The tech-wielding public are hungry for a note-taking app that can rival Evernote in functionality, price, and stability. It's a productivity app that's hard to live without once you've used it for a while, but recent changes to the service have left many customers looking for an alternative. Business software company Zoho has a new note-taking app called Notebook that could be an Evernote competitor someday, but isn't yet. The free Zoho Notebook is a mobile-only app with limited features compared to what Evernote offers. Zoho says it will roll out a Web app and desktop apps eventually. If you're willing to wait, keep your eye on it. But for now, it falls so far short of Evernote in capabilities that it's not even in the same ballpark. Microsoft OneNote, however, is, and it's the only note-taking app that I think is a worthy potential replacement for anyone who actually uses the whole gamut of Evernote features. Switching to it, however, is a bitch.
Despite the discontent Evernote has felt from some of its members over the last two years, when it changed the Premium plan, gutted features, and fell short on reliability and customer service, its note-taking application remains our top pick. It's not a perfect tool, and the company certainly has its faults. But at this time, it's the best product you can find on the market for note-taking and syncing.
Price and Plan
Zoho Notebook is entirely free at this time. There are apps for iOS and Android, which are free to download and use. There are no in-app purchases or premium content. You get an unlimited amount of storage with your account, and you can upload individual files of up to 50MB. The major limitation is that it's mobile-only, so you can't sync to a desktop app or even access your notes through a Web app. Zoho says it plans to roll out additional apps for other platforms, but nothing else is available at the time of this writing.
OneNote is also free, with no feature restrictions on its free service. It uses OneDrive for storage, which gives anyone who signs up 25GB of space, no charge. Should you pay for an Office 365 account, you'll get 1TB of space all told, although that space is shared among other Office Online apps.
Evernote accounts come in four tiers of service: Basic (free), Plus ($34.99 per year or $3.99 per month), Premium ($69.99 per year or $7.99 per month), and Evernote Business. The free tier limits you to syncing across only two devices, and you can only upload 60MB of data each month. Theoretically speaking, the storage accumulates month after month ad infinitum, so your total storage is "limitless." See our Evernote review for more details on all the different plans.
Design, Features, and Options
Zoho Notebook has a simple interface and not a lot of options to review, which is indicative of its pared-down nature relative to Evernote. The general structure is that you can create notes of different media types, and you can create notebooks in which to store those notes.
Notes can be text, audio, a photo or uploaded image, or a checklist. From the main page, there are options to start the four different kinds of notes, and probably there shouldn't be. The reason is that if you want a note with mixed media, say an audio recording with text alongside it, you can only do so if you start by creating text note. If you create an audio note, you can't add any other kind of content to it. The same goes for starting with a photo note. You can't later add text or a checklist or an audio memo. But text notes are more flexible. So you should always start with a text note, and really the other options shouldn't be there at all.
The other way of looking at it is to say that Zoho Notebook treats audio notes as notes rather than attachments, so if you create a new audio note, that's exactly what it is. In Evernote, it would become an attachment to a note.
Microsoft OneNote treats its notes, or pages as they're called, like a canvas, and everything added to it is in its own contained box or field. Evernote treats notes as a text page, similar to a word processing document, where you can add more page elements, but you can also type on anywhere.
Notebooks, where you put your notes to sort them, are visually represented. Each notebook that you create has a cover and a title. There are more than two dozen options for the cover image, and you can upload your own image if you prefer. I wish there were a few less artsy options already included, like solid color books or books with a single letter on them, such as 'W' for work.
Notes, by default, also appear in various, randomly generated colors, although there is a setting where you can choose a different default for your notes, such as always having a white background.
From the main page, you see all your notebooks, as well as a stack of notes in the upper left corner with all recently created notes. A search bar at the top lets you look for notes containing keywords. A cog icon opens the settings, which are fairly light. I do like that you can select a default notebook where notes are saved unless you choose a different location.
Opening a notebook brings up your notes in either a preview list or a blocky card-like format. You can pinch notes together to create groups of notes, and reverse pinch to ungroup them. It worked well for me with with two notes, but with three or more notes, I needed a lot more finger dexterity and patience to get it to to work.
One nice feature in the checklist type note is that items that get checked off the list get sent to the bottom of the page, automatically sorting through what's done and what's left to do. You can also drag and drop checklist items into the order you want, which Evernote can't do.
There is a version history for each note, but it's not the easiest thing in the world to use on a mobile phone. When you view the history, a little timeline appears on the bottom of the page. You can tap the timeline to see how the note looked at those different stages and restore it, and that's great. But there is no timeline selection for the current note, making it hard to compare the older versions to the current one. You can't easily hop between the two.
There isn't much more to Zoho Notebook than what I've mentioned so far. There are no tags, reminders, OCR for turning text in images into searchable words, business card scanning, or any of the other features you can find in Evernote and OneNote. Google Keep, another note-taking and syncing app, doesn't come with all those capabilities either, but at least it does have tags and reminders that sync to Google Calendar, which is pretty helpful.
Tags are a big deal to people who have thousands of notes and need to quickly sort and view them by more criteria than their assigned notebook. Evernote and OneNote both have a system for tags. OneNote also has something called a page Section, which is yet another way to organize, categorize, or otherwise make sense of your notes. Zoho Notebook doesn't have anything like that.
Both Evernote and OneNote offer a way for collaborators to share and discuss notes. In Zoho Notebook's iPhone app, you can share a note the same way you can share any other content with a share button in iOS, but you can't look up other Zoho users and connect with them in a more business-collaborative kind of way.
Not Ready for Prime Time
Zoho Notebook is too lightweight at this time to be considered a serious replacement for Evernote. It only works on mobile devices, which is its major limitation. It doesn't even have a Web app. Key note-taking features, such as tags, are missing entirely. Until Zoho builds in some of these other very important aspects to the app, Notebook is not worth using.
If you're dead-set on leaving Evernote, I recommend waiting for the Evernote alternatives to improve. OneNote is the only other app that comes close at this time, and it's a fine service to pick up fresh but is problematic for anyone who is transferring notes from one system to the other. Stick it out a few more months with Evernote if you can. Zoho Notebook could be a fine replacement once it adds desktop apps, a Web app, and more features. But right now, it's too simplistic.