One of those common but deeply individual activities is taking notes. Everyone takes notes, whether it be as easy as taking down a phone number or grocery list or as methodical as drafting up thorough book summaries or meeting minutes in note-taking applications.
Notes can be anything from simple text with a few headings and bullets to huge scrapbooks filled with complex drawings and doodles for some folks. However you take notes, there is an app out there that can accommodate all of your odd preferences, peculiar idiosyncrasies, and note-taking requirements.
But first, a significant issue. Anywhere is a good place to scribble notes, including the back of a napkin, an envelope, an important bill, or even a notepad. Apps work somewhat similar in that you can add notes to just about any program, even if it wasn’t made specifically for them. Example: Although Google Docs isn’t the best note-taking program, I have notes about the article you are currently reading in the Google Doc I’m using.
I was only interested in applications that were specifically made to be notes apps, therefore I didn’t look at every app that could be used to take notes or even every business collaboration tool that claimed to be one for this list. Additionally, I only really gave general-purpose personal note-taking apps some thought.
There are several fantastic, extremely specialized note-taking apps made for programmers or fiction writers, but since they aren’t appropriate for most people, they weren’t given much thought for inclusion on our list. Similar to note-taking applications, there are several effective corporate collaboration tools that are insufficient for a single user. In general, an app isn’t a notes app if it already allows video calls.
Even with these requirements in place, I still tried about 40 different online note-taking tools. The top note-taking apps I could discover are listed below.
Best note-taking apps
Microsoft OneNote for a free note-taking app
Apple Notes for Apple users
Google Keep for Google power users
Notion for collaboration
Obsidian for power note-takers
Joplin for an Evernote alternative
Check out our best automation techniques to make the most of your notes, keep track of meeting action items, and stop copying and pasting routine tasks.
What attributes define the top note-taking app?
How we evaluate and test apps
All of our lists of the top applications are prepared by people with extensive experience using, evaluating, and writing about software. We invest many hours in app research and testing, using each app as it was intended to be used and comparing it to the standards we established for the category.
We cherish the confidence readers place in us to provide honest evaluations of the categories and apps we evaluate, so we never accept payment for placement in our articles from any app or for referrals to any website. Read the entire explanation of how we choose the applications to feature on the Zapier blog for more information about our selection process.
I’ve been making notes and evaluating software as a tech writer for almost ten years. I have opinions regarding the practice of taking notes. I’m continually adjusting the system I employ after ten years. I’ve made an effort to keep my preferences out of this selection process.
I established some very severe criteria for what constituted an app deserving of this list because there were so many to take into account—and so many apps pretending to be notes apps.
The finest note-taking software must first be effective at what it is designed to achieve. You’d be amazed at how many apps failed to meet this standard, even though it seems like a low bar to clear. Although capabilities like image-to-text conversion and pen support are not necessities, if a note-taking app talked about them on its marketing page, they had better be well-designed and pleasant to use.
Second, every note-taking tool needs to be quick and simple to use in the way that it was designed. When you’re looking for a place to make a note, a pen, and some scrap paper pose genuine competition rather than other note-taking apps. It didn’t pass muster if using the notes app and making a brief note wasn’t almost as convenient as reaching across my desk for a Moleskine and a pen. This guideline applied to all functionality as well, such as editing and sorting notes; they had to be easy and natural to use rather than requiring a struggle with a terrible user interface.
Similar to how you can access a notes app from anywhere on any device at any time, whether you’re at your desk at work, lounging on your couch at home, or traveling cross-country, this is the main benefit of using one over a traditional notebook. Each notepad software had to include at least some type of offline capabilities, and it had to be accessible on at least one desktop and one mobile device (and sync between them). Because you lack Wi-Fi, you cannot be locked out of your notebook.
The value-for-money test came last. I adore a good free app, but when it comes to something as permanent as digital notes, that preference must be weighed against the service’s likelihood of remaining operational for the foreseeable future and its ability to provide server-based functionality like synchronization. While there are several free note-taking applications on our list, many of the finest note-taking apps are not developed by major technology corporations. As long as the subscription fee was justified by the features provided, it was not a barrier to inclusion.
