Finding the perfect note-taking app: Microsoft OneNote

Introduction

In my quest for the ideal alternative to Evernote, I’ve been assessing numerous note-taking apps. This evaluation is just one aspect of a broader project aimed at comparing various note-taking platforms. For further details, feel free to explore this post: Finding the perfect alternative for Evernote.

Assessment Microsoft OneNote

Following our assessment of OneNote, we can assert with confidence that it’s a superb note-taking application. Offering a rich array of features for note creation, organization, and accessibility across multiple devices, it impresses. Particularly noteworthy are its capabilities for real-time collaboration and its wide-ranging third-party integrations. Tiago Forte himself has endorsed OneNote as an excellent tool for constructing a “second brain”. Also notably, it stands out among others for its support of handwritten notes.

Nevertheless, the app does come with its downsides, including constraints on text formatting and the not so very intuitive tag support (it actually sucks to be honest). Furthermore, creating tasks from within notes, for example when holding a meeting and at the same time, fill you todo list with required follow-up work, could be better.

PROS

  • Works very, very well within the Microsoft ecosystem and at the same time provides good support for Apple devices.
  • One great thing about OneNote is that it supports real-time collaboration. You can share your notes with colleagues or friends by inviting them through email, and they can edit them as you watch.
  • A complete and feature-rich, and on its own it is a mature note-taking app.

CONS

  • It still sometimes feels a bit like a standalone project within the Microsoft/Office 365 portfolio. The integration with complementary solutions like ToDo and Outlook is moderately shaky and doesn’t feel mature.
  • OneNote is not a standalone solution, instead you buy-in and adopt the Microsoft/Office 365 ecosystem.
  • Lack of proper tags and smart folders, so that your pages can belong to multiple hierarchies at the same time.
Topic Score (1-10)
Product  7,2
Platform support 8,5
Characteristics vendor/product 8
Functionality 8,8
Integrations 5,2
Personal evaluation 5,3

Criteria

  • Product
  • Platform
  • Characteristics
  • Functionality
  • Integrations
  • Personal
  • Supplier: Microsoft
  • Product/service: Microsoft 365 Personal
    • Price per year: € 69,00
  • Product/service: Microsoft 365 Business Standard
    • Price per year: € 140,40
  • Part of (suite or package deal): Packaged deal
  • Depending on (suite or package deal): Packaged deal, OneDrive
Platform Score Remarks
Apple iOS 10 Full app support
Android 10 Full app support
Windows 10 Full app support
MacOS 10 Full app support
Linux 1 Not available
WebApp 10 Full app support
Topic Score Remarks
Open-Source 1 Fully closed source
Vendor lock-in 5 Export is possible, but requires alternative tools. Notebook files can be read with free version [1][2]
Reputation confidentiality 10 OK reputation, if you properly secure your account.
Reputation integrity 10 OK so far, builds on trust
Reputation availability 10 Good uptime
Reputation privacy 10 OK so far, builds on trust
Reputation pricing developments 10 Steady but perhaps undervalued
Topic Score Remarks
Capacity, max. number notes 10 Practically unlimited
Capacity, max GB 10 1 TB (theoretically but shared)
Offline access 5 Limited to open notebooks
Folder structure 10 Yes, works quite nicely
Tags 1 Officially yes, but not flexible and limited. Does not work very intuitive.
Photo’s and camera (app) 10 Fully supported
Other files (pdf, zip, etc) 10 Fully supported
Version history 10 Fully supported
External sharing 10 Fully supported
Create tasks from notes 1 Not really [3]
Support handwritten notes 10 It works, but messy
Topic Score Remarks
Plugins 5 Proper ecosystem but limited [4]
API-interface 10 Good enough with MS Graph [5]
(Outlook) agenda 5 Limited functionality, but it works
AI / LMM 1 Yes, but with “Copilot for Microsoft 365” priced at € 337,20 per year
Topic Score Remarks
Experience smartphone 5 Works OK, (offline) availability and switching notebooks needs some work.
Experience laptop 10 Pleasant and reliable
Deal-breakers 1 Limited tag support, agenda integration could be better, lacks note to task features.

