Nebo vs OneNote

Editer avec Nebo2
Editing in Nebo



Last summer, MyScript® released its note taking app’ Nebo for IOS and Windows 10, introducing truly innovative features and intuitive gestures for digital ink.

I readily assessed it and commented on a blog post in French. After almost a year of sporadic use – on the occasion of a major software update – I updated my blog post and made it available in English. Here it is !

My baseline will be OneNote. As you will discover in this review, both softwares have a great deal in common, but also a different approach.

1. Tutorial

Nebo opens on a 8 pages tutorial’ notebook, which gives some clues about it’s user interface, and it’s specific note taking’ gestures.

OneNote has one too, in its desktop version at least.


2. OCR

With OneNote, you may write with a keyboard, or a digital pencil ; Nebo, on the other hand,  is dedicated to digital ink : let’s compare their skills at converting your ink :

OCR OneNote buggy.gif
OneNote recognizes well my writing, but it’s sometimes buggy !


The bug captured above was absolutely not intended, but it shows that OneNote’ OCR is sometimes buggy (this feature only exists in OneNote desktop, not in OneNote for W10).


Nebo doesn’t use OCR (Optical Character Recognition), strictly speaking. Instead, your ink is being recognized while you write, contextually, by a neural networks according to the language you have selected.


OCR Nebo.gif
Nebo recognizes perfectly my writing. Converting with a mere tap-tap is blowing !
Note : if you find it annoying, the preview may be disabled in settings. It may nevertheless be useful to correct the words, whenever necessary, by selecting the right one simply pressing on the upper line’ suggestion (Nebo then proposes some alternatives).


This technology has several benefits : Nebo is be able to change the first word of a sentence, if you correct a subsequent word of your sentence. Here is an example :


contextual OCR montée cropée.gif
I know who you are – Je sais qui tu es : When “sais” (“know” in English) is written (badly, on purpose), Nebo recognizes “suis” (“am”). But when the next word is written (“qui” in French stands for “who”), it corrects it’s best guess and changes the “suis” to “sais” which makes more sense in this sentence (I know who you are).



Also, when you resize a text block, your ink automatically adjust :

Nebo : auto adjust word wrap


On the other hand,  Nebo won’t be able to recognize text within an imported image, or a picture (because it relies on a digital “signal”, not OCR).

Also, I believe that you could have problems if you were to mix text in several languages within the same note : as mentioned later on this blog post, you need to specify the language you intend to use when you create a notebook (and you may not change it later on…).

Finally, Nebo imposes to stick to the guiding lines, and write with similar sized characters.

1 point for Nebo.


3. Text editing

3.1 Correcting



Editer OneNote.gif
With OneNote, after you erased a word, you have to juggle with the lasso to move around the text, and arrange enough space.



Editer avec Nebo2.gif
With Nebo, everything is intuitive : strike out or scratch, skip a line or remove a word wrap.


1 point for Nebo.

Note : You may also erase in Nebo with the eraser of your Surface pen.

Note2 : You may also strike out a word in OneNote (desktop only) : simply reactivate this feature in Settings. See my blog post about this feature.


3.2 Formatting

Once your ink has been converted into text, it’s not possible anymore to modify it’s color (nor the font size) within Nebo. Actually, you may have to export to word, to finalize the formatting of your text.

1 point for OneNote.


 3.3 Titles, sub-titles…


Nebo : formatting is easy.


With Nebo’ specific gestures, you may perform two broad kinds of formatting :

  • titles : for that purpose, leave an empty line between your title, and the text beneath :

Underline twice will create a top level title

Underline once will create a second level title

  • format :

Frame will highlight (in yellow) a word or paragraph

Underline will convert in bold.


4. Search

Search is limited to the current page in Nebo.

1 point for OneNote (a decisive one, as far as I am concerned…)


5. Diagrams

This is one of the distinguishing features of Nebo : interactive diagrams.

You should really have a look at MyScript® amazing demo to understand why it’s so powerful.

Diagram (or flowchart) is a most desired feature by OneNote fans Nebo provides an excellent example of how digital ink helps creating diagrams with a seamless experience !

1 point for Nebo !


6. Maths



Nebo : perfect recognition of equation’ symbols


In OneNote desktop, the equation editor is probably more powerful, but it takes longer to start writing an equation : you need to Insert/Equation/Insert a New equation, and then, in the Equation tool tab, choose Ink equation. Only then you may start entering an equation with your stylus (with a keyboard, if you know the shortcut Alt =, it’s much quicker !)

Also, it appears that OneNote’ OCR sometimes fails at recognizing the symbols of an equation (is it because it shares the same equation module with Word ?).

1 (worth) point for Nebo.


7. Calculation

Nebo also does simple calculation, like OneNote (see my blog post “Math in a napkin”).

