Saturday, 30 July 2016

Switched from Evernote to OneNote, happy so far

Evernote since 2008

I have been an Evernote user since 2008 and a paying premium member for almost as long. Recent sharp price rises have forced me to adopt OneNote. These are my experiences so far.

Prior to 2008 I was a really early adopter of OneNote and my short profile even appeared on the OneNote site as a supporter. However Evernote soon became my main note taking app especially as it became universal, although it came grudgingly to Windows and Android, my main platforms.

The Price Rise

As an Australian when our AUD dollar was near parity with the USD dollar paying around $40/annum for Evernote Premium was good value. The price edged up slowly but the AUD gradually dropped to 70 cents. Now Evernote Premium will soon be AUD90/annum and Evernote Plus AUD50. Bear in mind Office 365 Home costs only AUD119/annum. Evernote has priced itself out of the Australian market.

Switching out of Evernote is no small step as other users know. The powerful note taking and sharing features integrate throughout typical daily IT tasks such as messaging, email, social media, cloud apps and information processing generally. Fortunately for us Microsoft always targeted OneNote for these same scenarios but took time to match the ease of use and general availability of Evernote. As well OneNote is free.

The Switch to OneNote

I have several years of curated notes organised in Evernote. It amounted to about 80 notebooks  and about 750 notes, each note varying from a few hundred characters to some megabytes holding documents and images. The obvious first step was to download and install the free Microsoft Evernote to OneNote Importer. The download page also gives Microsoft's view of why free OneNote is better.

Choosing literally all my Evernote notebooks to import the process appeared to go smoothly and took about 15 minutes or so. Each Evernote notebook became an equivalently named .one file in the Documents folder on my OneDrive. Not every note was imported and a short report showed that 4 notes could not be imported:
No obvious reasons for this failure were apparent as the 4 note seemed very similar to the hundreds of others that did come across successfully.

Next the Notes Re-org

Of course the Evernote notebook/notes structure is never optimal, as one is always meaning to reorganise the notes more sensibly. Here now in OneNote was the chance to start afresh. It is important to note first up that the note structures differ between Evernote and OneNote.
Evernote uses a very simple three-level structure:
  • Each notebook holds a list of notes
  • Notebooks can be gathered in notebook stacks
  • More structure is possible by tagging each note; all notes with the same tags can be listed easily
It should be noted that Evernote notebook stacks are ignored when imported into OneNote.

OneNote has a four-level structure with nesting allowed in some levels to allow complex hierarchies:
  • Each notebook document holds sections optionally collected into section groups
  • Each section group hold next level section groups and sections, and so on
  • Each section holds a list of pages (notes)
  • Optionally each page can have subpages
An additional much-heralded feature of each page (note) is that it is a 2-dimensional canvas with note box components placed anywhere vertically and horizontally.

With the increased structuring possibilities I opted to have a small number, around half a dozen, OneNote notebooks (documents). Then I allocated notes in my 80 Evernote notebooks across section groups and sections in these smaller number of OneNote notebooks. The procedure is simple:
  • Open each .one document imported from Evernote; all the notes are listed as pages in one section
  • Decide into which section/section group in which OneNote notebook to put the list of Evernote notes
My first problems appeared at this point.

The Annoyances

Many imported .one documents opened quickly in desktop OneNote from my OneDrive. It seemed sensible to simply move the section containing the Evernote notes to the new OneNote notebooks. For notes containing mainly text this worked well. However for Evernote notebooks where the notes contained many images this was hugely problematic. Examples are my list of business cards and photos of bits of gear along with pictures of serial numbers and so forth. 

Firstly the .one documents opened very slowly indeed, and moving the section to its new home was even slower. Even when the move seemed to have worked several error messages warning of Misplaced Sections appeared and these sections appeared at the end of the Notebooks list with ominous red question marks attached. There appears to be synchronisation conflict between OneNote itself and the background OneDrive upload/downloads.

Business card
at full screen
The worst annoyance of all is with images imported from Evernote notes. Within OneNote the images show at full resolution instead of being resized for display at a sensible page width. For example all my business cards contain the card image at around 4,000 pixels wide. With no feature to help I challenge anyone to find an easy way to manually resize the images without inconvenient scrolling left and up while dragging the corner of the image to resize it. With more than 100 such notes like this the process of tidying up images was the pits. To make matters even worse still when the resized images are accessed via OneNote Online on the web they revert to full size! We can but hope the Evernote Importer app developers fix this in the fully released version. This might be a deal breaker for some people.

After many frustrations I discovered the only reliable method was to make copies of all imported sections to newly-created OneNote notebooks. If I had previously moved a section into a OneNote notebook then even copying further sections still caused problems. These problems extended into the Android OneNote app. I had spent a couple of hours moving/copying sections into a new OneNote notebook only to have it flagged with errors in Android.

My advice is clear. Always copy sections from notebooks imported from Evernote into new OneNote notebooks.

The Upside

After 2 or 3 days of trials I had my new collection of OneNote notebooks organised to my satisfaction. Next began the trials of how OneNote would perform in the daily processes of gathering, organising and searching of information.

Of course the Evernote Clipper on Windows has developed over the years into a very powerful information gathering mechanism both within the major browsers and the desktop app. The OneNote clipper equivalents are available but lag in some features. This has not been a problem for me to date. Because of its superior speed Microsoft Edge has become my favourite browser except for when I need extensions like the Evernote and OneNote clippers when I have to switch to Chrome or IE. This is about 5% of my browser use.

On Android the playing field is more level with Evernote and OneNote being very similar in capability. Both Evernote and OneNote are beautifully integrated into the powerful OS-wide sharing mechanism that Android has enjoyed for some years. There is no Android Evernote clipper as such but here OneNote has stolen a march by introducing the OneNote Badge that appears on all screens of all apps plus desktop to allow instant copy-and-paste/screen capture from the app to OneNote - a huge benefit over Evernote.

Even before I switched to OneNote the Microsoft Office Lens app on Android is one of my all time favourites. After intelligent processing the image capture for whiteboards, business cards, images, and documents Office lens can save the image to many locations including OneNote and OneDrive in image and PDF formats. I only wish Office Lens could generate multi-page PDF documents to become a genuine scanner replacement.

The Outcome

The switch was a journey of ups and downs but I have been using OneNote alone for coming up to one month. My note taking productivity is back to where it was with Evernote. I am liking the improved note editing with desktop OneNote and find the note search results much better organised and informative. OneNote tags are still somewhat confusing and more difficult to manage but do have colour coding and informative image icons. The one Evernote feature I still miss is the list of favourite notes - Shopping List for example. Also secure access via pin code or password to confidential notes in OneNote does not seem to be cross-platform as yet.

I score my switching process at 85% and look forward to growing into OneNote for the ever more important note taking tasks.