There are just as many note-taking apps on the market today as there are styles of note-taking. But how do we determine what the best note-taking app really is?
In the end, it’s not about finding one note-taking app to rule them all, it’s about finding the best note-taking app for YOU. One app might be ideal for the person who likes complex organization and the ability to collaborate with a team. However, it might not satisfy someone who prefers a more free-form note-taking style that allows for multimedia.
Luckily, there’s an app for every type of note taker! It’s time to dive into the six best note-taking apps of 2021 to help you find the right one for your note-taking style.
What makes a great note-taking app?
Having a great note-taking app can be a game-changer for both work and your personal life. Before you go hunting for the best note-taking app, you’ll want to consider what features you need for a note-taking app to be great for you.
Support for different types of notes and media. Not all notes are created equal. While simple text works for many purposes, sometimes you need to save screenshots, images, links, audio, etc. Finding a note app with support for different types of notes and media allows you to take your notes to the next level. You may even want to find an app that supports hand-written notes or doodles.
Easy organization. How you take notes isn’t the only thing you need to be concerned about when searching for the best note-taking app. You also need to think about how you can keep your notes organized so it’s easy to find things later. Whether you want folders, note linking, nested notes, tags, or something else, look for an app that will make it easy for you to organize your thoughts.
Powerful search. Finding your notes should be easy and intuitive. The best note-taking apps have a powerful search feature that allows you to find notes quickly based on what keywords or phrases you type in.
Offline support. Most of us are connected to the Internet most of the time, but taking notes offline is a great way to stay focused without distraction from 100 open browser tabs. Note-taking apps with offline support are ideal for those who aren’t connected 24/7 or those who want to make sure they’re never cut off from access to their notes.
Hybrid markdown editor. A markdown editor is a lightweight text-to-HTML conversion tool that you can use to format lists, text, and headers while incorporating links and images. A hybrid editor allows you to either write your content in markdown or use normal keyboard shortcuts and a text toolbar to format the text. If you wanna save time formatting, a hybrid markdown editor allows you to format text as you type!
Collaboration. For many, note-taking is a personal task. However, if sharing and collaborating on notes is important to you, then you’ll want to find a note-taking app that offers robust collaboration features. Look for an app that allows you to share your notes with others and have multiple people add to the note content in real-time.
Sync and backup between devices. Sync and backup between devices is important for anyone who has multiple devices from which they may want to access their notes. This allows you to go from your office desktop to your laptop to your phone to your tablet without missing a beat.
Best note-taking apps for every type of note taker
Choosing a note-taking app can be hard, especially when it seems like a new one comes out on the market every couple of months. The key to finding the best note-taking app for you is to choose one with the features and functionality that support the type of note taker you are.
Here are the best note-taking apps for every type of note taker:
1. Evernote [Best overall]
Evernote is one of the most popular note-taking apps on the market, and for good reason! As a pioneer in the industry, Evernote has created an easy-to-use, intuitive note-taking platform packed with useful features that will please most types of note takers.
This cross-platform app is ideal for processing handwritten notes, clipping articles from the Internet, and scanning content from your mobile device. You can even integrate with Siri to take voice notes and set reminders to review your notes.
With Evernote, you can work anywhere as your notes will sync across your devices, making it ideal for those who work on multiple devices throughout the week.
Finding notes is a breeze with Evernote. You can search your notes by text (keywords or phrases), tags, date they were created, type of media they contain, and more.
With the Premium plan, you can sync across an unlimited number of devices, access notes offline, and annotate PDFs. The Business plan allows you to work with others in shared spaces, manage team and data access, and see your team’s activity.
One of the biggest downsides to Evernote is its cost. While the Premium plan is fairly affordable at $7.99/month, it may still be prohibitive to students or those on a budget. The Business plan is a bit more pricey for a small business at $14.99/user/month, and it’s required if you want to have the collaboration functionality.
That said, the free plan is still adequate for many personal notetakers. It only allows you to sync up to two devices and has a 25MB maximum note size and a 60MB monthly upload limit. However, you can still use search and tags to find notes quickly, apply rich formatting to your notes, and clip web pages. If you’re just using a note-taking app for personal notes or don’t need all the bells and whistles, the free plan may be just what you need.
Another potential issue with Evernote is its organization features. While you can use notebooks, notes, and tags to organize your thoughts, this may not be enough functionality for those who really like to organize their notes in great detail.
Compatibility: Browser, Windows, Mac, Android iOS
Pricing: Evernote has a free version that is ideal for those who take personal notes. The Premium version is also ideal for personal note-takers, but at $7.99/month, it offers additional features and storage. The Business plan is $14.99/user/month, and it’s ideal for teams that collaborate on project notes.
Why you need it: Evernote has one of the best free versions on the market. And while the paid plans may be more expensive than other options, this note-taking app has every feature you could want, making it ideal for serious note takers who want powerful functionality.
