“You don’t need to be especially attuned to the peculiarities of Irish humour to find it just the tiniest bit amusing that in 2016 the British are treading perilously close to accomplishing by mistake what the heroes of 1916 failed to accomplish on purpose — a united 32-county republic. It is far too early for talk along those lines, of course. But still.”
It’s funny for me to be trying a Microsoft product willingly! I have been using a Mac since my parents got a Mac Plus in 1985, and back then Microsoft was the ENEMY. Then I was forced to use shitty busted up old Windows PCs at work for many years, which did not foster any love. But nowadays you could make a stronger case for Apple as Evil Empire of the tech world, and Microsoft in its post-Ballmer era is hustling hard in the corners. That OneNote is currently even a possibility for me shows how things have changed. A couple years ago OneNote would only have had apps for Windows and Windows Mobile, but now it’s got apps for macOS, iOS, Android and the web. And they’re really good.
OneNote has got got a rather forceful notebook interface metaphor: you open a notebook and then you have section tabs along the top, and lists of notebook pages along the side. To continue the paper metaphor, you can type anywhere on a note “page”, it will start a new text box. You can drag in whatever you want, and position it wherever. If you had a tablet and a stylus you could just start writing or drawing anywhere, too. I didn’t need that, but I do like it. Kinda fun!
If anything, the app seems to have more features than Evernote. It’s not what I was looking for, but at least they are gracefully hidden away when not in use. There are lots of formatting features, drawing, file embedding, note linking, video recording? OCR? Page versions? Page Templates? There’s a lot here.
The Windows app is actually ten years old and has that typical Microsoft thing where it’s absolutely rammed with features, and not very intuitive when it comes to discovering them, but you can customize almost everything in it. The Mac app is more recent and not quite as insanely customizable, but it is very nice. The iOS app, at least on iPhone, is much more stripped down, quite sensibly so.
There is a reasonably well-featured web clipper that works in Chrome and Safari, and saves either as “article”, “full page” or “section” (which means drag-for-a-screenshot). The separate iOS app Office Lens does your document scanning and sends stuff into OneNote. You can forward emails into OneNote, too.
The OneNote business model is interesting. The app is free, but storage is done through Microsoft’s online Dropbox-alike OneDrive, which gives you 5GB for free. After that it’s $2/mo for 50GB, and after that you go up to OneDrive + Office 365, which gives you 1TB for $7/mo, but also includes licenses for all the Office apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook). So OneNote isn’t really a product at all, but a way of upselling you to Office. There is a decent Evernote importer app for PC, and I imported everything from eight years of Evernote use and it takes up under 2 gigs, so I think this product is free for my purposes. For now anyway.
Downsides: inexplicably, there is no way to sort the list of notes other than manually. There were some goofups with the Evernote import, and now my notes are sorted in the right notebooks, but in random order. And all images are scaled up to wacky, scrollfest size. Another potential downside is that if you completely freak out with the “place anything ANYWHERE on the page maaaaan” attitude those notes are gonna be another scrollfest on your phone.
But these are minor gripes really, and for now, I have a winner. I’m surprisingly happy with OneNote, and if you’re looking to switch from Evernote, this is definitely the leading candidate.
This is the third in a series of posts about note apps/services. In part 1 I explained why I was going to try to move from Evernote. In part 2 I tried Apple Notes.
So, here we are in “Note Station”, which is Synology’s built-in attempt at an Evernote competitor.
Let’s back up a bit – Synology makes Network Attached Storage computers, or NASes. That’s basically a bunch of hard drive bays wrapped in a server. They are known for the quality of their built-in software, and they market these things at both home multimedia enthusiast type users, and small- to medium-sized business. So they include apps for photo sharing, video collections and downloading stuff as well as a mail server, Exchange integration and stuff like this (relatively newly introduced) Evernote-alike. If you don’t have a Synology, sorry – this article won’t be much help for you. But if you do, read on! Because I have one (nyah nyah)
Some trepidation is warranted: so far, I don’t use too many of the Synology-made apps as I usually find them not quite up to their native competitors. Part of it is the web app thing. Synology builds iOS clients (and maybe Android?) which are usually good, but on the desktop your only option is a web app. They tend to be good web apps, but I’ll pick a good native desktop app over a web app every time, and in most of the categories Synology plays in, there are indeed good desktop apps already.
