Test Drive Gadget Reviews with Bill and Phil

Microsoft Journal: Excellent for Note-Taking; No Shiny Objects to Distract

We are always on the lookout for good note-taking apps, so we’re not sure how we didn’t know about the Microsoft Journal app sooner. The app has been around for quite some time, but it was hidden away in Microsoft Garage, a sort of start-up development sandbox where Microsoft works on new app development. 

Bill & Phil
Microsoft recently elevated the Journal app from the Garage environment to a full-fledged app in the Microsoft Store. That’s where found it and downloaded it to take for a test drive — and we were impressed. There is a lot to like about this simple, but feature-rich, note-taking application.

Unlike OneNote, Microsoft’s super-connected and versatile note application in the Office suite, Journal is really designed for one task — taking notes with a digital pen or stylus. This singular focus makes the app a great tool for notetaking without a lot of distractions. (We get distracted easily with software that has a lot of bells and whistles.) 

We downloaded the Journal app for free from the Microsoft Store. After a brief on-screen tutorial, we were taking notes with a digital pen on our two-in-one laptop/tablet hybrid. The interface is simple: You can choose a blank sheet of paper or lined, the color ink you want and the type of pen width you want to use. All these options are fairly standard on most note-taking apps.

It’s the extras in Journal that we learned from the brief tutorial after installation really make the application shine. For example, you can erase a word or block of text simply by scribbling over it or make a phrase a header by underlining the text. Additionally, you can flag a section of your notes that you deem important by drawing a star beside the text. These actions create digital bookmarks that allow you to go back and search or filter your notes based on these categorizations.

If you have a Microsoft Office subscription (which we do), you can link to contacts and calendar entries in Outlook within Journal. For example, by selecting a meeting entry from a calendar side panel, you can begin creating a journal (hand-written notes) that are attached to that meeting, which makes it extremely easy to go back and reference the notes for a specific meeting.

Journal also allows you to email or copy contents from your hand-written notes directly to another application or to a printout. You can select a block of handwritten text simply by drawing a circle around it with the digital pen. Then the app will convert that handwriting to actual text that you can paste into a Word document, for example. It worked really, really well in our testing.

We were able to import PDF documents into a Journal file and then mark up the pages with colored ink and digital highlights; however, the markups did not save to the original PDF file. The PDF markups only exist in the Journal file that contains the imported PDF pages. Of course, we could print those marked-up pages or email them directly from Journal.

We still like the reMarkable 2 tablet that we have reviewed previously as our favorite note-taking device. However, this Microsoft Journal app makes taking notes on our tablet incredibly easy and convenient. 

Of course, the integration with other Microsoft modules — such as Contacts and Calendar within Outlook — make Journal a very natural way to take and keep notes attached to other important data that we work with. We expect that now Journal is an official app within the Microsoft Store, there will be future updates to the app to enhance functionality even more. But we’re already sold on it as is!