As if to offer a mea culpa for its previous, woefully inadequate Windows RT tablets, Microsoft delivered the Surface 3 — a super-cool tablet and laptop that is particularly useful (though not flawless) when combined with Microsoft’s OneNote app and the optional Surface pen.
I’m firmly ensconced in Evernote land these days, but Microsoft’s OneNote is increasingly appealing. Last week, for instance, Microsoft announced a new OneNote plugin for WordPress that transforms notes into blog posts, as well as integration with cloudHQ.
And earlier this month, Microsoft added the ability to search handwritten OneNote notes that are saved in OneDrive. (More on that coming up.)
With the Surface pen ($50 with the Surface 3; included with Surface Pro 3), you can tap the top button on the pen once to open the OneNote app — even if your Surface is locked. Then you can scribble a quick note using the pen, and if you want, turn the tablet off. Your notes are saved automatically to your default OneNote notebook of choice, which is very cool.
The pen also makes it easy to create whiteboard-like drawings and diagrams in OneNote. Microsoft did a great job with “palm rejection,” so resting your palm on the tablet screen as you draw with the pen doesn’t cause problems.
If you subscribe to Office 365, you get OneNote 2013, which offers more features than the OneNote app that comes standard with the Surface. With OneNote 2013, for instance, you can record audio and video notes on the Surface, or any other Windows computer with a mic and camera. (For more on this topic, read “Never miss a word with Microsoft OneNote 2013’s synced audio notes.”) And if you buy a Surface tablet, you get a free Office 365 Personal subscription for a year, which includes OneNote 2013.
At first, I had issues searching for handwritten notes made in the OneNote app on my Surface 3, but upgrading to the latest version solved the problem.
Overall, I find the combination of OneNote, the Surface 3 ($499 and up) and pen to be valuable. However, it’s odd that I need two separate versions of OneNote to get the software’s full functionality, and I still prefer Evernote. That said, with each new iteration, OneNote continues to grow on me.
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.