When note-taking is this good I’ve decided to pay for it!

When note taking is this good Ive decided to pay for it!

…or why I’m finally all-in on a paid Evernote subscription (at least for this year).


It has taken just over five years to convince me, and within this time I have quit a long-term job and joined, left, then re-joined the CoolSmartPhone team. Also, for the last 5 months have spent a lot of time seriously experimenting with Microsoft’s OneNote as a possible Evernote alternative. Now, in September 2016 I’ve come to realise that it is worth me spending money on a note taking solution that not only just works, but works damned well, and has been constantly improving since I started using it. Let me explain.

When note taking is this good Ive decided to pay for it!

The Evernote corporation who produces the eponymous multi-platform, freemium app for note taking, organising and archiving, was founded in 2007. The software is available on PC’s, laptops, Mac’s and all the main mobile operating systems, and it specialises in keeping all kinds of notes in the cloud and therefore accessible via all your devices. As they say on their website:

Capture a note once, and it’s instantly available on all your devices. Never worry about where you saved something because it’s in Evernote, and Evernote is wherever you are.

They espouse accurate and regular note taking, which is made massively easier nowadays as almost everyone carries a mobile phone. Initially, I used Evernote to make simple lists, but I’ve subsequently become a great enthusiast and have notes covering loads of different aspects of my life. I have found so many circumstances where making a quick note is invaluable; a quickly annotated photo for instance, a link whilst surfing, an email to follow-up or a random idea. Doing this with my phone (and then inevitably following up on my laptop) has become second nature now and Evernote has been both evolving and refining this paradigm for many years. The app is free to download and use, and you can pay for more advanced services and functionality.

I have often questioned the long-term validity of the freemium business model: this is where basic services are provided free of charge, while more advanced features must be paid for. In 2016, Evernote very much tightened the belt on their free option and moved some much-loved functions, such as forwarding emails into Evernote, or accessing their service from an unlimited amount of devices from the basic option to the Plus, Premium or Business plans. This was seen by many as hobbling the application, but essentially you do get what you pay for in life, so since April I have been investigating alternatives.

When note taking is this good Ive decided to pay for it!

After considering many smaller or less well-known options, I ended up seriously trialling OneNote from Microsoft. This app and service is available across a similarly large number of devices as Evernote and is fully free of charge. Microsoft is essentially offering their version of note taking with no charge to encourage you into the Microsoft ecosystem of Outlook and Microsoft Office products, and as you would expect OneNote encourages this kind of cross-over as much as possible.

It does work relatively well (although it took quite a while to get used to the different way to organise notes) but it does rely on you having a Microsoft email address and connected OneDrive account to store your notes. Whilst I won’t go into a feature by feature comparison, suffice to say OneNote is the most complete alternative to Evernote I have found. If you really can’t bring yourself to make any kind of payment for the software you use, I would recommend this app for mobile/PC. It is only when you get to a relatively large number of notes (I have 850+ notes at last check) that Evernote’s search system functionality – which includes tags, stacks of notebooks, searching for words inside documents and text inside pictures – has become very important, and is currently unmatched in any similar application.

Microsoft OneNote is very much playing catch-up to the newly refocused Evernote, whose entire business is efficient note-taking, collaborative idea sharing and effective note storage. Microsoft is treading a fine line of replicating Evernote functionality without directly stealing the code, but as this is such a minor part of what Microsoft does, there is no indication of how long it will take them to be Evernote’s equal. However, Redmond has very deep pockets and can thus afford to give away OneNote in order to entice you into using their other paid-for products such as Office 365 and Outlook. Evernote doesn’t have that option, and as such needs to keep innovating and improving to stay ahead of the game. Evernote’s recent changes in their apps, as well as staff reductions, really shows this is a challenging business to be in and I hope they can stay around and at the top.

Ultimately I feel I’ve benefited greatly from using the Evernote app for the last five years. The twenty quid I’ve just paid for a further year of great functionality is a fair exchange in my eyes for the benefit it has given to many aspects of my life. Will there come a time when Microsoft’s offering equals or betters Evernote? I’m honestly not sure if they want it to. Following Evernote’s innovation and then replicating the end result whilst connecting to their other Windows linked services seems to suit them just fine. For how long a paid sub will suit me just fine is a question for another time, but for the moment I’m revelling in the full Evernote experience. I’m supporting the company which provides a product I love and am happily using what I consider to be the best and most complete note taking system there is!

Do you use Evernote or OneNote? Which is best? Do you use a better system? Let us know in  the comments section below.

Turrah Lumia. Nice seein' ya.
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