OneNote Review

Microsoft OneNote has been keeping users' notes since 2003, and it provides stiff competition against alternatives, like Evernote. Read this OneNote review to find out why this free note-taking app is so popular.

Vladimir Sumina
By Vladimir Sumina
— Last Updated: 2020-10-30T14:47:28+00:00 Facts checked by: Andrea Babic
(Editor)
Free

Modern note-taking apps as a whole owe a lot to Microsoft OneNote, which came out way back in 2003. Of course, being a frontrunner doesn’t mean much by itself, but OneNote is still one of the best note-taking apps. In this comprehensive OneNote review, we will go over its many great features and also look at how it can stand to improve in certain areas.

OneNote manages to outperform Evernote in a lot of ways, thanks to its wide array of features including optical character recognition (OCR), audio and video recordings, ink-to-text conversion and dictating. Best of all, OneNote’s services are completely free. To use it, all you need is a Microsoft account. If you are already using Office 365, Outlook or other Microsoft apps, simply log in with your credentials.

  • Microsoft OneNote is one of the best note-taking apps that you can use. With advanced tools that include OCR, ink-to-text conversion, dictation, and audio and video recording, OneNote is a fantastic notes application for everyday work that you can access on most devices.

  • Microsoft OneNote is useful for business, school or private needs. It is a great app that can be used for just about anything concerning notes. It provides an easy way to create and search for notes and share them via cloud storage, and it comes with some of the best and most powerful tools that every user should take full advantage of.

  • While Evernote definitely has the advantage in most areas and is the overall winner, Microsoft OneNote has some unique tools that Evernote currently lacks in its most recent version. Our advice is to try both out and see which one you like best. You can read all about this in our Evernote vs OneNote showdown.

  • Yes, OneNote is a free application for anyone with a Microsoft account. Every user gets 5GB of free cloud storage space.

  • OneNote is a note-taking app produced by Microsoft. It’s one of the best note-taking apps available, especially for Microsoft users, who can use the program for free.

Strengths & Weaknesses

Strengths:

  • Free with Microsoft accounts
  • Advanced features
  • UI similar to Microsoft Office 365

Weaknesses:

  • Syncing can take a while
  • Substandard mobile app
  • Mediocre web clipping extension

1. Features

92 % – Excellent

Microsoft OneNote is packed with many features that go beyond just taking notes; it also provides you with several ways to convert images to text. For example, the OCR tool allows you to take a picture of a document, business card, flyer or whiteboard, then extract that text. You can then save that text in OneNote, Microsoft Word or Outlook.

OCR’s efficiency depends on several factors. These include image quality, the complexity of the characters it is scanning and the legibility of the handwritten notes. So always make sure to double-check if it recognizes everything correctly. Even if OCR doesn’t catch every letter, it is still an indispensable time-saver, especially for companies and small business owners.

onenote drawing
Drawn text inside OneNote.

Using the ink-to-text conversion feature, your written notes can be converted into editable text in just a couple of clicks. OneNote does a good job of identifying various scribbles and matching them to the appropriate characters. As long as the drawing source resembles the intended character, odds are high that the OneNote app will be able to read and show it as intended.

onenote ink to text
Converting a drawing to text in OneNote.

Text-formatting options are likewise plentiful. It has all the options for editing text that a quality word processor — like Dropbox Paper and Google Docs — should have, including using different headings and inserting files, links, tables and drawings into your notes.

Video & Audio

Another advantage OneNote has over its one note-taking rival, Evernote, is its audio and video recording capabilities, which aren’t limited to photos like most note-taking apps. With this tool, you will be able to take short video clips of meetings, conferences and lectures. This media content can then be shared online to different OneNote accounts or stored on the cloud.

While these are helpful tools, you cannot use them for more advanced purposes such as video conferencing. It’s best to employ video editing software if you want to clean up the source files before you add them to your pages or share them on the cloud for work purposes.

onenote dictation
Available languages in OneNote’s dictation tool.