The most effective free note-taking applications
Windows OneNote (iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, Web)
The greatest free note-taking program is Microsoft OneNote, which is also a strong contender for the title of the best note-taking app overall. It’s the first program that most people should use unless you’re certain you want a particular set of functionality that it doesn’t provide.
OneNote is highly flexible when it comes to taking notes, so it can be customized to meet your unique requirements. Each Notebook is organized into parts that have sub-sections known as pages because it is fashioned after a ring binder. Additionally, each page serves as a blank canvas where you can add whatever kind of remark you choose.
If your computer supports a stylus, you can draw mustaches on everyone in the picture, add some photos, and click wherever to add text annotations. Instead of people looking for a digital notepad to compile quick notes and unrelated thoughts, it seems like a solution designed specifically for students and anyone else who must take lengthy, discursive notes about anything or sketch a few schematics.
Although OneNote is well-known, I would hesitate to describe any of Microsoft’s products as simple. If you’ve used Word, Excel, or PowerPoint in one of its most recent editions, you’ll feel right at home. Although it can be used for both, it’s preferable to sit down and take notes during a class or meeting rather than jotting down reminders while shopping.
OneNote uses your OneDrive storage even though it is free to use. The supplied 5GB will be more than enough for the majority of users. However, you can reach that cap if you utilize OneDrive to store your images or if you save a lot of image and audio notes. If so, you can pay $1.99 per month to upgrade it to 100GB.
You can automate OneNote with Zapier’s integration to get rid of the burden of transferring data between apps. For instance, whenever you have a new task, note, or calendar event in another app, Zapier may automatically create new notes in OneNote.
OneNote costs nothing for up to 5GB of notes; 100GB costs $1.99 per month.
See how OneNote stacks up against Evernote in our Evernote vs. OneNote comparison.
The best note-taking software for Apple users
Apple Notes (iOS, macOS, Web)
If you’re firmly rooted in the Apple ecosystem, finding a fantastic, cost-free note-taking app won’t take much searching. Apple Notes is a built-in feature of macOS and iOS and may also be accessed through your browser. Depending on how you access it, it may also be referred to as Notes or iCloud Notes.
You can access the online version of the app with all of your synchronized notes by simply going to icloud.com/notes, regardless of whether you’re using a PC or Chromebook. The fact that your notes aren’t completely locked with your Apple devices is a good plus.
On Macs, iPads, and iPhones, there is actually a tonne of fantastic note-taking apps available. Bear and Craft are both worthy candidates for this position, but Apple Notes wins because it is free and already included. Additionally, it is just as practical, simple, and beneficial for the majority of people as any of the expensive choices.
And things just get better. Apple has recently introduced tools like tags, sharing, and a robust search. Your notes can basically be formatted however you want them to be by adding text, attaching photographs, scanning documents, drawing, or handwriting. Even Siri is integrated.
The first app to try if you own an iPhone, iPad, or Mac is Apple Notes. Everything syncs effortlessly and just functions in that trademark Apple way. Although it isn’t the feature-richest program, it does more than enough for the majority of infrequent note-takers.
Apple Notes costs $0.99 per month for the first 50GB of storage; 5GB of storage across all iCloud services is free.
Apple has a thriving ecosystem of notes apps, but none of them made this list since Apple Notes is so superior and they are all premium goods. See our selections for the top Mac note-taking applications and the top iPad note-taking apps for more choices.
The best note-taking software for Google power users
Google Keep (Android, iOS, Web, Chrome)
The majority of notes have a function and aren’t meant to stand alone. They are intended to serve a variety of purposes, such as serving as a reminder to email a friend or as a tool for outlining a new book. You frequently need to use another app or service in order to do these other things.
While you might be able to outline a book on your notes app, it’s probably not the greatest place to actually write it. You also can’t send emails from it. For Google power users, this is what makes Google Keep such a fantastic choice.