Anyway. Synology’s Note Station web app definitely does less than Evernote, but Evernote does too much, so that’s mostly good. It’s much simpler and less crufty than Evernote. Some features that are present: rich formatting, tags, lists, note encryption, tables and charts(!). A plus is the robust web clipper Chrome extension, which gives you options for full content, simplified content, screenshot and whole page screenshot.
Aaand here I am in the iOS DS Note app which is surprisingly full featured – possibly even more than the web app? You can insert files and even “note links” – an obscure wiki-like feature that Evernote has but keeps buried in its menus.
Now for the cons. First, yes, having to use a web app is a con. I hold out a dream that someday Evernote Mac client extraordinaire Alternote allows one to use other back ends, but until then, no dice. Secondly, the web clipper is only available on Chrome. Maybe that’s not a huuge problem? But I definitely prefer Safari on my macs.
Third and most unfairly disqualifying: IT at my workplace really loves blocking ports, and I think that’s why I actually can’t connect at all anymore to my Synology from my main work computer. I can connect from the phone and from other computers, but not the one that is ergonomically most advantageous for me to use. Not necessarily a deal-breaker, but it does mean I will keep trying out alternatives. Next time: Microsoft! OneNote!
So here I am using Apple Notes. It has some pros worth mentioning. It’s built in on Apple devices, and free. It syncs via iCloud. The web app means it can be accessed on Windows, although that’s mostly a con – more later. You can dictate notes via Siri. You can sketch stuff. I actually really like the sketch feature, but without an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil it’s more of a novelty.
Web clipping: you can save web links via share sheets in iOS and I assume macOS. This gives you a little rich preview thing but does not save the content, which I dislike. The one thing I do like is you can actually append links and other share sheet-selectable stuff to existing notes. (Siri can also append, which is cool.) Evernote couldn’t do this and it leads you to a bunch of separate atomized notes per unit of content, rather than, say, one note having to do with your web research into summoning demons.
Cons, besides no web archiving: no tags. The web app version is weak. It works, but only for referring to your notes, organizing and typing them. Because most other ways of inputting content are based on the share sheets in the OS, when you are on Windows you can’t use them. So no saving web pages, images, whatever else. I also realized there is no way to forward emails into Notes, which I do use with Evernote. Plus, you can’t actually get at the standard iOS share sheet from mail.app, which means you can’t get your emails into Notes at all. That sucks!
I had considered beforehand that other note services may not clip web page contents and so was prepared to think up other options. Using either Instapaper or Pinboard seemed possible as they are services I already use and could see adapting them to clipping web pages for notes. In practice, however, I really like having my saved web pages showing up as search results when I search my notes. But the inability to add content from Windows and email are enough reason for me to try another option, so next I will tackle the Synology solution: Note Station and DS Note.
I use notes a lot and for the past eight years I have been using Evernote. For the last oh I dunno, four? of them, I have been putting up with Evernote. They went all business-focused, and suddenly were pimping “work chat” in all the apps which is essentially the opposite feature from what I want, they let most of the apps get bloated, confusing and slow, and now it sounds like they are raising the prices. Anyway. I have options! And I shall explore them, by kicking the wheels on a few competing apps while blogging about it here. Stay tuned. OMG what a complete THRILLFEST!!!!
Let’s lay out the criteria here, maybe? I use Evernote for:
holding draft writings (blog posts, scripts, etc)
saving receipts, other images
clipping various web pages
organizing by folder and tag
I need something that works on iOS, macOS and either the web or windows.
The one thing I’m a little hung up on is clipping web pages. I don’t want just a link, I want the page archived in some form. Evernote has a few options for this – link, full page, quote or “article” (it does sort of an Instapaper-esque parsing of the content and strips out the design and crap). I’m not confident that any of the competitors will be able to do this. So I may have to explore new ways of doing it?
Things I don’t need: work chat. I don’t use any to-do list stuff, I use OmniFocus for that. I thought the OCR stuff would be handy but in practice I rarely use it.
Apps I think I will look at: OneNote, Apple Notes, and DS Note/NoteStation, the system offered by my SynologyNAS. Am I missing anything?
<blockquote> <p>Increasingly, his wild veering seems to occur against his will, as if he were not the great, sly strategist we have taken him for but, rather, someone compelled by an inner music that sometimes produces good dancing and sometimes causes him to bring a bookshelf crashing down on an old Mexican lady.</p> </blockquote>