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Zoho Notebook - Review 2021


Zoho Notebook is a free note-taking app from Zoho Corp, a company that specializes in low-cost, cloud-based software. Notebook has steadily improved over the last few years and now syncs your notes across all major platforms and the web. It comes with a web clipper, document scanning in the mobile app, support for file attachments, the ability to record audio notes, password protection options on individual notes, and more. Collaboration and sharing options enable you to give people read-only access or the ability to co-edit notes. It’s a good, free option, but it could offer better organization features; other services structure notebooks and notes more logically.

If you’ve used Microsoft OneNote or Evernote, our two Editors’ Choice winners for note-taking, you might incorrectly assume that all note-taking apps are equally powerful. Some apps, such as Notion, emphasize tracking and managing tasks as much as storing and organizing notes. Others, such as Google Keep, help you jot down an idea quickly when it comes to you. Then, there are apps designed to support sketching and handwriting on tablets—Penultimate and Notability come to mind.

How Much Does Zoho Notebook Cost?

Zoho Notebook is completely free to use. There are no in-app purchases, no tiers of service to agonize over, and no storage limits, except for uploaded files. You can make as many notes as you want, though there’s a 5GB total limit for File Cards. These are notes that contain uploaded attachments, such as word processing files, PDFs, and spreadsheets. The reason? Those files automatically get stored in Zoho Docs, and free account holders get 5GB there. There’s also a 1GB limit per file in Docs. You can pay $5 per month to increase the total storage to 100GB and the file limit to 5GB.

Notebook is available on all major platforms: Android and iOS mobile devices, macOS, Windows, Linux, and the web. The web clipper is available for Chrome, Edge, Firefox, and Safari.

Syncing happens via Zoho Cloud. Notes you create and save in Notebook are encrypted in transit and while at rest, which means no one but you can view and access your notes unless you give someone permission. You can also password protect any note.

Zoho Notebook Display

How Do Zoho Notebook’s Prices Compare?

With Zoho Notebook, you pay nothing and get nearly everything it has to offer. The only limitation is the cap on storage for uploaded files.

Evernote, which once had a generous free plan, now gives you very little unless you pay $69.99 per year for a Premium account. There’s also an Evernote Business account that costs $14.99 per person per month. While that’s not the most outrageous price you can pay for a note-taking app—Notion’s Enterprise plan costs $25 per person per month—it’s quite high.

Microsoft OneNote is free to use, and there are almost no limitations on the free account, although you get a little more if you pay for a Microsoft 365 account, which starts at $5 per month. OneNote uses OneDrive for storage, much like Zoho Notebook uses Zoho Cloud. Free users for OneNote get 5GB to start. Paying Microsoft 365 members get 1TB of space and full-featured Office apps, such as Word and Excel. You get a lot of bang for your buck.

Joplin is yet another competitor to Zoho Notebook, and it’s both free and open source. With Joplin, you have to bring your own storage. It works well with Dropbox, OneDrive, and a few other services. If you pay for anything to use Joplin, it’ll be to one of those cloud storage providers.

Getting Started With Zoho Notebook

If you already have a Zoho account, you can start using Notebook straight away. Otherwise, sign up using an email address and password, or authenticate with a Google, Microsoft, or LinkedIn account.

Next, the app gives you a quick tour. Your notebooks look like little books with cover images. Notes are called Cards, and there are six types: Text, Checklist, Audio, Photo, Sketch, and File. You also learn here that you can arrange Cards into groups.

From there, you jump right into the app where an empty sample notebook awaits you.

Zoho Notebook Note Stacks

Layout and Interface

A striking difference for anyone coming from Evernote is how Zoho Notebook handles views. The display of booklet and cards is a constant. In Evernote, on the other hand, you can always see a list view of your notebooks, and you can customize your notes view by choosing from several options. There is a list view for cards (but not notebooks) in the mobile app, but even it looks more like a bunch of horizontal and rectangular cards than a list.

As a result of the booklet and card layouts in Zoho Notebook, you don’t see as much at once. You can sort your notebooks and notes alphabetically or according to when they were last updated or by other criteria, but you cannot otherwise change their display. Anyone coming from Evernote, and especially those with more than a few dozen notebooks, will likely find this display extremely limiting. In testing, having more than 70 notebooks was unmanageable. Finding what I needed was still unwieldy, even after I condensed the collection to about 35 notebooks. 

Notes in Zoho Notebook

Your notes—known as Cards—hold your ideas, scribblings, voice memos, photos, documents, and whatever else you want to save in your account. Rich text formatting tools allow you to stylize your text somewhat, but to not an overwhelming amount. The options are pared down a bit. Notes can also have a background color, tags, reminders (both date and time), geolocation data, and other auto-generated metadata, such as date created and date updated.

Within a notebook, notes might belong together in groups. You can make these little piles of notes by selecting them and choosing Group or on supported devices, dragging the notes on top of each other.

