We’re living in an information-filled world, so it’s only natural that you might need a handful of apps to help you remember everything. The good news is that improvements around computing hardware have made note-taking apps even more practical and useful in recent years.
4K monitors and Ultra HD laptop displays, for example, render text incredibly sharp. Not only do they increase readability – you can fit more text on the screen too, which is handy.
Meanwhile, the rise of cloud computing and faster internet connections has allowed new note-taking services to sync notes, images, videos and other media across multiple devices – from smartphones to tablets – in a snap.
Whether you’re looking for an app that’s suitable for sharing information with other people, is a good fit for storing research or merely offers a more pleasant writing environment than your current word processor, these are our picks of the lot.
- Platforms: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, WebOS, Maemo, BlackBerry, Google Wave
No list of best note-taking apps is complete without Evernote, which is one of the oldest and most fully-featured. Evernote lets you create both simple and complex workflows using a combination of notebooks, notes and tags to keep everything organized. One of its best features for gathering research is the Web Clipper extension (supported in Chrome and Firefox), which lets you save entire webpages - including text, images and PDFs - with a single click. Notes can be accessed on laptops, mobile devices and the web, so you're rarely left with a situation where you can't retrieve what you've saved. Other features include the ability to set reminders, present notes PowerPoint-style, and merge them together.
- Platforms: Window, macOS, Windows RT, Windows Phone, iOS, Android
Like Evernote, OneNote lets you sync notes across various devices. While a free version is available on the Mac, the app is particularly useful on Windows 10-powered hybrid devices due to its interface's close resembling of an actual notepad. Unlike Evernote, which works more like a traditional word processor, OneNote lets you scribble on ruled pages with your device's stylus, and you can position text boxes, images and tables anywhere on the page. It also has a few features you're unlikely to find in other note-taking apps, such as the ability to record video and embed it in notes and embedding Excel spreadsheets and other Microsoft Office files. In fact, OneNote plays nicely with all of Microsoft's Office suite, so it's ideal if you're already invested in it.
- Platforms: macOS, iOS
Ulysses has been around for a while now, and it's one of the most polished note-taking apps on Apple's computing platform. (One that's perfectly equipped for long-form writing, too.) Notes are written and stored in the app's proprietary Markdown style, which allows for inventive (and colorful) use of headings. Added to that, images can be embedded in the form of links within documents; rather than displaying them in the body text, you can double click the links to preview image thumbnails. Ulysses also positions images in a sidebar that can also display a word count, mini notes and other information at a glance.
Google Keep (free)
- Platforms: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Web
Google Keep is the simplest note-taking app on our list, both visually and how it operates. Think of Keep as your place for storing digital post-it notes, with each note dotted around the interface as if they were laid on a table in front of you. Notes can be given labels, pinned to the top, given a color, paired with reminders and collaborated on in real time. It's much more minimal than other writing apps, which either works for or against it depending on your viewpoint. If you want to break away from your operating system's notes app, but don't want all of the features that come with other apps on our list, Google Keep is an, ahem, keeper.
Bear (free trial)
- Platforms: macOS
A newcomer to the note-taking app scene, Bear lies somewhere in-between Evernote and Ulysses, allowing you to create notes and sync them across various devices through its subscription-based cloud service. (A free trial is available too.) Using a Slack-like three-pane interface, you can arrange notes by applying hashtags, which allows a subfolder-like system. Bear uses rich Markdown for editing, so you can insert links into documents without having to display the full URLS in a similar manner to Ulysses. However, Bear, which is pretty easy on the eye, and one of the few polished Markdown apps that allow you to insert images directly into notes, which could make it a far more valuable app overall if images are a big part of your workflow.
- Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux
Something of a left-field choice, Atom is primarily an app used for coding, but its sheer range of customization options means that you can mould it into a useful text editor too. Because it's based on common web standards, you can hack its CSS stylesheet to create just about any visual theme you can think of. Want to make it look and feel like Word 2016 with a Smooth Typing Animation-style effect? No problem. Want to write in Markdown with a solarized color scheme? Then download the Markdown Writer extension and choose from one of the hundreds of community-generated themes. Atom is far from perfect as a text editor due to its lack of one or two standard features - such as an automatic grammar changer - that have been standard in other note-taking apps for years. But it's certainly one of the most interesting and capable when in the right hands.