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The best apps for taking notes

Joel Mathis | Sept. 3, 2014
Man, it's a great time to be a note-taker.

What's more, Simplenote is easily accessible: It's available as a Web app, and as a download for iOS, Mac, Android, and Kindle devices. But don't be fooled by this name: In this case simplicity is a virtue, in the cause of simply getting stuff done.

Best for Microsoft users: Microsoft OneNote

While I found Evernote and Simplenote to be the best overall note-taking apps, others stood out for specific features, which you might want to consider depending on your needs.

Microsoft OneNote (free; iOS and Android) is a lot like Evernote — and yet not quite enough like Evernote.

Like Evernote, it's versatile: It's easy to add pictures, tables, and hyperlinks to your notes. Like Evernote, you can organize your notes into broad notebooks and narrower note entries. And like Evernote, it's accessible via a broad array of devices, including for Mac and iOS. So that's good!

Unlike Evernote, it lacks an audio recording capability, and thus there's no opportunity to review a lecture or interview to make sure you wrote down everything correctly. Also unlike Evernote, accessing notes on other devices is not a seamless transition. (the app's Web version) offered me ads for related Microsoft products, but it never showed a way to get past the ads and simply make notes when using Safari. (It performed better in Firefox.)

The app does offer lots of formatting options, but that almost seems like a distraction: It's as if Microsoft Word had been grafted onto a note-taking app. That'll be fine for some users, but I prefer the focus of a task-focused app.

So why use it? The prime audience will, of course, be current Microsoft customers, especially users of its OneDrive cloud-based system for creating documents and presentations. If you're not already a Microsoft fan, this app won't be quite as alluring.

Best stylus companion: Penultimate

This is a specialty note-taker worth mentioning, because some people just like the feel of a stylus in their hand when taking notes. Penultimate (free; iPad) rewards them with a responsive user interface that allows for both taking notes and sketching. And it's part of the Evernote ecosystem, making it easy to access your hand-written notes and drawings on other devices aside from your iPad.

Others of note

This is a good time to mention that there aren't really any bad note-taking apps out there. It's just that some aren't superlative as others. The following apps all have their strengths, save one: All of them are built primarily for iOS. If you're an Android user, you might want to turn to well-regarded offerings like Papryus (free), Note Everything (free), or Google Keep (free).


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