The 14 Best Free Note Taking Apps to Use in 2022
When I was in high school, I was one of those nerds that carried pen and paper around everywhere.
Sometimes it was a small notepad.
Sometimes it was a single sheet of paper folded in my back pocket.
Other times it was a journal in my backpack.
I moved to a note taking app on my smartphone, because of:
- Convenience: Obviously if I already have a phone in my pocket, it’s simple to start using it right away without carrying a pen along with paper. This simplifies everything.
- Searching: Something that’s hard to do with paper? Searching for what you wrote down. You can look back at it, but if you want to keep it for any amount of time, you must retype and save it. With an amazing note taking app, you don’t have to do this. If you remember a random idea, you can search back through all of your notes to find it. Note taking apps make it simple to keep up with your information.
- Accessibility: Beyond the convenience in your pocket, most note taking tools also provide remarkable accessibility. You can add, copy and edit your notes from a laptop, tablet or phone. This helps you transfer notes to work accounts or easily share them with friends.
- Aesthetics: On top of convenience and accessibility, aesthetics are an important factor when choosing the best note taking tool for your needs. Having an aesthetic that fits your needs will help you take better notes in the long run! Whether you prefer simple and sleek or bright and funky, our list has you covered.
Maybe instead of pen and paper or a notebook, you have sticky notes all over your monitor. Those can definitely get lost! Or blow away. And you can’t even attach files or save documents to sticky notes!
With those factors in mind, let’s examine the best note taking app for you to try this year.
1. ClickUp Docs
What makes a handy and reliable note-taking app?
Simple: functionality, user-friendly UI, accessibility, and searchability (and okay, maybe aesthetics, too). 😉
That’s what you get with ClickUp Docs, and so much more!
Because ClickUp is an all-in-one productivity tool, it offers all the features you need, from complex project management to your daily note-taking and documenting needs—and everything in between.It helps you organize and bring all your notes and work into one centralized hub—and with the mobile app, you can keep them wherever you go. 😊🤳
For effective note taking, ClickUp offers a doc feature to capture your most important notes, jot down your brilliant ideas, or even store your self-reminder notes and checklists—all of which could be shared with anyone online via a public link (or kept private 🤫).
Beyond your everyday note taking needs, ClickUp Docs can also be used for all kinds of use cases such as wikis, meeting minutes and agendas, knowledge bases, and company portals that can be linked directly to tasks, comments, chat conversations, and more, making it a great solution for small to enterprise teams.
The collaborative editing and detection feature within ClickUp Docs shows who’s working on what allowing teams to simultaneously work in the same Doc without overlap, creating a better collaborative note taking experience for all. And should you need to embed files or add images to your notes, ClickUp Docs can support attachment files and embed links such as YouTube, spreadsheets, and so much more!
Best of all, ClickUp Docs offers basic to advanced typography and rich editing features to let you format your notes the way you prefer and make your notes stand out—change the font size and color, add highlight a text in color, add colored banners to break up the text; let your creativity run wild!
For quick notes and checklists, you can also take advantage of ClickUp’s Notepad feature to jot down ideas, reminders, and action items from anywhere and take them wherever you go via the ClickUp mobile app.
- Full-customizable platform and user-friendly interface
- View Notepad notes offline (Note: you’ll need an internet connection to save changes)
- Custom permission and sharing
- Rich-editing features
- Available on the mobile app
- Free Forever Plan
- Learning curve to the number of features
- Not all views are in the mobile app, yet
2. Google Keep
Google Keep is a great note app because it meets all of the points I made above, plus it’s simple. And completely accessible.
Make note lists, save links, copy text and even record audio notes. Those are amazing features that come as part of your Gsuite applications.
With reminders, Google Keep can be used for very lightweight task management.
- As part of the Google Suite, you can take meeting minutes or lecture notes on your browser or your smartphone via an app and it stays with you.
- Opens next to Google Calendar
- Search for notes by color, lists with images, audio notes with reminders, or shared notes
Con: Formatting text or markdown is a bit harder to do.
