One of the great draws of Windows Phone 7 for me, and the many folks who have embedded all of their thoughts, memories, meeting notes and other titbits of information in OneNote, is the fact that OneNote Mobile can sync with notebooks on SkyDrive or SharePoint. To be honest, there was a distinct shortage of information about what the exact capabilities of OneNote on Windows Phone 7 were ahead of launch, but I was hoping that Microsoft had done the right thing. Initially I wasn't sure that they had...
In order to get you started, OneNote Mobile will create a new notebook called "Personal (Web)", which it will sync to a folder called My Documents on SkyDrive. It took me a short while to realise where it had put it because up to that point all of my OneNote notebooks had been in Documents and I don't believe I had a My Documents folder. In fact, I'm pretty certain that when the Office Web Apps were released, the only place you could create OneNote notebooks was in the Documents folder (that's no longer the case).
If this is your first time using OneNote, then you may want to just get started using that Personal (Web) notebook, but for those of us who are already invested in OneNote on the desktop and on SkyDrive, the next step to open your existing notebooks isn't very clear. You may guess that moving them into this My Documents folder on SkyDrive would allow the phone to see them - that's logical right? It seems to be where the phone likes to sync OneNote to. Nope.
You might think that the Windows Phone Help and How-To site would tell you what to do, say in the Use Microsoft OneNote Mobile topic. There's a section in that document entitled "To open a OneNote notebook that's on Windows Live SkyDrive". Surely that tells you how to open your pre-existing notebooks in OneNote Mobile? Nah.
What you have to do is visit office.live.com in Internet Explorer on the phone, browse to your notebook and hit the icon. This will open it in OneNote Mobile and it will automatically start to sync with the phone. Repeat for each notebook. Easy when you know how, right?
Well that's not the whole story - I explained how that worked to another Windows Phone 7 user and it didn't work. It actually opened the notebook in the OneNote Web App. It turns out that's because he'd set IE on his phone to open the desktop versions of sites rather than the mobile version. Changing the IE settings back to mobile enabled him to open and sync his notebooks.
I'm sure that there are some people who will say "well of course that's how it works - that's perfectly intuitive", but it wasn't initially obvious to at least two people and I'm sure we aren't alone. As far as I'm concerned it's fine that it works like this, but there could be a bit more clarity - this is a unique selling point of Windows Phone 7, so I don't think that having some easy-to-find documentation of this feature would be too much to ask.
Incidentally, this does let you sync notebooks that have been shared with you by other users, which is good. They're listed below your own folders and files in the mobile view of office.live.com on your phone's browser.
One of the things that OneNote Mobile can't currently do is sync password protected sections of your notebooks. This is a shame, but I can see why other things would've been ahead in the queue for the version 1 feature set. I expect this will come in a future update.