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The best note-taking apps in 2021

By using one of the best note-taking apps, you can be sure that when a flash of creative inspiration hits, you can make a note of it there and then. Writing things down on paper means you might find it difficult to find them later, or even lose them completely. However, storing your thoughts, ideas and concepts electronically will keep them safe and secure, and you'll be able to use search to find them again later.

There are literally hundreds of note-taking apps on the market, many of them free, or at least offering a free trial. But no-one has the time to try them all out. So we've done the research for you, road-testing everything from the best iPad pro apps to the best Android apps

And so in this article, we bring you the very best note-taking apps available today, for a range of devices and platforms. Read on to find out which is the best fit for you.

Best note-taking apps: Screengrab of Evernote

(Image credit: Evernote)

01. Evernote

The best note-taking app overall.

Developer: Evernote Corporation | Available for: iOS, Mac, Windows, Android | Free version: Yes | Free trial for paid version: 14 days

Cross-platform
Range of features
Granular search options
Paid plans expensive

Founded in 2000, Evernote was a pioneer in the field, and remains the cream of the best note-taking apps available today. With an excellent free version and working across all major platforms, this is the one we’d recommend for anyone new to note-taking apps. 

Why? Because it’s got a capable free version, you can access your notes practically anywhere (laptop, desktop computer, tablet, or phone), and it's packed full of useful features. We particularly like using the Web Clipper browser extension to save web pages; the ability to set reminders, and the integration with Siri for taking voice notes. Plus you can search your notes not just by text, but by tags, the date they were created, the type of media they contain, the location where you created them, and more.

There are two paid-for versions: Evernote Premium for individuals, and Evernote Business for, well, you guessed it. The former includes sync across unlimited devices (you only get two in the free plan), a 200MB maximum note size, 10GB monthly upload limit, and the abilities to access notes offline and annotate PDFs. The Business plan, meanwhile, offers even larger uploads and some great team collaboration tools. Neither of these plans come cheap, it has to be said, but if you want the Rolls Royce option, you’ve come to the right place.

Best note-taking apps: Screengrab of Bear

(Image credit: Evernote)

02. Bear

The best note-taking app for Mac AND the best note-taking app for iPad.

Developer: Shiny Frog | Available for: iPad, iPhone, Mac | Free version: Yes | Free trial for paid version: One week (monthly subscription) or one month (annual subscription)

Minimalist and elegant
Syncs across iCloud
Capable free version
Sync requires subscription

Apple products are about beautiful, intuitive simplicity, and that’s exactly what this free addition to our best note-taking apps guide, Bear, provides. Its prime function is to let you create notes and sync them across your Apple devices via iCloud, in a fuss-free way. 

There’s no messing around with folders and notebooks, you just create notes and then store them. You can attach tags, images and other files to your notes, as well as drawings you create on your iPad or iPhone. There are apps for macOS, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch, and a browser extension.

There’s a free version of Bear if you just want to take notes on your iPad, but you’ll need to pay for the Pro subscription to sync them across devices. That also gives you extra export options, plus the ability to encrypt your notes, password-protect them, and unlock them using Face or Touch ID. 

Even with the Pro version, though, be aware that this is a purposely stripped down app. For example, there’s no formatting panel, just support for Markdown. If you want more features, look to Evernote or OneNote, but if you want a minimalist app for iOS that gets the job done, there’s nothing finer. 

Best note-taking apps: Screengrab of Good Notes

(Image credit: Time Base Technology)

03. GoodNotes

The best note-taking app for iPad Pro.

Developer: Time Base Technology Limited | Available for: iPad, iPhone, Mac | Free version: No | Free trial for paid version: No

Optimised for Apple Pencil
Good handwriting conversion
Affordable price
No free version

If you’ve invested in the iPad Pro, we’re guessing that you’re not just using it to check Facebook and watch cat videos. You want to take advantage of its powerful functionality, to be more productive and jot down creative ideas in the moment. And if that’s the case, we’d like to point you towards GoodNotes, the next pick in our best note-taking apps rundown. 

This iOS app turns your iPad into digital paper, allowing you to take searchable handwritten notes, quickly and easily, whether you’re using the Apple Pencil (or one of the best Apple Pencil alternatives), or just your finger. And we’re not just talking a few scrawled words: this clever app can recognise everything from equations to mind maps, and does a great job of converting your handwriting into text. 

