Cross-platforming in the pre-smartphone era: I used to carry around a tattered miniature notebook in my pocket, along with a couple colors of pen. Sure, it made for an interesting pastiche of scribbles when the year was done, but, man, no search function (not to mention no autocorrect).
The perfect notetaking app must sync seamlessly across all your devices, this I know for sure. Whether you're sitting at your work computer, your home laptop, or checking your notes on your iPhone in the metro, your precious to-do lists and mindmaps have to remain consistent and updated.
There are many great choices within the genre of cross-platform notetaking apps, though - it really depends on your personal notetaking style. Are you all about decking 'em out with colors and cross-references, or are you into plain ol' black and white? Do you want to clip rich segments directly from the web, or are you looking for the most minimalist text editor possible? Need Markdown support? Is doodling a must?
There is no one correct answer to the best ever notetaking app for iPhone - so I've broken down the top five for you, complete with pros and cons of each. Find the right fit for your notes, and never, ever lose track of your next big idea ever again.
They call it Evernote because it can do everything, ever. Absolutely any kind of information you might ever want to keep can be stored here, up to and including clippings from the web and IFTTT recipes. Hell, keep digital scans of handwritten notes if that’s your bag. The range of organization and formatting options can’t be beat. Versions of Evernote are available on Windows (both 7 and 8), Mac, Android, iOS (both iPhone and iPad), Blackberry and Windows Phone, so no matter how many devices you have laying around your den, you will be able to access your precious information on all of them.
The only big negative is that massively powerful systems tend to be massively complex as well. Many people, myself included, find Evernote pretty bloated, giving it a steep learning curve.
There’s also no Linux client, so severe geeks are out of luck.
Go minimalist with Google Keep, which has a more than respectable iPhone version. It pares down note-taking to the minimum: just create notes, jot down what you want, and search for old notes as you please. There are very small color-coding customization options, but not much else - it’s designed to be lean and mean. It’s lightweight for your device and you’ll immediately understand all its ins and outs.
If you use Google Drive and Chrome, the integration is seamless. The Drive integration means collaborative editing with your teammates, friends, or honeypie. There’s a drawing option so you can save your scribbles as well.
If you don’t use Chrome, then Keep is a little less useful - you won’t be able to have access to your notes while offline. If you want to format your notes at all beyond color-coding, consider a different option.
Simplenote is my absolute favorite of the batch. The ultra minimal black and white interface just screams neat and tidy, and the lightweight design runs lightning fast. The range of clients is more than reasonable for most users, including iPhone/iPad, open source clients for OSX/Windows, and a web app.
If you accidentally delete something critical on Simplenote, a “Time machine” revision control lets you jump back to your previously written notes. There’s Markdown support on the web interface (although not on the desktop or mobile apps), a boon if you frequently write for publication online.
You can’t embed attachments in Simplenote, so bear that in mind. If you want to format the heck out of your scribblings, this isn’t the app for you either.
If outlines are what floats your boat, WorkFlowy is an excellent tool to keep in your digital shed. With an uncluttered, minimalistic interface, WorkFlowy allows you to nest outlines like there’s no tomorrow. It’s ultra easy to organize your thoughts this way, scooting groups of ideas around from one section to another. It syncs seamlessly and near instantaneously between the web and the mobile app.
If you’re a Markup freak, know that Workflowy happily imports and exports OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) text.
A big downside: you can’t use Workflowy offline, which is too bad when you want to make outlines in the middle of the forest with no coverage. No cool formatting nor image support.
Microsoft OneNote – lists, photos, and notes, organized in a notebook
The Microsoft option is a real contender this round; OneNote is available for Windows, Mac OS, iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and even Symbian (do you use Symbian? do you even know anyone who uses Symbian? I thought it was one of those things that girls use for… never mind, this is a family magazine).
OneNote is an excellent choice if you find other notetaking apps rigid and inflexible. You can freely arrange boxes of notes around the “page” to simulate notetaking on real live paper; you’re not confined to a mere vertical list. Doodle all over your notes if you like; the app includes stylus and digitizer pen support. Organizing by sections and/or page is simple and totally customizable.
Syncing over the cloud across all platforms is quick and painless. You can also share and collaborate on notes with others via SkyDrive.
If you’re already a consumer of Microsoft services (Outlook, Office, OneDrive), OneNote is a fantastic option; the integration is seamless. If not, you’ll have to take a few extra steps to link it up with your editors of choice. Oh yeah, and Linux users are still out of luck.