The world of business and technology is moving faster than ever. Yet we’re expected to stay constantly up-to-date and 100% accurate. The result? We often find ourselves caught between a rock and a hard place, desperately seeking productivity tips.
But there’s good news on this front, too. As technology enables operations to speed up, innovations from writing apps to Google Workspace make it easier for us humans to keep up with the breakneck pace.
Note-taking is one area where the right technology has the potential to significantly improve your productivity, increase efficiency, and reduce the mental and emotional wear and tear inherent in a fast-paced life.
And while there’s always a learning curve, it’s clear that sticky notes, illegible handwriting, and endless paper are not the best ways to succeed in 2023. With that said, the sheer number of note-taking apps available may leave you confused and unsure. Which one thinks most like you do, or has the key features you need?
And, the ultimate question: Which one will make your life easier?
To help you answer that question, we’ve compiled a list of 12 of the best note-taking apps of 2023, including a brief overview of their features and strengths alongside input from industry experts and insiders.
We’ve also rounded up 10 tips to help you narrow down the field of note-taking tools. There’s a note-taking app for you, whether you need a:
- Larger note database
- Support for virtual meetings
- Markdown support
- An advanced markup editor
- Syntax highlighting
- Image recognition
- Ink annotations
- Advanced export options
- Mind maps
- Compatibility with Microsoft OneDrive,
- Rich text editor and rich formatting,
- Enhanced security for sensitive information,
Use this list and supporting information to make an informed decision when selecting the best note-taking software for your needs.
- 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 to stay on top of daily work.
- Choose from a variety of pen colors and settings.
- Use the “Convert to Shapes” mode to change your handcrafted designs into eye-catching shapes.
- Share and collaborate with your remote and in-house teams across multiple platforms.
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 the OneNote app the best free note-taking app of 2022.
- 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, an audio note, 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.
- Searchable text and objects within photos.
Why You'll Love It: Perhaps the best free app for syncing notes across multiple devices, this cross-platform note-taking app packs a lot of essential features and operations into a sleek package. Even better, Notebook is completely ad-free.
3. Apple Notes
Available On: App Store
Cost: Free with macOS/iOS devices
Allows You To:
- Add tables to your notes to automatically organize information.
- Use the built-in scanner to scan paper documents directly into your notes.
- Add photos to a note quickly and easily using your camera or photo library.
- Add website links with thumbnails.
- 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.
- Sync automatically across devices with iCloud.
Why You'll Love It: Part of the Apple ecosystem, Apple Notes is one of the native apps on most Apple devices. It 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 compared to many iPhone and iPad note-taking apps – whether you’re working on an iPad Pro or other device. On his recent list of “13 Things You Didn't Realize Apple's Notes App Could Do,” PC contributor Lance Whitney praises 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.
- Easily jot down notes for secure storage, sharing, and/or publishing.
- Take advantage of an extremely simple, highly intuitive, and user-friendly interface.
- Set the app so 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 (and view version history) of the same note for easy reference.
- Utilize autocompletion.
- Connect notes with interlinking.
- Get action suggestions based on how you use the app.
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 despite its more limited features. Its neat and orderly interface offers the average consumer a quick and seamless way to catalog and track important business matters.
- 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 with iCloud.
Why You'll Love It: Made specifically for business administrators and project managers, Agenda is an exceptional resource for easily accessing notes created on a specific day at a specific time. Although the free version of this app is relatively extensive, premium features such as a collaboration tool, custom colors, and tagging can be purchased in-app.
- Take task notes and make to-do lists with extraordinary ease.
- Choose from 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.
- Easily import 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. Jill Duffy, a productivity app and software expert and contributing editor to PCMag, ranked Joplinthe overall best free open-source note-taking app option for 2022.
- Create notebooks, planners, and organizers with a touch of a keyboard or screen.
- Sync notes, notebooks, and journals across more than one device.
- Take notes and create journals in a wide variety of formats.
- Click web pages into notes.
- Connect to your Google Calendar to attach notes to deadlines.
- Incorporate printed documents, sketches, PDF files, audio, and video into your notes.
- Scan and file handwritten notes – everything from a quick thought to important client deliverables.
- Create multiple notebooks 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; you can sync unlimited devices with the paid version. That said, even compared to Evernote Premium, the free version of Evernote remains quite impressive in terms of taking and managing notes with ease while providing a versatile array of features.
