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The 5 Best Free Note-Taking Apps of 2020

We interviewed six professionals to get their recommendations on the best note-taking apps on the market. Here's what they had to say.


Image of a person taking notes in a notebook
Image via Rogerson

You know you wrote it down, but you can’t remember where or when. Sound familiar? If you’re still at the mercy of wrinkled, bottom-of-your-bag sticky notes or a dusty shelf full of legal pads, it’s time to upgrade to a note-taking app.

Why? Well, if you’re a busy pro on-the-go, a note-taking app can be an essential tool for keeping track of ideas and information. Plus, most note-taking apps allow you to sync files, scan papers, and assign tasks.

To help you find the best one for you, we asked six professionals to weigh in on their favorite apps for taking notes. Below, you’ll find the five that topped each person’s list. We’ve also provided you with eight tips on how to choose the right one for your needs.


Best App for Syncing Notes Across Multiple Devices

1) “Evernote”

  • Available On: Apple App Store | Google Play
  • Offered By: Evernote Corporation
  • What It Does: Evernote creates notebooks, planners, and organizers at the touch of a keyboard or finger. Here are some its most notable features:
    • You can sync notes, notebooks, and journals across all your devices, keeping you seamlessly organized. (Just note that with the free app, you can only sync across two devices max. With Evernote Web, you can sync across any number of computers.)
    • You can add visual to-dos, webpages, and audio notes.
    • You can take notes and create journals in a wide variety of formats, including sketches, PDFs, and video.
    • You can file notes that you manually write in longhand on business cards, printed documents, or any paper source.
    • You can create multiple notebooks based on your needs (i.e., notes for business versus personal notes), or by specific interests or categories.
  • Why You’ll Love It: Ben Mizes, CEO and founder of Clever Real Estate, uses Evernote to keep track of virtually everything he needs to run his company. It lets him sync across all devices so he can easily access meeting notes, to-do lists, and files sent to him by clients and agents. “I love that Evernote lets me scan in documents and turn them into PDFs,” he says. “This lets me send things out via email much faster than having to scan them normally.” Ketan Kapoor, CEO and co-founder of HR technology company Mettl, uses Evernote to stay on top of his work. What he likes most is the intuitive interface and power to sync inputs, whether it’s voice, text, images, or sketches. He says he also loves that it allows him to take visual notes in the forms of attachments, no matter whether they're files or images.


Best App for Customer Relationship Management

2) “Contactually”

  • Available On: Apple App Store | Google Play
  • Offered By: Contactually, Inc.
  • What It Does: Designed with real estate professionals in mind, Contactually helps you stay on top of client relationships seamlessly. Here are some of its most notable features:
    • You can organize your contact list and reminds you of the frequency and dates of your interactions with each client.
    • You can sync notes across email and phone.
    • You can turn paper notes into digital copies.
    • You can keep a communication log that you can update with salient facts about clients, from budgets to birthdays.
  • Why You’ll Love It: Contactually is designed to help you hold onto every fact you want to remember after meetings and phone calls. Eric Sztanyo, a realtor at Keller Williams, lead agent at Team Sztanyo, and founder of We Buy NKY Houses, says he loves this app because it keeps him organized in the field and lets him stay on top of his database. “When I have email communications with my clients, this app syncs with my Gmail account and automatically updates my client's file,” he says.


Best App for Writing in Longhand

3) “Squid”

  • Available On: Google Play
  • Offered By: Steadfast Innovation, LLC
  • What It Does: Squid lets you write things down the way you would on any notepad, no matter whether you're using an Android phone, tablet, or Chromebook. Here are some of its most notable features:
    • You can file notes written with an active pen, passive stylus, or finger.
    • You can wirelessly cast your notes and PDFs to TV projectors so you can share them with colleagues or present them to clients.
    • You can add visuals to your notes through importing images or your own drawings.
    • You can mark up images, PDFs, and screenshots.
    • You can change the color and thickness of your letters.
    • You can erase words and visuals easily with an eraser tool or with your finger.
    • You can export notes to file hosting services like Google Drive and Dropbox.
    • You can fill out forms and contracts without having to print them.
  • Why You’ll Love It: If you use script or print at the speed of sound, you’ll enjoy this app. With Squid, Keith Murray of Integrity Senior Solutions Inc. was finally able to let go of his legal pads, eliminating clutter and increasing productivity. Like many professionals, Murray went through two legal pads a week and had to shred many of them because they contained private financial information. Then, he discovered Squid. “I use the app for taking notes during phone consultations,” he says. “After the call, I quickly save and export my notes. When that client calls back, I can refer to my notes and remember our conversation, pronto. With legal pads, that was a cumbersome process.” Murray also likes that he can change the colors and thickness of the active pen easily.


Best App for Organizing Notes

4) “Microsoft OneNote”

  • Available On: Apple App Store | Google Play
  • Offered By: Microsoft Corporation
  • What It Does: Microsoft OneNote searches, sorts, pins, and renames notes and notebooks across all devices. Here are some of its most notable features:
    • You can pin notes you reference most often to the top of your page or the front of your notebook.
    • You can secure your work with password protection and touch ID.
    • You can share notes and notebooks with your team.
    • You can back up your information into the cloud.
    • You can create to-do lists.
    • You get access to a variety of pen colors and settings.
    • You can use the “Convert to Shapes” mode to the change your handcrafted designs into crisp shapes.
  • Why You’ll Love It: OneNote provides bells and whistles like cloud storage for free, with no premium subscription required. It’s also intuitive to use. Russell Sinclair, vice president of product at Prevu, has been using OneNote for years to keep himself organized. He says he loves that it supports all platforms and allows him to sync notes easily from desktop and mobile.


Best App for Simple, Clean Note-Taking

5) “Simplenote”

  • Available on: Apple App Store | Google Play
  • Offered By: Automattic, Inc.
  • What It Does: Simplenote lets you jot down and store notes that can be searched, shared, or published. Here are some of its most notable features:
    • You can organize your notes with tags and pins.
    • You can set the app so that your work is backed up automatically.
    • You can sync your notes across all your devices.
    • You can keep your work secure using fingerprint and password protection.
    • You can save multiple versions of the same note for easy referencing.
  • Why You’ll Love It: As its name implies, Simplenote is simple, intuitive, and easy to use. Featuring an uncluttered interface in light and dark hues, it provides a fast, seamless way for you to catalogue and stay on top of the things you need to remember. Will Craig, founder and managing director of LeaseFetcher, loves Simplenote because he’s a minimalist at heart. “I think the bareness of Simplenotes’ platform is its biggest strength because it provides a distraction-free environment to take down important notes,” he says.


9 Tips for Choosing the Right Note-Taking App for You

As you saw above, each app will offer you a variety of different features and functionalities. Some are geared exclusively toward taking notes, while others offer a wide range of additional organizational tools. Before you download a note-taking app, think about when you would use it the most, as well as the tools you'd absolutely need it to have. Are you most likely to jot down your post-meeting thoughts while walking out the door for the day, or when you’re sitting at your desk with lots of time to pin, post, and sort?

Choose a note-taking app that matches your style and the ways in which you like to keep yourself organized. Consider the following tips when making your decision.

Tip #1: Consider the app's interface.

Is it clean and intuitive? Are there lots of prompts (or ads)? If you find that there's something unnatural about the experience, try another one.

Tip #2: Focus on your main goals.

Think about what paper notes can’t do and hone in on your needs. Will you be sharing your notes with others and require tidying-up tools that can turn your thoughts into presentations?

Tip #3: Think about whether you need visuals in your notes.

Do you plan to include video and audio clips, web pages, or other visuals into your notes?

Tip #4: Figure out how you prefer to take notes.

Do you want to dictate notes with your voice, use your finger, a stylus, or type only?

Tip #5: Analyze your budget.

Is cost a factor? Would you pay if you found the perfect app, or do you just want to try something new (and free) out for now?

Tip #6: Do some research on the developer.

Does the developer have a good reputation and track record?

Tip #7: Read the ratings.

What do online reviews reveal about bugs and other issues?

Tip #8: Find the helpers.

Does the app include customer support?

Tip #9: Do some trial runs for each app.

Using a note-taking app can save you tons of time and eliminate those “uh-oh, I should remember this but don’t” moments. But before you commit to one, try downloading trial versions for the ones that appeal most to you so you can get a feel for each.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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