Comparing Note Taking Apps: Evernote, OneNote, Simplenote, Zoho Notebooks
Notes worthy Mentions!
In this post, I will write about the different note taking applications that I have used to collaborate with my wife, who also happens to be my co-founder in our startup, Kamakshi Media. The top one (or two) apps will eventually become not just the preferred way that we communicate as husband and wife, but also as business owners. Equally importantly, I will use one of these apps to write my next novel. Which one I choose? Time will tell…but in this post, I talk about Evernote and OneNote of course, but some other interesting apps also find a mention.
Before you read further, I had a question for you: I’ve mentioned quite a few names of some good and some awesome apps. What resource(s) do you use to take notes and keep track of things happening around you? Post-It notes is a great answer too!
Multitude of note taking apps
The Story So Far…
Almost everyday, we use some note-taking application or another, starting from the evergreen Post-It notes, to taking notes in Evernote. The uses of these applications are manyfold, right from copying a recipe from a website, to travel directions, to managing expenses, and filing photographs. The convenience and the flexibility offered by such programs is amazing, and the best part is, that a majority of them have apps or applications for Windows and Mac for PC, and iOS and Android for smartphones. The keyword here is majority, in other words, not every application is available for every device. Linux users are typically left to look for alternatives or workarounds in lieu of full featured versions of these apps. The other challenge is Internet connectivity. Till today, Internet connectivity is quite patchy when one is no the road. Which makes it difficult to access Evernote, OneNote and Google Keep through the web browser when the Internet connectivity is poor.
I am and have been a happy user of Evernote. Because of their recent restriction of the number of devices which are linked to an account (atleast for the free version), I began looking for alternatives. I am not suggesting that I am a ‘freeloader’, that is, I do not wish to pay for using programs. Quite the opposite, in fact, I DO want to pay. But who gets my share of wallet would be decided after I looked at possible alternatives, and then opted for one which suits my needs the best. The recent development is that thanks to completing my 50,000 words during Nanowrimo in November, I am eligible to get 3 free months of an ‘upgrade’ version of Evernote. If that works well, I just might stick with them. But that’s a conversation for a later time.
The Problem of Plenty While Taking Notes
In our household, like many households these days, we have a plethora of devices. I use a Macbook Pro and also a Linux laptop. My phone(s) are android devices. My wife uses a Windows laptop for work, she uses an iPad at home, and she has an android phone. (Her work phone is a Blackberry, but she will soon trade it for another android phone.)
In other words, we wanted a note sharing app that would work on all of these devices, either as a native app or through a web browser. We were already using WhatsApp and emails to exchange noted back and forth. But soon, my wife began to complain of information overload, and rightfully so. She did not want to install multiple apps on her phone or computer, and I wouldn’t blame her. Every other day, there is some app update or the other, and each app takes up anywhere between 10 and 20 MB for an upgrade. So we wanted to keep our non-critical information sharing to one, at the most two devices. Thus began my quest for finding the notes sharing app that worked best for us.
Choosing Among Multiple Options
I shortlisted Six possible options that we could use, and evaluated each one of them for ease of installation, cross-device compatibility, need for Internet connectivity (or not), frequency of updates, etc. The contestants are as follows, in Alphabetical order:
c. Google Keep
Note that these are not the only options around, but I have used all of the above and therefore am writing about them.
Writing and Notetaking Apps
Now, let us see how they all fared:
While still in Public Beta, Dropbox paper has some really nifty features that makes it a very useful tool for taking notes, adding images, videos, and more importantly, collaborating with others. You can also set reminders, leave comments, or likes for updates, and other tasks that keep you away from emailing. You need a Dropbox account to use Dropbox Paper, and any documents created using Dropbox Paper do not count towards your Dropbox storage (Similar to Google Documents)
In my opinion, the following are the pros and the cons of using Dropbox Paper:
- Instant Backup in your Dropbox Account
- Access through App (Android, iOS) or web browser (phones, tablets and laptops)
- Intuitive user interface, short learning curve
- Great for Collaboration
- Using the app or the web version requires a working Internet connection.
