While the Evernote vs. OneNote battle rages on, alternative note-taking apps continue to be ignored. And for good reason.
Evernote and OneNote are two hugely popular note-taking apps. If you’re looking for ways to better organize and utilize your digital notes, choosing between Evernote and OneNote will be the toughest note-taking decision you’ll make.
If you decide to use Evernote, its basic and advanced features make this a worthy choice (huzzah!). But if you decide against Evernote, you’ll be dizzied by the number of alternative note-taking apps available.
Let me make this decision easy for you. If you’re looking for an Evernote alternative, choose OneNote.
Note: I am an active OneNote and Evernote user. Both of these apps have their drawbacks, but between them, they should cover pretty much every note-taking need you have.
Most of the other alternatives aren’t terrible. Many are perfectly…respectable. But after I’ve introduced you to these alternatives, I’ll show you exactly why OneNote should (with respect) be your only real alternative to Evernote.
Evernote Alternatives & Their Drawbacks
When you search the web for alternatives to Evernote, you’ll find plenty of apps. Some of those recommended most often are listed below. They may do some tasks well, but I wouldn’t put them in the same league as Evernote and OneNote for note-taking functionality.
Simplenote: Nice, But too Basic
Simplenote is a free, light-weight note-taking app available on most mobile platforms and as a web app. It works well for keeping searchable lists, or text-based notes (it’s kind of like Notepad 2.0).
Main Drawbacks: Lack of data types. If you want to save web clippings, images, videos, and scanned documents, look for something else.
Google Keep: Google Will Probably Kill It
Google Keep (Web, Android, iOS) fits somewhere between SimpleNote, and OneNote. Notes can consist of text, images, and audio, and are easily shared with other users. Reminders can be set, and basic OCR features are available. Keep also has a Chrome extension, so you can clip webpages, quotes, and images to your account.
Main Drawbacks: You can’t organize notes into notebooks. If you have a ton of notes, this will soon become a nightmare. And Google keeps killing their services (hello Picasa, Reader, iGoogle!). How long until they kill Keep?
DEVONthink: More of a File Organizer
DEVONthink is a Mac application (from $49.95) that’s great for organizing files and documents (rather than creating notes) using folders and tabs. Virtually all file types are supported. Images and PDFs can be converted to text for easy searching. You can even host your files on a local web server. If all you want to do is organize your files, DEVONthink is a powerful option. But if you want a note-taking and organization app, this isn’t it.
Main Drawbacks: The user interface is pretty horrible. The up front cost is high. On mobile, functionality is extremely limited. It’s only available on Mac. This is a document organization app, rather than a note-taking app.
Quip: Struggles With Lots of Docs
Quip is a collaborative app specifically designed for teams to create and edit documents (mainly text files and spreadsheets) in real-time. Its revision history and document chat features make this a fantastic alternative to Microsoft Office or Google Docs for teams. What it’s not built for, though, is capturing a wide variety of content, thoughts, and ideas, then organizing these.
Main Drawbacks: Limited organization options makes sorting a large number of documents difficult. Re-finding your notes/documents is also more difficult in Quip than in both Evernote and OneNote. No Tags.
And Then There’s OneNote
I love OneNote, and much of this document is about me convincing you to use it if you decide to not use Evernote (another app I love). But before raising OneNote on a pedestal, there are two things worth noting:
- The interface of OneNote looks similar to other Microsoft Office programs, but the workflow is entirely different to that of other note-taking apps. It takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s worth it.
- The Mac version of OneNote has a lot less functions than the Windows version. If you’re a Mac user, you can’t use the OCR feature, or easily add documents created in other Office programs. You also can’t use the stylus feature. Hopefully Microsoft will show Mac users some mercy soon. But even without these features, it’s still a fantastic app on Mac.
We’ve written another article that gives a complete introduction to OneNote. And another that shows you a ton of ways you could use OneNote, including as a newsreader, media player, and OCR reader. But in terms of what makes OneNote really stand out from other note-taking apps, there are five major factors.
1. It’s Actually Free
If you’ve used the free version of Evernote for a while, you’ve probably been bugged repetitively to upgrade to the paid version. It’s the same with most other note-taking apps (unless they charge a one-time fee like DEVONthink).
OneNote is actually free. Even for people who don’t have Microsoft Office. This is a big benefit if you’re planning to use the note-taking app for years to come.
2. It’s a Completely Freeform Canvas
In paper notebooks, each page is an entirely blank canvas that can be scrawled on and organized exactly as you like. Each page can be entirely different. Every app mentioned in this article limits the structure of your notes. OneNote, however, actually mimicks the paper notebook experience. This was a complete game-changer for me.
You can move every element of your note anywhere on the page. You can scrawl with a stylus. And you can include all forms of multimedia within each note. No other app makes it this easy, nor makes it feel this similar, to doodling on a paper notebook.
3. Organization That Makes Sense
As mentioned before, the organization tools for both Quip and Google Keep aren’t great. They are essentially lists of files within folders. Evernote works in a very similar way. Alternatively, OneNote has managed to find a visually clean way to organize a ton of notes that just makes sense.
Each notebook is made up of tabs (much like ring-binder separators). Within each tab are a selection of pages (your notes). Each page is a freeform canvas. It may not sound like much, but once you start organizing notes like this in OneNote, it’s hard to go back.
4. Formatting You Understand
As OneNote uses the same text-formatting toolbar found in Microsoft Word, most people are already familiar with how it works, and where to find what you’re looking for. This helps you to make each note look exactly how you want it to look.
5. And if You’re a Window’s User…
As mentioned, OneNote Mac users have a lot less functionality than Windows users (but they still have the four benefits above). If you are a Windows user though, you’ll really see the benefits of OneNote, with extra features including the following.
- Video notes: You can record a short video and add this directly to a page alongside other elements in your note. Of course you can also record an audio note in the same way.
- Templates: Setting up templates for things like meeting minutes, budget tracking etc. is fast and simple, as opposed to setting up templates in Evernote, which is clunky and technical.
- Sketch Your Notes: Once again mimicking the paper notebook, OneNote allows you to doodle and sketch your ideas within each note, alongside other elements such as text, video, and images.
Will You Be Switching?
If for whatever reason, you’re still looking to escape Evernote, as I’ve tried to argue, OneNote is by far the best alternative. Migrating from Evernote to OneNote isn’t too difficult, either.
OneNote offers a unique way of creating and organizing your notes that really helps to increase your productivity. As a Mac user, I found this to be a refreshing change from the more clunky interfaces that other note-taking apps were offering. And as a Windows user, you’ll have a host of other features to play around with, too.
That said, everyone uses note-taking apps differently. If all you want to do is write a shopping list, and a few reminders, SimpleNote will be the easiest choice. If you’re mainly looking for team collaboration, Quip’s collaboration features seem better than OneNote’s and Evernote’s.
But if you’re looking for a note-taking app that can store and organize a good number of notes, in a wide range of formats, and will be around for a long time to come, the choice should almost always be between Evernote and OneNote.
Do you agree? Have you tried any other powerful note-taking apps that surpass both Evernote and OneNote?