Sources

  1. https://www.reddit.com/r/OneNote/comments/18yc95o/export_onenote_to_different_format/
  2. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/export-and-import-onenote-notebooks-a4b60da5-8f33-464e-b1ba-b95ce540f309
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJ97QqG0MXw
  4. https://www.onenote.com/apps
  5. https://learn.microsoft.com/en-us/graph/integrate-with-onenote
  6. https://www.reddit.com/r/OneNote/comments/10ali3g/onenote_is_the_best_note_taking_app/
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Finding the perfect note-taking app: Evernote

Introduction

In my quest for the ideal alternative to Evernote, I’ve been assessing numerous note-taking apps. This evaluation is just one aspect of a broader project aimed at comparing various note-taking platforms. For further details, feel free to explore this post: Finding the perfect alternative for Evernote.

Assesment Evernote

In the early 2010s, Evernote boasted a valuation exceeding $1 billion and was hailed as the premier note-taking app and it had no equal in the market. How times have changed… Over the ensuing decade, it faced a string of setbacks and eventually was acquired by Bending Spoons in 2023, presumably at a significantly reduced price. Since then, prices skyrocketed, followed by mass layoffs of its original staff. Meanwhile, competitors such as Microsoft steadily enhanced the alternatives to Evernote. Despite its challenges, Evernote continues to function effectively, almost in spite of itself. However, for new users, the steep price tag makes Evernote a less compelling option.  For example, the current price is higher then a full Office 365 Personal subscription. Its main appeal lies in its existing user base who are so far reluctant to transition to alternative platforms.

PROS

  • Evernote is a well-developed and reliable product.
  • In many ways, Evernote has long been a market leader and innovator, thus proving itself.
  • Creating new notes is fast, easy, and reliable, regardless of the platform you’re using (except for Linux, unfortunately)

CONS

  • In recent years, significant and strong price increases.
  • Falls short on some fronts, lacking features that are taken for granted in other solutions.
  • Leaving the platform and exporting data is frustrating and requires a lot of effort.
Topic Score (1-10)
Product  6,4
Platform support 8,5
Characteristics vendor/product 4
Functionality 8,7
Integrations 4
Personal evaluation 7

Criteria

  • Product
  • Platform
  • Characteristics
  • Functionality
  • Integrations
  • Personal
  • Supplier: Bending Spoons (since January 2023)
  • Product/service: Evernote Personal
    • Price per year: € 99,99
  • Product/service: Evernote Professional
    • Price per year: € 129,99
  • Part of (suite or package deal): stand-alone
  • Depending on (suite or package deal): stand-alone
Platform Score Remarks
Apple iOS 10 Full app support
Android 10 Full app support
Windows 10 Full app support
MacOS 10 Full app support
Linux 1 Not available
WebApp 10 Full app support
Topic Score Remarks
Open-Source 1 Fully closed source
Vendor lock-in 1 Export is possible, but it is made difficult.
Reputation confidentiality 5 Hacked, but kept quiet for a while. [2]
Reputation integrity 5 Forum with critical comments shielded [3]
Reputation availability 10 Good/perfect uptime [4][5]
Reputation privacy 5 Could be better [6]
Reputation pricing developments 1 Huge price increases last years [1][7]
Topic Score Remarks
Capacity, max. number notes 10 100,000 notes (personal and higher)
Capacity, max GB 10 10/20 GB monthly uploads
Offline access 10 Fully supported
Folder structure 1 Not supported
Tags 5 Tags supported, subtags not working OK
Photo’s and camera (app) 10 Fully supported
Other files (pdf, zip, etc) 10 Fully supported
Version history 10 Fully supported
External sharing 10 Fully supported
Create tasks from notes 10 Fully supported
Support handwritten notes 10 Fully supported
Topic Score Remarks
Plugins 5 Limited [8]
API-interface 1 Limited, no REST
(Outlook) agenda 5 1 or 4 connectable calendars
AI / LMM 5 Limited, only professional and higher
Topic Score Remarks
Experience smartphone 10 Pleasant and reliable
Experience laptop 10 Pleasant and reliable
Deal-breakers 1 Missing folder structure, limited tag support, archiving could be better, exit-strategy limitations.