Everything gets auto-synced to the iCloud, and you can access your notes across your iPad, iPhone and Mac (there’s also a macOS version). GoodNotes also allows you to mark up PDFs manually.

Available for a relatively cheap, one-off price, GoodNotes is the perfect app for iPad Pro users who want to make notes when inspiration strikes; just like you would on paper; but with the added benefit of making them easily searchable, storable and shareable.

Best note-taking apps: Material Notes on 6 phone screens

(Image credit: Prasad Shirvandkar)

04. Material Notes

The best note-taking app for Android.

Developer: Prasad Shirvandkar | Available for: Android | Free version: Yes | Free trial for paid version: No

Easy interface
Useful features
Free version
Only for Android

Note-taking apps shouldn’t be complicated, so it’s surprising how often you open one and don’t know where to start. Android app Material Notes does not present this problem. Its opening screen proclaims ‘Click the + button to Add notes’, which couldn’t make it simpler. And this user friendly approach continues throughout the interface. 

In a seemingly effortless way, the app enables you to create notes, to-do lists and reminders, add colour-coding, organise them into categories, assign favourites, archive notes, and more. There are also some more distinct features which can be very useful, including the abilities to create quick notes from notifications, back up your notes to Google Drive, print notes directly from the app, and tell your device to read your notes out loud.

The app is free to download, while a Pro version – available for a low one-off payment – adds extra features, such as a calendar view, backend encryption, extra fonts, and reminder notifications. There’s no sync functionality, but for many, that’s a feature not a bug; not everyone wants want their sensitive information floating about on the web for prying eyes to see. 

In short, if you just want to keep your notes on your device, this is the best note-taking app for Android there is. However, if you're keen to sync notes across multiple devices, we’d point you instead to Evernote, number one on our list.

Best note-taking apps: Screengrab of Microsoft OneNote

(Image credit: Microsoft)

05. Microsoft OneNote

The best note-taking app for Windows.

Developer: Microsoft | Available for: Windows, Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android, web | Free version: No | Free trial for paid version: One month (for Office 365 subscription)

Feature-rich
Optimised for MS software
Powerful free version
Extra storage requires subscription

If you do most of your work within the Microsoft ecosystem, a notetaking app optimised for that system makes a lot of sense (even if it's also cross-platform). And so if you’re a regular Windows user, we’d recommend Microsoft OneNote

This note-taking app works across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android, and is rich with features. You can attach images, symbols, Excel tables, audio files and more to notes. You can extract text from images. You can clip web pages through a browser extension. You can draw diagrams and sketches on a Surface tablet. 

More uniquely, there’s an Accessibility Checker, which points to problems like low contrast, making text difficult to read, or images that are missing alt text. Plus there are some great sharing and collaboration features too, such allowing others to add comments to your notes.

Best of all, Microsoft OneNote is free to use, and the free version includes the majority of features. The catch is that you only get 5GB storage, so if you want more, you’ll need to take out a Microsoft 365 Business subscription.

Best note-taking apps: Screengrab of Nebo

(Image credit: Nebo)

06. Nebo

The best note-taking app for stylus overall.

Developer: MyScript | Available for: iPhone, iPad, Windows, Android, ChromeOS (but only supported devices) | Free version: No | Free trial for paid version: One month (for Office 365 subscription)

Superb handwriting conversion
Annotate PDFs
Add custom words
Only for high-end devices

Want to take lots of handwritten notes with your stylus? MyScript Nebo is optimised for modern digital pens such as Apple Pencil and the Samsung S Pen, and has some very cool features indeed. 

Harnessing its proprietary Interactive Ink technology, MyScript Nebo does a fantastic job of translating real-world handwriting into digital text. It’s also beautifully versatile, allowing you to combine handwriting and text in one paragraph, sentence or even a single word. 

You can write with both fingers and stylus, use a digital eraser where supported, and change the colour of your notes. There’s support for 66 languages, and maths and equations are recognised by the app's clever AI. You can add custom words, such as technical terms or slang, to help with recognition, and you can see a preview of your handwriting conversion in real time.

In short, if you want to use your stylus for notetaking, MyScript Nebo is the best in class. The only downside is that it only works on the latest high-end devices: you can find out if yours is compatible here

Need a device to run the best note-taking apps on? Check out the deals we've found below. 

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