Evernote, or my second brain, has enjoyed a long supremacy over its notetaking rivals for the last 5 years. Increasingly, though, researchers are starting to ask me whether Microsoft’s OneNote is a viable alternative. In the interests of empiricism, I’ve spent some time tinkering with both so I can provide you with an informed verdict. I’m looking particularly at functionality, design, cost, reliability, and flexibility.
Since Microsoft rolled out OneNote 2013 and made it fully Mac-compatible, there’s not been much that separates it from Evernote. They both allow you to create notes from video, audio, text, and just about anything in digital format. Unsurprisingly, OneNote integrates more seamlessly with Microsoft Office, particularly with Outlook and Sharepoint.
Evernote recently introduced a Work Chat feature that lets you message collaborators, but OneNote actually goes further by showing edits in near real-time (similar to Google Docs). This could be useful for online meetings.
While OneNote has the edge on collaboration, Evernote is in a league of its own for web clipping. If you regularly capture and file web content, you’ll find Evernote’s capabilities far more satisfying. Also, your Evernote notes show up in Google search results (only yours, obviously).
Finally, tagging is much more sophisticated in Evernote. Users who like creating complex taxonomies and hierarchies might find OneNote a bit frustrating.
If you already use Microsoft products, the OneNote interface is likely to be intuitive. I find Evernote easier to navigate and gentler on the eye – I don’t need to poke around to locate a core function.
Also, Evernote looks really smart across all mobile devices, whereas the OneNote app for Android isn’t very attractive.
There’s no contest when it comes to cost, as OneNote is now completely free to users on all major platforms and devices. Also, you get a very generous 15Gb of free space, and even more if you’re an Office 365 subscriber.
Evernote is available in a free version, too, but you can upload only 60Mb each month and some useful features are locked down. The Plus version (at £19.99 pa) gives you 1Gb each month, and for £34.99 pa, the Premium version offers unlimited uploads.
Both Evernote and OneNote sync with cloud storage and also store files in local directories that you can add to your regular backup job (I hope you have one).
I’ve been using Evernote for 6 years and have never lost any data. Conversely, many of my Microsoft files have become corrupted or just suddenly dematerialised. I worked as an IT manager for many years, and the prospect of any Microsoft upgrade still fills me with horror. I’ve learned to never be in the vanguard, and always await a later release; otherwise, there’s often an anxious wait for a fix, or a sweaty few hours spent restoring an application to a previous version.
Evernote has only one main product, so they need to get it right. For Microsoft, OneNote is just one tiny part of their offering, and one that doesn’t directly make money, so they don’t have as much to lose if it goes wrong. Perhaps I’m being unduly pessimistic, but that’s often the best way where computers are concerned.
As I mentioned above, OneNote integrates neatly with Office. However, it doesn’t work directly with many third-party products. If you’re a WordPress user, you can install a plugin to publish notes to your blog, but that’s about it.
While OneNote has improved considerably over the last few years, I still think Evernote is the best – at least for me. If you use Microsoft products intensively, then OneNote’s tight integration offers definite advantages. Also, if money is in short supply, it gives you a lot of functionality and storage for free. Many of my students don’t want to pay an annual subscription, which is fair enough. Unless they’re going to benefit from particular Evernote features, there’s no reason for them to do so.
Free software makes me nervous, though, as there’s no incentive for the developers to maintain it. There’s no suggestion that Microsoft lacks commitment to OneNote, but Google is famous for dropping products on which users have come to rely (I’m still smarting at the loss of Google Reader).
If Microsoft improves OneNote’s web clipping and tagging features, then Evernote Corp should be nervous. In the meantime, I reckon they’re still in the ascendant.
Moving between Evernote and OneNote
What if you’re already using one of them and want to switch? Well, you can very easily import your OneNote content into Evernote by simply clicking File > Import > Microsoft OneNote. It’s a bit trickier to go from Evernote to OneNote. If you’re a Windows user, you can use a free tool called Evernote2Onenote that will do the trick. Otherwise, you need to select all the notes you want to export from Evernote, click File > Print, then select Send to OneNote. You can then choose the destination notebook in OneNote. If, like me, you have thousands of notes, dozens of notes, and hundreds of tags, it would take a long time to recreate everything. That’s really not a task I’d relish.
Alternatively, there are some recipes on IFTTT that promise to sync Evernote and OneNote.
Anyway, do let me know if you have strong feelings either way. I’d be particularly interested to hear from ardent OneNote fans.