Availability: All devices
Compare this web app with #5: Evernote
Though only available on Apple products, Bear is a note taking app to be reckoned with. It has a simple left to right interface with a main menu, a note snippet display of your most recent notes, and then the actual note taking area.
One of its key features is its organizational system. Use hashtags to categorize, then use a slash command to create even more subfolders. You can do this from anywhere in the note. This is a simple way to organize and categorize your notes.
The new folders then automatically appear in your main menu. It also uses other markdown text editor shortcuts to link your notes together. Very intuitive!
- Hashtags and categorization from anywhere in the note
- Multiple themes to offer a style for everyone
- Markup editor supporting 150+ programming languages
Cons: Not enough separate workspaces or different levels of categories. This Reddit thread has more information on Bear.
Workflowy is a notes/project management hybrid, but it works best for notes. Workflowy takes the idea of an outline to an extreme. Rather than create smaller cards for each of your notes (like a notepad), Workflowy drills further and further down into an outline, creating a hierarchical structure right from the start.
Workflowy offers extreme flexibility. Novelists use to plan books; managers can create quick tasks and checklists to pass onto their team.
From there, you can add tags and more organizational tools emerge.
With its new mobile apps, Workflowy is definitely worth a try.
Not sure about Workflowy? Check out our blog on Workflowy alternatives.
- Easy to see zoom in and out from the big picture to smaller details
- Backlinks easily to anything
- Mobile app for iOS and Android
CON: Sometimes users can be frustrated by its plain approach–it’s almost too simple. The blank page can be daunting after all. But you can set favorites and more to navigate.
Availability: All devices
Evernote is the OG of note taking apps, but its shine has lost a little luster over the years. They’ve lost a few executives in the C-suite and users are feeling stuck, especially after they started charging premium prices, but with few product updates.
But the fundamentals remain the same: it’s easy to take notes, add lists and even attach files to your notes for safekeeping. Its user interface has set the tone for the rest of the note apps, many of which have come after it.
If you need to export all of your notes, that can be tricky too, yet can be done.
Proceed with caution on Evernote!
Check out our review on Evernote and its alternatives.
- Web clipper and card system are familiar
- Searchable text in file formats, including PDF files and documents
CON: Rising prices and uncertain product leadership
Paper is a different type of note taking app–it’s the one for you visual thinkers out there. Made more like a sketch pad, you can dive into paintbrushes, swirls, and shapes. Create mind maps or draw a quick cartoon as a reminder. Its notebook feature helps you set up the organization that you need to group your notes and drawings into different categories.
- Capture quick design ideas
- Easily add multiple photos to a page
- Sync your pages across all of your devices
CON: Not many keyboard functions for the text types out there…and only available on Mac/iOS
Ulysses is a hybrid writing program and note taking app. If you find yourself needing to transform your notes from raw form into something presentable, then Ulysses lets you do that all across your Mac devices. You can take notes in a plain text mode and then throw in another theme for export.
It also offers writing goals and links to outside resources, like a PDF for instance. Its clean interface is inviting to many users.
- A minimalist interface for long-form writing
- Built-in proofreader and editing assistant
CON: One drawback? It requires an ongoing subscription, so take a test run before committing.
Availability: Mac and iOS
SquidNotes is one of those writing apps that captures your real handwriting. It mimics taking notes in an actual notebook or legal pad. You can use a compatible stylus or write with your finger. You can then resize your notes, add shapes and export to PDF and more. It’s also great for commenting on images and suggesting edits.
- Use your real handwriting (that’s a con for me)
- Great for marking up documents and suggesting edits
CON: Won’t be as concise or compact as other note taking apps such as Evernote or OneNote (if that matters to you)
9. Microsoft OneNote
At first, I thought Microsoft OneNote was just the answer to Google Keep or Evernote…but it’s actually more than that.
It’s a great tool for annotating and commenting on PDFs, and it combines the functionality of traditional notes with the sketchbook approach. It’s the best one at doing both.
You can take audio dictation, photos, make a to-do list or draw. An amazing OneNote feature is using the keyboard and sketching in the same app. You don’t have to give up your handwritten notes entirely.