- Slow to load even on my home wifi or 4G data connection.
(Note that the requirement for Internet may not be a ‘con’ for some people, but for us, net connectivity is really bad while we are on the road.)
Bottomline: I like it, but I do not think we can use it just yet. I did write the outline for this blog post using Dropbox Paper though! And while I am hardly a power user, I am leaving a few screenshots for you to get an idea about the ‘look and feel.”
Dropbox Paper App on Android Phone
Dropbox Paper — web version
Evernote is the Big daddy of note taking. I have been using it off and on for over three years now. Only recently have I decided to write an entire novel using Evernote: right from creating the outline, developing the plot, characters, adding research notes and images, the whole nine yards. But that is a separate blog post in itself. Minu and I were quite happy using Evernote occasionally, till one day she decided that she wanted to get rid of the app. She did not like using it, period. Around the same time, Evernote changed its policy and in the Free tier, one could only install it on two devices, so I began to use it on my phone and my Mac.
Evernote is a very, very useful note-taking tool. It has great formatting features, you can create “notebooks” such as Vacation Plans, Meeting Minutes, or even brainstorming ideas for our next Podcast launch. Using tools like Multcloud or IFTTT (If This Then That) you an integrate it with Google Docs or Dropbox, or even save your Tweets or Instagram images in EverNote. You can create tasks, set reminders, and even chat with collaborators. The Pro features are even more powerful, offering a bigger storage, among features.
- Cross Platform (Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, even Linux though not officially supported)
- Beautiful intuitive interface
- Powerful collaboration tools
- Backup and Sync functions are great
- Ability to create separate notebooks, tag them as per topic or geography.
- Integration with Dropbox, Google Drive through third party apps.
- Internet Connection Not required to create, update or read notes.
- Evernote Clipper is a great way to save web pages and articles of interest into your Evernote account.
- High level of automation through IFTTT makes it a great productivity and collaboration tool.
- Free tier is for two devices only. But frankly, that is hardly a reason to reject Evernote.
Bottomline: While I think it would have been the best tool for us to collaborate, wifey did not agree. I leave you with some screenshots of Evernote.
Evernote’s Mobile App
Using IFTTT to get more out of Evernote
Keep almost became my favourite, and also my wife’s. It is lightweight, responsive, and we can post three forms of content: text, voice, and images. We haven’t tried posting a video yet, not even a short one, but we are not that much into making videos and sharing with each other, so it does not matter.
Both Minu and I have Google accounts, so we can seamlessly share notes with each other, and this works irrespective of the type of device we use. We can export the notes to Google Docs, which is perfect for us whether we are brainstorming about the next episode(s) for Baalgatha Podcast or if I want her quick feedback on one of my next books. Google Keep is simple, easy to use, and I like the use of colours : we have set different colour codes for work, family, friends, and so on.
The voice memo feature works well, too! And if you are not connected to the Internet, no need to worry- the notes sync when you are back online. I like that feature: ability to work offline is great. Integration with all things Google: Drive, Calendar, maps… there isn’t really much to complain about, and I cannot really find any shortcomings in Google Keep- it is one of Google’s less well known offerings. Definitely worth a try, and it is the second most used note sharing feature between my wife and I.
- Cross, platform, can sign on through multiple devices
- Offline mode,as well as a Web version
- Fast, yet packed with features.
- Colour coding of the notes.
- Browser extension is a great plus!
- Can’t really think of any specific cons.
Bottomline: Overall, Keep would make a very good runner up for us.
