The best note-taking apps in 2021

The best note-taking apps in 2021

The best note-taking apps can help you ensure you never forget a flash of creative inspiration. Writing things down on paper is all well and good, but we find it’s very easy to lose our notes that way. But storing your thoughts, ideas and concepts electronically keeps them safe, secure and, best of all, searchable so that you can find them quickly when you need to.

There are literally hundreds of note-taking apps on the market. A lot of them are free, or at least provide a free trial, but most busy creatives have nowhere near enough time to try them all out. That’s why we’ve done the research for you, road-testing everything from the best iPad pro apps to the best Android apps. In this article, we round up the very best note-taking apps available for a range of devices and platforms. Read on to find out which is the best fit for you.

The best note-taking apps available today

(Image credit: Evernote)

01. Evernote

The best note-taking app overall.

Specifications

Developer: Evernote Corporation

Available for: iOS, Mac, Windows, Android

Free version: Yes

Free trial for paid version: 14 days

Reasons to buy

+Cross-platform+Range of features+Granular search options

Reasons to avoid

-Paid plans expensive

A pioneer in the field, founded in 2000, Evernote remains the cream of the best note-taking apps today. Working across all major platforms, this is the app we’d recommend for anyone looking to get started. Why? Because it’s got a good, capable free version, you can access your notes practically anywhere (laptop, desktop computer, tablet, or phone), and the app’s packed with useful features. 

We particularly like using the Web Clipper browser extension to save web pages; the ability to set reminders, and the integration with Siri for taking voice notes. You can search your notes not only by text, but also by tags, the date they were created, the type of media they contain, the location where you created them, and even more.

There are two paid-for versions: Evernote Premium for individuals, and Evernote Teams for, well, it speaks for itself. The former includes sync across unlimited devices (you only get two in the free plan), a 200MB maximum note size, 10GB monthly upload limit, access to notes offline and the ability to annotate PDFs. The Teams plan, aimed at businesses, offers even larger uploads and some great team collaboration tools. Admittedly, neither of these comes cheap, but if you want the Rolls Royce of note-taking apps, this is it.

(Image credit: Evernote)

02. Bear

The best note-taking app for Apple devices

Specifications

Developer: Shiny Frog

Available for: iPad, iPhone, Mac

Free version: Yes

Free trial for paid version: One week (monthly subscription) or one month (annual subscription)

Reasons to buy

+Minimalist and elegant+Syncs across iCloud+Capable free version

Reasons to avoid

-Sync requires subscription

Apple products are about beautiful, intuitive simplicity, and Bear fits that philosophy perfectly. As the best note-taking app for Macs and the iPad, it lets you create notes and sync them across all your Apple devices via iCloud. There’s no fussing about with folders and notebooks; you just create notes and then store them. You can attach tags, images and other files, as well as drawings created on your iPad or iPhone. There are apps for macOS, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, plus a browser extension.

There’s a free version of Bear if you just want to take notes on your iPad, but you’ll need to pay for the Pro subscription to sync them across devices. That also gives you extra export options, plus the ability to encrypt your notes, password-protect them, and unlock them using Face or Touch ID. 

Just be aware that even the Pro version is a purposely stripped down app. For example, there’s no formatting panel, just support for Markdown. If you want more features, look to Evernote or OneNote, but if you want a simple, minimalist app for iOS that gets the job done, there’s no better option.

(Image credit: Time Base Technology)

03. GoodNotes

The best note-taking app for iPad Pro.

Specifications

Developer: Time Base Technology Limited

Available for: iPad, iPhone, Mac

Free version: No

Free trial for paid version: No

Reasons to buy

+Optimised for Apple Pencil+Good handwriting conversion+Affordable price

Reasons to avoid

-No free version

If you’ve invested in the iPad Pro, we expect you’re using it for more than checking Facebook and watching cat videos. If you’re looking to take advantage of its powerful functionality to be more productive, make sure you’re using it to jot down creative ideas in the moment. To do that, we’d like to point you in the direction of GoodNotes, our next pick from the best note-taking apps. 

