Taking notes might look like a fad to some, a utility to others and an essential part of day-to-day life for the rest. Gone are the days of a PDA and carrying a small notebook in your shirt’s pocket sounds like the gloom of ancient history portrayed in sepia shades. iPhones and Androids rule the current generation of the smartphone carrying population and apps on those touchscreens are winning over paper.
If you have ever done note-taking as a regular practice, you must have searched for apps that are going to let you save some time, are fast & responsive, have enough options to help you organise your notes and available at will. Now, there are two types of people when it comes to note-taking apps:
- People who take small text notes and that’s all they need.
- People who religiously follow note taking. Pictures, links, bookmarks, todos and sharing is where peace lies for these folks.
The first camp - not the target
Now, this must not come as a surprise - it is relatively easy to make take text notes. Creating an app for them would be too easy and is actually needless. Apple Notes and Google Keep are enough. There are a thousand others which handle the basic tasks. Pleasing the user with most basic of needs is a childish play in the land of powerful APIs. Now, neither Apple or Google make any money from their notes applications. It is just another value addition to their already-amazing offerings. There is no competition on this level. Should not be.
I belonged to the first camp for a long time until I had to start sharing ideas and allow inputs from others to flow in. I went on looking for apps that could help. I wandered in the world of todo managers, project managers, schedulers and whatnot before I was referred to Evernote which I took too lightly at the start. With time, I understood that Evernote as an app and as a company takes the logo of an elephant quite seriously. Evernote was probably the most awesome tool there was. It was available on Windows, Mac, Android, Windows Mobile and definitely on iOS.
You can get a ton done through it - simple notes, rich text notes and todo lists are the beginning. The fun comes along when I can share notebooks with people. It is immensely helpful when I want to share ideas with people at my workplace. My teammates can ponder upon some ideas and add their input to an ongoing project, I can put in my input to the marketing team, take the picture of whiteboards and put them in the shared notebook and if the boss finds that his board is clean, instead of asking me why I did it, he knows he has to go to the shared notebook and his last night’s idea is just sitting here. In short it solved a lot of problems. Or so I thought!
I maintain ideas and workflow of the tech team in my office and with time it became a struggle. There were notes I wanted to organise by time. There were notes I wanted to organise by topic. There were notes which were supposed to work like a timeline. And that was just the beginning.
I had a note of ideas for future. It started with what little internal changes were required on the tech front. Then it got mixed with future requirements of infrastructure and then with coding changes and then review requests. The last thing that was needed to make that screen a hellhole was addition of whiteboard images. So I split the notes and that was an even bigger problem. Sometimes we did not know where to look for that thing we wrote 10 days and sometimes it was difficult to find who had proposed what idea.
On top of this, I was frustrated with how Evernote was dealing with tables I wrote in it. Table handling at its worst. I felt like I was struggling with something that was supposed to solve my problem.
Frustrated, I moved on to search again (after about 3 months of good usage of Evernote). This trip was even more frustrating because I had to go through the same list of tools which I had scoured over last time, only to see the world hadn’t changed. And the solution comes from a company which I least expected to have made a tool that could solve this complex need of mine - Microsoft.
First thing that amazed me was how this thing handled tables. Super-smooth and very familiar behaviour. Sorry I forgot to tell the name of this software - OneNote. Though I was not overly concerned about it, OneNote did not want me to pay money for just letting me have my notes offline on my mobile or when I wanted to upload more than 60 MB in a month. And boy, did I tell you - handling tables was a charm!
There were lots of labels to label things. I could write anywhere on an infinitely scrollable notepad and the best thing - I could create sections within notebooks. So now I had a section for ideas and there were pages within them and just in case I needed more categorisation, I could create subpages and their subpages and their subpages until I was satisfied. I had sections for infrastructure, for future work, for sharing new ideas which could be implemented 2 months later. I could have a section where everyone wrote what they were working on the current week. Categorising that into weeks and months was a trivial task. Search was good and then I discover that their iPad app was now allowing me to draw freely - goodbye to complex wireframing and graphing tools for rather simple tasks.
And sharing is damn easy - you just need to have a Microsoft account and know how to use the best cloud solution there is - OneDrive! Problem solved. It took me about 1 hour to copy paste my entire notes from Evernote to OneNote and get it organised. I haven’t looked back
Collaboration is not the only great thing here
What I said works well for a multi-user setup. So what’s in it for a single user who does not want to share notes? Everything Evernote has to offer and more. Both of them are on almost every platform - Windows, Mac, Android, iOS and Windows Mobile OS. Both do not have a client for Linux distributions (like Ubuntu). Both have nice features on their mobile apps and desktop clients look beautiful and are easy enough to use.
I will focus on what OneNote does that Evernote is lacking:
- It stores your notes in OneDrive. Every notebook is stored as just one file. But on desktop, the files are synced only as a URL link. OneNote client app reads the files and shows you the UI. You can use OneDrive’s web UI to control sharing. This is an added benefit because both of them allow you to change sharing settings via client app’s UI.
- OneNote does not want you to pay to have your notes offline on your mobile device.
- OneNote, at least on iPad, allows you to draw freely.
- You can copy any excel sheet or a part of it and paste it in OneNote. Nothing breaks, formatting remains and tables do not behave like stupid (like, you can easily delete a row if you want).
- OneNote does not limit your uploads at 60 MB per month or something like that. This is great when you want to store a set of pictures or upload a rather heavy report or share a video with team-mates.
- OneNote’s UI is less confusing and has a lot more organising capabilities. This is not overly complex and does need a bit of time to get used to but is very efficient if you start accumulating lots of notes which happens almost automatically over time.
- PDF previews are built in.
- You can scribble anywhere on a page and the width and height of the page is adjusted for you. Vertical is how we think, horizontal is how we can think!
- OneNote allows you to password protect sections. So if you have left your computer on and are talking out in the balcony, stay assured, your room-mates (irrespective of who they are) cannot read that section where you write your passwords :D .
- On a shared notebook, you can see which part of which note was written by whom. That’s a lovely feature for someone who uses notes for collaboration
And there are some negative points too:
- OneNote does not have a presentation mode. By the way, when was the last time, you presented off your note taking application?
- OneNote also does not allow you to record audios on mobile apps. Though I never do it and do not know any one else who records audio notes, it can be a handicap for someone who depends on this feature.
As if the mighty advantages are not enough in OneNote’s favour - it also comes with Windows 8 (and 8.1) built-in. Desktop client can be installed separately for free too. That’s a huge chunk of market in Microsoft’s hands. Evernote is already smelling like Netscape here! We cannot put in all the screenshots here. So we have created a small album here. Have a look and if you've got a little time, let us know what you think.
How long is Evernote in the game?
If you compare Evernote and Microsoft - the latter can crush the former at will. Microsoft has enough revenue from other sources and a well formed team working on OneNote. The only way Evernote can stay in competition is by giving out more freedom to organise the notes, more MBs for upload, better search and maybe a Linux client.
Currently, Microsoft is building into OneNote everything Evernote is offering with its multitude of apps. OneNote team seems to be very focused because the recent release claims to have built in OCR support into OneNote as well.
And if Evernote is listening - guys, I hate the way you treat tables in your desktop app. Fix the damn tables.