Every once in a while, a company makes a major mistake in their attempt to enter the mobile app space. Even when their desktop software is amazing, a proper effort is not always put into translation of that software into a mobile context. One such major failure is Microsoft's One Note. What is an outstanding desktop application -- I run Parallels on my Mac almost exclusively for the purpose of using One Note -- has no comparable "official" iOS companion. Sure, there is an official One Note app for iOS. It, however, is rubbish, to be kind. I've never met anyone who thinks otherwise. What I have met, however, is a multitude of iPad users who desperately want to be able to sync One Note with their iPad and use their iPad to edit their One Note notebooks. Thankfully, Outline+ has come along with an amazing app at a bargain price, which makes nearly the entire range of One Note features available on the iPad.
This is the app I've been looking for, since I bought my first iPad just before I started law school over three years ago. Outline+ syncs via iTunes, Skydrive, Dropbox, or Box.com, with any One Note notebook you give it access to. It also has the ability to open One Note notebooks that you get in your email via the "Open In..." feature of iOS. Once a notebook has been brought into Outline+, it's an amazing thing to see in action and to work with.
I first discovered this app when I was a busy law student last year, when my notes were pretty much my life. I had been been searching high and low for the very best way to take notes and keep them synchronized between my MacBook Pro and my iPad. Prior to discovering Outline+, I could not say I was really very pleased with any solution I attempted to cobble together. Now, I feel like my iPad is living up to its true potential to revolutionize the academic and professional side of my life.
Anyone who has ever used One Note will immediately recognize everything about Outline+. But it doesn't have to be used with One Note. It is a fully capable stand-alone note taking app, with the capability to manage data in multiple notebooks, each with multiple colored-tab sections, with multiple pages, which can be created and moved to organize your data how you need it.
Using Outline+ is as easy as anything. Create a notebook, assign it a cover from one of many various colors or designs), then create sections within the notebook, and pages within the sections. In my tests, each page can store a ton of text. (It took me only 3 pages to store the entire content of a multinational treaty I am studying.)
Creating text notes is as simple as tapping on the page: a long tap creates a new note on the page, inside a dotted outline box, just like in One Note. Editing these notes just requires a tap on the note and then a tap inside the note. Moving notes into new positions on the page is accomplished by tapping the note, then long-tapping it to move it. Easy, right?
Text can be indented, bulleted, formatted, etc., just as easily as can be done on a Mac. Thanks to custom indent and outdent "keys" that are added to the iPad's virtual keyboard, text manipulation for the sake of outlining is super easy and convenient. Text menus for numbering or justifying text, as well as applying bold, underline, and italics, appear at the top of the page, along with an absolute necessity for note-taking: a styles menu, featuring various levels of headings.
Inserting photos, either from the photo roll or by taking a new one, is as easy as tapping an icon. When you're actively taking notes or reviewing a page, you can expand the page to fill the screen.
Finding notes is also dead simple: three levels of search are available. You can search the currently selected section/tab, or the current notebook, or even search across all notebooks. Page titles, text, as well as any text that is OCR'd from images is included in the search results.
A thorough, and well-illustrated, user guide is included in the sample "Getting started" notebook, so there need be no intimidation in getting acclimated to Outline+ if you've never used One Note.
In my tests, Outline+ performed as well as I could ever have wanted. One Note notebooks were opened, read, edited, and synced, with complete accuracy. Drawing, highlighting, and annotation is dead simple in Outline+, and very intuitive.
Since I've been using Outline+, I have felt so much more productive with my iPad than I have felt previously. It really does fill a huge void. There are many decent note-taking applications for iPad, some of which I have reviewed over the last three and a half years since the iPad's release. But each of them stands, for the most part, as an island unto itself. Outline+, with its One Note synchronization, allows for your data to be usable instantly on either your iPad, your computer, or any internet-linked computer in the world (thanks to One Note's online version on Office Live). That sort of versatility makes a big difference as to what sort of data I entrust to an application. Outline+ is fast, beautiful, and everything you want in an iPad app. Outline+ looks amazing on the iPad's retina screen. Their blog and support are also super helpful with questions you may have.
If my review has not been enough to convince you, their demo video on outline.ws should do the trick.
I predict huge success for Outline+ as the iPad revolution continues. It's awesome as a stand-alone note taking application, no doubt. But in addition to that, no One Note-using iPad owner should be without it, and the $15 price tag will possibly be the best app-money you spend. For those who want to try before they buy, a (barely) limited version is available for free, called Outline. It has limits on how many pages can be added to a notebook, and lacks direct Dropbox syncing capabilities, but should otherwise be enough to give you a good feel for Outline+'s abilities.
A companion Mac app has been added, which serves as a reader only at this point. It has the benefit of also being a native Mac reader for OneNote of course, so OneNote notebooks people send you from their Windows computers can be read on your Mac with ease, even if you don't personally want to take notes in OneNote or Outline+. But here's where things get really cool: if you buy the Mac Outline reader app right now, you will get the planned update to an editor for free, whilst the cost will go up after the editor is released. This is a great way to basically get everything awesome about OneNote on your Mac for a really low price.
Get the apps here:
Outline+ for iPad
free Outline (demo) for iPad
Outline for Mac
Review by Ronald C. Schoedel III, Esq.
This review was first published for Alaskan Apple Users Group in October 2012, updated in November 2012, and provided here with additional updates.
Ronald C. Schoedel III is an attorney, former broadcaster, student of Welsh, and Sinophile. He has lived in Alaska, Wales, and China (Hong Kong specifically), and presently calls Utah home. He has been teaching and training Mac users for nearly a decade, and started blogging as a software reviewer in 2004.