One of our favorite OneNote features is the option to dictate and take notes using your voice. Similarly to OCR, the app doesn’t always pick up exactly what you are saying, so take care to enunciate every word and speak at a slower pace. Its ease of use is another reason why OneNote is such a powerful and useful software product.

onenote dictated
OneNote’s dictation tool in action.

Integrations

OneNote can integrate with Zapier and IFTTT. These workflow automation apps enable you to automate note-taking processes such as sending out emails and attachments. This way, you can also integrate OneNote with project management software like Trello, Monday.com or Asana.

A web clipper add-on for all major browsers is also available. With it, you can clip out and save text, images and other online content. While it’s a very useful work addition for any organization, it isn’t the best web clipper you can get, especially when compared to Evernote’s, which is a lot more versatile and all-around functional.

It’s no surprise that OneNote works in conjunction with other Office tools and pairs particularly well with Outlook, as they are all made by the same company. You can create task lists with due dates, daily notes and meeting notes, and then sync them with your Outlook calendar. This isn’t a substitute for project management software but is a good productivity tool nonetheless.

Features Overview

  • Features

    • Sync
    • Share
    • Embed note links
    • Tag notes
    • File attachements
    • Email notes
    • Web clipper
    • Voice recorder
    • Video recorder
    • Handwriting support
    • Ink-to-Text Coversion
    • Optical character recognition (OCR)
    • IFTTT/Zapier

2. Pricing

87 % – Very Good

OneNote is a free application. To use OneNote, nothing is required except opening up a Microsoft account, which you can create for free. Every user gets 5GB of cloud storage space through Microsoft OneDrive’s cloud storage services. This amount is enough for a whole lot of notebooks, but you will soon run out of cloud storage if you want to attach a lot of media files.

onenote microsoft pricing
Microsoft Office 365’s pricing options.

To get more cloud storage space, you can upgrade to a paid Microsoft Office 365 subscription. For $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year, you can get one of the best deals for cloud storage. This not only includes 1TB of additional storage across all online Microsoft apps, but also the desktop app versions of Office 365 products, such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.

However, if you are not planning on using any of these Office 365 apps apart from OneNote, it is a less enticing deal and you are better off using similar products. Google Keep comes to mind, which is another free and easy-to-use note-taking app that has a more generous 15GB web storage, shared across your Google account.

3. User Experience

78 % – Good

Similarly to Adobe products, Microsoft apps all share the same basic layout and general design. If you know how to use Adobe Premiere Pro, you are also at least familiar with how Photoshop works. Well, if you’ve ever used any Office 365 app for work before, then OneNote shouldn’t feel too different.

To give its design an even better notebook feel, there is an option to turn on rule lines. These transform the entire page to look like a school notebook. Not only is this a lot easier on the eyes, but it’s also a nice, little nostalgic feature for all of us whose school days have long since passed.

onenote rule lines
Turning on rule lines in OneNote.

Freestyle Note-Taking

OneNote takes a different design approach when it comes to pages. Just like an actual notebook, our notes are often chaotic — one idea written in a corner, another totally unrelated matter jotted right in the middle. OneNote recognizes this and allows us to treat each section as a separate note on the same page, including different formatting, fonts, size and so on.

onenote ui
OneNote’s user interface.

These can be moved around freely in their own boxes, merged together or copied and pasted in a completely new notebook. Building on this, Microsoft OneNote gives you a lot of freedom regarding how you set up your pages and sections, but the problem is that sometimes it can take whole minutes until all the devices fully sync up together.

onenote sections
OneNote’s notebooks, sections and pages.

Unfortunately, the way notes are grouped might bother users who prefer to get into their notes with as few clicks — or taps on a touchscreen — as possible. The notes are first arranged in notebooks, then in sections and finally in individual pages themselves.

onenote tags
Available tag types in OneNote.

