It’s here—the very first official Microsoft Office app for the iPhone: Microsoft OneNote for iPhone. This seems like a peculiar move, given that Microsoft has just begun pushing its newfangled Windows Phone 7 smartphone. But all motivations aside, many iPhone users are ecstatic that Microsoft is offering and supporting official channels for wiring together your Microsoft Office, Windows Live SkyDrive and iPhone spaces together. Read on for a review of this inaugural iPhone app from Microsoft.
Microsoft OneNote for iPhone: Functionality
The desktop version of OneNote is a note taking application for Windows, and it’s included in most editions of Microsoft Office. Like Microsoft Word, OneNote allows you to create text-based documents with rich formatting, tables, images, etc. But OneNote has a stronger focus on organizing bits of information and keeping ongoing diaries, to-do- lists, clippings, etc. For this reason, it’s particularly handy for research or personal journaling.
The Microsoft OneNote app for iPhone allows you to edit, create and save notes from your iPhone. When you first fire up Microsoft OneNote for the iPhone, you’ll be prompted to create or log in with your Windows Live ID. That’s because all of your notes will be saved on your Windows Live SkyDrive. From there, you can edit them on the web or sync them back down to your desktop computer.
The iPhone OneNote app allows you to take text notes with some basic formatting, mostly geared towards lists. You have bullets, checkboxes and the ability to snap pictures with your iPhone’s camera and include them in your notes.
The Microsoft OneNote for iPhone app is beautiful. It’s themed in the fetching purple that the desktop version uses, making it undeniably official feeling. The notes are adorned with a quaint three-ring binder design, which is a nice touch. Beyond that, it follows iPhone app conventions nicely, making navigation of the app a snap for first-time users.
To help you move quickly through notes, there are home screen links to Recently Viewed and Unfiled Notes, as well as a list of all of your synced notebooks.
Below that is a toolbar with buttons for Recent Notes, Quick Note, Camera and Settings. The second two options are particularly handy for pounding out a note on the fly without much fiddling with menus.
The word processing portion of the job is very nice as well. It’s much more professional feeling than iPhone’s native Notes app, yet it keeps itself from feeling too stuffy. A new note dumps you right into the body of the note, and you can tap along the top to add a title when appropriate.
The only clunky part is navigating away from a note. The essential controls are shoved off the screen when the keyboard is on the screen (a necessary measure, for the sake of editing space, I guess) so you have to hide it in order to navigate away from a note. A minor inconvenience.
Syncing with Microsoft OneNote is very snappy. In tests, notes created with the iPhone app were available on the SkyDrive within seconds. This is contrast to other cloud-based note taking apps, such as Evernote, which are sometimes a bit iffy in terms of when your changes will get to the cloud and/or back. Within the app, the overall speed is smooth as well. The clean design helps to that end, since there’s little fluff to gum up the gears.
The main drawback of Microsoft OneNote is it’s over reliance on the Windows Live infrastructure in order for it to be useful. You have to have a Windows Live ID to even use the app, and there’s no other way to sync the notes back to another device other than through your SkyDrive. That means that you must use Internet Explorer (required for Live Office) or have Microsoft Office for Windows (OneNote is not yet available for Office for Mac). \tThe ability to sync your notes in some other way—perhaps via email, or a OneNote sync client for Mac desktops—would really help this app in terms of crossover users. But for now, Microsoft OneNote for iPhone remains most attractive to users who already heavily use OneNote, SkyDrive and Microsoft Office for Windows.