Windows 10 Tip: Choose the Right OneNote App

Posted on August 18, 2015 by Paul Thurrott in Windows 10 with 1 Comment

Windows 10 Tip: Choose the Right OneNote App

Windows 10 ships with a free OneNote mobile app that is tailored for touch-first mobile devices like tablets. But anyone can get a more powerful OneNote desktop application for free. Which should you choose?

Microsoft has included a mobile app version of OneNote in its mobile OSes for many years, but Windows 10 is the first desktop version of this OS to provide a bundled OneNote app. In fact, like many bundled Windows 10 apps, you can’t even uninstall OneNote (which, frankly, is a bit unexpected and unwelcome). This is at least partially because it’s integrated with the Note quick action tile in Action Center. (See below.)

However, all Windows users have access to a more full-featured OneNote desktop application for free: Microsoft gives away OneNote from the OneNote web site. Currently, that means Office 2013, but with Office 2016 coming down the pike in the next few months, I’m sure the free offer will switch over to that version.

Too, Office 365 subscribers have access to the full Office desktop suite. Here, you have a choice: you can install the default offering, Office 2013, which includes OneNote 2013, or you can install Office 2016, which includes OneNote 2016.

With these available OneNote desktop application freebies, why even bother with the free OneNote mobile app that comes free with Windows 10? Well, it depends.

If you’re using Windows 10 on a mini-tablet—or, a PC or device with a screen that is under 10.1-inches—the bundle OneNote mobile app is probably the right choice. This version of OneNote is designed for touch-first devices, and while you can of course create and enter notes, the device it’s on is better suited for reading and browsing notes.


If you are using Windows 10 on a full-sized tablet, 2-in-1 or other PC—a PC or device where you will typically enter text with a physical keyboard, or will need some of the OneNote desktop application’s more advanced functionality—the OneNote 2013/2016 desktop application is the right choice.


Of course, because you cannot uninstall the OneNote mobile app that comes with Windows 10, you should at least fully configure the app you are going to use as the default OneNote app; you can find out how to do this in my article, Windows 10 Tip: Configure Default Apps.


Note: This choice will not determine which app runs when you select the Note quick action tile in Action Center. Sadly, the OneNote mobile app is tied to this tile, and will always run.


And as an additional tip, if you’re using OneNote with a Surface tablet, be sure to download the Surface app from Windows Store. This app lets you configure which version of OneNote launches when you press the button on the end of Surface Pen.

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Comments (1)

One response to “Windows 10 Tip: Choose the Right OneNote App”

  1. davervw

    I'm getting a license agreement popup with OneNote 2016 on my Windows 10 computers this week. And it mentions it is for Home and Student. The free download doesn't mention anything about restriction to Home and Student, but now I go into File + Account and sure enough it says it is licensed for Home and Student. I can't go back in time and see what the license says before I clicked "Agree" this week. Did this licensing change, or has it been Home and Student all along and I never saw it? I want to use it for work, but thought it was Free(*). To stay legit do I need to move to the online version or App and toss this desktop application? (Yeah, I know this article is almost 2 years old... but got my attention with the license agreement change this week)