Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Digital note-taking is the way of the future. While there’s nothing wrong with pen and paper notes, no one can deny that going digital comes with many benefits, such as the ability to access your notes anywhere you go and the ease of making reliable backups.
Want to get started? Then your first stop should be our guide to taking great digital notes. A few simple tips and tricks can be all it takes to boost your note-taking skills to the next level. But digital notes have to be taken down in something, and for most people, that means deciding between Evernote and Microsoft OneNote.
Both are certainly great, but which one is better for you? Only you can answer that as the answer depends on the person. We hope this comparison article will help you make the best, most informed decision that you can.
To be clear, we’re comparing the Windows desktop versions of each program. We do mention cross-platform availability near the end, but just so you know, in-depth reviews of the non-Windows versions are beyond the scope of this article.
User interfaces are a tricky topic. They’re important, but they aren’t everything. A great interface isn’t enough to save a poor app, yet at the same time, a poor interface will easily turn me away from an otherwise feature-packed program.
And when it comes to digital note-taking, user interfaces are arguably more important than in other applications. If the interface doesn’t feel comfortable to you, you’re going to spend more time wrestling with the program than actually taking notes.
People have different ideas as to what constitutes a great interface — yes, it’s mostly subjective — so I’ll just highlight the core differences between these two and let you make your own judgments.
Evernote uses a three-column design that makes it easy and fast to switch between many different notes and notebooks when necessary. If you shrink the window’s width to less than 840 pixels, the sidebar disappears and the interface becomes a two-column design with more breathing space.
You can also go into the options and switch to a layout that splits the notebook and notes horizontally, but I don’t really see any benefits to this mode. Of course, you can always disable the note panel altogether and access notes by double-clicking in the notebook.
Overall, I like that Evernote’s layout is as flexible enough to accommodate nearly everyone’s tastes. The amount of whitespace is perfect, though the lack of colors can be hard on the eyes.
OneNote feels really weird at first, and it can take a while to get comfortable with it, but I personally think it’s more intuitive and conducive to productivity. I also feel that OneNote is more responsive (read: less laggy) than Evernote on my several-years-old laptop, though your mileage may vary.
In OneNote, you work within a single notebook at a time. Each notebook has tabs at the top to distinguish between sections, and each section has tabs in the sidebar to distinguish between pages. Want to switch notebooks? Just use the dropdown selector at the top left.
One quirky but useful thing in the interface is the Quick Access Bar at the very top. You can customize the Quick Access Bar in the options to add/remove nearly any action that you can perform in OneNote. This feature is extremely useful oft-used actions, like inserting things or changing formats.
Ultimately, there’s lots to like about both, but they’re also very different from each other. I personally prefer OneNote’s approach, but it really comes down to your own preferences.
Both Evernote and OneNote can handle regular note-taking just fine, including all of the core word processing features that you’d expect in any serious document editor, as well as things like image, video, and optical character recognition (OCR).
But a handful of things are quite different between the two.
First, OneNote can handle free-floating “paragraphs”, which are groupings of notes that you can move around on the page wherever you want. This is in stark contrast to most other note-taking apps that can only handle notes on a line-by-line basis.
A lot of people have come to love the way OneNote handles its paragraphs and other note contents, but some people adamantly hate it. We realize it’s a polarizing feature and that could make it a deal-breaker.
Just know that if you prefer the traditional line-by-line way of taking notes, it’s definitely possible in OneNote. All you have to do is ignore that the feature exists.
Handwriting & Drawing
Even though both apps can import handwritten notes as images, one thing that separates OneNote from Evernote is the ability to draw and write notes by hand right inside the application.
Tools offered by OneNote include pens and highlighters of varying colors and thicknesses, lines, arrows, shapes, graphs, and an eraser for when you make any errors. Drawing in Evernote is made exponentially better when using a drawing tablet rather than a mouse.
Note: Evernote indirectly supports drawing and handwritten notes if you take notes using one of Evernote’s mobile apps.
Both applications have something called a Web Clipper that can clip entire webpages from the Internet (e.g. for research) and save them directly as notes, though Evernote is generally considered to be miles ahead of OneNote in this area.
The main difference is that Evernote’s clipper offers more precision and flexibility. Evernote can clip simplified articles and custom-size screenshots, and you can annotate the results. Not only that, but Evernote lets you pick where the clip goes, while OneNote always sends it to Quick Notes (and then you have to move it manually).
OneNote has a feature called Templates, where you can create and edit your own preset page layouts. If there’s a particular format that you need for a certain type of note (e.g. meeting agenda, lecture notes, design annotations), this will save you a lot of time.
