The title for best note-taking app usually bounces back and forth between Evernote and Microsoft's OneNote. Both applications have their adherents and distinct features that make them worthy of being the best place to make and keep notes.
But which is right for you? Contrary to the usual tendency to declare a victor, the best answer depends on who is asking. Both Evernote and OneNote offer their own strengths that appeal to several types of users, and they both have some shortcomings that may turn you away.
So, if you're grappling over which one to go with, here are some specific points that might help you make the choice. [Looking for the best note-taking apps? Check out our favorites here.]
Evernote: An elephant always remembers
A good place to start in comparing these apps is the differing design philosophies that each one uses. Evernote started on the iPhone – back in the early days when it was a new and transformative device. Because of that background, the company has always had a mobile-first mentality, which has served it well in many ways.
Evernote's latest redesign tries to get the clutter out of the way so you can focus on the work. Credit: Evernote
The change has been welcomed because Evernote has taken quite a bit of heat recently. If you conduct a simple Google search for "Evernote," you'll find a litany of complaints about how the service had become sluggish, bloated and frustrating to use.
However, Evernote hopes it's poised for a comeback. The company recently completed a massive migration of its data to Google Cloud Platform and overhauled the iOS app. It offers a web app so you can keep on Evernote-ing if you're on a Chromebook. Using Evernote is a much zippier experience than it once was.
Much of the main structure remains the same, however. The idea is that you can use it as one place to write and save notes, clip web articles, or attach files from Google Drive for easy collaboration with a team. Evernote has done a respectable job at reversing what had turned the app into a very bloated piece of software.
But all of that improvement might cost you. Now if you want to use Evernote without paying, you're limited to two devices, and you can't save notes offline, nor can you forward emails into Evernote. It'll either cost $3.99 per month (or $34.99 annually) for the Plus tier and $7.99 per month ($69.99 annually) for the Premium plan. Learn more on Evernote's pricing page.
OneNote: The purple beast
OneNote grew up in the era before the iPad and Surface. Instead, it was the first software to take advantage of devices that now look ancient: Windows XP Tablet PC Edition. The interface bears the hallmark of this original philosophy: Your notes are divided into different sections and pages, which mimic a physical notebook.
The big differentiator, however, is pen input. If you have a Surface or an iPad Pro, OneNote is more capable. Pen input is in the app's DNA, whereas it feels like an afterthought with Evernote.OneNote shines brightest on pen-friendly devices like Microsoft's Surface line. Credit: Microsoft
Not all is perfect, however. I've found inking on one platform and moving to another creates situations where the ink ends up in a weird spot. And the mobile experience still needs work – the open-canvas approach is great on a PC or tablet, but you'll do a ton of pinching and zooming on a smartphone to get the full view of some of your notes.
One final perk, however, is that OneNote is completely free. The OneNote 2016 desktop app is an alternative, with a different layout and some legacy tools compared to the Windows 10 editions available in the Windows Store. It can record audio and create tasks that will then sync to Outlook. Microsoft has a pretty solid breakdown of the differences between the two versions.
For most users, the Windows 10 edition will suffice, and it's certainly faster and more streamlined in many cases. However, some power users may find the layout and other abilities of the OneNote 2016 desktop app to be the better option.
The final word
When it comes to a recommendation, the verdict is more nuanced than cut and dried. If you're heavy into Office 365, value pen input, or prefer the organizational strategies that OneNote employs, then that's probably your better option.
If your workflow is more about saving random bits of information, or you do most of your note taking on a mobile device, then Evernote may be a better choice.
There are going to be more parameters for each individual user, so the best recommendation is to try them out. The free tier of Evernote will give you use on two devices and enough upload bandwidth to see if it's for you. And OneNote is everywhere, getting plenty of development attention from Microsoft as the company pushes forward to try to rule cross-platform productivity.