Chapter 1: Basic Capabilities
Evernote and OneNote are both great Personal Productivity Platforms (PPPs) largely because they are flexible at capturing information, work anywhere and sync everywhere. Chapter 1 explores these basic capabilities in the following sections:
By the end of this chapter, you should know how the basic capabilities of each app fit your needs.
What it is & why it matters
When choosing a Productivity Platform, platform support should be a top consideration. This results from our current world where it seems everyone owns several devices running on multiple operating systems. You do not want to choose a Productivity Platform that will not work on some of your devices or possibly the devices of your collaborators.
How Evernote & OneNote Compare
Fortunately, both Evernote and OneNote support the major operating systems in the market. They each support Mac OS, Windows, iOS, Apple Watch and Android. Currently, Linux support is only available through 3rd party tools that seem to come and go.
Until recently, Evernote’s user interface varied across platforms, but in late 2020 they unified the design and feature set on desktop. Evernote’s mobile apps received a similar rewrite and support most of the features of their desktop siblings and even some features not found on the desktop.
Likewise, OneNote has managed to retain a similar user interface with minimum variations across different platforms. However, be aware of functionality differences between desktop and mobile. For example, only OneNote desktop allows you to convert the text on images into notes using Optical Character Recognition. Another great feature, integration with Outlook tasks, cannot be fully used on mobile.
Section Winner & Why
Evernote wins in this section. The 2020 redesigns have unified the feature set and user interface, solving a pervasive concern of many users. Evernote contains all the essential functions of a PPP with some advanced features such as virtual workspaces available on Evernote business. On the other hand, in our opinion, Microsoft hasn't fully developed OneNote's mobile apps despite the global shift to all things mobile.
Data Access & Sync
What it is & Why it Matters
Data Access & Sync describes the way your information is passed in, out, and through your Personal Productivity Platform, including import/export, syncing, and version control.
As your PPP, Evernote or OneNote will store or link to most of the ideas that you hold dear. You never want to lose that information or have it trapped in a system that you want to leave. You want it synced to all your devices and even backed-up. For these reasons, it’s essential to know how each app handles and stores your data.
How Evernote & OneNote Compare
Both Evernote and OneNote sync data across all signed-in devices. Having this updated information at your fingertips is critical to being a productivity platform you can use across your life.
Evernote understands the importance of syncing across devices, so they optimized their service to ensure that you do not experience any lagging when accessing your notes on different devices. Evernote syncs notes created on any device near instantly with their service and updates other devices when you open them. Evernote expects it's syncing to be so seamless, they removed the manual sync feature in their 2020 redesign.
OneNote, on the other hand, seems to have a more random pattern of syncing which can result in devices appearing slow to update. Syncing is done automatically by default, but you can sync manually if you need. Even if you sync manually, sometimes it takes a few minutes before a different device retrieves the updated information. Because we work with the OneNote API, we know it may take up to 30 minutes for an integration to get updated information.
When you want to move to a new system, it is essential that you bring all your previous notes with you. How easy is it to migrate from one system to another when it comes to Evernote and OneNote?
Evernote export options include exporting each note separately as an HTML file, or exporting notes into a single HTML file. Additional export options allow you to include or exclude note titles, authors, locations, timestamps, and tags. Note, these export options have not all arrived in Evernote’s recently redesigned apps, but they are planned.
When exporting notes from one computer with Evernote to another, you can use Evernote’s ENEX format which enables the seamless transfer of data between computers using Evernote. This ENEX export method also doubles as a form of data backup.
When it comes to importing, Evernote is a little limited since you can only import OneNote notebooks and ENEX files.
OneNote provides users with more flexibility when exporting notes as compared to Evernote. You can choose whether to export the current section, current page, or current notebook. You also get an option to export your data in universal formats like PDF, MHT, XPS, or you can export in OneNote-specific formats.
Importing to OneNote is done via a OneNote importer, a stand-alone software developed by Microsoft that helps users to migrate their data from other productivity platforms to OneNote.
Both Evernote and OneNote offer their users the ability to track a note and revert to its previous versions.
Evernote’s Note History feature is only available in the paid versions. Note history takes a snapshot of entire notes regularly every day and allows users to revert to older versions of the notes from their Windows or Mac desktop, and Evernote web.
Version control on OneNote is done using OneNote’s Page Versions feature. OneNote saves a page version of your note after every change, and when a different author makes an edit. The Page Versions feature can be turned off to reduce notebook size, but that would mean giving up the ability to revert to previous versions of your notes.
Section Winner & Why
OneNote wins in Data Access & Sync primarily due to its flexibility in export and version control. However, if keeping all your devices in sync is your priority Evernote works faster and more consistently while OneNote can be a bit laggy.
