When you’re a freelancer, you’re always on the go.
You’re meeting clients, writing from coffee shops, or driving your Uber fares. Oh, and that’s on top of tracking your expenses, filing your own taxes, and making sure you have your insurance bases covered. You don’t have time to pull out your laptop or lug around notepads every time you want to jot something down.
Good thing you don’t have to, right?
I know from personal experience that being able to write from anywhere is a huge advantage. Notes, ideas, inspiration, tasks, deadlines – whatever it is, you don’t want to completely stop what you’re doing to write it down or, worse, say "I’ll remember it" and then inevitably never actually remember it.
If you want to take notes, have them available on all of your devices, and don’t want to spend the time manually transferring them over, then let me kindly introduce you to Evernote and Microsoft OneNote.
Evernote and OneNote both let you take digital notes, store them in the cloud, and then access them from anywhere. You already carry your phone around with you everywhere, but you’re probably using a tablet, laptop, or desktop – or maybe even all three (and then some) – to supplement what your phone can’t do.
But which of these programs is right for your freelance work? In this review, we’ll break down what Evernote and OneNote have in common, where each excels, and which one you should choose as a busy freelancer.
Evernote vs OneNote: the breakdown
$34.99/yr – More storage, some advanced features
$69.99/yr – Most storage, all advanced features
|Platforms||Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Web||Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows Mobile, Web|
|Unique features||Ubiquitous, any-platform apps||Seamless integration with Microsoft Office|
Evernote vs OneNote: digital notebooks for on-the-go freelancers
It can be hard to choose between Evernote and OneNote, and part of that difficulty comes from the fact that there’s a lot of overlap between the two. Microsoft even admits that on their website, noting that "OneNote and Evernote have a lot in common." They’re largely going after the same audience: people who need to take notes on one platform, be able to access them on their other devices, and collaborate with other people all the while.
In fact, Microsoft has also created an export tool so you can move all of your Evernote notes over to OneNote. Out of the kindness of their heart. (Just kidding.)
There’s clearly a race heating up between the two platforms, and that’s great for freelancers. It means that both companies are constantly innovating and adding improvements on top of what are already solid apps for freelancers. So let’s dive in to see what these apps have in common and where each of them excels.
You might be not be surprised that these note-taking apps excel at note-taking. But it’s good to know that both programs actually do this really, really well. And when it comes to note-taking, it comes down to two things: taking the notes, and then actually being able to find them.
Instead of having notebooks or binders or folders full of disparate notes, digital note-taking apps let you organize and search easily. The way each program does this is a little different; Evernote breaks things up by notes (where you write stuff) and notebooks (where you group your notes). It’s common for freelancers to use project-based notebooks, and have the notes be individual elements. You can then have "stacks" of notebooks, handy for organizing them by client.
You can then tag individual notes. If you’re a freelance writer tackling an article on alien abductions, you can tag all of your notes as "alien." A simple search later and you can see every resource you’ve gathered to make sourcing quotes and stats a snap (unless you have other projects tagged as "alien," but at that point maybe you’re just writing too many articles about aliens).
OneNote has a similar-but-not-quote organization method. From the top down, you have Notebooks, Sections, and Pages. It’s the same basic concept as Evernote’s "stacks-notebook-notes" taxonomy. You can tag Pages, and even the individual notes written on them for even more granular organization – a big difference from Evernote, where individual elements can’t be tagged.
OneNote also has a neat "free formatting" feature. Rather than writing line by line, like you would in a word processing program, you can group text and images as floating elements, which lets you have things like side-by-side lists or an image of a landmark with a map of the surrounding area on top of it.
Both apps also allow you to take notes beyond the standard typing: voice recording, inserting images, drawing, and OCR (which is a fancy way of saying "extracting words from images") all let you take notes in whatever makes sense for your job.
Winner: OneNote. If you’re using each program for its most basic functions, they’re tied. If you’re looking for the best way to organize your notes, OneNote has a slight edge but implementing its tags in more places than Evernote – assuming you don’t get overwhelmed by how deep you’re able to go with this level of organization.
Are you a web developer who sees site designs that speak to you? What about an interior decorator who loves to pull inspiration from the internet? Or a writer who finds story ideas and insights all across the web?
You could bookmark a page, remember it when you’re ready to work, find it somewhere in your never ending list of other bookmarks, and then remember why you saved it.
Or you could clip it with Evernote or OneNote, comment on it, tag it, and easily find it and build upon it wherever and whenever you start working on that project.
Since you don’t have time to slow down and keep track of everything, it’s great that your note-taking app can do it for you. Web clipping lets you save entire web pages, or just specific images or text, and pull them into your notes. You can then tag them however you want – "homepage sidebar," for example – a note – "this would be great on Jim’s site" – and get on with whatever you’re doing.
Winner: Evernote. This really comes down to the fact that OneNote’s web clipping on mobile just isn’t that great. You can pull the headline, website name, and link from a page, but you don’t have the same features you get in the desktop version. Since clipping on the go is a huge benefit, that alone give Evernote the edge here.
Third-party app integration
These apps are good, but you know what makes them better? Other apps.
Both Evernote and OneNote are able to integrate with third-party apps, giving them even more flexibility and functionality. There’s a lot of overlap: both support Feedly to pull apps from your RSS feed straight into a note, IFTTT for a near-limitless number of other app connections, and CloudMagic to sync your email and notes.
