The 9 best note-taking apps of 2020

Where do you put your thoughts, your ideas, or the name of a movie someone recommended? Whether inspiration strikes when you’re at home or on the go, a note-taking app offers an easy, convenient way to store all this information in one place.

Note-taking apps are the online equivalent of notebooks, and because they’re digital, they can do more for you than paper ever could. Most can store your notes in the cloud and sync them across multiple devices. Note-taking apps also include text search, so in a matter of seconds, you can find whatever notes you need. The best note-taking apps also let you snap pictures, upload files, record audio, and clip pages from the web.

Click on any app to learn more about why we chose it, or keep reading for more context on note-taking apps.

The best note-taking apps

What makes a great note-taking app?

To find the best note-taking apps, we started with a list of about 35 contenders and whittled our way down to the nine best based on a few criteria.

All the apps chosen for this list were easy to set up and use. We also considered each app’s features in light of what the app promised to do. For example, Simplenote made the list of the best note taking apps even though it doesn’t have a long list of features. The reason is Simplenote aims to provide a distraction-free note-taking environment, and it achieves that by not overwhelming its interface with excessive tools. On the other hand, Microsoft OneNote and Evernote earned high marks for having a wealth of excellent features, which is what they advertise.

Other factors for consideration included value, particularly because many of the best note-taking apps charge a subscription fee for access to all of their features. We also strongly preferred apps that work across all the major platforms, including web.

What didn’t we include?
Any app labeled a word processor or text editor wasn’t considered. Those apps are excellent for writing, but they don’t give you a simple and quick way to make a note when you’re on the go, which note-taking apps do. We also didn’t consider journaling apps, which typically remind you to write or help you add detail about your day. And lastly, we didn’t include collaborative document-editing apps, like Dropbox Paper, Quip, or Google Docs. While it is possible to take notes with these apps, it’s not their primary purpose.


Best note-taking app for taking all kinds of notes

Evernote (Android, iOS, macOS, web, Windows)

Evernote was an early leader in the digital note-taking space. In many ways, it shaped expectations about what a note-taking app should do and how it should look. It’s one of the most capable services you’ll find, supporting a wide variety of note types (text, images, audio memo, sketches, scanned documents, checklists, and clipped web pages). It has excellent tools for organizing and searching your notes as well. It has apps for all the major platforms, and with a Business account, you can even use Evernote for real-time chat and collaboration with colleagues.

One of Evernote’s most impressive features is its ability to search text found in images. If you snap a photograph of a “for rent” sign, for example, and save it to your Evernote account, you’ll later be able to find the note by simply search for the word “rent.” With a Premium or Business account, Evernote searches the text in uploaded PDFs and office documents, too. Evernote also doubles as an excellent scanner. If you combine those features, you can use the app for some pretty interesting projects, such as digitizing recipes from books.

Evernote Price:
Free plan: Yes
Paid plan: From $7.99/month

Learn 30 tips for Evernote to make the most of your notes.

Automate Evernote with Evernote’s Zapier Integrations.

Best free note-taking app

Microsoft OneNote (iOS, Android, macOS, web, Windows)

Microsoft OneNote is a full-featured note-taking app that can do more than just about any other, save for Evernote. Plus, it’s free! The two square up rather equally, though they couldn’t be more different in their look and feel. While Evernote looks squarely like standard business software, Microsoft OneNote mimics paper. When you create a new note, you can click anywhere on the page and add content to that spot, just as if you were working with paper. You can choose a background for your notes that looks like textured or lined paper or use templates for meeting notes and more. OneNote also mimics the classic binder, with notebooks, sections, and tabs for organizing your notes.

With OneNote, you can type text, drag and drop images and file attachments into notes, use a digital highlighter, create checklists, record audio, draw sketches, and more. And because each note is meant to appear like a piece of paper, you can move elements around the page, placing an audio memo next to a block of text, for example.

As much as OneNote fondly embraces some elements of paper, it’s also technologically savvy. Scan and upload images of handwriting, such as a picture of a whiteboard with notes, and Microsoft’s optical character recognition (OCR) will make all the writing searchable. For every note you can open a record of its version history, too. And an ink-to-text feature lets you write by hand and have your text converted to type.

OneNote Price:
Free plan: Yes

An honorable mention goes to Google Keep, another very capable and free note-taking app.

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Best note-taking app for Mac users

Apple Notes (iOS, macOS)

Mac users don’t have to look far for the best note-taking app. Apple Notes, which is built into macOS and iOS, is easy to use, offers impressive features, and natively integrates with Apple’s voice assistant, Siri.

Create a new note directly in the Notes app or ask Siri to start one for you. You can draw, create checklists, scan and sign documents, and add attachments, like photos, videos, or web links. With iOS 11, Apple Notes received the much-needed ability to format text—you can now add a table, title, heading, or bulleted list. You can also bold, italicize, underline, or strike-through text.

The app is relatively barebones, but you can still create folders and subfolders to help with organization. The search feature is strong, allowing you to search for images, text, a particular attachment, drawings, text scanned in a document, or something inside the image you’re looking for (for example, “a bike”). Siri can also help you find notes, with voice commands like “Show me notes from today” or “Show me notes about vacation plans.”

While the desktop version of Apple Notes does the job, the iOS app is the real winner. The UI is cleaner and more user-friendly, allowing you to embed images from your Photo Library or take a new photo or video directly from the Notes app. You can also attach content from Safari or Apple Maps directly to a note. Apple Notes can also sync with iCloud, making all of your notes available across devices.

Apple Notes Price:
Free plan: Yes, for 5GB of storage across all iCloud services
Paid plan: Starting at $0.99/month for 50GB of storage

An honorable mention goes to Ulysses, a markup-based note-taking app that makes longer-form note-taking simple and beautiful.

Best note-taking app for Google power users

Google Keep (Android, iOS, macOS, web, Windows)

Notes don’t live in a silo. Instead, they remind you to send an email to a long-distance friend or serve as inspiration for your next book. Google understands this and created Google Keep to help your notes flow seamlessly across scenarios and apps.

The Google Keep interface looks exactly like digitized Post-it Notes. You can choose from 12 bright colors for each note, visually categorizing your notes by topic. Creating a note is easy—you can type, draw, or add an image (on mobile, you can even use your voice). If you use the Google Keep Chrome extension, you can save URLs, text, and images as you browse the web. Everything you save in Google Keep stays synced across all platforms that you use.

While the note-taking features are fairly standard, the app truly shines when used with the rest of the G-Suite products. In Gmail, Google Calendar, or Google Drive, or in a file in Docs, Sheets, or Slides, you can open a Google Keep sidebar to view your existing notes or create a new one. If you’re working on a document or presentation, you can drag a Google Keep note from the sidebar directly into your Doc or Slide—the content on that note will be added automatically.

Notes that have a due date or reminder date will also automatically show up in your Google Calendar. And, if ideas captured in a note need to be fleshed out, you can instantly copy a note to Google Docs, where it will automatically open in a new Doc (title, formatting, images, copy, and all).

Google Keep Price:
Free plan: Yes, for up to 15GB of storage across all of your Google apps

Best note-taking app for teams

Notion (Android, iOS, macOS, web, Windows)

Notion combines the best aspects of many apps featured on this list: powerful search and organization features reminiscent of Evernote; the visual, whiteboard feel of Milanote; the clean, modern aesthetic of Ulysses. Notion, however, isn’t your typical note-taking app. What sets it apart is its ability to offer four tools in one: notes, knowledge bases, tasks and projects, and spreadsheets and databases.

Each new document or note is called a “page” and everything in Notion is referred to as a “block.” Blocks include basic elements like text, to-do list, and headings, as well as media types like images, web bookmarks, video, audio, code snippets, and files. You can use as many blocks you want, in whatever combination.

For more complex note-taking—at work, for example—you could create a dedicated workspace to store all meeting notes in one place and share it with the team. Or you could link to relevant notes from a team project plan.

If you want an easy, straightforward way to capture notes for just yourself, then Notion is probably overkill. While it’s easy to learn, it has a lot of extra bells and whistles if you simply need to type a few sentences. However, if you take notes at work (like meeting notes, notes for new hires, or documentation/process notes), and want to share that information with others, then you can’t beat Notion.

Notion offers a free plan with unlimited members. However, it’s limited to 1000 blocks. You can delete blocks if you hit that limit, but you’ll want to purchase the Team plan if you plan on taking and sharing extensive notes with your team.

Notion Price:
Free plan: Yes
Paid plan: from $8/month per member for the Team plan

Best note-taking app for developers

Boostnote ( macOS, Windows Linux)

Boostnote is a free, open-source note-taking app that will appeal to most developers. When you create a new note, choose either Markdown note—used for creating any kind of text document—or snippet note, which simply gives you a text editor for code. When creating and editing Markdown notes, Boostnote puts an extra panel on the right side of your window to preview the formatting of the note as you write. Markdown notes even support LaTeX blocks, for those writing hefty mathematical formulas.

Snippet notes, however, look like code in an ordinary code editor, with visual cues you’d expect, such as line numbering and color-coding of text. Boostnote can highlight code syntax in more than 100 languages, including Javascript, Python, Go, Swift, and Vue.

With Boostnote, you can work with text snippets, too. Text snippets are lines of text you tend to use repeatedly, whether boilerplate copy or particular lines of code. Other excellent features include customizable hotkeys, the ability to change the font, and dozens of light and dark visual themes for the interface.

Storage is entirely in your hands with Boostnote, so you can keep your notes saved locally and 100 percent offline, or you can pop them into a file storage and syncing service of your choosing to make them accessible to you everywhere.

Boostnote Price:
Free plan: Yes
Paid plan: Contributions accepted

Best note-taking app for designers and visual thinkers

Milanote (iOS, macOS, web)

If you think in images rather than words, your note-taking app should still give you the tools to express yourself. Milanote caters directly to designers and other visual thinkers, but it’s not for sketching. It’s more of a pasteboard or pinboard, presenting a canvas on which you can paste images, arrows, text blocks, checklists, and other elements.

Milanote has a drawer on the right side of the page that holds page elements you intend to use but haven’t placed yet. This lets you see and consider all the pieces you need to add without having to put them on the board before you’re ready. Milanote also has a web clipper tool, so you can easily snap images online and add them to your visual notes.

Milanote handles syncing, storage, and backup rather than handing off those responsibilities to a third party. Free Milanote members have some tight limitations on what they can upload: 100 notes, images or links, and only ten files. Free members also can’t search their boards and content. Pro members get unlimited storage (unlimited notes, images, links, and files), plus a search bar for all their content.

Milanote Price:
Free plan: Yes
Paid plan: From $9.99/month per person when billed annually

Best distraction-free note-taking app

Simplenote (Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, web, Windows)

True to its name, Simplenote gives you a clutter-free space for creating and editing notes. It’s a no-frills experience—you get little more than an unlimited number of blank white pages for making plain text notes. There’s no rich text formatting, no image uploads, and no file attachments. Don’t expect to draw or record audio memos either. Simplenote is a pure minimalist in the note-taking app category.

Seeing as you can save nothing but typed text, the search functionality is fast. Syncing and storage come included. You get a version history for all your notes and the ability to restore any prior version. You also get tags for sorting and organizing your notes, plus options for sharing and collaborating with others.

Simplenote can run in any browser, and there are apps for all the major platforms as well. It’s completely free with no upsells or subscription plans. If you want a truly distraction-free environment and don’t need many features beyond the ability to make plain text notes, then you can’t do better than Simplenote for your note-taking needs.

Simplenote Price:
Free plan: Yes

Best note-taking app for secure, encrypted notes

Standard Notes (Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, web, Windows)

If you need a safe place to store confidential notes, Standard Notes combines a simple UI with 100 percent encrypted note-taking. Whether you use your smartphone, a computer, or a tablet, your notes are completely encrypted with a passcode that only you know. And, because Standard Notes has made its code open-source, you can clearly see how your data is being handled.

The free version of Standard Notes will be too minimal for most note-takers—you only have access to a plain text editor, with no support for rich text, images, links, bullet points, or attachments. The only way to organize notes is by adding tags, which are then stored together in a corresponding folder. These lackluster features in the free plan make it a tough sell.

The paid version (known as the Extended plan), on the other hand, is full of functionality. You can download 30 extensions, which are basically widgets or add-ons to improve the app. For example, you can add up to 11 different editors, allowing you to write in simple or advanced Markdown, code, or rich text (complete with images, videos, and audio recordings). You can add nested folders to help with organization, add an action bar to duplicate, copy, or save notes, or enable encrypted syncing from Google Drive, Dropbox, or Microsoft OneDrive.

In both the free and paid plans, Standard Notes automatically syncs your notes across an unlimited number of devices, with no limit on data capacity. It also offers unlimited notes and offline access.

Standard Notes Price:
Free plan: Yes
Paid plan: $4.17/month when billed annually

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