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Being a long-time Mac and iPhone user, I’ve become a big fan of the Notes app. But after building a Windows computer recently, I’ve become a user of both operating systems. Which means I need something that will work on all of my devices.
I decided to take a look at Microsoft’s note-taking app, OneNote. Does it beat out Notes as my new favorite? Here’s what I found.
Why I Love Apple Notes
For a long time, I used Evernote. And I still think it’s a fantastic tool. But when I just want to jot a few things down, Evernote is overkill. Formatting and organizational options fill up the screen and provide a more visually cluttered experience.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I tend to prefer very simple apps to more complicated ones. Especially if I don’t need the full power of something more complex. Notes lets me add notes to different groups, but I only use one or two, whereas my Evernote account had dozens of notebooks and hundreds of notes.
In short, it’s Notes’ simplicity that appeals to me. Especially on my phone:
You can add text formatting with keyboard shortcuts or through the menus, but the menu bar doesn’t get cluttered up with panes and buttons. Typing an asterisk followed by a space starts a bulleted list. A number with a period and a space starts a numbered one.
Links to web addresses are automatically added when you paste a URL. Folders sync with iCloud, and you can sync your Google Keep notes as well.
All in all, it’s very simple, clean, and easy to use.
That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t pack some power, though. With the iOS 9 update, Notes received a big upgrade. You can embed maps and webpages into your notes. Create checklists for task management. Sketch with your finger or a stylus.
It still doesn’t pack as much power as more full-featured note-taking apps. But it manages to strike the right balance between a text editor and an organizational system.
OneNote: A Different Beast
Microsoft’s OneNote, on the other hand, is quite different. It’s more of a competitor to Evernote than it is one to Apple’s Notes app.
Notebooks, like stacks in Evernote, are high-level organizational categories. Sections separate things within each notebook, and each section can also have a number of pages. Sections can be combined into groups, which is a hugely useful organizational feature.
Each page can contain text, images, links, tables, lists, and just about anything else you want to keep there. You can even embed YouTube videos just by including the URL.
Like in Notes (and many other modern apps), you can sketch with your finger or a stylus.
The formatting pane in the main window lets you add some cool symbols — almost like a bullet journal — to any section of text to organize your thoughts, remind you to do things, make notes of customer requests, and all sorts of other things. (You can see the star and question mark I added with this method in the image above.)
If you decide to adopt this system, it turns OneNote into a great way to take notes. And its mobile options mean you can use it on Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android.
As you might expect, OneNote has a bunch of other cool features owing to the fact that it’s a full-featured app. Many of these features set it apart from Notes. For example, OneNote can do math for you. Just type in an equation and OneNote will run the calculation.
You can also click anywhere on the page to start a new paragraph, making it easy to comment on images or organize your notes the way you see fit.
The web clipper, quick notes templates, custom tags, note links, version history, and very useful docking all set OneNote apart from Notes. There are a lot of other really cool things it can do, too.
Which Is Right for You?
As you can tell, these two apps are very different. In many ways, OneNote is much more similar to Evernote than it is to Apple’s Notes app (though there are some notable differences there, as well).
Unsurprisingly, the two apps are likely to appeal to different types of users. One of the biggest determining factors is if you’re using a non-Apple device.
When I use my Windows computer, I can access Notes through the iCloud website. It’s just like using the app, except that it’s browser-based.
If you don’t mind using a browser for your note-taking, this is a great way to go.
OneNote has an online version as well, but because you can download the app on pretty much any device, you’re less likely to need it. Having notes synced between different devices with different operating systems is a huge benefit to using OneNote.
Both apps store notes on their company’s cloud storage (iCloud for Notes and OneDrive for OneNote), so that’s not likely to be a determining factor in your decision. And because both are completely free, that’s not going to help you either — though it does make OneNote a compelling alternative to Evernote.
In the end, it’s likely to come down to whether you want a more full-featured app or a simpler one. Notes is only a couple steps beyond a text editor. It has some very useful features, but it does its best to stay out of your way. It’s a very uncluttered interface.
OneNote, on the other hand, presents you with a lot of great tools. You can get rid of the ribbon at the top of the screen to clean up the space, which is nice (there’s even a keyboard shortcut for it).
But a lot of what makes OneNote great is contained in that ribbon, so you’re giving up easy access to what might make you choose OneNote in the first place. Similarly, hiding the navigation is great for working on a single note, but makes it harder to move between the things you need to work with.
Your Note-Taking Priorities Sorted
Much like many other software choices, you’ll have to think about your priorities. Will you give up cross-platform compatibility to keep a simple and uncluttered interface? Will you want the power of tagging, drawing, and more organizational options? The answers to these will likely determine which app you’ll want.
As for me, I think I’ll be sticking with Notes. Er, maybe converting to OneNote. But probably… well, who knows?
Do you use either of these apps? How did you choose between them? Do you have a cross-platform alternative for Notes? I’d love to hear about it! Share your thoughts in the comments below.