One of the downsides of adopting (b)leading edge technology is that often you only get 80% of the functionality you want. It seems you’re that customer that needs just slightly more than the MVP (Mininimum Viable Product).

Such is it with Note Taking Apps…


Evernote has been the bedrock of note taking apps for people with multiple devices in different ecosystems. If you only used Apple, you could get away with the Apple Notes app. Microsoft users could use OneNote. And Android/Linux users with Google Apps. But if you had an iPhone, with a PC, and an Android tablet, Evernote was for you.

Evernote is still arguably the default “go to” app for note taking. Apart from working on every device it also integrates to everything:

  • LinkedIn for scanning your business cards and establishing connections
  • Your browser to clip websites
  • Scanners and mobile device cameras
  • Outlook and Gmail
  • Moleskin notebooks (you can get stickers that automatically tag photos taken of Moleskin notes)
  • And many, many more. Even apps that aren’t listed integrate to Evernote (like Genius Scan). And with the functionality of Zapier and the more powerful If This Then That, you can create a note from anything.

When it comes to multi-format notes, however, I hit that 80% functionality. Almost, but no cigar. You can include audio (but not video), photo, text, and ink. But only in a linear format. This is not like a paper notebook, or even a word processor, where you can integrate text around a photo, annotated with Ink. Functionally this is about capturing the thought, not structuring it. Which is a particular approach. Ultimately if you just want to recall the information, this is quicker, simpler, and more robust.

However if it’s the context you want to recall, this could be a limitation. Admittedly not without a workaround. You could use another app to create the multi-format note, and then import this to Evernote. Given the ability to search within notes, you’ll still be able to recall anything you need in an instant, anywhere you need it.

There is a separate app for Annotations, Skitch, that allow you to store these annotations in a notebook, or even embed them in a note. Skitch is brilliant for quick tutorials, or scanning a document and blurring out private information etc. This is a quick tutorial I made for a friend on setting the timer on their iPhone camera.

There is also another app dedicated to inking, Penultimate, and again you can store Penultimate pages in an Evernote Notebook, but having to open separate apps is not ideal.

Surprisingly, however, the inking tools within Evernote are pretty damn good.

There are four very simple tools:

  1. A pen with limited width & colour options
  2. A highlighter with limited width & colour options
  3. An eraser with limited width options — and crucially –
  4. A lassoo tool that allows you to move, copy, cut & paste anything you’ve inked

So very limited tools, but plenty good enough for jotting down notes. The lassoo tool is surprisingly helpful as you can perform digital operations on anything you’ve written/drawn, like copy, paste, move, enlarge, etc. (& it’s missing from pretty much all other iOS note apps apart from Paper by 53)

Collaborating from Evernote is another one of the not-quite-there features.

You can share notebooks with other people, and unless you’re running Evernote for Business, with anyone. Chances are, however, if you’re saving work notes, you’re in breach of your company’s IT security policy just using Evernote as it’s back-ended in the public cloud, let alone sharing them with people outside your company. (Of course this is ridiculous considering you could just as easily photocopy your paper notebook)

Whilst anyone that has access to a shared notebook can update the note, they can’t do that synchronously. Which makes it tough for multiple people to take minutes, or collaborate remotely, in a web conference.

There is “Work Chat” but this is more of an IM style client rather than a collaboration tool. The chat is attached to the notebook, so easy to use to recall context for a given note. However, my experience is that if people want to do that, they’re already using the much more powerful Slack, or even What’s App for those conversations.

One of the newer features where Evernote excels is the camera integration. It will automatically scan a document, and figure out if it is a document, business card, or other type of photo. If a document of business card, Evernote will automatically sort out keystone, contrast levels etc. If a business card, it will reach out to your LinkedIn account, determine if the contact is on LinkedIn and automatically send a connection request, as well as an email. You can configure this behaviour in settings, but I’ve found for networking events, this is a godsend. Simply snap all the cards in your coat pocket, and connect to your new chums on LinkedIn (or via email)

Additionally the cards are stored as an (searchable) image, along with recognised fields in a text Evernote note.

Evernote is also brilliant both for storing notes in a way that makes it easy to retrieve, and for searching for anything:

  • Notes taken at a specific time? Sure.
  • Tagged Notes? Done.
  • Text? Of course.
  • Handwriting? Sure.
  • Text within a picture? Yep.
  • Notes taken in a specific location? Yes. Yes. Yes.

Ultimately this is probably the best note taking tool for people with multiple devices, needing to integrate with multiple (cloud based) applications, that takes lots of notes, using many media (audio, photo, text, ink), and doesn’t work for a company. (At least for their corporate notes)

For corporate users, not so much. (Unless you’re using Evernote for Business)

Microsoft OneNote

Oh OneNote, how before your time you were.

OneNote suffered from the Microsoft proprietary syndrome. It is a brilliantly designed, tested, and functional tool. But you had to be running Windows. Brilliant within the enterprise. Fantastic if all of your devices were Windows.

Now of course OneNote has apps across all of the eco-systems. Unlike Evernote, not all of the native apps share all of the features, but you get most of them, and you can see MS have this in their roadmap.

If you want to take corporate notes on the iPad Pro, integrated with MS Sharepoint, secured by your company user ID (in Active Directory). This is the tool for you.

