Whether you are in class, a meeting, business call, or just planning your day, you can’t count on your good memory to remember everything at the right time. Sometimes, it is important to jot down a few notes with the nearest mobile device if you can’t access a desktop. Digital notes offer numerous advantages over their pen-and-paper counterparts.
You can’t lose or misplace them, except when you lose your PC or mobile device. But perhaps the main advantage is that they are searchable, so you don’t have to sort through stacks of paper or pages trying to find an important note.
Notebook apps come in a range of shapes and sizes and include everything from simple plain-text format notebooks to sophisticated apps that record audio and even recognize your handwriting. So, you can find an app that is perfectly suited for your kind of note-taking task and organization.
Here is a look at some of the best note taking apps and programs for different devices:
Best Note Taking App for Web
It is important to note that nearly all apps and programs for taking notes operate on the web. However, some are dedicated for web users, like:
Dropbox Paper – Supports Web
This notes and team collaboration tool offers a blank digital canvas where you can write down your notes alongside your team. You simply invite your group members to the app and work collaboratively with a single page so that the contributions of each member are apparent, in real-time.
The tool offers Markdown-style formatting for adding headers, checklists, and other text-formatting options, as well as the option to add images or embed multimedia or files from Dropbox for reference when discussing and collaborating with your team inside Dropbox Paper. The app allows you to print notes or share them with a link, though you can’t export files to your Dropbox storage.
Dropbox Paper also has a comments feature that combines the allure of Facebook Messenger and Google Docs comments to provide a unique experience, complete with stickers for a bit of humor.
Best Note Taking App for Windows
Suitable note-taking programs for use on Windows desktops include:
Evernote – Supports Windows, Web, iOS, Android, Mac
This is arguably the most popular digital notebook, not only because there is a version for five of the most common platforms, but also because of its ease of use, allowing you to take quick notes on the go and keep your digital life organized.
Notes in Evernote resemble rich text documents in that you can add text, audio, images, and files to your notes, and then organize them into notebooks. The app also features a powerful search function that can even index attached documents and handwritten notes in the $25 per year premium version.
Evernote also features a scan function so you can capture your handwritten notes or receipts or other documents by simply taking a picture with your device. After scanning, you can use the integrated Optical Character Recognition (OCR) function to find any text in the documents. The free version allows you to search inside images, while the premium version allows you to search Office files and PDFs, as well.
But the best feature in Evernote is its browser extensions. The app features a “Web Clipper” that makes it possible to add anything you discover on the web to your notebook. Simply use the browser extension to save entire pages or highlights to your notebook, and include any notes about the pages. You can even use the extension to save only the text in an article in a nice format that is easy to read.
Microsoft OneNote – Supports Windows, Web, iOS, Android, Mac
OneNote is a note-taking app featured in the Microsoft Office suite. It uses a different style from Evernote, giving the user the feeling of using a paper notebook. The notebook and section tabs make it easy to keep your notes organized so you might not even get to use the search function much.
Generally, each note feels like a paper note. Click anywhere on your page and you can start typing, drag images and file attachments, insert multimedia, or add to-do-lists. The program offers remarkable flexibility, especially for users accustomed to using Microsoft Office as they can take advantage of the app’s ribbon-style toolbar.
The best feature in OneNote is its automatic syncing with Microsoft’s OneNote cloud-storage platform. This is great for serious business users as you can access your notes from anywhere, and from any web-enabled device.
There is a free version with basic features, as well as a premium version that comes integrated with Office 365 for $69 per year.
Best Note Taking App for Mac
To take notes on a Mac desktop, you may consider using:
Simplenote – Supports Mac, Web, iOS, and Android
As the name suggests, this app offers a blank, clutter-free canvas where you can type plain-text notes about anything, and use the search feature to find specific words. However, the app does not support images, multimedia, or file attachments.
This application is best suited for users who prefer distraction-free note-taking. If you accidentally delete something, you can look back through all the previous versions of your notes and undo the changes.
This free app also allows you to share notes for fun communication with a coworker or friend.
Quip – Supports Mac, iOS, Windows, Android, Web
Quip offers a great interface for text formatting that stays out of the way to maximize the space you have to type. It offers more functionality than simply taking notes, as you can create documents, spreadsheets, or chat with your team on Quip. Every item is saved in a separate file, though you can use the search feature to locate your notes from the interface, or embed your files into other Quip documents.
The appeal of Quip is probably its fast and distinct interface. You can easily reformat your notes into documents for publishing to the web or save them as PDF files for sharing. The app is also great for group communication, as you can add members to a single note or document and then work collaboratively, with every change being listed on the left sidebar for easy identification of each person’s contributions.