2. Notion [Best for Teams]
Notion is different from many of the other note-taking apps on this list because it offers a database-driven note-taking app experience. For many users, Notion is more than just a note-taking app—it’s a personal and team productivity hub.
Notion users can create customized private or shared workspaces while taking advantage of project management functionality like Kanban boards, tables, and lists to customize the workflow.
Each document or note on Notion is called a page. These flexible, customizable pages can easily be turned into templates to use again and again. You can add as many blocks (like text, headings, checklists, files, etc.) to the pages as you’d like and put them in whatever order you want.
Notion is great for visual notes as it offers excellent embedding and previewing tools as well as a gallery view for images and videos. This note-taking app also features nested hierarchical organization to keep track of your notes.
We chose Notion as the best note-taking app for teams because it allows you to collaborate with others in real-time. Invite others to work on notes, or share with the entire team. You can even mention coworkers on the app when you need their input or response.
With the option to embed over 500 other apps inside Notion, you’re able to create a hub for all the things your team is working on. Notion is also a great tool for creating knowledge databases or team wikis.
One of the cons of Notion is that there is no offline support. You need to be online to add and access your notes. For those who are always connected, this won’t be an issue.
Perhaps the biggest downside to Notion is that there is a bit of a learning curve. Unlike simple note-taking apps that are intuitive and allow you to get started without much instruction, Notion is robust and complex. This makes it a powerful app but also one that can be frustrating to use when you’re first getting started.
Compatibility: Browser, Mac, iOS, Android, Windows
Pricing: The Notion Personal plan is free for individuals, and the Personal Pro plan is $4/month with a free trial available. The Team plan is $8/member/month, offering unlimited team members, collaborative workspaces, advanced permissions, and admin tools. An Enterprise plan is also available by contacting Sales.
Why you need it: Notion is ideal for teams who are collaborating on project notes, and it can even serve as a project management tool. Also, if you’re building a knowledge database or Wiki for your organization, nothing beats Notion.
3. Ulysses [Best Organization]
Ulysses is really more of a writing app than a note-taking app. But since the two often go hand-in-hand, Ulysses is a great option for note takers who are also writers.
In addition to text notes, you can include additional information as attachments such as PDFs, notes, keywords, and more. Ulysses will automatically save and backup your entire text library locally to avoid losing any of your work.
You can sync your notes to iCloud or to external folders on Dropbox. You’re also able to export your notes or writings as text, HTML, ePub, PDF, or DOCX files. Share your notes and writings through email, open them with iBooks, or send them directly to a third-party app.
One unique feature of Ulysses is the full screen focus mode. While other apps may want to have the features front and center at all times, this app likes to get out of the way so that you can focus on your notes or whatever else you’re writing. If you have trouble focusing on brainstorming or outlining when you’re online, this feature is great for improving productivity.
Another unique feature is that it allows you to publish your content to WordPress, including images. You can format the text and images, include tags, categories, and metadata, and upload it all to WordPress through the app, without ever opening your WordPress dashboard. This is great for bloggers and marketers who want to quickly get their blog content up without switching apps.
Ulysses has themable editors that allow you to choose from handpicked color palettes or download user-generated themes, giving you full customization capabilities.
Ulysses has one of the best organizational structures of any app on this list. With nested, multi-level hierarchical organization, the app makes it simple to keep things organized and easy-to-find when you need them. You can sort your notes by the date they were created or modified. The app also features different views and custom filters.
The biggest downside to Ulysses is that it’s only available for Apple device users. Another con would be that there is no free version of the app. (Though at $5.99/month, it’s an affordable option for writers who use the app frequently.)
Compatibility: MacOS, iOS
Pricing: Ulysses requires a subscription, which unlocks the app across Apple devices (Mac, iPhone, and iPad). The subscription is $5.99/month with a free trial available and a special discount for students.
Why you need it: If you’re a writer or author, Ulysses is a must as it supports you through the entire writing process from researching and writing to final edits and formatting.
4. Bear [Best for iOS]
Bear is a flexible app that’s great for note-taking or writing on the iPhone, iPad, or Mac. On this app, you can create quick notes or write complex articles with the same ease of use.
With a hybrid Markdown editor, you don’t have to imagine what your formatted Markdown will look like. Supporting over 150 programming languages, Bear’s Markdown editor formats the text as you type!
Want to include things besides text in your notes? Bear offers in-line support for images and photos. Quickly add your to-do’s to individual notes so that you can keep yourself focused and on task.
Bear has a simple organizational system that allows you to organize notes in a nested hierarchy structure. You just use “#” and “/” to tag each note and nest those tags within one another. You can also build a body of work by using cross-note links to reference other notes.
Once you’ve written your notes, you can quickly and easily export them to a variety of formats. Export notes or writings to HTML, PDF, DOCX, MD, JPG, and more to share with others or put to use right away.
Like Ulysses, Bear offers a focus mode that helps you concentrate just on the notes or writing at hand without the distraction of other stuff. Another handy feature for writers is the statistics that show you word, character, and paragraph counts, as well as read time.
