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How to get started with OneNote for iPad

The free but limited OneNote for iPad lets you take notes on the iPad, but you're unlikely to stick with the app unless you're already a OneNote note taker.

With OneNote for iPad, Microsoft brought its note-taking app to Apple, but seemingly against its will. The free app lets you create up to 500 notes. After you hit the 500 mark, you'll be required to make a $14.99 in-app purchase to continue taking notes. The note limit isn't the only obstacle you'll encounter with OneNote for iPad; you'll also find restrictions placed on creating new notebooks, organizing notes, and assigning tags.

Launch the app, log in to your Windows Live account (or create a new one), and you'll see an attractive layout, complete with a spiral-notebook theme. In landscape mode, your notebooks and notes are listed in the left column, with the current note you're viewing on the right. In portrait mode, a page of a spiral notebook fills the screen, with your list of notebooks and notes available by tapping the button in the upper-left corner. No matter the orientation, three buttons--to delete, e-mail, and create notes--reside in the upper-right corner of the screen.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

In OneNote's scheme, a notebook is filled with sections, and sections are filled with notes. The app starts you off with one default notebook, strangely named Personal (Web). OneNote for iPad's biggest limitation is the inability to create new notebooks or sections. You can only create notes (using the create button in the upper-right corner), which you can save as unfiled or in the section you are currently viewing. If you want to move a note to a new section or notebook or create a new section or notebook, you'll need to use the PC or Web app. You also need the PC or Web app to tag notes, another useful and basic feature that is not included with the app.

While organizing notes is limited because you can't move notes around or create new notebooks, the app makes it easy to delete a note. From the list of notes on the left, simply swipe sideways on a note and a red delete button appears.

At the bottom of this column are four buttons: Notebooks, Unfiled, Recents, and Search. The Notebooks button shows you all of your notebooks. It shows the Personal (Web) notebook and any others you created using the OneNote PC or Web app. The Unfiled button shows you a list of notes you created but didn't save to a specific section or notebook. Unfortunately, you can't drag notes from the Unfiled list to another section or notebook within the iPad app. The Recents button shows you all of your recently created or edited notes. Tap the white pin icon to the right of a note and it gets pinned to the top of the Recents list, where it'll stay until you unpin it. Lastly, the Search button lets you search by keyword, but you can't search by date or even view notes in chronological order (you can't view the date of a note without opening it).

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

OneNote uses the standard iPad onscreen keyboard, with three additional buttons. One creates a check box next to a line of text, which you can then tap when that item is completed. The second button creates bulleted lists, and the third lets you embed a photos into a note, either by snapping one yourself right from the app or selected a shot from your library.

That's it for additional controls. Formatting options such as font, font size, and font color are not offered. There is no linking support, and you can't insert audio clips. And while you can created bulleted and checkmark lists, you can't create a numbered list without doing it manually. Lastly, you can't highlight an entire page or more than one paragraph, which makes it difficult copy and paste or generally rearrange text.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

You can access settings by tapping on the gear-icon button, which is accessible from the home screen of the Notebooks view. Here, you can upgrade to the unlimited $14.99 app, sync with your other OneNote devices, select which notebooks to sync, and choose an image size for images you add to notes.

Want more Microsoft on your iPad? Then check out OnLive Desktop, which serves up Office apps and IE with Flash.