Which Free OneNote App Should You Use on Windows? Desktop vs. Store App

Joel Lee 15-08-2016

OneNote is simply the best free app for digital note-taking A Quick & Dirty Guide to Perfect Digital Note-Taking Learn how to take notes the right way. Here are some of the most effective tips for becoming a digital note-taking pro. Read More . As soon as it became 100% free in early 2015 OneNote Is Now Truly Free With More Features Than Before Evernote no longer rules the roost of note taking apps. Microsoft recently announced OneNote would be more free than ever before. Let us show you what this means in terms of features and functionality. Read More , it started climbing the ladder — and now reigns as the king of note-taking apps.


I know that some people prefer Evernote over OneNote Evernote vs. OneNote: Which Note-Taking App Is Right for You? Evernote and OneNote are amazing note-taking apps. It's hard to pick between the two. We compared everything from interface to note organization to help you choose. What works best for you? Read More and that others prefer something else entirely The Best Alternatives to Evernote You Need Today Has Evernote's recent price increase and two-device restriction for the free plan disturbed your note-taking workflow? Then, it's time to take another look at some of the best Evernote alternatives. Read More , but no app offers as much as OneNote does for free. If you want bang for your buck, there’s no better choice.

If you’re on Windows, you may have noticed that there are two app versions available Are You Confused by the Windows App Terminology? Did you ever wonder what's the difference between an application, program, or software? Or whether that Windows app is metro, modern, universal, or plain straight? You're not alone. Let us clear things up! Read More : the standalone OneNote 2016 desktop app and the OneNote app in the Windows Store. Keep reading to find out which one you should be using.

Interface: Sleek vs. Complete

The Windows Store app is often criticized for being nothing more than a “stripped down” version of the standalone app, and you’ll feel that the moment you launch it for the first time — the interface is extremely minimal.

But I don’t see that as a bad thing. The aesthetics of OneNote 2016 are more consistent with the aesthetics of the other programs in Microsoft Office 2016, whereas the look-and-feel of the OneNote Windows Store app is more in line with other Universal Windows Platform (UWP) Apps.



The funny thing is that I actually prefer the stripped down version of the interface. It has most of the same formatting actions that OneNote 2016 has, but fits them all into less space. I’m also a fan of the flat Modern appearance.

Notice how I said that most of the formatting actions are shared. The OneNote Windows Store app is missing four big things: non-paragraph styles like headings, bulleting styles, the ability to clear formatting, and the Format Painter (to copy formatting elsewhere).

The drawing options are also a bit more limited in the Windows Store app, but the interface is much easier to navigate if you’re taking notes with something like a Surface Pro tablet and a smart pen Surface Pro 4 Review If you’re looking for a flexible portable hybrid computer, one that is capable of replacing your notebook and iPad or Android tablet, the Surface Pro 4 Core M3 device is a perfectly adequate replacement. Read More . It’s a trade-off between flexibility and productivity.



The good news is that both apps have the same organizational capabilities — notebooks, sections, pages, and subpages — but the bad news is that the Windows Store app doesn’t support selecting multiple notes for mass moving/copying/deleting of notes.

Also, when you first launch the OneNote Windows Store app, it will appear using the “Recent Notes” display. Don’t panic if it seems too chaotic and unorganized. Just switch to a notebook by right-clicking a note and selecting Go to Note’s Location or selecting a notebook in the side menu.

All in all, it’s obvious that the OneNote Windows Store app was specifically designed for mobile devices. Again, that’s not a bad thing! Just something to keep in mind, depending on how and where you intend to use OneNote.

Features: Simplified vs. Full

Here’s where the criticism that “the OneNote Windows Store app is too stripped down” really shows its validity. I’m not saying that the Windows Store app is unusable, but you’ll lack access to some of the best features of OneNote 12 Little-Known Microsoft OneNote Features You Will Love Microsoft OneNote is free and packed with features. Here are some little features to boost your note-taking productivity! Read More .


Let’s start with the advanced features that are indeed shared between the two versions.


Unfortunately, that’s pretty much it in terms of similarities. Now it’s time to move onto all of the extra features that are only available in OneNote 2016.

