Microsoft’s OneNote has been around the block for a bit, in fact there were unfounded rumors they were going to drop the product. However, it is still with us and Microsoft have confirmed that it’s going to be around for the foreseeable future. But how does it stack up against the competition, particularly with increasing competition in the productivity software market.
This article sets out to compare the Microsoft offering against one of the newer players in the arena, specifically Notion.
What is Notion?
Notion is a complete productivity and team management software suite. In fact, calling it just this is doing it a great disservice, Notion was designed to be every tool you could ever need in this sphere of operation. It has been described as a Software Swiss Army Knife.
From databases to web design to notes and tasks Notion has just about every conceivable tool you would ever need.
What is OneNote?
Microsoft OneNote is a note-taking program designed to let users share information and collaborate. It can gather users notes, audio and video, drawings, documents and more besides.
While OneNote is included in Microsoft Office Subscriptions, it is available as a standalone and free product from the Microsoft Store. It also comes preinstalled with Windows 10.
Notion is just about one of most fully featured and customizable products available in the genre. Others have tried this ‘multitool’ approach in the past and failed, part of the problem is that they couldn’t offer the same features as specialized software applications did.
Notion has approached the problem differently, and the result is a fully featured software application that performs most its functions as well as some of the specialized platforms. In this section we are going to look at some of the pros of Notion.
Notion uses blocks as the foundation of its software. These blocks can be used to build whatever you want within the program. For instance, a block could be a: –
Using these blocks, it is possible to build a complete organizational system that is tailored for your exact needs.
Whereas OneNote is a software platform that specializes in Note taking, Notion offers you far more than just this. It can do everything from designing a web page to monitoring finances.
With a huge selection of categorized templates to choose from, creating anything within the Notion platform is easily achieved as there is likely already a template already designed for the purpose. Categories of that are available include:
- Human Resources
- Product Management
This is just a few of the available templates. Within each category there are subcategories to narrow your selection even further. For instance, expand the education tab and you are offered choices like:
- Class Notes
- Grade Calculator
- Reading List
- Course Schedule
Works on All Platforms
There are apps available for Android and iOS. For Macs and Windows PCs it happily works with all browsers including Edge, Chrome, Firefox and Safari.
The free version has many of the features available in the paid version, although it is restricted to one user. The next step up is the Personal Pro version, which is still limited to one user but has more features, it costs $4 per month. The Pro version which is really what collaborating teams would need costs $8 per user per month. This price is cheaper than many of its competitors.
Other Pros of Notion
Multiple Viewing Options – In Notion you can view your data in a number of ways including database, calendar, list, and Kanban
Import data – you can upload your own files, videos, audio etc. and embed them in your pages.
OneNote doesn’t have the same lofty ambitions to be a tool for every purpose. It really is a specialized Note taking application, this obviously gives it an advantage in one section which is the first pro we will cover.
Simple to Use Note Taking
With Note taking at the core of its design philosophy, it is now wonder that it excels in this area. While Notion has note taking functions, they feel clunky and awkward to use when compared to OneNote.
OneNote uses a simple method to manage its notes with a notebook, sections and pages approach that allows you to build up individual notebooks that are theme or topic based.
You would expect OneNote to integrate easily with Microsoft Office and of course it does, it is included in the Office Suite. But it also offers many other integrations including: –
- Zapier (which in turn allows you to integrate with many more software applications)
Even if you don’t own a copy of Office or have an Office 365, you can still download a fully functional copy of OneNote from the Microsoft Store. The free version (requiring a Microsoft Account) gives you unlimited notes, Syncing and 15gb of OneDrive Space.
Other Pros of OneNote
Simultaneous Editing – Within OneNote multiple people can edit the same note and each edit is noted to let you know who made the changes.
Web Clippings – Found an article you like on the web, no problem, just clip the content into a Note with the OneNote Web clipper extension.
Drawing – Draw directly onto your notes with pen tools on a computer or with your finger or a stylus on a mobile device.
Notion has tried to cover all the bases with its modular and highly customizable multi-tool approach. Largely, it has succeeded in achieving what it was designed to do, in this section we will cover some of the areas where it hasn’t quite hit the mark.
Can be tricky and time consuming to set up
In order to be as flexible as possible, this con is kind of a necessity. If you want a product that works out the box, then this probably isn’t the product for you. Although it does come with some preset features in place, in order to utilize the full potential of this software, you do need to tinker with it to get it set up as you require.
Another downside of this is that this has a bit of learning curve as you find your way around the software.
Free Version is Limited
The free version is absolutely fine for personal use and if you require extra functions then there is a personal pro version that costs $4 per month. However, both these versions are restricted to one user, so are absolutely no use for team collaboration purposes.
Until you upgrade to the pro-version which costs $8 per user, per month, then you are restricted to a product that is for personal use. (although it does do it very well)
While there are worse apps out there, it does lack in a couple of ways. Many users have reported it as being slow to load, particularly when there are lots of notes in your system, and also it may need prompting to sync if you have recently made changes on other devices.
This could be improved, although it handles simple key word searches well, the tagging and filter system could be tightened up. When creating a block(or a page) you can add custom tags to them, a great idea but it would be greatly enhanced if you could subsequently filter on these tags.
OneNote is a far simpler concept and has been around for longer than Notion, as such it has had time to evolve and resolve many of the cons that earlier versions had. However, it doesn’t always work like that. New features could be flawed, and old problems swept under the carpet.
To be fair to OneNote, there aren’t any major issues, and most users report far more positive than negative experiences with the software.