Custom tags make the search option a lot more efficient. Even without customized tagging, there are many tag types that you can apply to your notebooks and notes. However, the option to add our own tags makes it a lot easier to find the right content, especially across hundreds of notes. Without a doubt, customized tagging is a feature that we want to see in every note-taking app.

Available Platforms

onenote platforms
OneNote’s available platforms.

OneNote is available as a Windows app for desktop and as a web-based app on macOS, iOS, and on Android phones and tablets. To get the most out of OneNote, it is our recommendation that you use the desktop version and web app in conjunction, since this gives you all of the options at your disposal.

The application isn’t available for Linux and almost certainly never will be. If you are a Linux user, we recommend you use a notes app that has a dedicated Linux client, such as Simplenote. Evernote also has a Linux client in development.

onenote mobile
OneNote’s mobile app.

The mobile app — while definitely handy to have — isn’t nearly as well designed as some other note-taking apps. Compared to the mobile app for Zoho Notebook, OneNote comes off as both a chore to use and navigate through, and it’s aesthetically unappealing with its default pure-white background. The dark theme somewhat alleviates this, but only to a point.

Luckily, you can change the color of every page inside the mobile application to give it some much-needed visual contrast. When you create a page using the web or desktop app, the way you set it up will carry over to the mobile app. There’s also the option to create sticky notes. You can also open these in the Sticky Notes app on your Windows 10, which is a quick time-saver.

4. Security & Privacy

70 % – Decent

Keeping your thoughts, files and other data private is important for any software. This extends to note-taking apps, too. Microsoft’s own privacy statement is written in a style corporations adore: full of dry, legal language and devoid of any candid forthrightness. If privacy is a huge concern for you, a more transparent note app would be a better choice.

microsoft privacy policy
Microsoft’s privacy policy

While there isn’t a lot you can do to safeguard your personal info from Microsoft, there are ways that you can tweak your Windows 10 privacy settings to at least provide this corporation with less of your private and business data. You can also see more of our tips on how to stay safe on the web in this online privacy guide.

onenote password
Adding a password to a notebook in OneNote.

When it comes to security, OneNote allows you to lock notebooks and their individual sections with a password. Two-step verification is also available, and we always recommend everyone turn on this feature whenever possible. Two-step verification will greatly reduce the chances that anyone will find a way to access your personal data and information.

OneDrive lacks zero-knowledge encryption, which is another privacy concern. When it comes to file transfers, OneDrive has in-transit and at-rest encryption support. For in-transit encryption, it uses TLS with AES 256-bit encryption, while at-rest files are encrypted with Microsoft’s proprietary BitLocker encryption method. It also adds a 256-bit encryption.

BitLocker has been a standard part of every Windows since Vista, so it is also available on Windows 10. If a security breach does occur and someone gains access to your data, you will be alerted of this via a notification service. For further information, we recommend you read our OneDrive security article.

The Verdict

Microsoft OneNote is still a great free note-taking app. Coming preinstalled on Windows 10 devices, OneNote is filled with time-saving productivity tools that other note applications do not have. If you want to make use of its OCR, dictation tool, and audio and video features, then OneNote could be the ideal choice for you and your business.

However, if its tentative privacy policy, frequent syncing issues and 5GB of storage space are an automatic turnoff, Evernote, Google Keep and Zoho Notebook could be a better choice for your note-taking needs. All of these come with free versions, so they are a good alternative to Microsoft OneNote.

What’s your opinion of Microsoft OneNote? Do you still use it, or have you switched to another note-taking app? Tell us your OneNote stories in the comments below. You’ve read this far, so why not check out some of our other articles here? As always, thank you for reading our OneNote review.

