Digital note-taking may not be as tactile as pen and paper, but it’s certainly convenient. You already carry your phone everywhere you go, don’t you? There’s no point in carrying an additional notepad.
But there are so many note-taking apps to choose from! And they aren’t all equal. Some are better for this, others are better for that, which is why it’s so important that you pick the right one if you want to be an efficient note-taker.
We’ll help you come to a decision. Here are the best free apps currently available and a few notes to show you which one is a best fit for your needs.
1. Google Keep
Google Keep is really good for quick notes and reminders. Need a shopping list? Want to track your weekend project’s tasks? Do you prefer searching for notes rather than browsing through folders? Keep excels at those kinds of note-taking needs.
At first, Keep may feel strange and unlike any other note-taking app you’ve used — but that’s okay. There’s a reason why it does things the way it does, but once you get over that initial learning curve, Keep can greatly boost your productivity.
Who should use this app? Anyone who’s more concerned with organizing day-to-day tasks and reminders than long-term archives of in-depth notes and files. Especially useful for those who are deeply entwined with Google’s ecosystem, including Google Drive and Google Docs.
After OneNote exploded in popularity when it went 100% free in 2015, users abandoned their note-taking apps of choice and flocked to it in droves. It has since proven itself as one of the most useful, full-featured, and formidable note-taking apps on the market.
Who should use this app? OneNote is a multipurpose powerhouse — perfect for collecting and organizing long-term data like recipes, story ideas, and lecture notes. Not so great for quick one-off tasks and reminders. A smart choice for those who regularly use Microsoft Office.
Evernote held the throne for several years prior to OneNote’s explosion in popularity — some would argue that it still wears the crown — mainly because it was the first full-featured, multipurpose note-taking app to hit mobile devices. It was innovative for its time.
Who should use this app? Evernote fulfills many of the same needs as OneNote, but its best features are locked behind a paywall and that could be a deciding factor between Evernote and OneNote. If you really don’t like OneNote for any reason, such as the fact that it’s by Microsoft, then use Evernote.
FiiNote is a multipurpose note-taking app that’s similar to both OneNote and Evernote but nowhere near as popular. It has hybrid support for both typed and handwritten notes, along with a number of other advanced features.
Calender? Check. Multimedia attachments and audio recording? Check. Deep organization? Infinite canvas? Note templates? Revision history? All check. The interface is a little bland but extremely functional. Very easy to use, even on a small-screen smartphone.
Who should use this app? I consider FiiNote to be a lesser version of both OneNote and Evernote. If those two offer too much for you, then you may be happy with this one instead.
ColorNote swings in the other direction from all the apps covered above. Simplicity is its game and its main focus is to offer the same kind of quick convenience that you’d get from using real-life sticky notes. Jot a brief message, color code it, and done.
What I like best about ColorNote is its widgeting options. You can have a widget with direct note-editing access or you can have shortcut widgets that open up certain notes. Two note types are supported: lined notes and checklists.
Who should use this app? This app only serves one purpose. If you need quick notes that are temporary, it’s perfect. If you need to build up an archive of texts for long-term storage, skip this. It’s too simple for that.
Omni Notes reminds me of Evernote’s mobile app from several years ago: simple but not minimal, clean and delightful to use, complete with all the fundamental features you’d expect from a note-taking app but not much more. In a word, Omni Notes is solid.
Some notable features that might interest you: the ability to merge notes, batch editing of notes, quick access widgets, color coding, sketch-note mode for drawing, and Google Now integration that lets you write notes just by saying “write a note [text]”.
Who should use this app? It’s a lightweight app designed to be quick and fast without sacrificing too much organizational ability. Its main draw, for many of its users at least, is the fact that it’s open source. Not many high-quality note-taking apps can say the same.
Parchi is a work-in-progress from the Microsoft Garage, but don’t let that turn you away. It’s actually a wonderful app that already shows a lot of potential to be something that a lot of users might enjoy using for quick tasks.
Take notes on the lock screen and pin notes to the lock screen. Reminders, lists, color coding, note sharing, and photo notes are all supported. You can search notes by hashtags and by color. Really nice for free-flowing creative minds.
Who should use this app? If you thought OneNote was just too much, then Parchi may be right for you. It’s best for quickly jotting notes — there’s barely any structure or organization. On the other hand, if you need folders and notebooks, skip this.
True to its name, Simplenote is one of the most lightweight note-taking apps you’ll ever come across. I can only think of one that’s even more lightweight — it’s covered down below — so if you’re tired of overly bloated apps with too many features you’ll never use, try Simplenote.
This means that Simplenote has no intention of being a powerhouse, all-notes-in-one app. If you plan to have hundreds or thousands of notes, look elsewhere. Simplenote doesn’t offer much in terms of organization. Quick and easy is the name of the game.
Who should use this app? Simplenote is all about speed and efficiency. It’s especially good for older phones that just don’t have the hardware to keep up with modern feature-heavy apps. Use it if you just want your note-taking app to get out of the way.
Squid is a vector-based note-taking app that eschews typing for handwriting. Using an active pen, stylus, or even your finger, you can write out your notes instead of cramping your thumbs on a keyboard. (Typed notes are possible if you need them.)
Who should use this app? If you hate typing and prefer to take notes by hand, this is the perfect app for you. Infinite paper size, vector-based strokes, and lots of flexibility. An active pen or stylus with a tablet is highly recommended.
Monospace is a writing app and note-taking app wrapped up in one. It’s all about minimalism, which means a lot of the essentials you’d see in most note-taking apps are missing here. Other than basic formatting, you don’t get much more.
Instead of a folder system, Monospace uses hashtags to organize and search notes. Hashtags are managed on the last line of each note. One nice feature is the ability to export notes as Markdown (learn more about Markdown). Both Dropbox and Google Drive are supported.
Who should use this app? It’s the kind of app that’s way too simplistic for most people, but if you have a thing for minimalism, then Monospace will scratch that itch.
Picking the right app can boost your productivity and make you feel engaged with your notes. Picking the wrong app can cause frustrations, hinder your creativity, and make you lose important details. Make the right choice.
For me, that means using ColorNote for quick tasks (though I may switch to Omni Notes or Simplenote) and OneNote for longer-term items like recipes and project ideas. Your mileage may — and should — vary. And don’t forget to heed these tips for being a more efficient note-taker.
Which note-taking app is your favorite? What kind of notes do you take? Are there any other free ones that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!