the drawbacks in the article, there are far more).

    I am not only a OneNote addict for years (having written a book about it, working on another, maintainig a german OneNote blog) but I know Evernote really well too.

    When working at the Windows PC, planning projects, doing internet research and so on, I am heavily dependant on OneNote. But when it comes to mobile use (iOS and Android) or storing quick notes on the fly, I am stuck with evernote. Using both at the same time is not that bad -- if you can keep the "topics" or using scenarios separated.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 25, 2014 at 8:28 pm

      Stefan, thanks for your feedback. Do you think OneNote will get the support from other third-party users that Evernote receives?

  6. GoCatGo
    July 16, 2014 at 3:29 pm

    Evernote is a great repository for "stuff" like images, documents, PDFs, but I've found it a bit lacking as a research and writing tool. Adding Scrivener to the mix has solved that problem.

    I'm also using Pearltrees for web links and content … I love the visual nature of the interface … very accessable.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 25, 2014 at 8:29 pm

      GoCatGo, thanks for your feedback. I've never heard of Pearltrees. Will have to check it out. And I agree with you about Scrivener.

    • GV
      November 17, 2014 at 7:24 pm

      GoCatGo: I suggest that you test-drive DEVONthink; a 150-hour demo version is available at devontechnologies.com/products/devonthink/overview.html. Think of it as Evernote On Steroids... DEVONthink combined with Scrivener are my Go-To research tools. DEVONthink's artificial intelligence-enhanced search function is unique among note-taking and archiving apps.

      I use DEVONthink Pro because I need to be able to create multiple databases. DEVONthink Pro Office adds built-in scanning features as well as other functions. But I find that I can easily use my ScanSnap with the Pro version so I don't have a need for the Office version.

      DEVONthink is regularly available at a discount of up to 50%. There is an annual sale around Thanksgiving and other times of the year (and it regularly shows up in app bundles). The excellent "Take Control" series offers "Take Control of Getting Started with DEVONthink 2, Second Edition" that will get you up-and-running ASAP. Use the coupon code CPN91026VMF for 50% off your first order of an unlimited number of books.

      I'm not affiliated with DEVONthink or Take Control Books. I'm just a Very Satisfied researcher/writer who has used DEVONthink for many years...

  7. David
    July 16, 2014 at 11:43 am

    I would switch to Onenote if it had all the features of the Windows version. It is ok right now for basic note taking but Evernote with the ability to use all of my platforms and have basically the same features is important. At work I use Onenote with all of the great features but at home I use a Mac and it is like using any crippled software, frustrating..... If they actually do add all the features I will switch in a second. Evernote needs to do some serious interface upgrades to stay in the game if Microsoft actually does decide to compete.

  8. Sarath
    July 16, 2014 at 10:44 am

    I have been using OneNote since its inception. It's awesome & unbeatable. But when I got my new Mac a year ago, I installed MS Office only to notice that there is no OneNote for Mac. Its a deal breaker for me !

    I did an in-depth research & bought 'Outline' which messed half of my OneNote notes. Then, I started moving everything to Evernote. Although Evernote is certainly good, its not as handy as OneNote for a core user like me in terms of user-friendliness.

    Recently OneNote for Mac is released & with a sigh of relief, I started putting my Evernote back to OneNote only to notice OneNote for Mac is a low level stripped version of OneNote for Windows.

    My half mess is in Evernote & the other is in OneNote-Mac.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 25, 2014 at 8:32 pm

      Sarath, thanks for your feedback. I would definitely move over to OneNote it had the third-party app support that Evernote has. But in the meantime, I'm looking for ways to use OneNote for specific projects.

  9. Jponna
    July 15, 2014 at 10:05 pm

    OneNote is far more superior than Evernote.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 16, 2014 at 1:51 am

      Jponna, what makes OneNote more superior for you?

  10. philippe
    July 15, 2014 at 8:16 pm

    I agree that OneNote cannot replace (up to now) Evernote. But both are complementary. I'm discovering the power of OneNote as a replacement of Word and as a companion of Outlook.
    I do not longer write notes in EN but use it as a intelligent (search, tag, ..) storage area for read-only files, OCRized images or PDFs.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      July 15, 2014 at 9:44 pm

      Philippe, thanks for your feedback. I happen to use several notebooks because I find stuffing everything in Evernote as counter intuitive. Since I wrote this article, I've been thinking about how I could use OpenNote for a very specific purpose. If I were enrolled in school, I'd definitely use it for taking class notes. I really like the attractive design, minus the ribbon toolbar.

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