What it is & why it Matters
If you travel or are without a stable internet connection at important times, it’s important your Productivity Platform works offline. You must be able to capture your best ideas or access your notes whether you’re online or not. You never know when that life-changing idea will hit. Your productivity platform needs to be ready to take your ideas whenever you are.
How Evernote & OneNote Compare
Evernote supports offline notes, but there is a difference in this functionality between the desktop and mobile. On desktop, Evernote stores all the synced notes and notebooks on your device so internet access is not necessary. This offline mode requires you be signed in to your app so it is advisable to sign into Evernote before disconnecting from the internet.
In comparison, Evernote does not by default store full notes to your mobile device. It instead stores small details about your notes like tags, titles, and snippets of text. This limits you to only searching for the note but not fully accessing it unless you’ve recently viewed it and it’s therefore stored in device memory. This method is not ideal for all situations, but saves storage space on your mobile device.
If there are some notes or notebooks you need to have offline on mobile, Evernote’s paid plans offer an offline notebooks feature that ensures full copies are stored on your mobile device.
OneNote make offline mode easy. The app downloads a copy of every notebook you open and stores it in your device as a cached copy. Any edits you make in your notebook get stored in that cached copy first and then get synced to OneDrive, Microsoft's cloud storage service.
Be careful though, working offline on OneNote is only possible if you first open the notebook you need when you still have an internet connection so it can be downloaded. You should also ensure that the notebooks remain open the entire time that you are offline, and that you do not uninstall or reinstall OneNote until it syncs to OneDrive. Closing notebooks before they sync to OneDrive will result in you losing all the work that you have done offline.
Section Winner and Why
Though working offline seems a bit complicated on either Evernote or OneNote, OneNote wins because it offers similar offline access across all platforms.
What it is & why it Matters
Part of what makes Evernote and OneNote great as Personal Productivity Platforms is their ability to capture and retrieve far more than text. For a Productivity Platform to be considered efficient, it has to capture ideas and information in the formats you use most.
How Evernote & OneNote Compare
A web clipper is technically a separate browser extension that allows you to easily store web pages in your PPP while browsing the internet. While the Evernote/OneNote Web Clippers are technically separate products, we cover them here because they are integral to each platform’s ability to easily ingest web pages.
Evernote’s Web Clipper is one of Evernote’s most powerful and used features. It allows you to clip screenshots, videos, or create a bookmark link. The Web Clipper has many formatting options depending on whether you’re clipping a regular website, Gmail, or a LinkedIn profile. These formatting options ensure the resulting note is formatted consistently for best use inside Evernote.
When clipping a screenshot, Evernote provides additional features that allow you to annotate, draw arrows, blur, and crop a portion of the screenshot. The Web Clipper can save your results to any notebook or create a new notebook and note complete with tags for easy organization. Lastly, Evernote can intelligently suggest which notebook or tags to apply to a newly clipped web page based on similar notes already in your account.
OneNote’s clipping feature is quite simplistic in comparison. When you want to clip a web page, you only need to click the OneNote icon and you are presented with a few options. Clipping on OneNote enables you to select a region or an entire screenshot. You can also opt for article mode which saves your clipped data as a bookmark with a thumbnail and a link. OneNote only adds web clippings to already existing notebooks so you cannot create a notebook on-the-fly while clipping.
Besides supporting in-app photo taking, Evernote lets you take screenshots and annotate them for searchability. The screenshot feature is quite helpful when you want to capture tidbits of information from the web, track progress in your project, and even for fun like taking screenshots of your wallpaper. Evernote provides 3 options; the entire screen, an application window, or a selected part of the screen. Screenshots that contain text like screenshots of an article are searchable on Evernote.
OneNote, just like Evernote allows you to take screenshots and annotate them using its drawing tools. OneNote provides the option to capture the entire screen or a section of it you select using a mouse or your finger. Any text in the resulting screenshot can be searched the same way you search for notes in your notebooks.
Snapshots & Whiteboard Scanning
Evernote has a snapshots feature that utilizes the camera on your device to take photographs and store them in your notebook. You can use this feature to take pictures of receipts, relevant documents, and even places and people, then arrange them into their respective notebooks. You can also add keywords to your snapshots to make them searchable.
In addition to keywords, Evernote can "read" the handwritten notes in your photos and thereby make them searchable by that handwritten text. While it doesn't convert the handwriting into text, it does make it searchable which dramatically improves your ability to find the notes later.
Just like Evernote, OneNote offers you the ability to take pictures directly from their mobile app and save them in a notebook. In addition to taking photos from the app, you can add images from your device to your OneNote notebook.
