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OneNote alternatives: A comparison of digital notebooks

How many times have you forgotten your shopping list at home? How many notes and stickers with reminders do you have lying around? Do you often have good ideas only to realize you do not have your notebook on you? The simple solution to this common problem is a digital notebook. With a digital notebook, you have all your notes on you at all times, easily accessible via Smartphone, even when you are on the go.

Microsoft is the market leader of digital notebooks with OneNote, which is included in the current MS-Office, and is also available individually for free. The program has quickly grown into one of the world’s most popular in the field. The downside: OneNote is primarily for Windows users. The OneNote app is available on other platforms, such as Linux, macOS, Android, or iOS, but only with limited functions. As a result, many users are on the search for suitable alternatives. Good alternatives to OneNote can be found in this overview.

Outline: OneNote’s best friend

Whether it is school, university, work, or everyday use, the digital notebook Outline is very popular with Apple users. This app is particularly suitable if you want to record notes on your smartphone or tablet on the go. The best part? Outline is totally compatible with OneNote. The App combines the strongest aspects of OneNote and adds additional features – making Outline one of the best OneNote alternatives.

A definite advantage is clarity: Just like OneNote, you can collect your notes in different books, which in turn can then be organized into as many tabs as required. Under these, you can create an unlimited amount of additional pages. The principle resembles a filing cabinet. It is simple to operate, allowing you to swiftly manage your books according to your personal themes. Your notes can be placed on the whiteboard and restructured according to preference. Your OneNote notes can also be transferred, opened and edited on Apple’s Outline. Apple’s chic design gives everything the finishing touch. Alternatively, you can also download OneNote’s format.

In terms of text formatting, all the essential tools you might need are there, including word processing tools such as Word. Additionally, there is a drawing function which allows you to draw by yourself, or select prescribed shapes such as circles, rectangles, or arrows. The integrated search function allows you to easily go through your notes. You can find your notes even faster when you prioritize single words with tags. You can allocate passwords to your notebooks, to protect them from unauthorized access.

With regards to multimedia, Outline is versatile: You can insert pictures, graphics, and screenshots in your notes, as well as videos or voice messages. You can print single notes directly or save them in Word or in PDF format respectively. Furthermore, PDF documents can be labeled and commented on.

Additionally, you have the opportunity to share your notebooks with colleagues or friends by e-mail, and invite them to create shared notes. To do this, select your preferred cloud and save your notes for example on iCloud drive, Box, OneDrive, SharePoint, or Dropbox. Highly sensitive notes should be protected and kept offline.

Tip

Note that creating shared notes with other OneNote users is only possible when using Microsoft’s own Cloud OneDrive.

Disadvantages: Outline requires a fee – which is not that surprising considering the wide range of functions. With its attractive OneNote compatibility, many users are happy to pay for it. Even though the app is extremely reliable, there are occasionally synchronization errors. In particular, the transferring of hand-written notes is not always successful. Even though Outline has many convincing aspects, the program only catches the interest of Apple users.

Advantages Disadvantages
Compatible with OneNote Requires a fee
Clear, easy to use Only for iOS and macOS
Multimediality: drawing function, audio and voice files, Excel sheets, graphics, PDF files, to-do lists Occasional synchronization errors (primarily with hand written notes)
Integrated search functions, prioritization of tags Creating shared notes with other OneNote users is only possible with OneDrive
‘Share with friends’ function  
PDF-files can be edited and commented on  
Password function  
Create and send notes by e-mail  
Choose between different cloud systems (iCloud Drive, Box, OneDrive, Dropbox)  

Do you dislike working with Apple, and prefer to use other platforms instead? There are more very good OneNote alternatives still to come.

Evernote: More features but more expensive

Evernote can offer everything that Outline is missing: Thanks to suitable apps, the virtual notebook is completely functional on all platforms and can be used just as well on a smartphone or tablet as on an iPhone, iPad, BlackBerry, or on the web. When new features become available, they are available on all operating systems at the same time. Because of this, Evernote is one step ahead of its opponents and enjoys growing popularity as a OneNote alternative.