This is activated by default, and may be disabled in the following settings  :

Option for Maths blocks


8. Solving

The word “Solving” confused me at first, letting me think that it was about a “Math” feature (equation solving) like in OneNote for W10 (available since Sept. 2016 – see this other blog post about it).

Since I was not having much success using “x” as the unknown term, I tried with a “?” :


The result is odd, with x (?) worth 1.167 or 4.75 !!!


1 point for OneNote


9. Picture & Image

One great advantage of Nebo lies in annotating pictures : even if you resize or move a picture, your annotation will follow the picture.


annotation dessin.gif
See the red annotation, sticking to the picture during resizing : cool !


1 point for Nebo.


10. User interface



Linterface in english.png
The main elements of the User Interface : simple & effective !



Nebo‘ user interface is very similar to OneNote for W10’ one :

  • a list of notebook (and/or pages) on the left (collapsible clicking ≡ )
  • a “hamburger” (the   as in OneNote for W10) which toggle between the notebook list, and the list of notes (with thumbnail/preview)
  • a “Cancel” and “Revert” button, on the upper right corner
  • two level menu (ribbon and tab)
  • containers (block) : a familiar concept to OneNote users (see this other blog post on this topic), but not limited to text : anything (equation, picture, image, sketch, diagram, and text) fits in a container in Nebo.


There is something different than in OneNote, though : a notebook is set for a specific language, for example FR-FR for my test notebook, or EN-US for the Tutorial notebook, written in American English : this is important for the text recognition, and must be specified when you create the notebook.

Focus on text’ block :

In OneNote, everything fits in a note container, except ink. Notwithstanding this difference, both softwares make use of containers in the same fashion.

conteneur Nebo3.gif
Nebo : note the symbol in the upper left corner , indicating the nature of the block (text in this case) and the … in the upper right corner, with contextual options.



conteneur OneNote.gif
OneNote : similar concept. The … in the upper side let you choose among contextual options.





1 point for Nebo, which uses a familiar UI : this certainly helps !

11. Page formatting


Mise en place des conteneurs de notes.gif
Note containers may be moved around (3 positions only : left, middle or right), or resized (4 sizes available only)


Nebo offer less freedom than in OneNote, where note’ containers may have any size, eventually overlapping.

Also, Nebo’ pages have fixed width, and unlimited length, but you can’t zoom in/out.


12. Sharing

Once you are done in Nebo, you may export your notes through Word, HTML or “Text” (the latter allowing to share by mail, using Windows 10 Mail App).

Unfortunately, there are many shortcomings :

  • one page at a time can be exported !
  • impossible to export in .pdf format (except in the IPad version) nor print


Also, the option “Export to text” will only export text blocks ! This is a pity, because this option uses the share feature of Windows 10, thus potentially allowing to export a note to…OneNote !!! (see my other blog post). As soon as Nebo will be able to export more than text (interactive diagrams for instance), this export option will be really useful !

1 point for OneNote.


As a conclusion, I strongly suggest that you see by yourself : the UI is great, neat and user friendly. Nebo cannot be compared to OneNote, because it focus exclusively in ink (where it makes wonders).

Of course, there are much less features than in OneNote, but Nebo / MyScript® ‘ team deserves credit for having invented such intuitive gestures for inking text and interactive diagrams.

Nevertheless, I can’t figure out how Nebo could be used as a standalone : you really need Word to finalise your text, and formatting the document.

Microsoft re-invented the eraser (and the ruler, since Windows Anniversary), MyScript® has re-invented the scratch : amazing !


Links :

  • [English] Kurt Söser ‘review 12/8/2016
  • [English] PCworld ‘review 12/8/2016
  • [English] CNET ‘review (great video) 18/8/2016
  • [English] Forbes ‘review 14/11/2016
  • [French] MyScript® Interactive Ink ‘web site, with a great video.
  • [French] Nebo’ web site, also great.
  • [French] MyScript®’ web site with Web démo (you can assess text, equation and shape recognition online… no need to install anything !).  Great site !
  • [French] Nebo tested on iPad, by 9/9/2016


Update 2016 : Nebo allows to use the Surface Pro stylus’ eraser since version 1.1.1839 release

Update 19/11/2016 after discovering that you may also scratch words in OneNote. See my blog post on that topic ; plus new sharing feature in OneNote for W10 (feature summary table to be added in this English version).

Update 27/02/2017 : I finally understood that “Solving” is not about equation solving ! thus corrected my original blog post. I also expanded the paragraph about text formatting, further to Nathalie’s comment from Nebo. I acknowledge that my video was not very clear about it, I’ll have to do another shot… in the meantime, please refer to MyScript® video : it’s much better !

Update 11/03/2017 : I added a video showing contextual’ text recognition, further to a comment on Forbes’ review, many experiments, and a welcomed suggestion from Claire (from Nebo).

Update 23/03 :  the hamburger may disappear in OneNote for W10 (Experimental feature)  !

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