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The 13 Best (and Free!) Note-Taking Apps of 2021

Woman in an orange blouse using an app on her smartphone.

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 busy and on the go, a note-taking app can be an essential tool for keeping track of ideas and information. Plus, most of them allow you to sync files, scan papers, and assign tasks.

To help you find the best one for you, we scoured app store rankings and asked six professionals to weigh in on their favorite free apps for taking notes. Here are 15 apps that topped the lists. We’ve also provided you with nine tips on how to choose the right app for your needs.

Best Apps for Syncing Notes Across Multiple Devices

1. Evernote

  • Available On: Apple Store | Google Play
  • What It Does: Evernote creates notebooks, planners, and organizers at the touch of a keyboard or finger. With this app, you can:
    • Sync notes, notebooks, and journals across all devices. (NOTE: With the free app, you can only sync across two devices. With the app’s paid version, Evernote Web, you can sync across any number of devices.)
    • Take notes and create journals in a wide variety of formats, including sketches, PDFs, and video.
    • File notes that you’ve hand-written on business cards, printed documents, or any paper source.
    • 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. The app 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 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 about it is the intuitive interface and the ability to sync inputs, whether it’s voice, text, images, or sketches. Kapoor also loves that Evernote allows him to take visual notes in the forms of attachments, no matter whether they're files or images.

2. Notebook

  • Available On: Apple Store | Google Play
  • What It Does: This app allows the user to create different types of notecards for different types of notes. If you need to create a checklist, there’s a notecard for that. Want to do some sketches or create plain text notes? There are notecards for those tasks, too. But the app doesn’t just stop there - Notebook earned its 4.7-star review from Apple users because it allows you to do a whole host of other things, including:
    • Sync to the cloud across all devices — mobile, desktop, and web-based — so your data is always backed-up.
    • Use text, audio, photos, and other files to create unique, customizable notecards.
    • Scan and annotate business cards or other documents quickly and easily.
    • Search within grouped “notebooks,” across multiple notebooks, and search for objects or text within photos.
  • Why You'll Love It: One of the best features, according to users, is that Notebook is totally ad-free. “We don’t sell your info. We don’t do ads,” Zoho Corp. says on its website. And unlike a number of other note-taking apps, Notebook also comes in a desktop version.

Best App for Customer Relationship Management

3. Contactually

  • Available On: Apple Store | Google Play
  • What It Does: Designed with real estate professionals in mind, Contactually helps you stay on top of client relationships seamlessly. With this app, you can:
    • Organize your contact list.
    • Set reminders for the frequency and dates of your interactions with each client.
    • Sync notes across email and phone.
    • Turn paper notes into digital copies.
    • 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

4. Squid

  • Available On: Google Play
  • 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. With this app, you can:
    • File notes written with an active pen, passive stylus, or finger.
    • Wirelessly cast your notes and PDFs to TV projectors so you can share them with colleagues or present them to clients.
    • Add visuals to your notes through importing images or your own drawings.
    • Mark up images, PDFs, and screenshots.
    • Change color and thickness of your letters.
    • Erase words and visuals easily with an eraser tool or with your finger.
    • Export notes to file hosting services like Google Drive and Dropbox.
    • 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, which allowed him to eliminate clutter and increase his own 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 Apps for Organizing Notes

5. Microsoft OneNote

  • Available On: Apple Store | Google Play
  • What It Does: Microsoft OneNote searches, sorts, pins, and renames notes and notebooks across all devices. With this app, you can:
    • Pin notes you reference most often to the top of your page or the front of your notebook.
    • Secure your work with password protection and touch ID.
    • Share notes and notebooks with your team.
    • Back up your information into the cloud.
    • Create to-do lists.
    • Access a variety of pen colors and settings.
    • Use the “Convert to Shapes” mode to 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 across his desktop and mobile devices.

6. QuickNotes X

  • Available On: Apple Store
  • What It Does: Apple users gave QuickNotes X a 4.2-star rating because it makes it easy -- and even fun! -- to take and organize your notes. With this app, you have the freedom to pick out layouts and covers for your notes, as well as to customize templates to use later on. Then, you can export your notes as PDFs or PNG images. On top of that, this app lets you:
    • Drag and drop to organize.
    • Lock private notebooks and share notes that you want to be public.
    • Sketch or draw text or detailed works.
    • Add text boxes that allow you to type instead of write by hand.
    • Rapidly delete notes with the press of a finger or stylus.
  • Why You'll Love It: Though this app has similar features to other professional note-taking apps, one major reason why Apple users love it so much is because it takes up significantly less space on your iPhone or iPad than the competition (it only needs less than 20MB of space).

7. Note - Beautiful Notes App

  • Available On: Apple Store
  • What It Does: Note allows you to easily categorize your notes by assigning them tags of your choosing, such as “Pending Sales” or “Client Preferences.” With this app, you can:
    • Customize tagged notes with colors and icons.
    • Auto-save without having to press a “save” button.
    • See the number of words, characters, and paragraphs you’re writing as you’re taking your notes.
  • Why You'll Love It: Users on the Apple Store say this 4.6-rated app is simple, modern, and seamless to use with the latest iOS. And, just like QuickNotes X, it takes up a very small amount of space (21 MB) so you don’t have to worry about it slowing down your device’s operating speed.