With regards to clarity, text formatting, and multimedia, Evernote is comparable to Microsoft’s OneNote. With Evernote, you can also create as many notebooks as you want. Inside, you can collect your notes chronologically, like a folder. For every new note, you can assign keywords which you can use to re-find relevant notes. The keywords work the same way with inserted pictures, tables, PDFs, or Office documents.

Evernote offers many interesting features, such as offline mode or searchable PDF files. However, the majority of the additional functions are only available in the fee-paying versions Evernote Plus and Evernote Premium. The free of charge basic rate on the other hand, is massively restricted. With this rate, only the search function, the passcode lock, as well as the ability to share and comment on notes by friends and acquaintances are integrated. Also, you have access to 60MB per month for uploads, and you can only synchronize between two devices. In the fee-paying, premium version you receive 10GB per month, and you can synchronize your notes limitlessly between all devices.

Disadvantages: While Evernote can offer many interesting features, the majority are unfortunately only available in the fee-paying version. Therefore, at the first glance, the program seems to be especially multifaceted. A further shortcoming is its user-friendliness. Since the software can be connected to countless apps and web applications – for example, the daily weather report – the notebook can quickly become overloaded. However, those who work regularly with Evernote will become accustomed to how it operates.

Advantages Disadvantages
Compatible with any platform; features on all platforms function equally Full spectrum of features only available in the fee-paying Premium packet
Integrated search function (search for notes using key words) The basic plan is greatly reduced, e.g. there is no offline function
Multimediality: Pictures, tables, PDF and Office files, audio and voices messages, to-do lists Not easy to use; extra effort needed with key word allocation
Memory function  
Integration with Google Drive  
Share and discuss notes  
Password lock  
Web-frontend  
Professional features available for business customers (scan your business cards, presentation etc.)  

Simplenote: The understated alternative to OneNote

If you prefer a notebook that is simple and effective at the same time, without having a lot of features, then you will be in good hands with Simplenote. The program is completely free and simplicity is its strongest characteristic. As the name implies, it is an easy to use notebook which allows you to create notes on any platform such as iOS, Android, Mac, Windows, Linux, or on the web.

In order to use Simplenote, you have to register for free with the provider. All of your notes will automatically be saved to your account without a fixed data limit. In any case, it is recommended that your notes do not exceed 1,000 words in length, to avoid affecting the memory process.

Similarly to Evernote, your notes are organized chronologically by creation date and you can also organize them alphabetically. You can prioritize your notes with tags, so that they can be found quickly on the search list. This means you always have your important notes in view.

You can use your account to share notes with other Simplenote users. The share function can also be used through e-mail or social media networks such as Facebook. A password lock can protect your notebook from unauthorized access.

Disadvantages: In terms of the range of functions, Simplenote offers very little in comparison to its competitors. This suits people who prefer a notebook with a simple text format – especially because the program supports the popular Markdown language, which allows for simple design options. However, multimedia features or the ability to insert or edit documents are not available.

Another downside is that the program only exists in English. Furthermore, you have to log into your Simplenote account every time you use the program if you want to create or share notes.

Advantages Disadvantages
Free on all platforms (iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, Linux, and web) Limited range of functions
It is manageable; quick and easy operation Only comes in text format – picture files can be introduced using the extra tool Markdown.
Integrated search function, possibility of prioritizing using tags Languages: only English
‘Share notes’ function Requires logging into a Simplenote account
Automatic back-ups  
Password lock  

Google Keep: Wherever, whenever – record your ideas anywhere

Those who want to record their ideas in a quick and simple way will find Google Keep just right. The free program is particularly suited to Smartphone users who want to jot down and save their thoughts on the go. As a result of this, Google Keep is a suitable and easy to use alternative to OneNote.

Google Keeps works a bit like a bulletin board: your notes are laid out on the display screen like post-its which can also be marked in color. One particularly special feature is that with the Android app, you can even dictate your notes instead of typing them.

Fact

Google Keep is available as an app for Android and iOS, as well as a web application. There is also an additional Chrome extension. Synchronizing between devices works through the in-house cloud Google Drive. With Google Drive you have access to 15GB storage space, free of charge. However, you will need a Google account in order to use Google Keep.