Google Keep- Mobile App
Integration of Google Keep with Google Calendar
Google Keep on Google Playstore
It is an interesting world we live in: Everything we see and do online somehow has a connection to one of the following five companies: Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft. One Note from Microsoft is a very powerful beast, and I have not used it so far for a couple of reasons. First of all, it is an overkill for our use (similar to Evernote). Secondly, it is slow. I downloaded the app on my android phone, and the app was simply unable to let me sign into my Microsoft account. I was on a 4 G Network , and was using a Coolpad Note with 3 GB RAM, and over 5 GB of free space. In other words, there was not much to worry about on the hardware or the data front. I came home and had to use my home wifi to be able to sign up.
That experience alone had alarm bells ringing, and I decided to give it a pass. But similar to Google Keep’s integration with all things Google, I think One Note offers very good integration with the MS Office Suite and the likes. I loved the web version though.
- Great interface, integration with MS Office.
- High level of automation through IFTTT makes it a great productivity and collaboration tool.
- Web clipper, similar to Evernote.
- Mac, Windows, iOS and Android- multiple devices.
- Documents get saved in OneDrive
- Ability to import notebooks from Evernote.
- Slow to load on mobile phones.
- No Linux Client, but access through web browser possible.
Bottomline: I think OneNote deserves a try. Over the past couple of years, the products coming out of the Microsoft stable seem very refined and polished: Outlook email (web), Sway, and One Note. I think my Microsoft account deserves another look. But the slow loading speed on Mobile phones is a huge minus.
Speaking of Sway, you can check out the presentation (er.. Sway) that I created for MyKitaab Podcast, and my post on 7 Different Ways to Record Podcast Interviews Online.
OneNote (web interface)
Screenshot of One Note- Android App
I had written about Simplenote in an earlier blog post that I had posted on Medium, just before the start of #nanowrimo2016.
Simplenote from Automattic, the folks behind Wordpress, has to be the pick of the lot. Simplenote is a lightweight version of Evernote, with the advantage that we can install it on multiple devices (unlike the free version of Evernote). The advantage is that it works seamlessly across the four devices. It offers some basic formatting.
- Fast, easy to use, short learning curve.
- Night mode is great way to reduce strain on the eyes.
- Cross device, cross platform has a web version as well.
- Text only
- Lacks many of the bells and whistles that other products offer.
(But in reality it is not really a “Con” if you want to limit your notes to text.)
Simplenote on Mac, Night mode
Screenshot of Simplenote- Android App
I am really impressed by the work the fine folks at Zoho are doing. I already use their email hosting service, Zoho docs, and also Zoho drive for storing files. As our startup grows, we plan to use more of their services, maybe even start using CRM and other tools. Some of their features aren’t cutting edge or phenomenal, but they look refined and robust. Zoho Notebook is one such tool within the Zoho umbrella. Like Evernote and OneNote, Zoho Notebook also has a web clipper and a desktop app. It is available on iOS and Android devices.
- Easy to use interface
- Fast, responsive
- Features similar to Evernote, making it a great alternative to the latter. You can read more about the features of Zoho Notebook here.
- Maybe it is just me, but I could not find a way to share the sample story that I had created using the mobile phone app. (See the screenshot below).
- No Linux client. I am really surprised by the this, because they have a Linux app for Zoho Docs (drive).
Bottomline: Zoho Notebook could be the runner up now that they have a desktop version. (Updated March 2019)
Screenshot of Android App for Zoho Notebook
Welcome screen on Android App
Each of these note-taking tools has some pluses and some minuses. The answer to the question, “Which one should I choose?” will entirely depend on your requirements and your situation, that is, are you in an area with good net connectivity, do you use devices that are supported by these tools, etc. We chose Simplenote because this app literally represents what it is called: it is a simple note-taking application. It is fast, low on resources, cross-platform, and does one thing really well- taking down notes in text. Till the time we start moving to Zoho Notebooks, Simplenote will remain our preferred note taking app. Maybe even after that.
If you have any comments and suggestions or are familiar with a good note taking app, please drop a line in the comments section below.
Feature image : The Commons,Canada.
Originally published at Amar Vyas.