It’s strange how Google Keep works. It’s adequate as a notes app, albeit extremely basic. Additionally, a helpful Chrome plugin is available for saving short notes and links. There are reasonable web, iOS, and Android versions available. The thing that makes it so helpful, though, is how it works with other Google services.
There is a small lightbulb icon in the right sidebar of Gmail when it is opened in your browser if you use Google Keep. When you click it, all of your Google Keep notes are immediately accessible. You have access to all notes associated with the project you’re working on, your most recent notes, a searchable archive of older notes, as well as the ability to add new notes.
But here’s the thing—you can find that sidebar in all of your Google Docs, Google Calendar events, and even Google Drive files. The only Google app that it isn’t present in is YouTube.
Additionally, Keep incorporates other Google features. To make a new document from a note, choose it and choose Copy to Google Docs. You can also produce an audio note on your smartphone and have Google automatically transcribe it. Finally, you may set a reminder by selecting the small bell icon, which adds the note to your Google Calendar.
Actually, even if you use another note-taking app for personal use, if you work and live in the Google ecosystem, you should be using Keep. It is a standard feature of your Google account and is ideal for taking notes in other Google apps.
Google Keep costs $1.99 a month for 100GB of storage, which is free for the first 15GB across all Google apps.
The best collaborative note-taking website
Notion (Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, Web)
You can take notes for yourself or for other people—whether they are your coworkers, other students, or just friends and family—as well as for yourself. The majority of the applications we’ve examined so far are for taking notes for yourself. You can share and work together on notes and even notebooks, but they aren’t their primary capabilities. Collaboration is incorporated from the beginning with Notion.
Only Notion on this list circumvents the requirement that it be a note-taking app. It is, but there is so more potential for it to be because of its collaborative aspects. It functions as a sophisticated note-taking program, a task and project manager, and a reference wiki all in one. You can choose how to mix those three items.
The term “page” refers to a brand-new note or document, and “block” describes the entirety of Notion. Basic elements like text, headings, and checklists are included in blocks, along with media types like files, photos, web bookmarks, audio, video, and code snippets. On each page, you are free to use any number of blocks in any arrangement.
Simply type / and navigate through the list to enter them. Don’t feel like you have to completely personalize everything when you’re just starting out because there are many themes already built in.
You can navigate through all of your pages using the sidebar. There are two parts to it: Teamspaces, where you can save all the pages you share with your team, and Private, where you may keep all of your personal notes. Notion encourages collaboration, but it’s not required of you.
Everyone has a space of their own to work in before bringing their creations into the open for comments and improvement. It’s a fantastic way for a full team to collaborate without obstructing one another.
One thing to keep in mind is that Notion markets itself as an Evernote rival for individual users. It can be, but most people find it to be too much, and its offline functionality could be better. Notion works best as a team notes tool, but if you dig the concept, go ahead and try the free Personal Plan. Many of Notion’s best features may be found in tools like Craft or Obsidian, which we’ll examine in a moment, but they are designed for certain users.
Since Notion connects with Zapier, you can link it to countless other apps to perform tasks like creating GitHub or Jira issues from fresh Notion database items instantly.
Notion pricing: Free for personal users; free trial for team users with a 1,000 block restriction; starting at $10/month/user for teams with unlimited blocks.
If you’re trying to decide between Notion and OneNote, check out our comparison: Notion vs. OneNote. If you decide to use Notion, here’s how to automate Notion with Zapier.
The Top notes app for power note-takers
Obsidian (Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux)
Obsidian is a new type of note-taking app that pushes the boundaries of what a note-taking app can (and should) achieve. It aspires to be an all-encompassing digital database for your life, much like Notion and Roam Research.
Only use Obsidian if you’re willing to put in the effort to configure it to your needs because it has a considerably higher learning curve than the other apps on this list. It’s really just a notes tool that uses Markdown-formatted text files, but things may soon become more involved. You will undoubtedly be a little let down if you try to use it as a simple notes app.