Winner: Evernote. All of these options let you customize your program so that it best fits your business needs. As a freelancer every day is different and presents new challenges, so being able to take control over how you handle information is always a boon. However, Evernote wins in the sheer number of apps it supports right off the bat. It also serves as the backend for some apps, which means you can save data in Evernote but experience it in a different way through another app. If you work with a lot of other programs, plugging them into Evernote can break down a lot of barriers.
Evernote vs OneNote: the cost
So these are both pretty great programs. But you’re no novice when it comes to your business expenses. You’re tracking invoices and managing your taxes and buying insurance, so at this point you’re probably wondering: does all of this greatness come at a price?
OneNote is free, but that comes with a bit of a caveat. We’ll dive more into this later, but OneNote works best when you use it with other Microsoft Office products like Word or Excel. It’s a good program on its own, but exporting a note to, say, a Word document to send to a client, or exporting a web clipping with your insights to Powerpoint for a presentation, makes it part of a freelancer productivity Voltron.
In recent years, Microsoft has been pushing its Office suite from a standalone purchase to a web-based subscription. Office 365, as it’s called, is $6.99 a month or $69.99 for an annual subscription. So while OneNote is technically free, and you aren’t limited in what the app itself will give you, taking advantage of its professional integrations will cost you.
Evernote is also free but includes (optional) paid tiers as well. The free tier gives you 60 MB of uploads per month and the ability to sync on only two devices. This might work for some freelancers, but others, especially if you’re in a visual field and constantly saving drawings and photos, will probably blow through those limitations fairly quickly.
The Plus tier ($34.99/year) gives you 1 GB of uploads per month and lets you sync across all of your devices; that’s helpful if you work from a computer at your home office but are constantly switching between a laptop at a coffee shop, a tablet when you’re with clients, and a phone when you’re on the go. You also get some other features like offline access, email forwarding, and Evernote customer support via email.
Finally, there’s the Premium tier. This costs $69.99 annually – the same as using OneNote + Microsoft Office – and turns everything up to 11. You get everything you would with the Plus tier, but your upload limit rises to 10 GB a month. You also get live chat support (as opposed to email-only), PDF and Microsoft Office document search, the ability to import business cards, and other organizational tools that you can read up on here.
Winner: OneNote. If you want to get the most out of Evernote and OneNote, you need to pay for the Premium tier and Microsoft Office, respectively, and they’re tied in that regard. But if you’re just wondering which app you can get the most out of for the lowest price, the answer is undoubtedly OneNote. You don’t get the Office integration, but otherwise the app does everything that Evernote does, at the low, low cost of absolutely free. You can’t really beat that.
In the end, though, what gives you the most value comes down to what makes each program unique. Luckily, we’re getting into that next.
Evernote vs OneNote: unique features
Of course, Evernote and OneNote aren’t exactly the same. Each has a standout feature that may sway you one way or the other.
Evernote is platform-agnostic. It doesn’t care if you’re using a PC or a Mac; it just wants you to have the best experience possible.
That’s why its biggest strength is its cohesive ecosystem. Do you use an Android but need to share a note with an iPhone-using client? Are you sketching out wireframes for a new website on your iPad that you want your partner, who works on a PC, to review? Do you snap a quick pic of a receipt on your phone but want to review it later when you’re on a bigger screen?
Evernote can do all of that, and you’ll get largely the same experience between all of them. You won’t find features missing from, say, the Windows Phone app that makes it difficult to use compared to another platform.
This is in contrast with OneNote, where it’s clearly optimized for Windows platforms. That makes sense on Microsoft’s part from a business perspective but when you’re on a Mac and find that you can’t access templates...well, it’s just annoying.
If you want a note-taking app that you won’t have to fuss with no matter what device you’re using, Evernote wins in that regard.
One the other hand, OneNote works really well if you’re on a Windows machine, or at least using other Microsoft Office products. And Microsoft is still the go-to platform for word processing, spreadsheets, and presentations, taking those products online and into the cloud to compete with services like Google Drive. There are also special integrations with Microsoft’s Surface tablet, giving you even more usability if you jump on the Microsoft bandwagon.
Because of the integration to Office, OneNote makes it simple to go from notes to a comprehensive document that you can share. Searching Evernote’s support forum, the only way to do it on that platform is to copy and paste and then making sure that your formatting is all in place. With OneNote, it’s a simple export option.
You can even do the opposite. If you’ve been working on a spreadsheet, for instance, and you want to add it to a note so you can reference it while you’re working on a project, you can import it to OneNote and doodle and comment on it to your heart’s content.
Office documents are a safe bet in the business world, so if you have a client you need to get notes to, OneNote is probably the safer bet.
Which one should freelancers choose?
Really, you can’t go wrong with either Evernote or OneNote. They both give you anywhere-note-taking capabilities while being more robust than, say, Google Keep or Apple Notes, and both fulfill the needs of nearly any freelancer.
But if you had to...
You should choose Evernote if…
You want a seamless experience across all of your devices. If you find yourself hopping between many devices – especially made by different companies with different operating systems – Evernote is for you. While it has similar features to OneNote, more of them are available across more operating systems; you’ll barely be able to tell the difference between the iOS and Android apps, and you won’t find any functionality missing when you jump on a desktop to see the notes you’ve taken throughout your day.
You should choose OneNote if…
You are heavily into the Microsoft world. Creative types might use Apple or Adobe products, but any freelancer who uses word processors, makes spreadsheets and databases, or has to put together presentations still probably relies heavily on Microsoft, especially after their recent move to the cloud. If you find yourself opening Word and Excel often, OneNote’s seamless integration with those programs pushes it over Evernote.