Zoho Notebook keeps your note version history and lets you revert to any previous copy whenever you want. Not all note-taking apps offer this capability. Evernote prevents you from getting at your version history unless you have a Premium or Business account, and even the free Joplin limits your note history to 750 days (it’s a mere 90 days by default).

The ability to lock individual notes with a password may give you some peace of mind if you’re thinking about storing sensitive information. When you lock your notes, you set only one password, and it’s the same across all your locked notes. The preview images of any note that’s locked appear blurry, so someone looking over your shoulder can’t even get a glimpse of what it contains.

Using the Zoho Notebook mobile apps, you can scan documents, turning physical pieces of paper into PDFs. You can also upload image files whether they contain images or text. Zoho Notebook doesn’t have optical character recognition (OCR), however, which would make any text in those types of files searchable. Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep, and Evernote Premium and Business all include OCR for search.

Zoho Notebook Mobile

Original Features

Zoho has a voice assistant, similar to Siri and Cortana, called Zia. In using Zoho Notebook, you might see Zia pop up from time to time with a suggestion, such as which notebook to put a new note. During my testing period, I only encountered Zia twice, and it whizzed off the screen too fast for me to make use of it.

Another original feature is Smart Cards. Smart Cards automatically formats the content of cards to look well-designed. For example, if you save a recipe from a supported website or an article from a supported publication, Zoho Notebook stylizes the title, adds images, and makes it look like a thoughtfully constructed page. If you save a video from YouTube or Vimeo, it puts the video into a distraction-free view in the note. In testing this feature, I had a hard time triggering it. There aren’t any clear instructions on how exactly to get the auto-formatting to work. After some trial and error, I learned that you have to use the web clipper and select Bookmark.

The web clipper works well enough although some of the options could be clearer. When clipping the Focused Area, what’s included? The answer is that a green outline appears on screen that auto-detects text blocks, single lines of text, images, and other page elements as you hover over them, and you pick one and click it. The only way out is to press the escape key.

Zoho Notebook has a tool for importing content from Evernote. This is a big win for anyone who is looking to leave Evernote for another app. Other apps that have a usable importer tool are Notion and Joplin. Notion’s tool is the best we’ve seen and Joplin’s is also very good, but it requires a lot of button-pressing to get all your notebooks out of one app and into the other.

When we tested moving Evernote content to other note-taking apps, it at failed using Zoho Notebook in the desktop app, but went smoothly when done through the mobile app. From the Android app, we granted access to an Evernote account and then let the importer run its course, transferring a few thousand notes and around 70 notebooks. The next day, all the notebooks and notes loaded in Zoho Notebook. Most of the notes carried data across intact. In a few instances, we had to clean up formatting, but the majority of the notes came through. When you use this process, you lose Evernote Notebook Stacks because Zoho Notebook doesn’t have anything equivalent, which means your notebook organization and order will be completely different.

Whether Zoho Notebook is a good replacement for Evernote depends in part on how many notes and notebooks you have as well as how you’ve organized them and how important it is to preserve that order.

Zoho Notebook Sharing

Sharing and Collaboration

There are a few ways you can share notes and collaborate with others in Zoho Notebook. One way is to give people in your organization access to a note, which can be read-only or with editing enabled. Look for an icon at the bottom of any note that shows a head and a plus sign. A panel appears where you type the name or email address of people in your network with whom you want to share the note. If you give people editing access, you won’t see their changes appear on the note in real time if you both have it open, but you will see a prompt to refresh your page if Zoho Notebook detects that someone else has made changes.

Another way is to share a note by email. This option puts the contents of the note right into an email. So rather than receiving a link to the note or a copy of the note in their own Zoho Notebook, the recipient will merely get a copy of the contents as they currently stand. They won’t get new versions of the note if you ever change it.

Third, you can share a note by public link. With this method, you generate a link to an individual note, circulate it however you choose, and anyone who goes to the URL will see the contents of the note. If you make changes to the note and someone visits the URL after, they’ll see the most recent copy of the note only.

Fourth and lastly, you can copy a note to Zoho Writer, if you use that app, and collaborate with your colleagues there. A few advantages of moving to Zoho Writer is that it has built-in chat tools for instant communication with coworkers.

Zoho Notebook Zia

A Noteworthy App With Room for Growth

Anyone who hasn’t become deeply invested in a note-taking app in the past will find there’s a lot to like in Zoho Notebook, but those who already have expectations from a competing app may have a harder time getting into it.

Zoho Notebook has a great range of features, including collaboration and sharing options, a web clipper, tags, audio memos, and document-scanning capabilities. It could give you more ways to view and organize your notes, such as a list view or a way to put notebooks into folders (what Evernote calls Stacks). The web clipper could be more intuitive and the Evernote importing tool could have more options, too. In other words, it’s a very good app, but there’s room for growth.

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