Why I Switched from Evernote to OneNote

Evernote and OneNote are the two most popular cross-platform note-taking apps. In this article, I’ll compare features and tell why I switched from Evernote to OneNote.

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My Evernote Story

I was a happy user of Evernote for many years and didn’t mind paying for it. I used it for keeping track of client info, keeping my “lab notes” on work I do on client websites, taking notes at seminars, and writing down names of people I meet at business and social events (because I’m terrible at remembering names).

Then, Evernote did a major code overhaul to streamline its development process. They went from having separate codebases for each platform (Windows, Mac, etc.) to having a common web app codebase with the Windows and Mac apps as simply browsers running the web app.

This change actually made good sense. In addition to faster development time, this meant that the features of all versions could be unified, whereas before the Mac app had different features than the Windows app.

But, there was a huge sacrifice of features in the process causing an outcry from many users. For me, there was only one basic feature that was lost: Evernote no longer “remembered” the last note I was working on or sorting order per folder. I waited a while for this feature to be added back, then finally jumped to OneNote, figuring, why am I paying for this when there’s a free alternative that does what I want?

By the time you read this, Evernote might have added this feature, and there are some great things about Evernote, so keep reading to help make your decision.

What They Both Can Do

Both Evernote and OneNote are great note-taking apps. Both organize notes into “notebooks”. In OneNote, you can add sections to a notebook to organize your notes within the notebook. In Evernote, you can create “stacks” of notebooks that kind of accomplish the same thing organizationally (they appear as nested notebooks). I prefer OneNote’s approach but that is just my opinion.

Both let you clip content from the web and embed images and PDFs.

Both store data in the cloud and sync across devices.

Now, let’s talk about the pros and cons of each.

What’s Great About Evernote

Evernote is a more streamlined app, which is a great thing. 

For example, the Evernote app limits you to just six fonts, while OneNote Windows app gives you access to the hundreds of fonts in your OS.  In my mind, fewer fonts are better. There’s no reason you need hundreds of fonts to take notes!  The same is true of the formatting options.  Evernote has a few, while OneNote has the dreaded Microsoft ribbon (which I hide). In my mind, a minimal set of features is best for a note-taking app.

Evernote app for Windows
Evernote app for Windows

Evernote is also known for its great web clipper, and it’s better at displaying embedded images and PDFs.

I also love Evernote’s keyboard shortcuts. You create a divider by pressing “-” three times in a row, then hitting enter for example. You can create a bullet list simply by entering a dash and space (in OneNote, it is CTRL-period). There are many others.

What’s Not So Great About Evernote

I already mentioned my main beef with Evernote, which is that it doesn’t remember your sorting setting per folder. There are some folders where I want the notes in chronological; for example, notes from seminars that I attend. There are other folders where I want the notes in alphabetical order, like my client notes.

I switch between these types of folders often, but Evernote doesn’t remember what note you were on when you switch. So, when you do switch between notes in different folders, you’ll have to re-sort and re-find the note you were on every single time!

The frustrating part is that this isn’t rocket science. Evernote could probably fix these annoyances in a day!

The other big issue is that if you want to sync between more than two devices, you’ll need to get Evernote’s paid plan for $8.99/month. That might not be a big deal, but OneNote is free in comparison.

Finally, a minor beef for me is the Evernote mobile app’s welcome screen, which is cluttered and useless. I’d rather just have Evernote start off where you left off, which is what the OneNote app does.

Evernote’s web app often launches to a useless welcome screen, when I really just want to go back to the last thing I was working on.
The OneNote mobile app always remembers where you left off and starts you off there when you re-launch.

What’s Great About OneNote

What I love about OneNote is that it remembers everything about your folders including the sorting order and the last note you looked at. So, if you jump around between two notes in different folders, you don’t have to re-sort and re-search to find them. This is a no-brainer and it’s baffling why Evernote doesn’t have this.

For better or worse, OneNote has way more features than Evernote such as pen support, speech recognition, and a ton of other stuff that I’ll never use. But, if you do find these useful, OneNote could be for you.

When you launch the mobile app, it shows you the last thing you were working on, not a useless welcome screen like Evernote does.

On top of all of this, OneNote is free!

What’s Not So Great About OneNote

OneNote has way more fonts, formatting options, and features than I’ll ever use, which means the UI is more bloated than it needs to be.

I’m also not crazy about being able to place note “containers” anywhere in the editor area. For example, if you click on the far right of the OneNote editor screen, it will open a note container there and you can start typing in that area. Not a show-stopper, just a bit annoying. In Evernote, wherever you click in the editor, you start at the end of the currently entered text, which is the way it should be for a simple note-taking app!

OneNote app for Windows
OneNote app for Windows showing note container on the right

Bafflingly, OneNote has no horizontal divider like Evernote does. In the forums, they advise you to manually draw a horizontal line instead, which is a ludicrous solution.

Like all Microsoft apps, OneNote doesn’t recognize SHIFT-CTRL-V to paste without formatting. You have to right-click and select it in the options. Annoying because I do a lot of copying and pasting into notes.

Embeds don’t display as intuitively in OneNote. For example, PDFs display at the end of the note instead of where you embedded them. When I drag a portrait mode image into OneNote, it displays landscape and I have manually rotate it. Evernote just displays images the right way from the get-go.

To Sum Up

As a long-time user of Evernote and a recent convert to OneNote, I can say that Evernote and OneNote are both very worthy and capable note-taking apps.  They both have their strong points and quirks, meaning that neither is definitively better in all situations.

Evernote is more streamlined with fewer settings and has a better web clipper. It’s better at displaying embedded images and PDFs. But there’s a monthly fee if you want to share data between more than two devices.

OneNote is free and has a lot more settings and bells & whistles such as speech-to-text and drawing support using a pen or your mouse. These features can be good if you need them but just add to UI bloat if you don’t.

I like the streamlined feature set of Evernote, but I prefer the overall aesthetics of OneNote.

The infuriating behavior of the revamped Evernote that drove me to switch is that it doesn’t remember which note you’re in when you leave a notebook, nor does it remember your sorting order settings per folder.  So, if you jump around between notes a lot (as I do), you’ll continually have to re-search for notes.  OneNote remembers everything so you can jump between notebooks and it will go to the last note you were viewing in that notebook. This is probably the biggest reason I switched, yet it probably could be easily fixed by Evernote.

Choose Wisely, Because…

Amazingly, I wasn’t able to find a mainstream tool to migrate my Evernote notes to OneNote. Microsoft does have a OneNote migration page but the link to the migration tool goes nowhere. I wasn’t able to quickly find a migration tool for the other direction either. Let me know in the comments if you find any good migration tools in either direction.

I ended up migrating by hand gradually over a period of weeks. Crazy in this day and age that that is necessary!

I hope this article was helpful to you! Please leave a question or comment below. – Brian

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