On Monday Microsoft released a significant update to its OneNote for iOS and Android apps. The mobile note-taking app received a number of compelling improvements, but it is still not a fully-independent—and therefore fully-useful—mobile app.
The main attraction in the OneNote update is richer note formatting. OneNote now offers more options for styling notes. You can simply tap the appropriate menu icon to change fonts, text and highlighting colors, or apply styles. And the look you give your notes is consistent across devices.
The updated apps now let you sync OneNote notebooks from SkyDrive as well as SharePoint, Office 365 and SkyDrive Pro. OneNote also now has a robust search function and a "Recent" tab that helps you quickly find recently-updated notes.
OneNote’s ability to add tables to notebooks has always been one of its strengths; the feature can be useful for organizing and comparing information on, say, hotels you’re considering for an upcoming trip.
But I have some gripes.
OneNote on iOS and Android still doesn’t allow you to create new notebooks. For that, you need the OneNote Windows program or a SkyDrive account, which includes a Web-based version of OneNote.
I asked Microsoft about this, and I received the following response: "Customers have told us that creating multiple notebooks while using a mobile device is not a primary use scenario today."
I find it hard to believe that users don’t want the ability to create new notebooks using the OneNote apps, especially on tablets. You also can’t use OneNote on iOS or Android to delete notebooks or single notes.
The Android app has a voice-recording feature, which is nice for quickly creating notes. Unfortunately, the iOS app lacks this feature, and it wouldn’t play back the recording I’d made in OneNote on my Android smartphone. Nor could I play back that recording using the OneNote Web app.
The navigation isn't exactly intuitive, either. Using OneNote for Android, I see a notebook that was automatically created when I first downloaded the app. But none of the notebooks I created in the OneNote Web app show up under "Notebooks," which is where I expect them to be. I have to click the "Open notebook…" option to access my other notebooks.
Overall, I like OneNote. The app could be a truly useful cross-platform note-taking tool. But Microsoft’s skittishness to imbue its iOS and Android apps with full functionality will prevent me from becoming a regular OneNote user. (The company has similarly limited its Office iPhone app.) For now, I’m sticking with Springpad.