Settings: Gutted vs. Flexible

In terms of customizability, OneNote 2016 demolishes the OneNote Windows Store app in nearly every single way. To be fair, this is pretty much true in all cases where you’re comparing a desktop app with a Windows Store app Desktop vs. Microsoft Store Apps: Which Should You Download? Should you get your Windows apps from the Microsoft Store, or use traditional desktop programs? Here are the main differences. Read More .


But in OneNote’s case, the difference is massive. Vast. Mind-blowing. Whereas the desktop version lets you tinker with all kinds of options, the Windows 10 version has close to nothing.


When you open the Settings menu, you see seven submenus, but only two of them lead to settings that you can actually change: the Options submenu and the Trust Center submenu. The other five submenus are informative only.

Under the Options submenu, you can only tweak three things: whether to auto-sync notebooks, whether to auto-sync files and images in notes, and which notebook you want to use for Quick Notes.

Under the Trust Center submenu, you can only tweak two things: whether to send personal information to Microsoft to make improvements to OneNote and whether to allow Microsoft to provide “locally relevant content”.

That’s literally it! How embarrassing.

On the other hand, with OneNote 2016 you get a smorgasbord of settings — both big and small — that you get to tweak to your liking.


Some of the more important settings include: where to save and backup notes How to Never Lose a Note in Your OneNote Notebooks OneNote is so good, it's hard to lose anything, even if you try. Let us show you how OneNote handles notebooks, how backups are managed, and how you can restore even deleted notes. Read More , customizing Ribbon layout and actions, default fonts, placement of navigation and tab bars, formatting behaviors, pen settings, etc.

If you’re looking for the ability to personalize your note-taking experience, the OneNote Windows Store app isn’t even a choice in my opinion. That’s how lacking the options are.

It’s Not Even Close: OneNote 2016 Wins

OneNote 2016 is the “better” app — there’s absolutely no debate about that –, but that doesn’t mean that the OneNote Windows Store app is useless. It exists for those who don’t have that many notes and prefer a simpler interface.

Here’s our summary: If you want something like Evernote, go with OneNote 2016. If you want something like Google Keep, go with the OneNote Windows Store app.

On a desktop, we seriously recommend OneNote 2016. Note that we once said that you should NOT purchase Office 2016 Don't Buy Office 2019! Here's Why You May Not Need It Should you buy Office 2019? We don't think so. Here's why Office 2019 isn't worth it, and what to try instead. Read More , but since OneNote 2016 is completely free apart from Office 2016, that doesn’t apply here.

Which version(s) of OneNote are you using and why? Tell us what you love and/or hate about OneNote in the comments below. We want to hear from you!

Related topics: Microsoft OneNote, Note-Taking Apps, Windows 10, Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows Store.

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  1. Jeff
    March 23, 2018 at 7:56 pm

    I find even the app store version to be too "big". I need just a sticky note sort of thing that sits in the corner of my laptop so I can jot down my schedule for the day and any other notes I refer to frequently. And I want to be able to pull those up on my phone or tablet when in the field. The latter needs are covered, but for the corner of my laptop screen there's just too much there. I don't want the menus, don't want the formatting bar, I JUST want a note, nothing else. But alas, nothing else works as well for sharing.

  2. AJVan64
    August 2, 2017 at 10:01 pm

    If I've already got a bunch of notes (both: shared with me & owned by me + shared with others), how do I transfer them to OneNote 2016? I'd like to get rid of the desktop app altogether so that when Notes are shared with me it automatically goes to ON2016. Any help would be awesome!

  3. Iris Boom
    July 29, 2017 at 4:12 am

    I like the Onenote app (windows 10 version) for in-lecture notes. I like the Onenote 2016 for textbook in-depth studying. The app is better for recordings...

  4. Sue
    February 14, 2017 at 12:03 am

    I use too many of the desktop features to use the the web app version. The "insert screen clipping" and "print to onenote" are essential for me. I also love the add-ons from Onetastic.

    I have a new Win 10 machine and it only came with the web app. Can someone please tell me how to get the desktop version. It's killing me to not have the desktop version. I can't find a download link (at least from a source I'd trust).

    I'm reading lots of articles about the differences between the 2 and not one that says "here's how you get the desktop version...."

  5. Digital Doctor
    September 23, 2016 at 12:43 pm

    The OneNote App (not OneNote 2016) also doesn't have Windows Key + N = Quick Notes functionality.