OneNote has also not been left behind when it comes to whiteboard scanning either. Just like Evernote, you can take pictures of your handwritten notes or any printed paper and scan them into searchable notes.
OneNote’s whiteboard feature rotates, crops, and straightens your photographed document to make it look like a scanned document, it then uses Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to convert any writings on the document into complete text that can be searched. Unlike Evernote, OneNote's OCR technology allows you to copy the resulting text and paste it anywhere! It’s important to note, however, that the OCR feature is only available on OneNote desktop app.
Sometimes writing or typing in notes can be tedious and you will find yourself looking for a more comfortable and convenient way to take your notes. Luckily, both Evernote and OneNote take audio notes allowing you to dictate your notes.
Evernote allows users to record themselves on the app and to attach pre-recorded audio notes as attachments. The recording size limit per note is 25MB for basic users, and 200MB for premium and business users.
Within Evernote, the recording process is straightforward since all you have to do is click the record button and start dictating your notes. The only drawback, however, is that it’s sometimes difficult to find the record button on Evernote depending on the size of the window. One handy addition to Evernote audio notes feature is the ability to playback your notes on the app without the need to launch third-party media players.
OneNote’s audio notes basic functionality is quite similar to Evernote’s. You can record your notes within the app or upload pre-recorded notes as attachment files. You can also play back your notes without leaving the app.
Beyond the basics, OneNote adds some powerful and convenient features that set its audio note-taking abilities far apart from Evernote. For starters, OneNote allows you to customize how you record your audio notes by letting you change settings such as the audio codec and the recording device. OneNote also allows you to attach an audio recording to a section of text notes, for example, if you need to clarify a part of your text notes. Possibly the most helpful of OneNote's audio features is timestamps. By adding specific timestamps to the recording, you can jump to just the section you need.
Video Recording & Embedding
Evernote doesn’t support video recording on any of its apps. But you can attach a video file from your device storage to your notes, or embed a YouTube video to your notes using Evernote's Web Clipper. For video attachments, different plans have different size limitations. Premium users have a 100MB size limit for video attachments, while free users have a 25MB file size limit.
OneNote comes with robust video recording features that allow you to make video notes right in your OneNote notebook. The video recording button is right next to the audio recording button at the top bar.
OneNote supports video embedding in addition to video recording. With OneNote’s video embedding feature, you can embed web videos to your notebook by pasting their URLs onto your notebook. The pasted URLs expand into playable videos when you hover your mouse cursor over them, allowing you to play videos right there in your notebook. Whether you are creating a video collection for a project or just for fun, OneNote’s video embedding feature can prove quite helpful.
Evernote not only lets you save your PDFs in your notes, but you can also annotate your saved PDFs with drawings, arrows, and writings that are then searchable. With this feature, you can quickly draft your ideas or instructions on PDF files like building plans and designs. Be aware though, Evernote’s PDF annotation features are currently only available to premium and Business users.
OneNote, just like Evernote, also allows you to insert PDF files into your notes. In OneNote, you can annotate your PDF files with writings, drawings, and arrows. OneNote utilizes Optical Character Recognition (OCR) to let you copy any writings you make on your PDF file to the clipboard and paste them anywhere on your notes. This copy-to-clipboard feature will save you the hassle of having to rewrite the ideas on your PDF to your notes.
Microsoft Office Documents
Evernote supports Word, PowerPoint, and Excel files. You can save Microsoft Office documents while retaining their formats and file extensions by dragging and dropping them into Evernote. On desktop, you can also edit saved Word documents and Excel spreadsheets in Evernote so that you don’t need to re-upload the files after every edit. Editing Word and Excel is not available on Evernote’s web client, so you need to have the app installed on your device.
OneNote supports Office documents. We would expect nothing less since they are all Microsoft products. You can insert your Word and Excel documents into OneNote as embedded images of the respective apps. The good thing about this is that when you make edits on your original documents, they will be reflected when you open the document in OneNote. As for PowerPoint slides, you can insert slides to your notebook and even write notes on the slides.
Google Drive Files
Evernote and Google have collaborated to make it possible for Evernote users to integrate their notebooks to their Google Drive accounts. This integration ensures that you can access Google Drive files on Evernote without switching apps. When searching for a file in Google Drive, all you need to do is click on the Google Drive icon on Evernote’s control bar and your Google Drive will pop up inside of Evernote.
Not surprisingly, OneNote does not have direct integration with Google Drive or Google Docs files.
Section Winner & Why
Most of the core features in this section can be found on both Evernote and OneNote, so the choice really depends on how you work. We give the slight edge to OneNote because of its flexibility with audio or video. However, if integrating with Google Workspace files is important, Evernote would be your winner.