Best Apps for Simple, Clean Note-Taking

8. Simplenote

  • Available On: Apple Store | Google Play
  • What It Does: Simplenote lets you jot down and store notes that can be searched, shared, or published. With this app, you can:
    • Organize your notes with tags and pins.
    • Set the app so that your work is backed up automatically.
    • Sync your notes across all your devices.
    • Keep your work secure using fingerprint and password protection.
    • 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 track 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. n+otes

  • Available On: Apple Store
  • What It Does: This app is very similar to the native Notes app on your iOS device, with a few extra bells and whistles. With this app, you can:
    • Lock your notes and protect them with a four-digit passcode.
    • Customize text with fonts and colors.
    • Organize notes with an easy sort function.
    • Attach photos to notes easily.
  • Why You'll Love It: If you’re an Apple user, you’ll already be used to most of this app’s functions, so there’s no learning curve involved. It’s also available across all Apple mobile devices, including the Apple Watch, so you can access your notes no matter what device you’re using.

10. Notepad

  • Available On: Apple Store
  • What It Does: This app looks similar to the native Notes app on Apple devices, but it’s about half the file size, which makes it quick to start and simple to use. With this app, you can:
    • Keep it easy with text-only memos.
    • Share notes quickly and seamlessly across devices, including AirDrop, SMS, and email.
  • Why You'll Love It: This app was created with the simple purpose of creating notes/memos and nothing else. If you don’t need a lot, this app is about 12MB and won’t slow down your device with a lengthy opening process. Users rate it 4.5 out of 5 on the Apple Store. One user says that they like to open it quickly when they wake up in the middle of the night with ideas for their business, and they love it because it’s “simple and effective.”

Best App for Project Planning

11. Agenda.

  • Available On: Apple Store
  • What It Does: This app — made specifically for business managers — says it’s “date-focused” for planning and documenting projects. This means that you can keep track of your projects in chronological order and see exactly what needs to come next. With this app, you can:
    • Type text, draw with a pencil, or upload and annotate documents.
    • View chronological notes in past, present, and future views to “track the evolution” of your project.
    • Create notes with images, file attachments, tags, lists, and links.
    • Connect to your calendar to add notes and due dates to events.
    • Sync notes across all iOS devices, plus iCloud or Dropbox.
  • Why You'll Love It: This 4.6-rated app is considered an “Editors’ Choice” on the Apple Store for its ease of finding notes that were created on specific days at specific times. It’s a free project management app, which sets it apart from other paid (and expensive) project management apps, and it doesn’t have any trial period. That said, if you decide you want an upgrade, there is a paid version available that unlocks additional features.

Best App for Learning and Education

12. Notefuel

  • Available On: Apple Store
  • What It Does: Notefuel was designed specifically to make it easier for people to take notes on books, podcasts, and other educational materials via the Cornell notes system. For this reason, it’s a particularly handy app for those users who are taking classes or studying for licensing exams. With this app, you can:
    • Quickly recall information for ease of studying with notes organized as notecards.
    • Turn notecards into flashcards, add questions, or engage the auto-flashcards feature to let Notefuel automatically create flashcards for you.
    • Scan text or book pages by taking a picture.
    • Import Kindle book notes and notecards.
    • Work offline and then sync information across all devices.
  • Why You'll Love It: Users of this 4.6-rated app say its text scan feature sets it aside from other note-taking apps. The basic, free version of this app has everything you’ll need to with which to take notes, create flashcards, and review scanned material. However, there is a subscription version that unlocks “real-time, cross-device sync and unlimited text scans and notecards.”

Best App for Annotating Documents

13. Notes Writer

  • Available On: Apple Store
  • What It Does: Notes Writer gives you the ability to mark up actual documents. With this app, you can:
    • Upload multiple documents per note, inserting new documents as you upload them and reordering, deleting, copying, and pasting from other notes with ease.
    • Stay organized by creating unlimited folders and tree-like projects for different purposes, such as work, school, and life.
    • Easily fill out forms and sign scanned documents.
    • Sync and share across all devices, as well as iCloud, Google Drive, and Dropbox.
  • Why You'll Love It: Users of this 4.5-rated app say it’s “better than paper.” Notes can be exported in multiple file types, including PDF, HTML, RTF, TXT, and more. It even includes mini-apps within the app, including: A calendar for tracking events; alerts and reminders; the “Font Book” app, which lets you preview all fonts available and install new ones; the “Sketcher” app, which allows you to draw by hand and design graphics; and a Thesaurus.

9 Tips for Choosing a Note-Taking App

Each app offers 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 for you 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 or a stylus, or type?

Tip #5: Analyze your budget.

Is cost a factor? If you found the perfect app, would you be willing to pay for it? Or do you just want to try out something new (and free) 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 the apps’ bugs or 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.

Originally published on January 4, 2019.
Updated by Lauren Garcia on January 30, 2020.

Image courtesy of Donson

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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