Here are some of the cons with OneNote.
One of the most common issues that is experienced with OneNote is issues with syncing devices. While in most instances this is solved by refreshing the screen or reloading the app, in some cases people have had to clear the browser cache or user data and even reinstall the app.
There are no Auto-alignment functions on Notes, while this isn’t really a problem within the software, when data is exported this can cause formatting issues. Also, when viewing on different platforms Notes created on one device don’t auto resize and can look somewhat shabby.
Works Better on Windows than on a Mac
Hardly surprising, considering its heritage, but these days for a product like this to be truly successful it must be able to work equally well across all platforms. I don’t have any personal experience of this but many users have reported that the MacOS X version doesn’t function as well as the Windows version. Mostly this is again a syncing issue.
It is a simple enough interface to use, however it feels a bit dated and looks like an older bit of software. Of course, comparatively it is an older piece of Software, but it does kind of look like Microsoft haven’t put a lot of resources into updating the interface.
There really isn’t a very good support system with this product. Although there are plenty of online resources, if you can’t find a solution within them it is nearly impossible to get any assistance from Microsoft.
Advantages that Notion has over OneNote
Both these software apps take a different approach to dealing with increasing productivity, and as we have seen there are advantages and disadvantages to both solutions. In this section we are going to discuss some of the areas where Notion excels.
If you are looking for a complete organizational tool set, then Notion is definitely the way to go. As far as features goes, OneNote just isn’t in the same league (to be fair it doesn’t set out to be). If you are looking for more than just a note taking application, then it has to be Notion.
If you are looking for a system that allows for greater inter-team collaboration, then Notion has more to offer than OneNote. It is designed from the bottom up to allow teams to collaborate effectively.
You have the option to create, team Wiki’s, have unlimited people synchronously edit a document, share documents and other files, assign tasks and projects, embed over 500 apps into Notion pages.
While OneNote can offer some integrations, Notion is by far the winner in this instance. OneNote is happy operating within the Microsoft ecosystem and does have limited integrations outside that ‘Window’. But Notion has more flexibility when it comes to integrations.
Notion can integrate with apps like Splash, Google Calendar, Outlook, PayPal, Slack, Trello, Gmail and much more. It is also possible to embed apps directly into pages within Notion, and the list of integrations is ever growing.
Advantages that OneNote has over Notion
It is important to consider the differing goals of these software apps, OneNote has never proclaimed to be the all-in-one-tool that Notion is. However, it still shines in certain areas.
Better Note Taking
This one shouldn’t really be a surprise, OneNote is designed primarily as a Note Taking tool and it does it very well. Feature rich and simple to use it is a great tool for using notes to keep a track of your life and project. The ability to embed documents, video and just about any other file type into the notes is great for collaboration and managing tasks.
The organization of the notes is clever and intuitive, with notes being stored in note books, that can be organized in sections and pages within each book. These books can be color coded to further organize your notes.
There is no paid version of OneNote, if you have a Windows 10 PC or a copy of Office you already have OneNote ready to go.
Great for Microsoft Office Users
If you have a team and Microsoft Office is used throughout the team, then OneNote is a great option, it obviously is part of this suite and as such there are no integration issues with your existing working methods. Team members already have a working knowledge of the suite, meaning there is little or no learning curve.
Frequently Asked Questions about Notion vs OneNote
Who Should Use Notion?
If you are looking for a complete suite of tools that will undertake every task from word processing to web design, then Notion is what you are after. It is a complete toolkit that is infinitely customizable.
Organizations that are looking for something that does more than just organize workflow or improve teamwork and productivity should consider this. It can replace so many other functions that usually require other software apps that it can, in the long term, become a vital part of any organization’s administrative infrastructure.
Who Should Use OneNote?
Those organizations that already have the Microsoft ecosystem deeply embedded in their systems would find OneNote ready to go with a minimum of fuss. While not as all-encompassing as Notion, for many organizations the Note Taking and Organizational features of the software would be more than adequate, and free of course.
Which is Better for Project Management?
If you want a simpler option without the bells and whistles, then OneNote is a great tool. However, once you get into more complex models that require more than the ability to share notes and calendars, then really the only option between the two apps is Notion.
OneNote just isn’t able to compete with the full suite of tools that Notion has to offer in this category.
Which is Better for Note Taking, OneNote or Notion?
Notion has adequate Note taking features that are a great feature in their own right. However, if you are looking for an intuitive, powerful, easy to use and free system then the obvious answer is OneNote. If all you are looking for is a powerful Note taking tool, it really is a no-brainer.
Which is Better for Collaboration?
They both offer great collaboration features. This is really down to what degree you require collaboration, if it is just a case of sharing a few notes with some team members, then the OneNote app is likely all you would need.
But if you are looking for full-team collaboration on complex projects or tasks and require features like shared wikis, synchronous editing of documents in real-time and file sharing to name a few, then Notion is the better package.
Pricing: Notion vs OneNote
- FREE Plan (aka “Personal”)
- Personal Pro 4$
- Team 8$
- Enterprise 20$
- FREE plan (with Microsoft 365)
- Personal 6.99$
- Family 9.99$ (up to 6 people)
- **part of the Microsoft 365 Suite
Conclusion: our Final Verdict is…
These are both fantastic tools that have their own niche. The Microsoft offering is fantastic for organizing less complex tasks and projects, particularly for those teams already using the Office platform. But when it comes to getting serious about creating a complete system that will oversee the organization of multi-teams and projects, and do much more besides, then it must be Notion.