OneNote vs. Evernote: A personal take on two great note-taking apps

Now that Microsoft's OneNote is free for consumers, can it compete with Evernote? Preston Gralla offers his take on both.

Let the note-taking wars begin.

With Microsoft's release of OneNote for the Mac and iOS , and its announcement that the Windows application is now free as well, the company has taken dead aim at the popular program Evernote. The two applications now both work on the same platforms (including mobile OSes such as Android, iOS and Windows Phone), sync your notes to your devices and include Web-based versions.

But they also have some very distinct differences. So which is better?

I'm a long-time user of both applications, so I've taken a look at the latest version of each for Windows, OS X, iPad, iPhone and Android. (There is also a version for Windows Phones which I haven't tried.) This isn't a deep-dive review, but rather a personal look on what I like and don't much like about each -- and the main points of differences between the two. I spend more time on the Windows version of each, but note similarities and differences in other versions as well.

OneNote: A great way to get organized

OneNote has been around as part of Microsoft Office since 2003, and it's very much a full-blown application. It lets you create simple or complex notes from scratch, organize them into searchable, browsable notebooks, and sync them among a variety of platforms, including Windows PCs, Macs, iPads and iPhones, Windows Phones, Android devices and the Web.

OneNote
OneNote lets you create simple or complex notes from scratch, organize them into searchable, browsable notebooks, and sync them among a variety of platforms.

It bristles with note-creation tools for drawing, recording audio and video, scanning images, embedding spreadsheets and reviewing the edits of others (although the abilities of those tools differ somewhat depending on the platform). In fact, its note-creation tools are more comprehensive than Evernote's.

The organization-minded will appreciate OneNote's basic structure. You create individual notebooks; within each notebook, you can create section groups that contain multiple sections. Each section has individual pages, with each page a separate note. It's ideal for organizing content with a logical structure.

For example, if you're using OneNote to keep track of recipes, you could have a Recipe notebook, then section groups for Pasta, Chicken and Beef, and then within each section group you might have individual sections for that ingredient -- so under Beef, there might be sections for Barbecue, Stir-fry, Roast and so on. Within each of those sections, you would have individual pages, with each page having a single recipe.

Clipping notes

As good as OneNote is at creating notes, it falls short of Evernote's considerable capabilities for clipping content from the Web.

OneNote offers browser add-ins for Internet Explorer, Chrome, Safari and Firefox. When you're on a Web page from which you want to clip content, you right-click on the page or else drag it to the OneNote clipper on your Bookmarks bar.

OneNote clipper
The Internet Explorer add-in for OneNote opens a small window that lets you browse to the specific notebook, section and page where you want the clip stored.

What happens next depends upon the browser you use. With Internet Explorer, a small window opens showing you all of your OneNote notebooks; you can then browse to the specific notebook, section and page where you want the clip stored. Select the location and the clip gets placed there.

On other browsers, though, no such window appears. Instead, the clip is sent to a Quick Notes notebook. From there, you'll have to move it or copy it somewhere else. I found it a kludgy annoyance.

There's an even bigger problem: You can't select only a section of the page to clip. The entire page gets sent as a single graphic image. So if you only want to clip a single paragraph, you're out of luck. And the clip is a graphic only, so that any links or media on the page don't work.

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