Similar to how you would with a standard notes app, you can use the sidebar in Obsidian to organize your notes into folders and subfolders, but what’s more intriguing is that you can use internal hyperlinks to connect them. When you
type [[, a dialogue box appears where you can choose any other note to connect to. This implies that you can easily consult notes you’ve already written.
You might, for instance, make a list of every book you’ve read in the past year and include links to the notes where you gave them a review. Additionally, you can see all the notes linked to the current note as well as all the notes it ties out to in the sidebar for each note. Additionally, a Graph view is available that shows all of these links. This connection-focused strategy is what makes Obsidian so intriguing—and yet so puzzling. There isn’t much room for a middle ground; you either love the concept or it’s an overly complicated approach to constructing grocery lists.
Additionally, you can essentially personalize anything. The interface is completely up to you, and you can have as many notes open in the same window as you like. There are also community plugins that expand their functionality beyond simple text files by adding features like a Kanban board. It doesn’t get much stronger than what my coworker Justin Pot said when he said, “Obsidian has literally altered my life.”
Obsidian Cost: Free for the majority of functionality; $25 for premium features. Sync and other premium add-on services start at $8 per month. Best Evernote alternative
Joplin (Android, iOS, macOS, Windows, Linux)
Joplin is not just the greatest free Evernote substitute on our list, but it’s also the best
open source note-taking app. I don’t think Evernote deserves to be on this list right now for a variety of reasons that I’ll go into more detail about below; nonetheless, because Evernote has been such a mainstay of the note-taking app market, most other applications compete by attempting to be distinctive. OneNote is fantastic, but using it is really dissimilar from using Evernote. However, Joplin comes very close—and you can import all of your Evernote notebooks.
An app for capturing notes that is similar to Evernote will have the expected user interface. The notebooks are on the left, the notes are in the second column, and the third column is where you see and take notes. Joplin does, in fact, support Markdown, so there’s also a fourth preview column that displays your notes as rich text. Of course, this is merely the default; you may disable the preview, use rich text, and adjust the settings as desired.
There are some flaws in the open source software. You can notice oddities like menu items utilizing various cases because the user interface isn’t always consistent (for instance,
Edit > Insert Date Time and Edit > Attach files are directly next to one another). But really, I’m just being picky here. The functionality of the program is not diminished by a little UI strangeness.
Joplin is completely free to use, however in order to sync your notes across all of your devices, you will need some sort of sync service. You can use a file-sharing service like Dropbox or OneDrive, but you can also utilize the official Joplin Cloud to share notes with others and publish them online. Whatever choice you make, your notes are securely encrypted from beginning to end.
Price of Joplin: Free, while Joplin Cloud adds syncing and 1GB of storage for €2/month. Why not use Evernote?
Evernote frequently comes in first place on our rankings of the greatest note-taking applications, but for a few reasons it isn’t this year:
Evernote was one of the applications that helped to establish the digital note-taking category, although it hasn’t been utilized much in the last nine years. Although many tech writers, including myself, have happy recollections of it, it was overrated and overhyped in the middle of the 2010s, and there are now better apps that perform comparable functions.
Evernote costs money. There are better solutions available for the majority of people at $8/month for Premium, which doesn’t include its best features.
Evernote is outdated. Despite modifications, it still lacks the slickness and speed of programs like Obsidian or Joplin.
Recently, Evernote was sold. Even though some apps make it through these mergers, many don’t. I don’t know if the version of Evernote I tried out for this article will still be around in six months.
Having said that, Evernote will still be given a second look for inclusion on this list if the sale goes smoothly and its app development continues, especially if it begins to support Markdown. You should give one of the above-mentioned Evernote substitutes a try in the interim.
Which software should you pick for taking notes?
Digital note-taking is just as private as your high school notebook’s doodles. Good note-taking tools will take this level of customization into account so you can take notes online on how it best suits you.
The greatest note-taking app will therefore be the one that seems most natural to you. Try a few of them out to discover which strategy you prefer.