Microsoft users will want to take advantage especially since it connects to your 365 account, which can then sync across all your browsers, apps and mobile devices you use for Office365.
- Sketches and typed notes in one place! And Microsoft.
- Add voice notes
- Built in math assistant (paid feature)
Cons: Lacks a lot of major integrations.
Availability: All devices
The team from Automattic (creators of WordPress) want to solve your note taking problems with Simplenote, a free and open-source note taking platform.
An advantageous feature is syncing Simplenote across all of your devices–whether it’s Windows, Mac or your mobile devices.
You also get markdown, which is a huge bonus for sharing code or to emphasize a point. On the flip side, there is no rich text editor.
One Simplenote feature that others don’t have is a drag-and-drop interface for revisions and note history. Just drag the toolbar to go back in time.
- Use across desktop and mobile devices, easy to review past history
- Simple interface
- Note version history
Cons: Not great for attachments, setting reminders, hard to format texts
Availability: Mac, iOS, Android, Windows
11. Dropbox Paper
Dropbox Paper is a seamless collaboration tool for teams of all sizes and industries to edit documents and share all your notes within the program.
Users can add annotations to images, mention people from documents, and connect to their calendars to find meeting notes quickly.
Dropbox Paper has powerful syncing capabilities to help put everyone on the same page.
However, if you’re looking to share professional presentation slides, Dropbox lacks advanced formatting features compared to popular word processors.
- Dropbox files embedded into Dropbox Paper previews correctly
- Large selection of media support from other sources
Cons: Not as intuitive compared to top-rated word processors and poor note organization
Availability: iOs and Android apps
GoodNotes is a smart digital paper and social app for students.
Using GoodNote, students can connect with other students worldwide studying the same subjects and exchange notes.
This feature (at no extra cost) called Community allows users to create their own profile for others to view their documents.
While the Community feature is an incredible tool for people to connect, the note taking features compared to Notability are limited or non-existent.
- Built-in flashcards when you’re in study mode
- Shared Documents feature allows you to use a shareable link to collaborate
- No extra cost to download the Mac app
Cons: No task management features making GoodNotes unsuitable for high-level project planning
Availability: iOS, iPadOS, and Mac
Obsidian is a note-taking and knowledge management app that runs as a Markdown-based system. The application was created based on how the human brain works—focusing on making and following connections between notes. It provides a rich-taking experience and a powerful method for linking documents together via backlinks, creating a web of knowledge, and helps users centralize notes in one place.
- Backlink and graph view help users easily navigate their notes
- Supports CommonMark and GitHub Flavored Markdown (GFM) for portability
- Customizable and can add plugins to create a personalized note-taking tool kit
- iOS version works only with iCloud (does not work with other Cloud folders)
- Unable to export notes to MS Word (only as a PDF file)
- No table editing yet (available as a plugin)
Availability: Mac, Windows, Linux, Web, iOS, Android
Bonus: Obsidian Vs. Notion
Coda is an all-in-one document management solution that brings all your words, data, and teamwork into one powerful doc. Teams can combine building blocks to create a doc, create, edit, and view documents and spreadsheets simultaneously, create surveys and polls, set up custom workflows, automate notifications, and so much more.
- Includes drag and drop capabilities
- Offers customizable templates
- Real-time collaboration
- Mobile-friendly app
- Onboarding can be intimidating; steep learning curve
- Issues with integration with other tools
- Slow speed and performance
Availability: Cloud, SaaS, Web-based, Mobile (Android, iPhone, iPad)
Note Taking Made Easy
No doubt, having a great note taking app is a lifesaver. Your choice may depend on your use case. Do you want a lot of features available through an app like Ulysses, or something simple to jot down your grocery list? Or maybe an online notepad that’s available all across the web if you spend a lot of time in your tabs.
Your choice may depend on what you need, how often you need sketches (or not) and what you want to do with your notes once you’re done with them. Exporting isn’t for everyone.
Which best note taking app will you choose?
Other great posts to help with your notes: