Sunday, July 14, 2024

My favorite note-taking apps for organizing my thoughts

Key Takeaways

  • Microsoft OneNote is the best overall note-taking app with advanced features and cross-platform support.
  • Apple Notes is a great free option for iOS users with easy use and seamless iCloud integration.
  • Google Keep is a fully free, lightweight app for simple note-taking but lacks advanced organization features.

Note-taking is something we all do in some way. No matter if you need to write lists, copy down a phone number, or take detailed notes on a discussion or class, there’s a note-taking app out there that’s for you. The right note-taking app should simplify your workflow, and help you keep things organized. There’s a wide range of options now for a note-taking app, some are ideal for desktops, while others are designed to be used with phones and tablets.

The right note-app will allow you to seamlessly jot down or dictate your notes across multiple platforms, and have them synchronized and ready to go from anywhere. A good note-taking app will also have organization systems that make it easy to search for and find your notes, so that you can quickly reference information whenever you need.

1 Microsoft OneNote

My favorite note-taking app

microsoft s onenote app updated with rich editing office 365 syncing and no note limits image 1

A square with a letter

My top overall note-taking app

Microsoft OneNote

Microsoft OneNote manages to fit the bulk of Microsoft Word’s text-formatting and editing abilities into a lightweight note-taking app that handles everything from text, to audio, to handwriting and drawing.


  • Free to use
  • Supports handwriting input from tablets
  • Cross platform support on iOS, Android, and Mac

  • Works best within Microsoft’s app ecosystem

Microsoft’s OneNote is my favorite, and it’s the note-taking app that I’ve used the most. OneNote is my daily driver for both my professional writing, but it’s also what I use to draft short stories and jot down daily reminders with. It’s not the snazziest note-taking app available, but if you’ve used Microsoft Word, then OneNote’s interface — which features the same “ribbon” bar — should feel comfortable to you.

The free version of OneNote will provide you with all the features you’ll need, including the ability to cross-sync your notes across Windows, Android, macOS, iOS, and even iPadOS. You will need to pay extra if you want more than the 5GB of allotted storage space, or if you want to export your OneNote files to Office Word or Excel. If any of these apply to you, you will need to pay for a Microsoft 365 account, which starts at $6.99 per month, but you do receive the rest of Microsoft’s 365 productivity suite.


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2 Apple Notes

The default and fully-free notes app for macOS and iOS

Organizing notes into folders on an iPhone.

apple notes white background tag image

My favorite iOS note-taking app

Apple Notes

Apple’s Notes app comes pre-installed on all Macs and iOS devices, and it’s one of my favorite iOS note-taking apps.


  • Recent updates have improved the app
  • Can even be accessed from a bowser

  • Experience isn’t very intuitive

If you have an iPhone or Mac computer, there’s a pretty good chance you’ve interacted with Apple’s free Notes app. This is probably my second most-used notes app, and I like it because of how easy it is to use, comes with consistent useful feature updates, and is fully integrated with your other Apple devices through your iCloud account.

Notes has improved greatly since its original release back with the original iPhone. The latest iOS update allows you to have hidden conversations with the Notes app, as well as create easy group notes for things like party planning or a class assignment. If you are using the Notes app on an iPad, the app is Pen compatible, and you can handwrite notes. Be warned, however, it’s not the most intuitive experience, as you have to insert a handwriting section into your note, instead of drawing directly on the note.

Apple Notes can be accessed from nearly anywhere, including your browser. You can access all of your Apple notes through your iCloud account, and this is true even if you are using a Chromebook or Windows PC. While you can view and edit your Apple Notes files through a web browser, we don’t recommend using the Windows version of the Notes app, as it interacts pretty poorly with the Windows 10 and 11.


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3 Bear

The best alternative to Apple Notes for iOS devices

A screenshot of the Bear note-taking app setup page on macOS.

A red square with the white silhouette of a bear in it.

Great alternative to Apple Notes


Bear is for iOS users who want a clean design and feature-rich replacement for Apple’s Notes app. Bear features a tagging system along with Markdown support for easy organizing of your notes.


  • Markdown text editing support
  • Apple Pencil support
  • Intuitive tagging system for organization

  • Only compatible with Apple products

Bear is a great option for anyone who wants a more feature-rich note-taking app for iOS devices and Macs. The killer feature of Bear is that it allows you to write in Markdown (a formatting tool that allows you to format text in real-time) and tag each note to keep your thoughts neatly organized. You don’t have to use the Markdown feature, though. Bear is easy to use, and it’s simple to organize your notes your own way. There’s also pen support, so you can use the Apple Pencil natively in Bear.

