Last updated on August 20, 2023
There is no shortage of stories on the Internet comparing the two most popular note-taking systems of OneNote and Evernote. I have read a lot of those articles, and I suspect you have too. Even after I read pages and pages of reviews, comparisons, and head-to-head battles, I could not make up my mind. I knew I had to replace my collection of Office documents with something more organized, but which one?
I decided the best idea would be to give them both a try and see which worked best for me. The following were my requirements going in:
- One Source: Be the source for all information concerning the world, campaign, characters, locations, NPCs, rules, maps, and handouts.
- DM Screen: Replace my DM screen and provide me with quick access to all of the rules and tables I use regularly during the course of a session.
- Immersion: Allow me to access information more discretely and quickly than trying to find that information online or in a book.
- Multi-Platform: Create and access notes from my laptop, iPad, iPhone, and iMac so as to quickly capture and update notes whenever inspiration strikes.
- Templates: Create templates for things like places and NPCs to help me capture and read data more quickly.
- Search: Locate information needed to answer a question more quickly than could be accomplished with the book or Internet search.
When it comes to this requirement, both systems are pretty even. They approach the creation and organization of notes differently, but both work. The OneNote method has a lot more flexibility, but this flexibility can lead to a lot of lost time organizing and reorganizing your notes. Evernote is simpler and easier, but a little less flexible. I personally prefer the OneNote approach, but only just barely. Ultimately, I found that I could get around OneNote a little faster and without having to use the keyboard as much.
As for being a single source, Evernote’s limits on note sizes and monthly transfers also make things difficult for me. I like to attach images and maps to my notes and the monthly transfer limit of 65mb vanishes fast.
DM Screen Replacement
Evernote can do the job, but OneNote’s more advanced formatting and better table support was better suited to the task. The critical feature is OneNote’s ability to embed a table inside a table. This lets you quickly create a two or three column page with tables for things like conditions, AC values, and spell area of effects inside those columns. Evernote will let you use a table to create columns, but your limited to regular text or lists. It will work, but its not as dense.
This requirement was key. I want a lot of information handy, but I don’t want it to be a barrier between me and the players. That means, I wanted a system I could
- Put as much information on 1 screen as possible. (Minimal Scrolling)
- Use as big a font as I can get away with and still meet #1. (No leaning in)
- Be organized neatly with good links to minimize searching. (Minimal Typing)
To meet these three goals, I needed a system that would allow me to maximize density without sacrificing readability. I also needed to be able to navigate quickly and easily using just my trackpad.
As I mentioned earlier, OneNote was better at maintaining this balance. Evernote required more scrolling and searching. It rendered easy to read notes, but it just wasn’t as dense.
Both systems support multiple platforms, but Evernote does a much better job of keeping notes synchronized. It syncs faster than OneNote (if OneNote syncs at all) and the notes are perfectly replicated on iOS, the web, and on both the Windows & Mac desktop clients. OneNote, unfortunately, is not very reliable and notes display differently on the different platforms. I spent hours getting pages setup just right on the Windows client only to discover that the web, Mac, & mobile apps don’t support some formatting and the Mac client doesn’t let you override margins.
Winner (OneNote, by default)
One way to make it easier to quickly enter and read data is to use templates to enforce notes to have a consistent layout & appearance. OneNote makes it relatively easy to create and use templates, but not so easy to update them. While they’re not perfect, they work well enough for my needs. Unfortunately, Evernote requires a paid plan to unlock this feature.
Search & Tagging
Both products provide good search capabilities and there really are no weaknesses , but I found Evernote’s built-in search a little better. It is easily accessible, quick to use, and has some nice filtering options that are relatively easy and quick to implement. Where I really liked Evernote over OneNote was its tagging. With Evernote you assign custom keywords to notes to create a sort of index that can be used to quickly select the notes you want, or filter out the ones you don’t. OneNote’s approach is to simply assign pre-formatted text to notes. It has its uses, but I wouldn’t call it tagging.
Overall, I don’t think you can go wrong with either system, but for me it just had to be OneNote. I really wanted Evernote to come out on top, but OneNote just touched more of the right bases for me. The unlimited storage, unlimited transfers, templates, and hierarchical structure were too important for me.
The sync issues can be troublesome, but now that I’m aware of the issue, I don’t make updates on another device, 15 minutes before game time.
I am planning a post with a little more information on how I use OneNote in the future, so keep an eye out for it.