This iOS app turns your iPad into digital paper, allowing you to make searchable handwritten notes quickly and easily wherever you find yourself. You can use the Apple Pencil (or one of the best Apple Pencil alternatives), or just your finger. It’s the most similar experience to writing on paper that we’ve found. And we’re not talking about a few scrawled words here; this clever app can recognise everything from equations to mind maps, and it does a great job of converting handwriting into text.

Everything gets auto-synced to the iCloud, and you can access your notes from your iPad, iPhone and Mac (there’s also a macOS version). GoodNotes also allows you to mark up PDFs manually. Available at a relatively cheap, one-off price, GoodNotes is the perfect app for iPad Pro users who want to make notes when inspiration strikes.

(Image credit: Prasad Shirvandkar)

04. Material Notes

The best note-taking app for Android.

Specifications

Developer: Prasad Shirvandkar

Available for: Android

Free version: Yes

Free trial for paid version: No

Reasons to buy

+Easy interface+Useful features+Free version

Reasons to avoid

-Only for Android

Note-taking apps shouldn’t be complicated, but it’s surprising how often you can open one and not know where to start. The Android app Material Notes doesn’t have that problem. Its opening screen proclaims simply, ‘Click the + button to add notes’, and it couldn’t be easier to use.

The user-friendly approach continues through the whole interface, allowing you to create notes, to-do lists and reminders without effort. You can colour-code them, organise them into categories, archive them, assign favourites, and more. There are also some handy unique features, such as the ability to create quick notes from notifications, back up your notes to Google Drive, print directly from the app, and tell your device to read notes out loud.

The app is free to download, while a Pro version – available for a cheap one-off payment – adds extra features including a calendar view, backend encryption, extra fonts, and reminder notifications. There’s no sync functionality, but for many, that’s a feature rather than a gripe, since not everyone wants sensitive information floating about on the web. If you just want to keep your notes on a single device, this is the best note-taking app available for Android. If you do want to sync notes across devices, however, we’d point you to Evernote at number one on our list.

(Image credit: Microsoft)

05. Microsoft OneNote

The best note-taking app for Windows.

Specifications

Developer: Microsoft

Available for: Windows, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android, web

Free version: No

Free trial for paid version: One month (for Office 365 subscription)

Reasons to buy

+Feature-rich+Optimised for MS software+Powerful free version

Reasons to avoid

-Extra storage requires subscription

If you do most of your work in Microsoft’s ecosystem, a notetaking app optimised for Windows makes a lot of sense, even if it’s also cross-platform. The feature-rich Microsoft OneNote works across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android. You can attach images, symbols, Excel tables, audio files and more to notes, and you can extract text from images. You can also clip web pages through a browser extension, and you can add diagrams and sketches drawn on a Surface tablet. 

More uniquely, this note-taking app offers an Accessibility Checker, which highlights problems like low contrast, which can make text difficult to read, or images that are missing alt text. There are some great sharing and collaboration features too, such as allowing others to add comments to your notes.

Best of all, the free version of Microsoft OneNote includes the vast majority of its features. The only slight catch is that you get just 5GB of storage. If you want more, you’ll need to take out a Microsoft 365 Business subscription.

(Image credit: Nebo)

06. Nebo

The best note-taking app for using with a stylus.

Specifications

Developer: MyScript

Available for: iPhone, iPad, Windows, Android, ChromeOS (but only supported devices)

Free version: No

Free trial for paid version: One month (for Office 365 subscription)

Reasons to buy

+Superb handwriting conversion+Annotate PDFs+Add custom words

Reasons to avoid

-Only for high-end devices

If you want to take lots of handwritten notes with a stylus, MyScript Nebo is best note-taking app for that overall. It’s optimised for modern digital pens like Apple Pencil and the Samsung S Pen, and it has some very cool features indeed. 

You can write with both fingers and a stylus, use a digital eraser where supported, and change the colour of your notes. There’s support for 66 languages, and maths and equations are recognised by the app’s clever AI. 

With its proprietary Interactive Ink technology, MyScript Nebo also does a very neat job of translating handwriting into digital text. It’s also highly versatile, allowing you to combine handwriting and text in the same paragraph, sentence or even in a single word. You can add custom words, such as technical terms or slang, to help with recognition, and you can see a preview of your handwriting conversion in real time. The only downside is that it only works on high-end devices: you can find out if your device is compatible here. 

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