Google Keep doesn’t just let you make notes and checklists, it also allows you to save photos and documents which you can then share with other users. Use the integrated search bar to find all your notes and content. A plus: the memory function, so you will never forget another appointment.

You can see exactly how Google Keep works in this video:

Disadvantages: Even though Google Keep is impressively fast and user-friendly, the available functions are limited compared to Evernote and Outline. Additionally, there is no option to create individual folders; it only has the big bulletin board that all the notes are pinned to.

Advantages Disadvantages
Free Fewer functions than Outline or Evernote
It is manageable; quick and easy operation More suitable for spontaneous notes, less so as a long-term notebook
Integrated search function, key words Not possible to create your own folders
Draw function  
To-do lists  
Memory function  
Multimediality: voice memos, photos  
Integration in Google Drive  
Chic design (colorful post-its)  

Wunderlist: The talented organizer

Wunderlist gives you a dependable task manager that you can create quick and easy to-do lists with. Your notes or tasks are shown in lists that can be created indefinitely and individually.  When a task is completed, you can delete the note or the entire list. The structure can be broken down into subtasks, which is helpful when making large plans. In the free version, you can create up to 25 subtasks per task. If you choose the paid version Wunderlist Pro, there is no restriction.

Fact

Wunderlist functions seamlessly on all devices. The app is available for free on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android, Windows, Kindle Fire, and Apple Watch, and as a web application.

A further asset is that your notes can be prioritized using asterisks or hashtags. The search function displays all prioritized notes after the creation date. There is also a memory function so that you don’t forget any tasks.

The best part? With Wunderlist you can plan group projects. Invite your friends, acquaintances, and colleagues and create group to-do lists. You can assign tasks to one another, exchange notes, and chat together. In the free version, 25 assignments per shared list can be made. Furthermore, you can upload up to 5MB of files: photos, tables, videos etc. In this instance, the inexpensive Wunderlist Pro option is worth it, as you can access all these functions without restriction.

Disadvantages: While Wunderlist has fewer features and tools than Outline or Evernote, it does offer more structure and clarity than Google Keep. However, the main focus remains limited to the creation of to-do lists. As a result, the OneNote alternative Wunderlist is more suitable for short-term tasks and group projects. In addition, the complete range of functions is only freely available in the fee-paying Wunderlist Pro version. Another potential downside: In the Android, iPhone, and iPad apps there are different user options to the Mac, Windows, and web application versions.

Note

Wunderlist is now a part of Microsoft and will be marketed under the name Microsoft To-Do in the future.

Advantages Disadvantages
Free, includes all the features and tools from the paid version to a limited extent Fewer functions than Evernote or Outline
Manageable: quick and easy to use Unlimited uploads, to-do lists and assignments are only available in the paid version
Integrated search function, prioritization is possible (asterisks or hashtags) Operates differently on Android, iPhone, and iPad to Mac, Windows and on the web
To-do lists, assign tasks, create subtasks etc. More suitable for spontaneous notes and group projects than as a comprehensive notebook
Comment function  
Multimedia: all file formats, from photos to tables, presentations, videos, voice memos etc.  
‘Split list’ function  
Memory function, due date  
Create notes or tasks by e-mail  
Chic design (different background themes available)  

Memonic: Keep the overview together?

Memonic is also a very popular digital notebook amongst users. There is a free of charge and a paid version of the program. In the free version you can create up to 100 notes, as well as 3 group projects per month. On top of that, you are permitted 2MB per file attachment. If you opt for the Premium version, you can make unrestricted use of all the features. The file attachment size allowance increases to 20MB per file. Premium users can also use the ‘collection mode’, which is helpful when undertaking extensive web research.

Fact

The Premium version is available free of charge for students.

One of the unique aspects of Memonic is that, similar to social networks, you can choose to make your entries private and visible only to yourself, your friends, or public to all users. You can also make groups and create shared notes. Discuss your projects together directly using the integrated mail function or share your notes over social networks such as Facebook or Twitter. You can save content from the web directly into Memonic using the additional tool Web Clipper.