Team members can also type their questions in the sidebar for a quick chat with the group, or take advantage of the spreadsheets to tabulate data. While the app is free for personal use, teams have to pay $10 per month for unlimited documents for up to 10 users.
Best Note Taking App for iOS (iPhone/iPad)
There are many great apps for note-taking on iPhones and iPads, including most of the ones mentioned before. Here are some other popular ones:
Apple Notes – Supports iOS, Mac, and Web
Usually, the easiest note-taking app to work with is the one that comes with the device. Since Notes is available on all iOS devices, plus it works with Siri, it is typically the first choice if you want to write notes on your Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
The app has improved dramatically with the most recent updates, allowing you to draw sketches, bookmark websites, create simple to-do-lists and even write notes with a pen. You can use the “Share” button in any app on your Mac or iPhone to save your favorite web articles, and format your notes in rich-text for sharing via email.
When you don’t have your Apple device nearby, you can still access Notes through iCloud. Alternatively, you can sync your Note app with other Gmail, Outlook, or some other email service. Although the app is available for free on all Apple devices, you need to pay $.99 per month to get more iCloud storage.
Hackpad – Supports iOS and Web
This notes app is specifically designed to promote collaborative, cloud-based brainstorming so you can keep the things you write down neatly organized. Despite its seemingly simple interface featuring a blank canvas for noting down your ideas and other material, the app comes with powerful collaborative tools that allow you to bring your team together to edit the same Hackpad simultaneously.
As with other notepads, Hackpad allows you to write text format notes, add images and format your text with headers, lists, and some other basic styling. You can group related notes together into collections, or add the “@” symbol before a pad name to convert that note into a wiki-style link.
With the collaborative tools, you can add the attendees of a certain meeting or event to a single pad, so everyone stays, literally, on the same page. The tool notes down contributors on the left; converts all headers automatically into a table of contents; displays comments inline, and links to sites like Google Docs and YouTube to transform it into rich media.
The recent acquisition by Dropbox led to its code becoming open-sourced, allowing users to run Hackpad on their own server. With the free version, you can only collaborate with a maximum of 5 users, and every additional user will be charged at $2 per month.
Best Note Taking App for Android
In addition to the apps mentioned above that operate on multiple platforms, you may also consider:
Google Keep – Supports Android, Web, and iOS
This full-featured notes app has a basic sticky-note interface that makes it look stripped down compared to OneNote and Evernote, which is not necessarily a bad thing. Google Keep offers digital sticky notes that can be previewed without opening; a “Copy to Google Doc” feature that converts any note into an editable Google Document; and location-based reminders when you are in a certain area.
But perhaps the best feature in the app is its audio transcription that allows you to document your thoughts by recording the audio and transcribing the text. With this free app, you will never need to scribble down or transcribe conversations.
Box Notes – Supports Android, Web, and iOS
This is another notes app combined with a file sharing tool. The app comes with an office-style toolbar at the top and allows collaborative editing of notes with your team. Like its competitors, Box Notes offers basic formatting tools, as well as comments for discussing ideas in real-time.
The app is similar to Dropbox Paper, except that Box Notes allows the user to store their files inside their real Box folders. This option makes it easy to store all related files in a single folder for easy collaboration on projects.
Best Note Taking with Handwriting Apps
When it comes to note taking, studies show that writing down your notes by hands improves information recall. If you’re looking for an alternative to handy apps that offer typing or audio recording/transcribing, you may consider these handwriting apps:
Paper – Supports Web, iPad, and iPhone
Paper is a popular iOS drawing app that can be used for drawing, text notes, handwriting, and images with annotations. The app features an animated design that makes it fun to use. Individual notes are stored on separate digital papers, though you can group them and share online.
The simple interface makes the app great for writing your notes and lists. It effectively polishes your drawings, turning pen strokes into calligraphy-style handwriting and simple loops into perfect circles. The app also has the option for typing in text notes and checklists, importing images in the paper, adding basic drawings to the note, and even creating business diagrams with the aid of a stylus for pressure sensitive drawings.
Penultimate – For iPad
This was one of the first handwriting apps available to iPad users before it was integrated into the Evernote range of apps. It features natural-looking digital ink, an assortment of paper styles, and a range of ink colors and thickness for a unique writing experience. You can use the Evernote JotScript or your own stylus to make writing easier, and then save your notes in Evernote, where you can take advantage of all the features offered by Evernote, including the OCR search function. The app can also be used for drawing, though that is not its focus area.
Penultimate is free, though you need to pay $.99 for digital paper designs, and $2.99 per month for extra storage with the Evernote Plus account.