Saturday, 12 March 2016

Windows 10 System Apps Review: OneNote

Note: This page is a review which forms part of the post Windows 10 System Apps Review

What’s this app for?

This is the Windows 10 Universal App version of its bigger brother which is part of the Microsoft Office Suite. OneNote is a digital notebook. The idea being that it provides an electronic single place to file away all sorts of notes and information you may have at work or home. If you use it with a Microsoft Account, your notebooks are stored online, thus enabling you to access them from almost anywhere. Even Outer Mongolia perhaps.

Does it do the job it was primarily designed for?

Yes. I’ve used the OneNote app on and off since Windows 10 first came about after being interested in what lots of other people were getting so excited about when they ranted and raved about it. I’m not fully adopted into the OneNote family but I do have a use for it when it comes to storing items for subjects I’m researching and keeping copies of interesting news articles.

This isn’t of course the full product, but pretty much all the basics are here so as to not really miss the full application, unless you’re a serious hard-core OneNote user. Above the main panels of dividing section tabs, pages and their contents, we have the main drop-down menus; Home, Insert, Draw and View. The basic changes to text and layout come under the first menu, with the ability to add tables, files, camera shots, images and hyper-links coming under the ‘Insert’ menu, demonstrating that there’s a decent amount of content you can add to OneNote page. The ‘Draw’ menu provides the basics to really just scribble on the screen in a variety of colours and sizes, whereas the ‘View’ Menu allows you varying levels of zoom and some grid lines to help keep things in order.

The ability to just throw all sorts of information into a page is one of OneNote’s strengths. Then to be able to rearrange and scribble all over the page is the icing on the cake. It’s interactive, simple to learn and a logical way to store notes on all sorts of things into the safety of the cloud. There’s also a very decent search facility on the main ‘hamburger’ menu that really does do a good job of looking through your notebooks based on your search criteria.

Settings wise there’s not a lot here, per usual.  Although the initial settings menu lists all sorts of headings, there’s really only the ‘Options’ section that provides you with anything to really tinker with. The ability to turn off the syncing is provided, although that would be really annihilating one of the benefits of OneNote in terms of it seamlessly saving what you do to the cloud. There there’s the option to set which notebook to use for Quick Notes by default, something that becomes more useful when you are sharing data from other apps to OneNote.

Another advantage to using the OneNote universal app is that this is clearly not an app that Microsoft just included in Windows 10 to tick a box, but one that’s integrated into how they think users will use the Operating System. There’s a quick action settings for the app in Action Center, the ability to share items directly to OneNote from almost every other Microsoft App, and the knowledge that the app is continually being enhanced and improved upon with monthly updates via the Windows Store App. Since Windows 10 was born back in July 2015, the OneNote app on average gets 2-3 updates a month, making it the most updated system app in Windows 10 history, as of March 2016 when I write this.

On the downside, the app does have some scaling issues that are rather annoying. Shrink the window too much and the section tabs disappear, something that seems to catch me out every single time it happens. There’s also no scrolling bars on the horizontal when the app is anything less than maximized, which makes seeing all of your pages impossible. Lastly, as good as it is to have Microsoft allowing us to share almost everything from other Windows 10 apps to OneNote (including a whole webpage via Edge!) it’s also annoyingly unreliable as a feature, with apps saying they are sending content to OneNote but it never appearing in your notebook.

What’s the alternative?

Well, aside from its full version in the Microsoft Office suite which will cost you money, there’s an enhanced online web version you can use to edit your cloud notebooks via if you have a Microsoft Account. There’s also a free version of OneNote for the desktop via if you don’t want to fork out for Office or start finding the universal app version too restrictive.

Hit, Miss, or Maybe?

Hit; although it’s almost impossible to not find a more comprehensive and free version of OneNote to use these days on your PC or mobile device, the Windows 10 universal app version is a valid and worthy addition to the OneNote roster. It’s got all the basics and works reliably well.


  1. Seems that most downsides you highlighted were solved out : section tabs remains up to half-size window ; horizontal scroll bar remains at any minimized window' size ; there is even a zoom in/zoom out button in the View menu (although it's not as convenient as zooming with two fingers...). Don't get me wrong : I only use OneNote Desktop because I consider OneNote App not worth using alongside with it's elder brother ; but OneNote App keeps improving since its inception, and for basic task it's ok.

  2. One year later, the UWP version has become much more proficient, thanks to numerous new features, and an improved User Interface. It's now worth using. See for a comparison of the UWP / desktop versions.