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The 10 Best Note-Taking Apps of 2021

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

Although they demand absolute accuracy, modern business operations are moving faster than ever before. Of course, this breakneck pace is largely fueled by digital technology, which has made doing business incredibly efficient.

In order to keep up with the current speed of business processes, you must take advantage of the latest in state-of-the-art tech in all phases and aspects of administration and operation. When it comes to note-taking, this means that scattershot sticky notes and piles of legal pads are (or at least should be!) a thing of the past.

With the large amounts of note-taking apps on the market today, there is little excuse for losing important information that you scribbled in poor handwriting on a scrap of paper. But the sheer number of these apps can be quite overwhelming.

So which note-taking app should you choose? The answer to this question will largely depend on the nature of your business, its priorities, and the industry in which it operates. That said, here are 10 of the best free note-taking apps to look out for in 2021.

1. Microsoft OneNote

  • Available On: Apple Store | Google Play
  • Allows You To:
    • Pin often-referenced notes 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.
    • Save and access notes and notebooks across all devices, thanks to cloud connectivity.
    • Take task notes and create to-do lists.
    • Choose from a variety of pen colors and settings.
    • Use the “Convert to Shapes” mode to change your handcrafted designs into eye-catching shapes.
  • Why You'll Love It: One of the most versatile note-taking apps on the market, OneNote provides exceptional levels of functionality while remaining extremely easy to use. It is particularly remarkable for its outstanding organizational capabilities and its secure cloud storage. For these reasons and more, business and tech authority Harry Guinness named OneNote the best free note-taking app of 2021.

2. Notebook

  • Available On: Apple Store | Google Play
  • Allows You To:
    • Create different types of notecards for notes that range from checklists to rough sketches.
    • Sync to the cloud across all mobile, desktop, and web-based devices with secure data backups.
    • Incorporate text, audio, photos, and other files into your customizable notecards.
    • Scan and annotate documents quickly and easily.
    • Organize and access notes within grouped notebooks and across multiple notebooks.
    • Search for objects or text within photos.
  • Why You'll Love It: Perhaps the best free app for syncing notes across multiple devices, Notebook packs a lot of features and operations into a sleek package. Even better, Notebook is completely ad-free.

3. Apple Notes

  • Available On: Apple Store
  • Allows You To:
    • Add tables to your notes to automatically organize information.
    • Scan paper documents directly into your notes.
    • Add photos to a note quickly and easily using your camera or photo library.
    • Collaborate easily using shared folders.
    • Use passwords to secure notes that hold personal information.
    • Sketch in your notes with your finger or Apple Pencil in your choice of brush styles and colors.
    • Keep all your notes stored securely in the cloud and updated automatically on all of your devices.
  • Why You'll Love It: A standard app on most Apple devices, Notes has been a simple, straightforward, and reliable note-taking app for more than 15 years. Although it remains easy to use and occupies a small amount of storage space, today’s Notes offers a surprising amount of functionality. On his recent list of “15 Things You Didn't Realize Apple's Notes App Could Do,” PC contributor Lance Whitney praised its quick access to key options and commands, optional thumbnail views, precise sharing perimeters, and ability to sort information according to a range of criteria. The latest version of Notes features a smoother interface, a home screen widget, and new Apple Pencil capabilities.

4. Simplenote

  • Available On: Apple Store | Google Play
  • Allows You To:
    • Easily jot down notes for secure storage, sharing, and/or publishing.
    • Take advantage of an extremely simple and highly intuitive interface.
    • Set the app so that your work is backed up automatically.
    • Organize your notes with tags and pins.
    • 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 reference.
  • Why You'll Love It: Although it doesn’t have the bells and whistles of a OneNote or a Notebook, Simplenote remains true to its name by making digital note-taking simple for everyone. Its neat and orderly interface offers the average consumer a quick and seamless way to catalog and track important business matters.

5. Agenda

  • Available On: Apple Store
  • Allows You To:
    • Ensure that you never miss another deadline with a platform that is decidedly “date-focused.”
    • Type text, draw with a pencil, or easily upload and annotate documents.
    • Plan and document every stage of project development.
    • Connect to your calendar to add notes and due dates to events.
    • View chronological notes using past, present, and future view options.
    • Create notes with images, file attachments, tags, lists, and links.
    • Sync notes across all iOS devices using the cloud.
  • Why You'll Love It: Made specifically for business administrators and project managers, Agenda is an exceptional resource for easily accessing notes that you created on a specific day at a specific time. Although the free version of this app is relatively extensive, it also comes in a subscription version that comes with a number of additional features.

