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Microsoft’s free OneNote digital notebook review: A useful addition to Office for iPad

by Derek Walter

March 31 2014

Microsoft OneNote is a solid complement to the rest of Office letting you, for example, organize expenses (see screen shot above)
Microsoft OneNote is a solid complement to the rest of Office letting you, for example, organize expenses (see screen shot above)

The launch of Office for iPad has understandably focused on what many consider to be the core pieces of Microsoft’s productivity suite: Word, Excel and PowerPoint, but don't forget about OneNote. (Rating: 4 out of 5 stars)

Yet lost in the hoopla of the Office for iPad launch was a revamp to OneNote, Microsoft’s digital notebook, which has been on the iPad since 2011. Those planning on diving in to Office for iPad would do well to consider OneNote.

The update includes bug fixes and a redesign for iOS 7. Microsoft also released a standalone version of OneNote for the Mac, which means one can connect to their digital files across all major platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. With tight Office integration, Microsoft has pushed OneNote to be a powerful alternative to the popular Evernote.

In fact, before there was Evernote, there was OneNote. It was built for the Windows XP tablet era, when Bill Gates envisioned the future of computing would involve a convertible PC and stylus.

Fast forward to today, where the iPad is ubiquitous. The digital notebook concept still works well, as notes, images, data and other essential files can be hard to manage when spread across a consortium of apps.

OneNote solves much of this problem. By connecting a Microsoft account (either consumer, Office 365, or SharePoint) everything you add is on all devices.

OneNote uses a strict organizational hierarchy of notebooks, sections and pages. It creates a good structure for your notes, as other applications can turn everything into a hodgepodge. You can create one notebook for a specific project, then break it down into further detail depending upon what you need to save.

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You can also connect a consumer and Office 365 Microsoft account simultaneously, so you can get work files on your personal iPad or connect to that travel section from your office computer.

The interface stays consistent across Office, with OneNote using the same minimalist ribbon found in the new suite of apps. Tap the arrow in the corner to go full screen, which is especially nice if you are reading web pages that you have clipped. There is an exhaustive list of tags or other organizational tools, such as tagging pages or adding task-specific labels.

(See also: Office for iPad review: Microsoft delivers three outstanding apps)

A web bookmarklet is available that allows you to save a page directly to OneNote, which can be very useful when conducting research and needing to collect a large number of resources.

While OneNote currently doesn’t integrate as tightly with the rest of Office for iPad as it could (there is no way to open a file in another Office app) the work Microsoft has done indicates a serious commitment to the platform.

With that in mind OneNote remains a strong choice for organizing your stuff digitally.

(Tablets 2.0 - How tablets have become more than consumption and now also productivity devices, is the theme of the upoming Tablet Strategy conference in New York on May 6, 2014 for executives and managers involved in tablet deployment projects. You may be eligible for a free pass if you manage a table project for your organization.)

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