Bear can be used for free, but the free version limits your exports to just .TXT, Markdown, and Textbundle files. The payment tiers for Bear are a bit confusing, but for $2.99 a month or $30 a year, you can export your notes to nearly any format, including ePUB and OCR. The paid version also includes iCloud syncing, so your notes can go anywhere with you.


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4 Google Keep

The best simple and fully free note-taking app

Google Keep

A yellow paper icon with a lightbulb on it.

My top lightweight note-taking app

Google Keep

Google Keep is free to use and available on all platforms, but it lacks organization features compared to the other options on this list. Still, it is a great note-keeping app for anyone looking for a lightweight note-taking app.


  • Easy to use
  • Totally free
  • Cross-platform

  • Lack of organization features
  • Google Docs has better integration

If you are looking for a simple and lightweight note-taking app or one that doesn’t have a steep learning curve with a ton of features, consider Google Keep. Google Keep can be accessed from any device and is a wonderful note-taking app for jotting down quick notes or for creating daily to-do lists. You can input images into Keep notes and links with ease, and Keep is integrated with the rest of Google’s ecosystem.

Keep is accessible directly from Gmail, making it easy to jot down quick bits of information from emails. You can also draft writings in Keep and export them directly to Google Docs, saving time in the writing process. There’s no fee for using Keep, but do keep in mind that your Keep notes will impact your overall Google account storage, so if you have a lot of already-existing Sheets and Docs, you may need to pay for more Google storage.


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5 Notion

The best premium note-taking app

notion screenshots on an iphone

A black and white block with the letter

My favourite feature-rich premium note-taking app


Notion is a popular note-taking app often used by software developers, but it’s great for anyone thanks to its wide range of custom templates and features.


  • Wide ranging use cases
  • Different templates for different uses
  • AI integration

If you’ve worked for a startup or have worked on a technical team, there’s a good chance you have interacted with Notion. I’ve used Notion both in a job setting, but I’ve also used it as a digital journaling tool. It’s one of the most flexible note-taking apps that I’ve tested, and if you’re willing to spend time on learning all the ins-and-outs, Notion can do nearly anything you want it to as a note-taking app.

A task page in Notion.


Notion is built with blocks of your notes. It’s easy to create your own Wiki, to-do lists, or daily or weekly planner with Notion thanks to the block system of the UI. Notion runs in your browser, so it’s usable from anywhere, and you can share anything you create with any other Notion users. It’s free to use, but if you want to bring in more than 10 people to your Notion, or create private pages, you can pay for Notion starting at $8 a month.


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6 Obsidian

The most expansive note-taking app, for those with patience


A purple-ish stone shaped almost like an arrowhead.

My favorite feature-rich note-taking app


Obsidian is a great, feature-rich note-taking app, but it features a steep learning curve. It’s free to use for individuals, but businesses will need to pay for a commercial license from Obsidian.


  • Free to use for individuals
  • Graph notes
  • Wide range of free plug-ins

Obsidian is the most feature-rich note-taking app on this list, but it’s also the most difficult to learn. Obsidian shines by locally saving your notes, eliminating the requirement for an internet connection that most of the other apps on this list have. It also keeps your note secure, but security always comes at a cost, and that mainly translates to how difficult Obsidian is to learn.

There’s a ton you can do with Obsidian. You can make a nesting doll of your notes, graph them and organize connections in a web design. You can also take advantage of the hundreds of free plug-ins that are available for Obsidian. Obsidian’s best feature is how customizable it is. You can make things look however you wish, as long as you are willing to put the time into learning how to master the app.


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Q: How did you decide on these picks?

As a writer covering consumer tech and lifestyle, I’ve tested many different note-taking apps over the years. I built this list by prioritizing ease of use and cost while considering features. The top picks are what I have found in my own testing to be the easiest-to-use apps, while the more feature-rich apps are further along in the list.

Q: Is it worth paying for a note-taking app?

This ultimately depends on your own individual needs. If there is a specific feature that you need to pay for for a note-taking app, and you think it will simplify your workflow, I would say go for it. I have paid for note-taking apps in the past because of certain features I wanted to use, but I don’t currently pay for any note-taking apps. As a writer, however, I have no problem with paying for a note-taking app if I know that it will make my life easier.


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