With Bear Pro, you can also encrypt individual notes to keep them safe from anyone that shouldn’t have access to them. You can set a unique password and use Face or Touch ID to open your notes, knowing they are safe.
The biggest con of Bear is that it’s only available for Mac and iOS. (Sorry Windows users!)
It also has limited organizational capabilities. While simple and quick, the # and / organization system does have its limitations for those who need more powerful organization capabilities.
Compatibility: Mac, iOS
Pricing: Many of the features are free to use, such as notes, tags, attachments, and exporting. The Bear Pro subscription offers additional features like syncing between devices, themes, and more powerful export options for $1.49/month or $14.99 annually, each with a free trial option.
Why you need it: If you’re a Mac or iPhone user that just needs a simple app with powerful Markdown capability and a great writing experience, then Bear may be just the right app for you.
5. Microsoft OneNote [Best for Windows]
If you’re already working within Microsoft on a regular basis, then Microsoft OneNote is a logical choice, given that it’s already optimized to work with the tools you’re using every day. (And if you’re working on a PC that already has Microsoft 365 built in, it’s probably already installed!)
Unlike other Microsoft programs, OneNote is free to download and use on PC, Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Android.
This note-taking app has a more freeform functionality that simulates real-life note-taking. You can take any kind of note anywhere you want on the page. You can also drag and drop images anywhere on the screen, type up text notes, dictate voice notes, or even jot down notes or doodles with your stylus.
OneNote is great for visual organizers as it allows you to divide your notebooks into sections and pages, each with its own color-coded tab. You can also highlight notes with Important or To-Do tags. It’s very much like a virtual notebook in that way.
Your notes will also sync to the cloud, making them available to all your connected devices.
One potential con is the organization capabilities. You can’t sort notes by newest created or newest modified, which may be important to some users. The interface also isn’t as intuitive as some of the other apps, though it will look familiar to Windows users.
Another downside to OneNote is that you need to purchase additional storage options if you go over 5GB. So if you’re storing photos, screenshots, and audio notes, you’ll likely hit that limit and have to increase storage. Pricing is affordable at $1.99/month for 100GB, though.
Compatibility: Browser, Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
Pricing: Microsoft OneNote is free to use on its own. If you want to get OneNote along with Microsoft’s other programs like Word and Excel, you can buy Microsoft 365 for $69.99/year.
Why you need it: If you’re already using Microsoft products on a regular basis, then OneNote is an easy choice for note-taking. OneNote is also recommended for anyone who wants a more freeform option that may feel limited by apps with less flexibility.
6. Obsidian [Best for connected note-taking]
Marketed as a “second brain” that makes connecting ideas and notes simple, Obsidian is a knowledge base that works on top of a local folder of plain text Markdown files.
One of Obsidian’s most impressive features is its Markdown editor. It can handle blockquotes, inline code, code blocks, task lists, images, links, footnotes, and even math equations.
With the note multiplexer, you can view or edit multiple notes at the same time by splitting the panes vertically or horizontally. Panes can be split infinitely and resized, making it convenient to cross-reference multiple notes at the same time. You can also pin panes to keep its content linked together or combine panes to set up more powerful workspaces.
To make connections between your notes, you can simply type [[ and Obsidian will autocomplete the link. Once you’ve linked notes, you can see them visually in the graph view, making it easy to understand how your notes and ideas are connected. Graph view is also an effective way to see any notes that may be outliers.
All notes in Obsidian are plain text Markdown. Your notes and attachments like images or PDFs will be saved in a local folder. You can then sync this to any cloud storage, but you have to do this manually as there is currently no built-in sync.
With plugins, you can customize Obsidian to become your own best note-taking solution. Some of the plugins include graph view, page view, backlinks, daily notes, tag pane, starred notes, file explorer, search, and word count.
Since Obsidian is a newer note-taking app, you’re likely to encounter more bugs than you would on the more established apps, which can be a con for those who just want to quickly get started with a simple, reliable note-taking app.
Another downside of Obsidian is that there are no collaboration features. If you’re looking for a note-taking app to use for the entire team, you need to look elsewhere on this list.
Compatibility: Windows, macOS, Linux with iOS and Android currently in Beta
Pricing: Personal plan is 100% free for personal use. The Catalyst plan is a one-time fee of $25+ (depending on the tier level), and the Commercial plan is $50/user/year with a 14-day free trial available.
Why you need it: If you want to organize your notes, data, and ideas by themes or topics, then Obsidian may be your new favorite note-taking app as it helps you make connections or links between notes and ideas.
Choosing the best note-taking app for you
Choosing the best note-taking app for you will depend on what features you’re looking for and what types of devices you are taking notes on. The list of apps above is a great place to start if you’re looking for a versatile note-taking app with lots of cool features.
AppSumo often has deals on note-taking tools that help you stay organized and productive. Check out our lifetime deal on Sticky Notes and keep an eye out for other note-taking app deals in the future!