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 on 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: Aside from the fact that Squid shares its name with a popular Netflix show, you’ll love it because it transforms handwriting to text. Squid is essential for anyone who prefers to take individual notes in longhand as opposed to typing notes. Get ready to throw away those legal pads and the clutter that goes along with them for a digital system that’s highly organized and secure. With Squid, you can embrace old-school note-taking, but in a more productive way.
9. Notes Writer
Available On: App Store
Cost: Free // Pro (unlimited): $6.99
Allows You To:
- Mark up digital documents with ease.
- Upload multiple documents in each note and insert new documents as needed.
- Reorder and delete documents within each note.
- Readily copy and paste pages 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.
- Upload your thoughts by recording and attaching audio to the note.
- Edit, annotate, and merge PDFs
- Work in Dark mode, if you prefer.
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.
- Speak to notate.
- Integrate with Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom.
- Set reminders to record meetings and take notes on them.
- Automate meeting note-taking for regular meetings.
- Easily share meeting notes.
- Import audio, webinars, training sessions, and video files after the fact for transcription.
- Run an audio or video recording on a separate device to transcribe the video while you do something else.
- Easily highlight what’s important and edit the transcription if the conversation got off track before sharing it with the team.
- Automatically designate who’s speaking so sidebar comments don’t get mistaken for meeting agenda items.
- Share both the original audio and its transcription with absent team members to adapt for both visual and auditory learners.
- Keep hybrid teams all on the same page.
- Clear up any ambiguity or misunderstanding by clicking a note to hear directly from the speaker.
Why You’ll Love It: If you’re a very visual learner, or you’re other-abled and struggle with auditory note-taking, this is the great tool you’ve been waiting for. It has strong accuracy, automatically corrects misspeaking for cleaner results, and is easy to use. You’ll be amazed at its time-saving potential.
- Integrate with common tools like Trello, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Asana, among others.
- Customize the technology to work within current workflows.
- Create multiple workspaces for easy and accessible project management between teams.
- Collaborate with your team.
- Tag notes and categorize them to improve note context and reduce note clutter.
- Download team workflow templates created and used by other Notion users and modify them to work for your team.
Why You’ll Love It: Notion is a note-taking app that’s made for remote team collaboration. The tool is highly adaptable, allowing you to decide how you use the tools. Vinay Hiremath, co-founder and head of engineering at Loom, uses the tool for his team and appreciates that “Notion continues to be the easiest way to get information centralized somewhere and shout it out to someone else.”
- Create brainstorming trees with outgoing links.
- Converge notes sharing a similar idea via backlinks.
- Use community plugins, themes, community-created tools, and custom CSS to customize the tools to “think as you do.”
- Store data locally and access the text outside of Obsidian, preventing you from losing work if something unforeseen happens.
- Encrypt your notes.
- Back up your files through a Dropbox integration when you’re on Wi-Fi.
- Access files and use most of the app’s features without the internet.
- Utilize markdown editor capabilities.
Why You’ll Love It: Obsidian is great for creative people who struggle to get all of their ideas together. They start a note, leave it, then start another one often. Not only is this repeating work, but it also leads to note chaos and clutter. You’ll love how this tool smoothly corrals your idea generation by suggesting you link to or continue similar notes you’ve already created. In sum, the app allows you to quickly see what you already have, so you don’t do extra work. YouTube Educational Influencer CGP Grey says, “I don’t give app of the year awards, but I would 100% give it to Obsidian for slowly taking over almost everything I do that has anything to do with text files.”
9 Tips for Choosing the Best 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 their 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.
Asking yourself a few questions can help lead you to the best note-taking app for your professional and personal life. These include:
- What are your current note-taking habits
- How do you plan to use your note-taking app?
- What functions do you value the most?
- Do you prefer an online version or a mobile app?
- 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 guide you to choose 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 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 functionalities that will 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 you won’t use, you do want to get the most out of your app when it comes to meeting your exact wants and needs.
Tip #4: Figure out your writing goals and 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 more for premium features and a more powerful app? 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 an online note 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.
Tip #10. Expand your search.
While our writer has done the research and identified 12 note-taking apps that cover the bases for most busy professionals, they’re far from the only options out there. New third-party apps are constantly emerging for everything from document management and physical notebook alternatives to desktop and mobile apps.
If the 12 apps on this list don’t quite meet your needs, or if you’re curious about what else might be out there, look into options from other third-party services, such as Standard Notes, Zoho Notebook, Dropbox Paper, Google Keep (part of the Google ecosystem, making it ideal for Google Slides and Google Power users), and relative newcomer Hive Notes.
Originally published by Corey Whelan on January 4, 2019.
Updated by Leigh Clayborne on June 21, 2022.