Check out our guide to using OneNote templates for more details.
If you’ve ever wished that your note-taking application could be more like a wiki, then you’ll love Evernote’s Note Links feature. Long story short, you can insert clickable links to other notes in a notebook, which comes in real handy for things like documentation.
It’s one of the features that set Evernote apart from most of its competitors. However, OneNote can also link pages to other pages just by typing out the note title verbatim and surrounded by [[ and ]]. One way is easier than the other, but both are still incredibly useful.
Have you ever had to take notes while watching a video or reading through a webpage, such as during a video lecture or an online course? Swapping back and forth between windows can be a huge nuisance, which is why OneNote’s docking feature is so awesome.
It may seem a little unwieldy at first, but once you get used to it, you’ll have a hard time using anything else. It’s immensely convenient, and it’s easy to underestimate how useful it is if you don’t actually try it out for yourself.
In addition to regular text notes, you can easily make checklists that work well for to-do lists, reminders, and more.
Digital note-taking applications have never been good when it comes to math, which is one area where OneNote truly excels above every other note-taking application. For example, if you type 1934 / 121 = into a note, OneNote will auto-calculate the answer for you.
But more importantly, OneNote can handle advanced math equations, including calculus and beyond. Of you’re a college student who’s going to be taking a lot of math-related courses, then this is one of the best reasons to start taking advantage of OneNote right now.
One thing that’s really cool about Evernote is the ability to encrypt selections of text. All you have to do is set a passphrase and the text will be hidden behind it. Unfortunately, you can’t encrypt entire pages or notebooks.
Contrast this with OneNote, which can only do password protection for sections, but not notebooks or pages.
The last notable feature that deserves highlighting is the ability to track and revert to previous versions of a note, which is available in both Evernote and OneNote, except Evernote’s feature is unavailable to free users. (Pricing options will be discussed at the very end.)
Version histories give you piece of mind when editing notes because you never have to worry about “losing” anything, even when you delete big chunks of text. If you ever need something you deleted, you can just look through the history of changes.
With the note-taking features covered, it’s time to look at a different — but equally important — aspect of digital notes: keeping them organized, finding notes quickly, and not going crazy when your notebook gets full.
One of the most useful ways to stay organized is to tag each note that you make. Every time you edit a note, re-evaluate the tags. These tags come in handy in a lot of ways, but mainly for searching (which we’ll talk about in just a moment).
Between the two, I think Evernote has the better tagging system, which lets you type out whatever tags you want under each note. OneNote forces you to create and edit tags separately before applying them to each note, which has its benefits (much easier to track) but requires a little more effort.
Both Evernote and OneNote have built-in search features to help you find notes you’ve written but apparently misplaced. Searching is also a good way to quick-switch between notes that aren’t in the same notebook.
But Evernote has a far more powerful search engine than OneNote, with at least twenty different search features that you can use to really narrow down your queries and find the exact notes you need. You probably won’t need them if you aren’t a power user, but they’re worth learning regardless.
Lastly, both Evernote and OneNote have the ability to recognize and search for text within images, meaning you can search for that handwritten lecture note without first transcribing it into text by hand. Some might say that one has better OCR search than the other, but both are pretty good and similar.
Note: Don’t confuse this with OCR text extraction. Both can recognize text in images and search based on that text, but only OneNote can actually extract text from an image to your clipboard. Evernote can’t.
Another feature that Evernote has and OneNote lacks: shortcuts. You can also think of them as favorites or bookmarks. In short, you can drag any note into the “Shortcuts” section of the sidebar for immediate access.
It’s a small feature in the grand scheme of things, but you really miss it when you’ve come to rely on it as a note-taking staple and it’s suddenly unavailable. Maybe one day OneNote will implement something similar, but as of right now, the gap is noticeable.
For those who have deadline-drive notes, Evernote’s Reminder feature is very useful. Reminders are manually set on a per-note basis, and once added, reminders sit at the top of your notes list so you don’t forget. You can even receive alerts, for example by email.
OneNote doesn’t have anything like that. Instead, the closest feature would be its tight integration with Outlook (the desktop client, not the email service) and the ability to email notes directly to Outlook, which becomes an Outlook task. Not very elegant, but it kind of works.
Import & Export
If you want to migrate to one of these two programs, you’ll probably want to bring all of your old notes along with you. Best case scenario, you’ll be able to import them all in one click. Worst case, you’ll have to manually input each note one by one.
But first, let’s look at their export options.