Memonic also scores big points in terms of multimedia. Not only do you get a multifunctional text tool, but you can also embed documents, graphics, videos etc. at the same time. Tags help you prioritize your notes and locate things quickly on the search list. Last but not least, there is a wide variety of background themes available to choose from.

Tip

Memonic functions seamlessly on all devices. The app is available for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Android and Windows, and as a web application.

You can see exactly how Memonic works in this video:

Disadvantages: Memonic has the potential to shine as a OneNote alternative, however, you only get unrestricted access to all the tools and features with the paid version. Since Memonic works as a social network, you should be careful of what notes you want to share with the public: be sure to check the privacy settings. Those who are cautious with security should opt for the private setting and then manually share individual notes.

Advantages Disadvantages
Free version: Limited access to all the tools features in the paid version (exception: ‘collection mode’ function) Fewer functions than Outline or Evernote, focus on group projects
Paid version is free for students Creating unlimited notes and groups, 20 MB attachment size, ‘collection mode’: these are only available in the paid version
Compatible with all platforms; features function equally well on all platforms  
Manageable; quick and easy to use  
Integrated search function, allocation of keywords  
Multimedia: Graphics, tables, documents in Word, PDF, etc.  
Share function on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Ability to comment directly  
Create and forward notes by e-mail  
Chic design (different background options)  

Alternatives to OneNote: A comparison of the characteristics and functions.

Characteristics/ Functions OneNote (free) Outline (€€) Evernote – Basic (free) Evernote – Premium (€€€) Simplenote (free) Google Keep (free)
Compatible with Windows, macOS, Android, iOS & Co. - iOS und macOS ✓ (can be synchronized on two devices) ✓ (can be synchronized on all devices)
Wide range of features ✓✓✓ ✓✓✓ ✓✓ (does not include all features) ✓✓✓
Cloud storage 5 GB (subscribers to MS-Office get 1TB) ✓ (several to choose from) 60 MB 10 GB ✓ No choices 15 GB
Clarity ✓✓✓ ✓✓✓ ✓✓ ✓✓ ✓✓
Easy to use ✓✓ ✓✓ ✓✓✓ ✓✓✓
Wide range of text formatting tools ✓✓✓ ✓✓✓ ✓✓ ✓✓✓
Content sharing with other users
Create notes using e-mail - -
Save content from the web (✓)
Integrated search function
Multimedia features ✓✓✓ ✓✓✓ ✓✓ ✓✓✓ - ✓✓
Editing and commenting on documents - - - -
Install add-ons for free ✓ z. B. Onetastik, OneNote Web Clipper, News360 No choices ✓ e.g. Evernote Clearly, Web Clipper ✓ e.g. DashNote, supports Markdown ✓ e.g. Chrome-extensions, Google calendere.g. Chrome-extensions, Google calender
Characteristics/ Functions Wunderlist (free) Wunderlist Pro (€) Memonic (free) Memonic Premium (€€)
Compatible with Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, and co.
Wide range of features ✓ (includes all features, but with restricted usage) ✓✓ (unrestricted access to features) ✓ (includes all features, but with restricted usage) ✓✓ (Features unlimited + collection mode)
Cloud storage 5 MB (per file) Unrestricted file access 2 MB (pro Datei) 20 MB (pro Datei)
Clarity ✓✓✓ ✓✓✓ ✓✓ ✓✓
Easy to use ✓✓✓ ✓✓✓ ✓✓✓ ✓✓✓
Wide range of Tools for Text formatting ✓✓ ✓✓
Content sharing with other users ✓ + chat function ✓ + chat function ✓ + group function ✓ + group function
Create Notes using email
Save content from the web
Integrated search function
Multimedia features ✓✓ ✓✓ ✓✓ ✓✓
Editing and commenting on documents - - - -
Install add-ons for free ✓ e.g. Add to Wunderlist, Heute-Widget ✓ e.g. create a Clip-Button, Click.to Application, Memonic Wordpress Plug-in
Tip

Those who want to upload their notes to wiki sites should take a look at the software Zim. Another interesting OneNote alternative is TiddlyWiki, a non-linear web notebook for sophisticated users.

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