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11 thoughts on “OneNote”

  1. it is a disaster. Do not waste your time and money on it.
    Microsoft developpers probably never, never, use what they develop

    Reply
  2. I have had a ton of issues with OneNote. It is absolutely amazing in theory, but the execution is disappointing at best. I constantly have issues with OneNote crashing, not syncing properly, and losing my work. Many of my colleagues have had similar issues. When I try to “print” PPTs or PDFs to OneNote they often come out rotated improperly and there is no function within OneNote to correct it, though they’ve been aware of the issue for years. I have to have a completely separate program through which I print my files for them to turn out right. The highlighting function will make images and text disappear, and any time I attempt to change the zoom it crashes though that is not the only time it does. I cannot go more than 30 minutes without it crashing, so if you use the program for work or school it becomes quite frustrating. I have contacted support several times to try to resolve the issue, with no response. I have uninstalled and reinstalled the program and I keep my computer updated regularly. At this point I am giving up on this product until they can deliver the basic functionality that should come without question.

    Reply
  3. Currently also have terrible problems with this App. Their customer support is TERRIBLE. Constantly forwarding you to someone else who DOESN’T know what to do and pushing it to ANYONE else. I have written 5GB of notes over the last 6 months on this App. Of course I ran out of the free space and the new OneNote DOESN’T allow you to save these notes to your actual computer or external hard drive anymore. You have to use their OneDrive account which caps at 5GB unless you pay. So I decided to pay to increase my data cap to 50GB. Now my notes will NOT Sync into OneDrive, I can’t access them on any other device other than my computer. And now I can’t even export my notes OUT of OneNote because they removed the backup function on the App so you are FORCED to use their OneDrive. So now essentially 5GB and 6 months of notes are wasted. Absolutely terrible product. Terrible customer support. Wish I would have read these reviews prior to using this App. All they want is your money and force you to pay for data storage. Absolutely terrible.

    Reply
  4. As of 19 July 2019 search in hand-written notes does not work, regardless of what Microsoft advertises. I have seen instances on other people’s devices where it worked on a few pages but not on others. There doesn’t appear any logic that determines whether or not it can in fact search your hand-written notes. The app gives no indication why this doesn’t work. E.g. it could say that it doesn’t search element x on a page because …. or something like that. It could say that my handwriting is too bad so it cannot decipher it. Or it could say the feature is not available for the account that I have. Or it could say the OCR service is not available. Or whatever. Just something. All Microsoft does is advertising this feature while in fact it is essentially non-working. Not being able to search in my handwritten notes: I already had that with the paper-based notebook for a couple of dollars and a pencil. No high-tech required. Sad!

    Reply
  5. I have to admit, that in the beginning I had many issues getting myself set up with one note, but since then, it has been an absolute lifesaver. All of my documents are in one area, I can access them from every computer I own and Id have to say I use it everyday, I literally could not go without using this program.

    Reply
  6. *** WARNING WARNING *** NEVER USE THIS APP !!! EVER !!!! It is wonderful, pretty, colorful, easy to use and DANGEROUS !!!! Two or three years ago began to use it and thought it was a great little app. Had tons of data stored in it – THEN – one fine day BAM!! all gone. No notes – nothing left and on checking cloud, ipad, iphone and MacBook Pro – all gone. So time passed and I thought – Oh well give it another chance – it is a pretty nice app – then after 4 or so months BAM !! again ALL DATA LOST !!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now here we have a company with a turnover of USD$110 billion – the CEO gets paid about $25.8 million – and they frigging cant design a simple reliable app to take notes. Beyond belief !!! If you happen to like this app – then good for you – but dont think what happened to me cant happen to you !!! Great for shopping lists but for serious users DUMP IT !

    Reply
    1. It’s called backup buddy. Sometimes you must lose data in order to understand what backup means. Whats up with the capital letters and multiple exclamation points?

      Reply
  7. It actually sucks. I use it for school and whenever I try to use it on my phone. YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND THE STRUGGLE. Like i wknt even try to explain. It works fine on a laptop… Ok. But trust me. You DO NOT want to try it anywhere else. Ive warned you. It will seriously get on your nerves
    Absolute HORRIBLE controls. Dont even tty to insert an image from your phone. Thats just the worst idea youd possibly ever have

    And thats it.

    Byebye

    Reply
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