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OneNote vs. Springpad vs. Evernote: Which Notetaking App Is Right for You?

OneNote vs. Springpad vs. Evernote: Which Notetaking App Is Right for You?

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I write down everything. It's the only way I'll remember anything. In the old days, I kept multiple notebooks that sat in a pile on my desk for an eternity. My life changed, however with the invention of web- and mobile-based notetaking apps…and my desk got a bit cleaner.

For the past few years, I've done the majority of my notetaking on Evernote. I started using it for the simple fact that there was an Evernote app for the BlackBerry (my phone at the time) and that I could use it on my work PC and my home Mac. A regular old notebook, on the other hand, was useless if I left it at home.  

I was curious about other options, however, so I decided to give Microsoft OneNote and Springpad a spin. I used both – along with Evernote – for two weeks to take meeting notes, plan campaigns, brainstorm content ideas, and more. Which notetaking system is best for keeping track of meetings? Which is best for planning fundraisers? Read on to find out.

OneNote: Great for Collaboration

Android, iOS, Windows Phone, Desktop (Windows), Web
Freemium

OneNote has been dubbed the "hidden gem" of Microsoft Office – and for good reason.  The notetaking app integrates so nicely with Microsoft's other Office products that Microsoft Office users will wonder how they got along without it. You can save important Outlook messages to your OneNote notebooks as well as share notes in SkyDrive or SharePoint. These sharing features are useful for drafting up important e-mails based on meeting notes or sharing notes with your staff.  

OneNote tabbed notebooks

If you regularly use Microsoft Word or Excel, you'll feel right at home with OneNote's user interface. You'll find the familiar Office ribbon in OneNote where you can open documents or share notes with other people. 

OneNote offers some useful organization features, such as the ability to add keywords to notes and create sections within a single notebook. For example, I created a notebook to compile research for a monthly column I'm working on. I divided the notebook by month and created a section for miscellaneous information.

The latest version of OneNote supports a wide range of multimedia formats. You can draw pictures in OneNote with your mouse (or with your finger/stylus on a touchscreen) if you're a visual note-taker. Those who can't get used to typing notes will enjoy OneNote's new handwriting recognition feature. You also can scrawl down notes on your tablet or phone with your finger or a stylus and OneNote will convert them into text. In addition to your sketches, you can also insert pictures, charts, tables, documents, videos, and more into your notes. 

OneNote is available as part of the Microsoft Office 365 subscription, which is available for nonprofits. You can also use OneNote for free as a Web app through Microsoft SkyDrive, and on Windows Phone, Android, or iOS. The Office desktop version provides additional features, like clipping screenshots.

Invite people to share notebook

If you're collaborating with other coworkers on a project or sharing meeting notes, I found that OneNote is the best option – especially if you're already using Microsoft Office at your organization. Its integration with SharePoint and SkyDrive makes it a snap to share notes with your colleagues already using those programs. For more on OneNote, check out a replay of our Microsoft OneNote: Capture Your Creativity and our  Is Microsoft OneNote the One for You? article.

Springpad: Your Personal Assistant

Android, Web, iOS, Chrome Extension
Free

Springpad is the service I was least familiar with before embarking on this experiment. The app is described as a "personal organizer," in which you can save and organize tasks, notes, work projects, books, and more.  You can use it in your personal life, as well for saving recipes, movies you want to see, items you want to buy, and much more.

All pages in a workbook

My initial thought on Springpad was "Wow, this is one great-looking app." The interface is clean and reminiscent of Pinterest with its bold, simple icons, and image-centric layout. My first project on Springpad was planning TechSoup for Libraries' booth at the upcoming Public Library Association conference. I selected "Work Project" from the notebook options (which include tasks, recipes, shopping, home improvement, blank, etc.).

One option I really liked is that you can create and share notebooks with your coworkers. This is especially useful for work projects or meeting notes. You can also use Springpad to build itineraries for conferences or offsite meetings with your transportation and accommodation information. When you save a website or page to Springpad, it attempts to keep the HTML intact as much as possible.

Indianapolis

Another neat feature is that you can follow publicly shared notebooks as well as notebooks by "trusted experts." I followed Apps, App, Apps; Web Tools for Productivity; E-Learning. This is a helpful feature if you're interested in learning more about a subject or simply want to see how people organize their notebooks.  By default, every notebook you create is private, however.

Each Notebook includes a section called a "Board", which is sort of like a mini version of Pinterest. You can pin content (like articles, websites, or videos) that you've added to your Notebook.

Springpad's biggest downfall is that there's almost too much to it. There are so many features that it's difficult to get set up in a way that works for you. Because of its visual-centric layout and notebook templates, I found it works best for planning events, projects, and trips.

Evernote: A Versatile, Virtual Notebook

Android, Desktop (Mac and Windows), BlackBerry, iOS, Windows Phone, Web
Freemium

As I mentioned previously, I'm a longtime user of Evernote. Despite my history with it, I've never felt like I used Evernote to its full potential. Like OneNote and Springpad, Evernote allows you to pick from customized notebooks or a blank template.  

One of the things I really like about Evernote is how it virtualizes the look and feel of a physical notebook. Similar to OneNote, you can add tabbed sections to different notebooks – essentially a notebook within a notebook. You can also tag your notes with keywords such as "budget planning," "grants," etc. so you can easily find them within your notebook.

Something I hadn't taken advantage of previously was Evernote's ecosystem of apps. These apps give you the ability to scan receipts to Evernote (perfect for expense reports), mark up images, clip and save webpages, and more. Explore all of Evernote's apps here. They're a great way to personalize Evernote to your day-to-day needs.

Evernote is free for up to 60MB per month of data. If you upgrade to Premium ($5 per month or $45 per year), you get up to 1GB of bandwidth each month. If you take a lot of notes, you might not be very pleased Evernote's data caps.  

But overall, Evernote is one of the most versatile, easy-to-use notetaking apps out there. I'd recommend it for personal notetaking, however, rather than for sharing notes with a group or your whole staff. Why? Evernote lends itself to customization, making it the perfect companion to your daily tasks. While Evernote does allow you to share notebooks, but you have to have a Premium  account. Evernote Business, which costs $10 per user per month, supports more robust sharing across multiple users.    

Conclusion

The fact of the matter is that these are actually quite different products and they can be used for all different purposes. It would be awesome if there was a way to sync all three together, but that's probably wishful thinking!

Do you use a notetaking app or service? Please log in to TechSoup and let us know which you use or whether you're considering using another service. 

  • Interesting and informative post, Ginny. But as a longtime Evernote user, I was very puzzled by your assertion that "Similar to OneNote, you can add tabbed sections to different notebooks – essentially a notebook within a notebook." In the Apple ecosystem (Mac/iOS), there is no facility like that I've been able to find. I also searched Evernote's knowledge base and there is no mention of this. Could this be an Evernote add-on that you are using? Thanks!