Of course, the two apps do most of the same things. Evernote and OneNote both let you create digital archives for all sorts of notes and clipped Web content. And Microsoft and Evernote regularly add new features and enhancements, which can make choosing between the two — or jumping from one to the other — a tough task.
To find out why Evernote users choose that app, and why OneNote user go the Microsoft route, we posted a query on website Help a Reporter Out. We asked Evernote and OneNote users to tell us which app they prefer and why, and we received a total of 16 responses (10 in favor of Evernote, six for OneNote).
Though this admittedly unscientific survey represents only a small percentage of the Evernote and OneNote user bases, the responses spotlight the apps’ strengths and weakness and can help you determine whether Evernote or OneNote is a better fit for you.
5 reasons to pick Evernote over OneNote
1) Evernote ease of use
“I chose Evernote because it’s so easy to use and I can easily sync notes across all my devices,” says Deirdre Breakenridge, CEO of Pure Performance Communications. “Evernote was also highly recommended by members of my Twitter community. It’s the best thing since yellow Post-It notes.”
2) Evernote cloud integration is seamless
“I was a heavy OneNote user for about eight years prior to jumping to Evernote,” says Greg Spillane, COO of Events.com. However, Spillane had “a lot of problems” with OneDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage and file sync service, which is used to store OneNote notebooks. OneNote sometimes dropped its connection to OneDrive, causing him to lose notes, Spillane says. Eventually, he switched to Evernote, which he says offers “seamless integration” with the Evernote cloud and reliable access to saved notes.
3) Evernote’s large ecosystem
Evernote’s API is used by a wide variety of developers of apps, plug-ins, hardware devices (such as scanners), and even Moleskine, which makes paper notebooks. Evernote’s large ecosystem makes it even easier to clip Web content and save email to Evernote notebooks, according to Spillane. OneNote doesn’t integrate with nearly as many apps or devices.
4) Evernote automates lots of business tasks
Thanks to its large ecosystem, Evernote integration can be used to automate many business tasks, according to Ruggero Loda, founder of Running Shoes Guru. Loda set up rules in automation tool Zapier, for example, so his email invoices are automatically forwarded to a specific Evernote notebook. “This way, when the quarter ends and I need to file my taxes, most of the receipts for my recurring expenses are already in one Evernote notebook, which I can send to my accountant.”
All of your Evernote notes are immediately accessible, and searchable, from any device via the Evernote app. OneNote users on some platforms need to download notebooks they want to view on each individual device to search or access those notes. Once downloaded, however, those OneNote notes remain accessible on the devices.
5 reasons to pick OneNote over Evernote
1) OneNote ease of use and organization
“I find OneNote to be way easier to use and a lot more intuitive than Evernote,” says Melanie Lajeunesse, CEO of Friendly Reminders. “I like the way OneNote is set up with the notebooks and tabs and pages within those tabs. My brain works that way so I can really easily figure out how to organize my notes. I never really understood Evernote’s organization system. It shows all your notes at the same time in those squares; it just doesn’t make sense to me.”
2) Sharing notes via OneNote is free
OneNote is a free download (though that wasn’t always the case), and it lets people share files with other OneNote users at no charge. (However, if a company pays for Microsoft SharePoint or uses OneNote as part of a paid Office 365 subscription, OneNote sharing isn’t truly “free.”)
Evernote also has a free version, but Evernote Plus ($25 a year) or Evernote Premium ($50 a year) memberships are required to share notes.
3) OneNote’s free offline access
“I’m using OneNote for many reasons, but the main one is that unlike Evernote, you can use OneNote without an Internet connection for free,” says Yuval Aharon, owner of Rated Radar Detector. Aharon says he sometimes travels to areas where there’s no Internet access, which makes OneNote more valuable to him. (OneNote offline access is free, but Evernote users must subscribe to Plus or Premium plans for offline access.)
4) OneNote ‘free-form canvas’
OneNote’s “free-form canvas” structure makes it easy to move text and images around, and mix handwritten annotations with typed notes. Evernote’s structure, by comparison, is more restrictive.
“I recently switched from Evernote to OneNote because Evernote doesn’t allow typed notes to be positioned in a way where they can be mixed with inked notes,” says Ravi Sakaria, president and CEO of VoicePulse Inc., who has used both Evernote and OneNote extensively.
“I often use a pen and tablet to sketch and handwrite ideas,” he says. “And when I’m at my desktop computer, I need to easily add thoughts via the keyboard. In Evernote, those two things (the typed notes and the inked notes) are separate. In OneNote, I can easily drag and drop either one and position typed notes freely on a page.”
5) OneNote comes preinstalled on Windows Phone
Chad Reid, director of communications at JotForm, says OneNote came preinstalled on his Windows Phone, he “really loved the feel of it and started using it regularly — from grocery shopping to remembering names.” And Reid continued to use OneNote after he switched to an iPhone.
Evernote, OneNote both worth a try before you decide
There’s a lot to like about both programs, but they also have drawbacks. Evernote fan Loda says the service’s proprietary format is worrisome, for example. “I can export my Evernote database, but what if the software fails or the company goes out of business? I’d like a way to export my data in a more universal format.”
(Evernote lets you export all your notes as Evernote XML (.enex) files, which preserve “all your note contents and tags,” according to the company. You can also export notes to HTML files, though the option is sometimes buggy, depending on your OS. OneNote lets you export individual notes as PDFs.)
Others complain that Evernote, unlike OneNote, doesn’t work well with the Microsoft Office ecosystem. And OneNote, unlike Evernote, requires a separate mobile app (Microsoft Office Lens) to scan documents and images with a smartphone.
Ultimately, if you’re undecided on a note-taking app, it’s a good idea to try both Evernote and OneNote before you commit, because moving files between the two services isn’t easy. Spend a few days with each app to get a sense of the different interfaces, and use them on mobile devices, as well as laptops. Alternative apps, including Google Keep, Apple Notes, and specialty software, such as Notability (iOS-only), are also worth a look.
James A. Martin is a seasoned tech journalist and blogger based in San Francisco and winner of the 2014 ASBPE National Gold award for his CIO.com blog. He writes CIO.com's Living the Tech Life blog and is also a content marketing consultant.