Sources

  1. https://www.pcmag.com/reviews/evernote
  2. https://edition.cnn.com/2013/03/04/tech/web/evernote-hacked/index.html
  3. https://discussion.evernote.com/forums/topic/62922-evernote-is-good-but-just-integrity/
  4. https://uptime.com/evernote.com
  5. https://status.evernote.com/
  6. https://privacy.commonsense.org/evaluation/evernote
  7. https://effectivefaith.medium.com/evernotes-price-hike-and-where-to-from-here-7276e58cf206
  8. https://appcenter.evernote.com/apps/index.html
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Finding the perfect alternative for Evernote

Why am I doing this to myself?

For my work as a security consultant and privately as a super-nerd, I’ve been using Evernote for years to keep track of my notes, memos, and as a reference tool. Taking notes is essential for maintaining an overview and control over my work. Recently, the prices of Evernote have increased significantly. Yes, I understand that Evernote may have kept prices too low for years. But with the current prices, I find it increasingly difficult to justify this pricing to myself, especially when compared to alternatives. I don’t mind paying for a adequate solution, even at the current prices, but I need to perceive proportional added value for it. And that is no longer the case.

Additionally, the nature of my work has recently changed, resulting in me dealing with a multitude of projects in varying environments and relationships. Since Evernote does not support folder structures, I’ve relied on tags. However, I can’t archive tags. Now I have too many tags, making the list of tags confusing. As a result, I’m struggling more and more to quickly find the right notes. Yes, I know that Evernote can work with subtags, but the three underlying the subtags are not visible in notes and aren’t working well. Ultimately, Evernote no longer serves its purpose well for me, which is organizing my notes effectively.

Furthermore, I want to adopt a better method for keeping track of and organizing notes, based on Tiago Forte’s “Second Brain” methodology. With this method, I can better distinguish between projects that are current versus those that can serve as reference or archive.

So, I’ve decided to drag Evernote to its grave. Apart from the fact that I expect exporting my notes out of Evernote to be a nightmare. The new solution will have to prove itself worth the effort if I am willing to burden myself with the consequences of this decision. But where do I start? After some extensive research on the internet, there doesn’t seem to be clear-cut advice. You can say what you want, but Evernote isn’t that bad. Except for the bloody lack of folders because that’s just entirely absent. To make the decision properly, I’ve decided to compare all the solutions I’ve found, and there are quite a few. For myself, I’ve outlined what’s important and desirable, categorized into topics.

Because this evaluation is quite extensive (under the motto ‘if you’re going to do it, do it right’), I suspect this will take me longer to complete. I will approach this step by step, one product at a time. In the coming days and weeks, the products mentioned later in this article will be evaluated. If you happen to read this article and feel the need to include another product, please send me a message.

The selected note-taking apps will be evaluated on a number of topics and features. For me, confidentiality, integrity and availability (the CIA-triad) are the most important factors, with distance followed by other requirements. It has to be there when I need it, I need to be able to trust it blindly wherever possible. Therefore, the reputation of the supplier and the product are also assessed based on what is available on the internet and what the supplier publishes about it.

Scoring & conditions

For each criterion, property, function or feature, a score is given from 1 to 10. If the property is a closed question, 1 resembles a negative answer and a score of 10 resembles positive answers. The score for the product is the average of all scores.

  • Score 1
    • The product performs poorly in this aspect, the function or feature is absent, or there is little information made available by the supplier regarding the criterion.
  • Score 5
    • The product somewhat meets this criterion, the function or feature is limited available, or there is information available regarding the criterion but lacks transparency.
  • Score 10
    • The product meets or adequately satisfies this criterion, the function or feature is present and well-implemented, or there is sufficient knowledge available on this topic to have confidence in it regarding the criterion.

As for the conditions, the evaluation of this has been conducted during the months May, June and July of 2024. For platforms, tests have been conducted with both MacOS and Windows 10 laptops, as well as an Apple iPhone for evaluation the mobile applications.

Results

Even before I begin this evaluation, I realize that I will gather and analyze a lot of information. If I were to compile the results into one long post, nobody, including myself, would be able to find the specific information we’re looking for. Therefore, I’ve decided to create a separate post for each product/service I evaluate.

If you are keen to know more, you can click through to the post for the specific products and services.

Detailed results per product

  • Evernote
  • Microsoft OneNote
  • Google Keep
  • ClickUp
  • Joplin
  • Zoho
  • Apple Notes
  • Notability
  • Boostnote
  • Quip
  • Obsidian
  • Milanote
  • Bear notes
  • Hive
  • Notion
  • Nimbus
  • Amplenote
  • Dropbox paper
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