Trying Out OneNote for iPad

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I’ve continued to use the Notes app in iOS 9 and it’s been a great, simple scratchpad for ideas and compiling research links. However, the kicker is that it’s just not accessible on my work PC. The Notes app is available as a beta within, but it’s not nearly as powerful as the version on my iPad.

However, a coworker recently turned me onto another cross-platform possibility: OneNote. I’d never really considered OneNote before because I thought it was best used by students. My sister did some incredible stuff with OneNote in her psychology courses, but I hadn’t realized that you could store files within OneNote in much the same way that you can with Evernote.

So for the past two days I’ve been figuring out the best way to migrate 2700+ notes from Evernote to Microsoft’s OneNote, just so I can try their software out in a full-fledged capacity. This has proven tricky because there isn’t any official way for OneNote to import data from Evernote, but there is an unofficial open source tool called Evernote2OneNote. This utility does a lot of the heavy lifting (it even saves metadata like creation dates), but it’s only usable on a PC, so I lost some time downloading everything in my gaming PC.

As I started the import process, I ran into my second issue: OneNote treats each notebook as an individual file, which means that uploading my 2700+ notes has been going very, very slowly. I don’t think Evernote does this, or if they do, they’re very efficient about syncing these changes. I thought that leaving my computer online overnight would do the trick, but when I came back to OneNote on Thursday morning, several large sections of the notebook remained un-synced. I’m going to try uploading my Evernote notes in chunks, by year, but that process is going to take a little while.

That said, if OneNote loads up faster on the iPad and allows me more reliable and flexible ways to manipulate files + text, then this will all be worth it. The reason I feel comfortable trying this experiment in the first place is because Microsoft has been doing a ton of updating in the mobile app arena over the past few years, and I trust that they’ll continue to do so for a while. Evernote’s app development, on the other hand, has felt stagnant. The core service works well, but little things like text formatting and the speed of the app on iOS could really use improvement.

I’ll continue to use OneNote while I’m on vacation in Portland this week, so I’ll have more to share soon. If you anyone has made the switch, or has cautionary tales about OneNote, tell us about your experience in the comments!

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7 thoughts on “Trying Out OneNote for iPad”

  1. Nice review Thomas. I am puzzled by a curious omission in your article Though: there is no way to reposition a text box once it is placed on the page. On the desktop, OneNote text box position can be rearranged by simple drag and drop. But not on iOS/iPad — where this feature is essential in my opinion. This shortcoming is a fatal flaw that renders an otherwise awesome app useless in my opinion.

    A Google search returns numerous questions about this issue. The two answers suggested are: (1) use OneNote desktop to rearrange text boxes or (2) use cut and paste.

    Neither of these solutions are acceptable for me. I have reported this bug to Microsoft but received no acknowledgement or response. I download each new version of OneNote iOS to see if the issue is corrected; but after 2 years I’m of the opinion that this is intended operation.

    Did you not encounter this issue in your testing?


    1. Hi Donovan, good point! I actually did notice that but was assuming I just didn’t know all of the gestures within the app yet. The fact that this hasn’t been addressed in 1.5 years is definitely disappointing.

      I don’t foresee myself making really elaborate layouts on the iPad, but time will tell.

      1. Hi Thomas, my notes have simple layouts — the most elaborate element is a basic text box containing checklists and the occasional embedded image. I do share my notes with others so organized appearance is a requirement — which is why precise placement of text boxes is important. Good luck with OneNote. I’m looking forward to an update after you’ve used OneNote for a few weeks.


  2. Interesting review and one that, along with recent work experience of OneNote on Windows, made me want to try it on both my Mac and iPad. Well, what a pain. Installation on the Mac and iPad was simple enough; but the issue was that the Mac install would not launch when I tried it 10 minutes after installation (I have a OneDrive/MS Office for iPad account) and OneNote would lock up after taking my account ID; but wouldn’t provide my with the password sheet. Similar issues happened on the iPad version. I had to login via Safari to the MS site and only then did OneNote on my Mac start to work. The iPad version will launch; but I cannot login, though it notes my account information, so I cannot create a new notebook. I deleted both the Mac and iPad versions, rebooted both devices and tried again the following day (today, Saturday) and still no luck.
    I use Evernote and though I like it, I wanted a notebook like experience also that was for jotting down ideas, et al., in a structured format that I could access between Mac and iPad. Could I have used DB and a Markdown app, yes (as I do currently); but I wanted to try OneNote. Well, after reinstalling both the Mac versions (on Yosemite 10.10.5 and IOS 8.4.1) I can say that it was a disaster. I won’t be trying it again.
    Back to Editorial and Dropbox on the iPad, Byword and Dropbox on my Mac of note-taking. Also, they are much lighter on the drive space, ~180MB on the iPad and ~50MB on the Mac (this is before any content in Dropbox).

  3. Note apps are tricky to evaluate because in the end it’s all about how you like to take notes, and what do your value most.

    I came to the point of using OneNote for work purposes, as the flexibility on formatting, drawing, attaching all sorts of files, including calendar items, criating templates, and so much more, turns it into a very powerful work tool.
    But OneNote shines as an integrated tool for Desktop and IOS.

    Evernote on the other hand, is a very powerful app, and has a stupendous clipping app for chrome. I use it for all my personal info and projects.

    1. Andre, I am curious about how anyone can find OneNote iOS (iPad) useful with the inability to precisely place or rearrange placement of text boxes. Text boxes are so central to the way I take notes that I am seriously wondering if I am missing something fundamental about the app. How do you get around this limitation? Do you initiate your notes on the desktop and use your iPad largely to read notes? The vast majority of my notes originate on my iPad which is why this shortcoming renders OneNote iOS practically useless for me.

  4. If you were already a OneNote for iPad user, tap “Open” and follow the instructions to get the latest, greatest, Universal app. If you are new to OneNote, ignore this listing!

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