Microsoft recently released an updated version of its OneNote note-taking app for iOS. As a long-term Evernote user, I took an admittedly skeptical glance at the new offering, mostly because there is no OS X version of OneNote, and I wasn’t sure how well, if at all, the app would integrate into my workflow. In the end, I found OneNote to be so crucial I hope Microsoft releases a Mac version of OneNote with the next version of Office.
The back end
OneNote iOS uses Microsoft’s free SkyDrive service as the sync engine. Once you’re logged in via the app, the default notebook is ready for you to edit. Syncing was reliable, but I did notice I would have to re-log in via the app more often than I would have liked — several times a day — to keep syncing. It’s possible to work on notes offline, but you’ll need to make sure you haven’t edited the note in two places.
The apps themselves
The apps definitely have The Microsoft Look, with heavy uses of the Calibri font. I found the notes to be very pleasing to my eye.
While the apps have the standard suite of editing functions (formatting, indents, checklist), I found it successfully integrated into my note-taking workflow by eliminating some frustrations I have with Evernote.
The biggest workflow enhancement was how it handled creating checklist items. When I take a note in OneNote, and decide that this should really be an action item to track, once I click the checklist tool, it creates the checkbox at the beginning of the paragraph, no matter where I have the cursor. Evernote creates the checkbox where the cursor is, requiring me to either move the cursor before hitting the task button, or moving it after. It’s a minor thing, but it works in a much more intuitive fashion than Evernote in this regard.
I also found it easy to navigate through different notes. Each “page” is on the right-hand side in the iPad version, making it easy to switch between notes. What I also liked is that pages aren’t traditional pages as in a physical notebook; instead it’s just a way for you to keep all of the notes in one “page,” but the page scrolls continuously.
It’s also pretty easy to add pictures to notes. I frequently take pictures of whiteboards in meetings and add the picture to the note. You can also create tables (but not charts). It’s very easy to format your note.
The one downside I’ve found with the apps is that you cannot create notebooks within the apps; you have to do it from the web app (or via the Windows OneNote app). It’s not a huge inconvenience, but I hope they add this into a future version.
So, yeah, no OS X client
The biggest issue Mac users are likely to encounter is there is no native client for OneNote. You can only access OneNote from a web app. That isn’t a huge problem, but for me, office.live.com is one of the websites blocked at work, and OneNote isn’t part of our standard Windows build, so I can’t use the Citrix Follow My Desktop app as a workaround. Also, I’ve tried running OneNote in Codeweavers Crossover, but no joy.
Naturally, if you’re reading this and you use iOS devices, but use a Windows machine and OneNote, this isn’t a problem.
How I use the apps
I’m still floating between Evernote and OneNote. I really, really, like the OneNote iOS app. Evernote’s native OS X client also makes it attractive, but I don’t really like that client – multi-level indents are a pain the arse on the OS X version, but easily done in the iOS version. Go figure.
Evernote is a great dumping ground for my information. I can use a bookmarklet to store a web page in the note. Because of the checklist tool and the multi-level indent on OS X. I’m still not finding Evernote to be good for taking actual notes.
The way I’m leaning now is to use Evernote for my storage of clipped notes and personal items, but using OneNote on iOS only for capturing work-related notes. During the week I’ve been using it, I’ve really fallen in love with the iOS apps. The nicest thing I can say is that the app didn’t really get in my way when I was taking notes.