Even as a personal user, you may prefer the UI and functionality of OneNote. It has remained firmly in the skew amorphism school of UI. The interface looks just like a paper notebook, complete with tabs for projects, and pages within the tabs. You can colour code, and share to your heart’s content.

Refreshingly you can begin any type of medium anywhere on the page. Even on the iPad. Frustratingly you cannot lassoo and move/copy anything in an iPad OneNote note, like you can on the PC.

OneNote also excels on the PC by allowing you to record directly from a web cam and embed the video in a note. Anywhere in the note. Unfortunately on the iPad you can’t. This is one of the 80% features that has to be in a roadmap.

The inking on OneNote is really good. Much better than in Evernote. You get:

  • Eraser with width options
  • Pen with more graduated width and limitless colour options
  • Ditto for a felt tip marker
  • Ditto for a highlighter
  • A “convert to shapes” button. Which allows you to draw basic shapes: circle, square, rectangle, triangle and will automatically convert these. If you’ve ever whiteboarded a complex design or org structure before and ended up with a dog’s (spaghetti) breakfast, this is the tool for you.

Apart from lacking tools found in other editions of OneNote (lassoo, video), OneNote is so limited with integrations. You can clip from the web (but not as neatly as the Clearly tool on Evernote), you can save meeting notes and emails from Outlook, and you can send to OneNote from Office Tools. But that’s about it. No LinkedIn, which is invalauble for a business traveller.

There is another app for taking photos and integrating these into OneNote, called Office Lens. This is a good application, and does an pretty good job of capturing documents and whiteboards.

But it is another app and doesn’t have quite the same recognition capabilities of the Evernote camera feature.

Finally OneNote suffers on the Sync front too. OneNote back-ends either to OneDrive, OneDrive for Business (Sharepoint), or Dropbox. Unless you select the actual tab within a notebook, it doesn’t sync. Firstly you have to have an account, then you have to download the tab. Even then syncing is just not as quick or seamless as Evernote.

If your iPad Pro is for corporate use, and/or you mostly use Microsoft tools, this is a very good Note Taking tool.

For me, I use Evernote extensively for personal notes: lists, trip planning, gift wishlists, conferences, as well as integrations from my IoT devices (like FitBit), tracking my travel, web research. Whilst I do have a work notebook in Evernote, on the iPad Pro I’ll be using OneNote to replace my work paper notebook.

Paper by 53

You can take notes in Paper, but it’s really a sketchbook application.

And a brilliant one at that.

Paper fully realises the benefit of the Pencil, including pressure sensitivity, shading, pigment control etc. I love Paper’s UI. The way notes are arranged when you open a notebook. The configurability of the tools. The pens, including the fountain pen, and the watercolour paintbrush, both of which take advantage of the angle and pressure you exert on the stylus.

Where Paper may fall down is when you have hundreds of thousands of notes. I rather suspect it won’t be quite so easy to find what you’re looking for. No search, as far as I could tell.

Paper is the easiest application in which makes lists. Enter text. Swipe to the right, and voia, it’s now part of a list, complete with empty checkbox.

Nevertheless, I think Paper will only ever be a personal sketching app for me.

Apple Notes

Finally this application has grown up. At least compared to the text based input of previous editions.

Unsurprisingly, Notes has the best integration with the usability of the Pencil. If you want to jot things down, or create a quick sketch, I’d recommend Apple Notes. If you want to share these with friends or family, this is easy. However, unlike Evernote or OneNote, I don’t believe your intended audience can update notes.

The best feature by far is the ruler in Notes. You can move it, rotate it at any angle, which is displayed. The writing implement automatically snaps to the ruler, making it a doddle to draw straight lines. Also the length of the line you draw is displayed along the edge of the ruler, again making sketching of abstract shapes really easy.

I really like notes, and may use it for brainstorming.

Final Note

Note taking is a curious combination of your personal and professional life. Even professional notes will occasionally have very personal thoughts “he’s a douchebag”, or doodles. Ultimately whether to write, sketch, type, or scan paper/whiteboards is dependent on how much freedom you want in your drawing/writing. It’s dependent on whether you’re happy for your notes to reside on the cloud, or within a corporate network for that matter.

I like elements from all of the applications reviewed here. If only they were all in one application.

Evernote is certainly my primary choice. Just being able to recall a note based on location, or snap and share an item (searchable) that grabs your eye, makes it invaluable. I use Evernote everyday.

OneNote has won back my heart. Although only for corporate notes, and on the iPad Pro, primarily for handwriting. It simply doesn’t have the integration with all of the cloud services I need, such as LinkedIn etc. However, it does integrate seamlessly into Microsoft Office. So creating a meeting note from a calendar appointment, or saving an annotation to Powerpoint makes this a powerfull enterprise application.

Paper good for drawing, annotating, painting, writing, pretty much anything creative you can do with your Pencil. For storage, recall, or collaboration, not so much.

Apple notes is great if I want to sketch a quick document, but I’m likely to be pushing these to Evernote or OneNote anyway. So you may as well ink directly in one of those two applications.

What note-taking app(s) do you prefer?

Next week: Battery life.

Posted with Blogsy

Originally published on Wordpress

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