6. Joplin

  • Available On: Apple Store | Google Play
  • Allows You To:
    • Take task notes and make to-do lists with extraordinary ease.
    • Choose among a range of customizable interfaces and layouts.
    • Sync notes on all attached devices while automatically backing up your information in the cloud.
    • Save web pages directly to your notes with a web clipper for both Chrome and Firefox.
    • Offers easy import of notes from other apps.
  • Why You'll Love It: Although it doesn’t support collaboration and offers no handwriting or sketching functionality, Joplin is extremely easy to use and comes with a surprising array of highly efficient features. In light of this, productivity apps and software expert and contributing editor to PC Jill Duffy called Joplin a great open-source alternative to Evernote and ranked it the overall best free and open-source note-taking app option for 2021.

7. Evernote

  • Available On: Apple Store | Google Play
  • Allows You To:
    • Create notebooks, planners, and organizers with a touch of the keyboard or screen.
    • Sync notes, notebooks, and journals across more than one device.
    • Take notes and create journals in a wide variety of formats.
    • Incorporate printed documents, sketches, PDFs, audio, and video into your notes.
    • File hand-written notes that you have scribbled on paper.
    • Create multiple notebooks that are organized by specific categories or interest groups.
  • Why You'll Love It: Harry Guinness echoes the sentiments of countless tech authorities when he calls the paid version of Evernote the “ultimate digital notebook.” The free version of Evernote, however, is a bit less thrilling. For example, you can only sync two Evernote devices for free while you can sync a limitless number if you pay. That said, the free version of Evernote remains quite impressive when it comes to taking and managing notes with ease and providing a versatile array of features.

8. Squid

  • Available On: Google Play
  • Allows You To:
    • Write things down as you would on any paper notepad with an active pen, passive stylus, or finger.
    • Use any Android phone, tablet, or Chromebook.
    • Wirelessly cast notes and PDFs to screens and projectors to share them with colleagues or clients.
    • Add visuals to your notes by importing images or making drawings.
    • Mark up images, PDFs, and screenshots in real time.
    • Change both the color and thickness of your letters.
    • Export notes to Google Drive, Dropbox, and other hosting services.
    • Fill out blanks in forms and contracts without printing them.
  • Why You'll Love It: The best app for transforming handwriting to text, Squid is essential for anyone who prefers to take notes in longhand. Throw away those legal pads and the clutter that goes along with them for a digital system that is highly organized and secure.

9. Notes Writer

  • Available On: Apple Store
  • Allows You To:
    • Mark up actual digital documents with ease.
    • Upload multiple documents in each note and insert new documents as you see fit.
    • Reorder and delete documents within each note.
    • Readily copy and paste from between notes.
    • Organize notes into unlimited folders for different purposes.
    • Fill out and sign scanned forms and documents.
    • Sync and share notes across hosting services, such as Google Drive and Dropbox.
    • Export documents to PDF, HTML, RTF, TXT, and more.
  • Why You'll Love It: If annotating documents is essential to your business, you’re going to adore Notes Writer. In addition to handling annotations better than paper, Notes Writer has a calendar for tracking events and a “Sketcher” function for drawing by hand and designing graphics.

10. Contactually

  • Available On: Apple Store and Google Play
  • Allows You To:
    • Organize and maintain your contact list.
    • Set reminders for interactions with each client.
    • Sync notes across email and phone.
    • Transform paper notes into digital copies.
    • Keep a communication log that you can update client facts that range from budgets to birthdays.
  • Why You'll Love It: Excellent for contractors, real estate agents, and other professionals who deal personally with multiple clients at the same time. Collect and save detailed information for each account you have.

9 Tips for Choosing the Right Note-Taking App for Your Needs

Considering the wide array of note-taking apps on the market today, it should come as no surprise that they differ quite dramatically in terms of focus, functionality, and features. Therefore, the best note-taking app for your business will be the one that best fits your specific and unique wants and needs.

Ask yourself a few questions: what are your current note-taking habits and how do you plan to use your note-taking app? What functions do you value the most? Do you simply want to take notes or do you require significant help when it comes to organizing, storing, sharing, and applying those notes? With a little self-examination, your answers to these questions will inevitably lead you to the “best” note-taking app for your needs.

You can also consider the following tips when making your decision.

Tip #1: Consider the app's interface.

While simple, logical, and ergonomic interfaces are obviously valuable, many apps with streamlined interfaces may suffer from a lack of features and functionality. 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 what other functionalities you'd like to have to enhance your note-taking processes.

Is it important to incorporate your notes into a larger workflow system? How much would you benefit from sharing your notes with multiple business partners, clients, and employees across a spectrum of devices? Do you want to include pictures, graphs, video/audio clips, website pages, or other special items in your notes? While you don’t want the unnecessary clutter of functions that you don’t need, you certainly want to get the most out of your app when it comes to meeting your exact wants and needs.

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

Do you like to type notes, dictate them with your voice, or write them with your hand? If you prefer handwriting, would you rather use a stylus or your fingertip?

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 by Corey Whelan on January 4, 2019.
Updated by Chad Deitchley on June 18, 2021.

Image courtesy of Donson

Last updated on Oct 19, 2021.

Originally published on Jun 18, 2021.

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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