The (Not So) Dreaded Notes, Part 3: Transition Complete

As promised, this week I will complete my initial work on notes and tackle the next three questions regarding OneNote:

  • Question 2: How to get it into the cloud
  • Question 3: How to get it across my devices
  • Question 4: How to achieve my desire for freeform sketching

Question 2: How to get it into the cloud

Microsoft has made it so simple to get your notes into the cloud.

As an Office365 subscriber, I receive a whole heap of cloud disk storage called OneDrive. Microsoft uses OneDrive to store my OneNote notebooks. As such, when I need to access those notebooks on another device, I simply open them from my OneDrive. Whoosh, instant access.

I am currently using OneNote on my laptop, tablet, and iPhone. All have a similar interface and all have access to my entire set of notebooks.

The power of the cloud.

Question 3: How to get it across my devices

This question is largely answered by Question 2. Once in the cloud, the notebooks can be accessed on any device running OneNote. Hats off to Microsoft for embracing other eco-systems. OneNote has amazing apps for the iOS platforms, the Android platforms, and of course Windows (tablet and PC).

This past week I discovered the power of OneNote in the cloud – using the web version available at I signed in with my Microsoft Live account and boom, there were all of my notebooks, available for live editing in a web browser.

This is where double kudos to Microsoft engineers comes in, for implementing an under-appreciated feature of OneNote, even in their web version: the absence of EDIT or SAVE buttons.

In OneNote, you simply start typing on a note page and it starts capturing your notes. There is no “edit” on a note. Just start typing. Subsequently, there is no “save” on a note. It saves your notes live to the cloud, as you type them. Nice.

Question 4: How to achieve my desire for freeform sketching

This was a tough one. I love hand-written notes. Little scrawls on a page are very helpful. So wanting to extend my ability to scrawl on an agenda to the digital world was essential.

I started my journey with my tablet. It seemed the most natural place to make written notes. It has a similar form factor to a piece of paper, and the ability to hold it naturally, or lie it flat, seemed perfect for writing.

My current tablet is a Google Nexus 9. It is an amazing little Android tablet running absolutely pure Google Android.

The Stylus

My first no-brainer was that writing with my finger alone was not going to work. I needed a pen-like stylus. I also understood that every tablet uses different touch technology, and that the pens being made for tablets varied in their accuracy and functionality.

So I went to the web to find the best stylus for my Nexus 9. There were hundreds to choose from, so I picked a highly-rated unit by Jot – the Pinpoint Precision Stylus.


It is advertised as a powered, extremely accurate stylus with multiple tips. Works with virtually any tablet. Except mine.

The experience was less than exceptional. The stylus would draw a nice clean line and then suddenly skip sections, like it was no longer talking to the tablet. I tried writing with it, and it would consistently skip parts of my words. So I switched to printing. No better. An ‘E’ kept coming out as a “C” because it would skip the middle stroke of the letter. Lines drawn at 45 degrees would turn squiggly.

In a rage of frustration, I tried a cheap pen / stylus that we had purchased in bulk for my company as part of a giveaway. We called them the “live and learn” stylus, because we learned much about buying product from China for pennies per unit. The thing would generally fall apart within 45 seconds of being used. Total crap. But, the stylus end of the unit has a big fat bulb that worked flawlessly, albeit somewhat clumsily. It doesn’t have a very fine tip, but it never missed a pixel.


I kept at it, trying a number of lower-cost and higher-cost styluses with my Nexus 9 and none of them gave me a satisfying writing or sketching experience.

The Tablet

I eventually figured out that the problem wasn’t the stylus. It was the tablet. The Nexus is designed to be a finger-driven tablet. Period.

Researching the pen-driven tablets was easy – the two frontrunners are the Microsoft Surface and the Apple iPad Pro. Both retail north of $1,000. Yikes.

I am pretty committed to OneNote, and the Microsoft ecosystem. OneNote is available for the iPad, but I figured that the Surface tablets are getting great reviews, they run Microsoft Windows 10, and they are available for as little as $699 for the Surface 3.

Because the tablet is a writing device, it doesn’t need a ton of power. The low-end Surface 3 has plenty of power to run Office apps, and is relatively inexpensive.

I purchased a Surface 3 unit that has embedded LTE connectivity. I swapped a SIM card from an old phone and can connect to the internet, automatically, anywhere I can find a 4G cell signal.

Sketching on the Surface

The Surface uses a pen sold by Microsoft to tap buttons or write freehand. The pen is light, accurate, and expensive. However, it produced amazing robust diagrams and freehand notes. Just what I was looking to achieve!



The stylus has changed the game for me. I am able to sketch, add written notes, and highlight items at will. Note taking now feels more natural – very much like the Moleskin notebooks that I replaced.

But more powerful! Every note that I have ever made digitally is available to me at any time on any device. As such, I can look back at conversations in the past to establish what was said by who.

So my transition to digital notes is complete – even if it is still a learning process for me. OneNote seems to be doing the job well, and sharing notes has become really easy.

Next week…. I begin to tackle paperless documents. It is time to say goodbye to binders!

Part 1Part 2 – Part 3

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