When I was in high school, I was one of those nerds that carried pen and paper around everywhere.
Sometimes it was a small notebook.
Sometimes it was a single sheet of paper folded in my back pocket.
Other times it was a journal in my backpack.
I transitioned to a note-taking app on my phone, 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 a 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 apps 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.
ALSO: Take a look at these top note-taking strategies!
With those factors in mind, let’s examine the top note-taking apps for you to try this year.
The Notepad by ClickUp is a Chrome extension that you can download and then use across the web. It stays in the bottom corner of your choice, creating a simple way for you to jot down reminders or do research as you’re browsing. Just click on the purple notepad icon at the bottom of your screen, and your entire list of notes is right there. And with rich text editing, you can format, emphasize or even create Markdown right there in your browser.
This is the notepad program designed for those who want to maximize their productivity. Why? Because it connects right to your *favorite* project management software, ClickUp! ClickUp is the only project management software program that has this option…and your same notes will transfer from your browser right into ClickUp.
PRO: Easy to use across your project management
CON: No standalone mobile app…yet!
Availability: Chrome browser and with ClickUp
2. Google Keep
Google Keep is a great option because it meets all of the points I made above, plus it’s simple. And completely accessible.
PRO: As part of the Google Suite, you can take notes on your browser or your phone via an app and it stays with you.
CON: Formatting text or markdown is a bit harder to do.
Availability: All devices
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 shortcuts to link your notes together. Very intuitive!
PRO: Hashtags and categorization from anywhere in the note
CON: Not enough separate workspaces or different levels of categories. This Reddit thread has more.
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.
From there, you can add tags and more organizational tools emerge.
With its new mobile apps, Workflowy is definitely worth a try.
PRO: Easy to see zoom in and out from the big picture to smaller details
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. If you need to export all of your notes, that can be tricky too, yet can be done. Proceed with caution on Evernote!
Find more Evernote alternatives!
PRO: Web clipper and card system are familiar
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.
PRO: Capture quick design ideas
CON: Not many keyboard functions for the typers out there…
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.
PRO: A Minimalist interface for long-form writing
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 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.
PRO: Use your real handwriting (that’s a con for me)
CON: Won’t be as concise or compact as a standard note-taking app (if that matters to you)
At first, I thought this 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 sketch book approach. It’s the best one at doing both. You can take audio dictation, photos, make a to-do list or draw. OneNote is the best at utilizing the keyboard and sketching in the same app.
Microsoft users will want to take advantage especially since it connects to your 365 account.
PRO: Sketches and typed notes in one place! And Microsoft.
CON: And Microsoft.
Availability: All devices
No doubt, note-taking apps are 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.
Other great posts to help with your notes: