Get your life admin and big projects for 2020 in order with our pick of simple, feature-packed note-taking apps
The familiar feeling – you’ve popped out to the shops, only to find you’ve left your notebook with your recipe on your kitchen table. Or you’re in an important meeting and realise that your notes are buried somewhere in an unnamed Google Doc.
Don’t be ‘that’ person. Leave the notepad behind and start using a digital note-taking app instead and start syncing your reminders across devices and adding extra information to make life admin less of a drag.
This is our pick of the best note-taking apps, ranging from free to paid, with so many functions that you might find they start replacing other apps too.
It’s one of the most basic options out there, but it’s already on your iPhone, iPad or Mac so is a good place to start for the basics. Apple Notes gets the job done, it has some nifty features, and syncs up across devices. You can jot down notes, create a checklist (look for the tick mark icon at the bottom) and even add annotations, photos and tables with the icons at the bottom of the screen. You can also ask Siri to jot down a note, or search through your notes for you. Something that Apple Notes is particularly good at is categorisation, with a range of folders and subfolders you can use to organise your notes. No need to hastily copy-paste your to-do list into an email either – iCloud means that your notes are synced across all of your Apple devices.
Mimicking the look of Post-its, Google Keep links up to your main Google account and is ideal if you like being able to look at all of your notes at a glance. Keep is available on iOS, Android and through your web browser. You can pick from different colours to help organise your notes more easily and if you use Gmail or Google Drive, the sidebar will have a Google Keep icon that you can use to pin a note to a specific email or folder. Add the Google Keep Chrome extension, and you can save links, videos and photos too. It also doubles as a reminder app – add a date or time to a note, and it will sync into your Google Calendar. The only downside is that there are no folders to help keep things organised, however you can add labels to notes to keep things in order.
If you like notebooks but can’t keep track of how many you own, Evernote might be the right note-taking app for you. The basic version is free, but a Premium version costs £4.99 a month, and a Business version, which supports Slack and Google’s G Suite, costs £10.99 a month. Unlike some of the more basic options, Evernote lets you organise notes into notebooks, tag, categorise and search through notes. A free version has templates you can use and supports a range of note formats – text, audio, video, photos, sketches, web page clippings (a browser extension makes it easy to collate all your links in one place). If you have a Business or Premium account, you can share those notes with people who don’t have Evernote, and digitise your notes from scanned documents.
Simplenote is ideal if all you want to do is take notes and not much else. It’s a desktop app, not an extension and it’s compatible with iOS, Android, Windows and Linux. It’s also free to use. Simplenote has a basic interface, and you can create unlimited notes, even though you can’t upload any other kind of file – so if you need visuals or a video, it might not be the right option for you. It has other, basic organisational features – you can add tags to your notes, and there’s a decent search function.
While Notion might be a bit too intense – or have too many options for the person who’s looking for a casual note-taking app – it has so many functions that you might find yourself abandoning other apps too. There is a free option but Notion has a wide range of functions at $4 (£3.06) per month (free for students and teachers), including a calendar template, a budget template, a wishlist template and almost unlimited storage. You can embed images, video and audio files too. The slightly clunky layout which puts everything into blocks, rather than text – might be distracting for some, but it becomes familiar and is handy for teams or people with a lot of different projects on the go.
Apple has Notes, Google has Keep and Microsoft has OneNote. Available on iOS, Android, desktop and in your browser, OneNote does the basics well and has lots of other handy features, especially if you make use of other Microsoft services. You can change the way it looks with some of its inbuilt templates and organise your notes into notebooks. There’s even a digital highlighter for people who want to imitate the analog experience as much as possible, as well as tabs. What may set OneNote apart from other apps is that you can move anything on the page around, no matter what the format – so you could place a sketch next to a to do list, underneath a video, and drag and rearrange at your leisure.
Bear is only compatible with iOS and Mac, but its beautiful, minimal interface (including a dark mode) makes it really stand out. You can build links across the notes, making it easier to move between them and keep on top of things. The formatting options range from basic text to numbered lists, and a focus mode will remove other distractions, making it easier to concentrate on the page in front of you. You can encrypt individual notes with a password Touch/FaceID. A markup option means you can also convert notes into other formats – like PDFs, Word and Google Documents, even JPEGs. If you want to sync across devices, you’ll have to subscribe, which is $1.49 (£1.14) a month.
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