Evernote has a handful of useful export options, including the option to combine all of your notes into a single HTML file or exporting each note as its own HTML file. But most useful is the ENEX format, which makes it easy to transfer notes to another computer with Evernote.
When exporting, you can also specify which details to include or exclude, including note titles, timestamps, author, location, and tags. Exporting is one effective way to back up your Evernote data.
OneNote is far more flexible in its options. You can choose whether you want to export the current page, the current section, or the entire current notebook. For each option, exports can be made in PDF, XPS, MHT, or OneNote-specific formats.
Unfortunately, as far as imports are concerned, both Evernote and OneNote fall short. OneNote doesn’t even have an import function, while Evernote can only import ENEX files and OneNote notebooks.
As of right now, it’s definitely easier to migrate from OneNote to Evernote. However, if you’re open to using a third-party tool, it’s certainly possible to migrate Evernote to OneNote as well.
Both Evernote and OneNote are notable for being cross-platform solutions. However, everything we covered up until now is only applicable to their Windows desktop versions. Here’s a quick overview of what you can expect from their other versions.
Both applications have Web versions that you can access from anywhere, and an entire separate article could be written to compare the two of them. The important thing, however, is that they both pretty much resemble their desktop counterparts.
It might not seem like it at first, but Evernote’s Web client is unusually hard to navigate. Unlike the desktop app, almost everything in the Web app is hidden behind extra clicks. The interface lacks polish, is too harsh on the eyes, and lacks responsiveness.
If Evernote was only available in Web form, I’d personally write it off as unusable. It almost seems as if it’s meant to be used on a table, but there’s a mobile version of Evernote so that can’t be right. Other than that, it has a lot of the same features as its desktop version.
OneNote’s Web interface is much nicer on the eyes and far easier to navigate. Like Evernote, OneNote Online also falls short of its desktop counterpart, but at least it’s usable. In fact, if OneNote was only available on the Web, it’s good enough that I’d happily keep using it.
The only complaint I have is that sometimes I’ll rearrange the page order in a section and the new order won’t save. That’s only a minor quirk though. Everything else seems to work just fine.
What we’ve found is that whether you’re on Android or iOS, and whether you’re using a smartphone or a tablet, the mobile versions of both Evernote and OneNote are fantastic.
In both cases, their user interfaces are modern, their performance is speedy, crashes are rare or nonexistent, and everything works just as you’d expect.
The only downside is that both of these apps are a little feature-heavy — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but can be a bit overwhelming if you’re just looking for something really simple and lightweight. Neither of these are anywhere close to lightweight.
There are some good note-taking alternatives out there, but just know that if end up using something else, you lose the ability to synchronize with your desktop and Web — and that’s one of the main reasons to use these apps in the first place.
One more thing to mention regarding cross-platform availability: both applications keep all of your notes synchronized on the cloud so that they are accessible no matter which versions of the app you use.
For example, I love that I can make recipes on my desktop and view them in the kitchen using my phone or tablet. However, while I’ve noticed very few syncing problems with Evernote, OneNote seems a bit slow — at times taking upwards of several minutes to propagate changes between devices.
Pricing & Plans
The very last thing to worry about is price. How much will it cost you to use these amazingly powerful applications? It’s an important question, and in this case, the answer is quite simple.
Microsoft OneNote is 100% free to download and use without any restrictions or crippled features. Note that some limitations apply to Mac users. Most importantly, all your notes will be stored on one OneDrive, not locally. However, if you truly don’t ever want to pay a cent, then OneNote is the way to go.
Evernote, on the other hand, could cost you.
At the Free tier, you’ll have access to the desktop, Web, and mobile versions and they’ll sync together just fine. However, you’ll be limited to 60 MB of new data (whether text, image, or whatever else) per month. For heavy users, that’s quite restricting.
The Plus tier costs $25 per year and raises the limit to 1 GB of new data per month. You also get offline access to your data on mobile devices (unavailable in the Free tier) as well as the ability to lock Evernote with a pass-code on mobile.
The Premium tier costs $50 per year and raises the limit to 10 GB of new data per month. You also get a few advanced features like annotating attached PDFs, viewing previous versions of notes, and the ability to turn notes into presentations.
Which Note-Taking App Convinced You?
If you really prefer Evernote over OneNote, maybe the price is worth it to you. Yet, while Evernote has several features that are really nice, I’ll stick to using OneNote due to its superior interface and lack of restrictions.
At the end of it all, what do you think? Which note-taking application is the right one for you? Evernote, OneNote, or neither? Which features are the most important? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!