    • Joel Lee
      September 27, 2016 at 5:06 pm

      Oh that's true! I don't find myself using it much but I know a lot of people who do, so thanks for mentioning it, Digital Doctor.

  6. Anonymous
    August 16, 2016 at 7:31 pm

    Well, I use both versions but it's a have-to thing. I'm limited to the online version on my Chromebook and my former Windows 7/now Linux Mint laptop, and it works out fine for me.

    The Chromebook benefits from the app because of the lesser screen area, but at first I was disappointed that there's not a Linux version because the laptop is a 17-incher. That changed the more I used the app though, and I'm now in agreement with Joel: the simplified interface is for me less distracting. I'm able to focus on my writing more easily. At any rate it doesn't hinder me at all.

    If I have heavier needs than the app can provide, I simply do those things on my Windows 10 desktop. It's really not a big thing, other than not being able to say that I can do all things on all of my devices. The app is still far and away much more useful to me than Evernote ever was (briefly, I love deep organization ability), and Evernote's new price structure is another negative for me now.

    • Joel Lee
      August 19, 2016 at 8:11 pm

      Thanks for corroborating how I feel about OneNote, Kelsey! I never use the web version but only because I have access to app versions on Windows, Mac, and Android. It's never a pain to use no matter which device I'm using, and that's a lot more than I can say about Evernote. And as you said, the extra layer of organization is a bonus!

      • Anonymous
        August 20, 2016 at 1:58 am

        I wish I could say that I enjoy the Android app, but it feels very cramped even on my largish 5.5" phone screen, as if I'm peeping through a tiny window onto a huge world. Using it isn't a pain to use, but it feels too busy to me most of the time. Granted, it's a busy app, lots of functions packed in there, but...I don't know. It would probably be great on a tablet or the new Android app-enabled Chromebooks.

        Then again, maybe it's just that these eyes have had too many birthdays. :)

  7. Maxwell
    August 16, 2016 at 3:42 pm

    I learned the hard way by converting all my notes from Evernote to ON. The catch (not mentioned) was you are limited to 5GB in cloud storage. Believe me, 5GB is nothing. I'm tired of sales gimmicks and will gladly pay my bucks to a company (Evernote) whose only business is notes.

    • Joel Lee
      August 19, 2016 at 8:09 pm

      Evernote's Plus plan is $3 per month and limits you to 1 GB of new data uploaded per month and the Premium plan is almost $6 per month and limits you to 10 GB of new data uploaded per month.

      Whereas OneDrive is only $2 per month for 50 GB storage or $7 per month for 1 TB storage + access to Office 365.

  8. Anonymous
    August 16, 2016 at 6:48 am

    Windows Journal!

    It is mind boggling as to why MS created this software which is amazing, but seems to 'suppressed'. Has pen support, can cut & paste images to and fro, can 'print to journal'. It many ways, it is much better than the simplefied ON

    The only lacking thing is its limited save format.

  9. Sigrid
    August 16, 2016 at 3:29 am

    The part you left out iis that OneNote isn't entirely free. It syncs with the OneDrive cloud account. I got a notice from Microsoft telling me that my FREE 15Gb was being reduced to 5GB and I was "invited" to pay for a monthly subscription. My notes already exceed 5GB easily. So, don't say OneNote is FREE

  10. Anonymous
    August 16, 2016 at 12:53 am

    I use Evernote at first and I loved it. I think the Evernote or OneNote features are fully met our requirements.

    • Joel Lee
      August 19, 2016 at 8:00 pm

      Yeah it could go either way, it's mostly about personal preference at this point. If you prefer Evernote, that's totally fine. Good to know you've found something that works for you. :)

  11. Anonymous
    August 15, 2016 at 4:14 pm

    Joel, I expect you will get a lot of stick for this article, but not from me. 1 year ago I ditched Evernote for OneNote & haven't looked back, And each time I check out another app, I conclude that OneNote is superior, in any case for my use case & my way of thinking.

    • Joel Lee
      August 19, 2016 at 7:59 pm

      That's pretty much my story too, Peter. About a year ago when it went 100% free, I tried OneNote and never looked back. I'm really impressed that Microsoft had the guts to make it free but I'm so happy they did. :)