Note-taking is personal. It has as much to do with how your mind works as it does with what you’re taking notes about and why you’re taking them in the first place.
Still, search for the best note-taking app and you’ll invariably find Evernote at the top of most lists.
Some notes are for sharing. Some are a reminder. Some are taken and never looked at again.
Sometimes a note is a quick thought, jotted down on-the-go on a mobile device. Other times your notes are prepared at length at your computer over a large project, meeting, or study session.
Evernote is fine, generally-speaking — but you’re not just anyone, and your notes aren’t just any notes.
To find the best Evernote alternatives, we tested and used over 30 apps, reviewed top threads on Reddit, and consulted reviews on G2 to hear what the community had to say.
It’s not all just Evernote vs OneNote anymore. There are a slew of great note-taking apps, each with a key advantage over Evernote depending on what you are doing.
For many years, Evernote was on top of the note-taking game. With its sleek, comfortable interface, enjoyable mobile experience, and easy way of organizing with folders and stacks of folders, Evernote dominated the note-taking world after the iPhone’s original launch in 2007.
However, over the last 4+ years, Evernote has undergone a series of problematic changes, introducing bizarre new products in an attempt to expand its reach. They also changed the free plan in ways that have driven away users by crippling key features unless you pay.
Evernote remains a great product in many ways. It syncs across devices, offers a handy web clipper, and can even search handwriting.
But in trying to be all things to all people, the notes app market has opened up, offering a slew of note-taking apps that are going to appeal to more specific groups of people looking for more specific solutions.
With note-taking apps, you need to be able to quickly take notes. Speed is of the essence. That means not having to waste time organizing and saving your files. You also need to be able to easily search your notes to find information.
Of course, you can take notes almost anywhere you can write.
Some people use the cells in a spreadsheet. Others use word processing apps like Google Docs or Microsoft Word. Authors may prefer to jot down notes inside the tools they are already working in, like Scrivener. You can also take notes in project management software like Asana, or collaborative docs like Dropbox Paper.
None of these, however, beat the speed and simplicity of a dedicated notes app.
So in this post, we’re only looking at tools that are primarily for notes. Full-on word processing tools aren’t in the running, nor are project management tools or CRMs that happen to have a notes function. (Ulysses might be a minor exception, as it can be both a notes tool and word processor depending on how you use it.)
With that, here are the best note-taking tools in 2020 that aren’t Evernote.
For iOS and in your web browser. (Android, iPadOS, and macOS are on the horizon)
Plenty of note-taking apps are good generally-speaking, but taking notes in meetings poses some unique challenges. Fortunately, Hugo is purpose-built for meeting notes at work.
First, staying organized. Hugo centralizes and organizes all of your meeting notes with the help of your calendar. Notes are associated with your actual meetings, so you basically don’t have to worry about categorizing anything. (You can always add tags if you want to.) This works with G Suite, Gmail, or Office 365 calendars.
Plus, Hugo also integrates with over 20 other apps used for work. It syncs notes to your CRM (e.g. Salesforce), pushes tasks to project management tools (e.g. Jira), and works seamlessly with video conferencing tools (e.g. Zoom).
The Chrome browser extension gives you access to your notes from any page in your browser, which means you don’t have to dedicate your screen to note-taking during a video call. Just open and close the Hugo drawer when you need to check your agenda or jot a note down.
Hugo isn’t designed to just help you (although it will). With accounts for teams, collaborative note-taking, and a library of 80+ meeting note templates, everyone in your organization can use Hugo to centralize your meeting notes together.
During the pandemic, Hugo is offering free accounts to teams of up to 40 users. If you sign up during this period, you’ll get to keep that pricing even after the pandemic is over.
ALSO: Take a look at this guide to taking amazing meeting notes.
Compatibility: iOS (iPhone/iPad)
CacoonWeaver is the best way to collect audio notes for iOS. Pop open the app and transcribe your ideas, thoughts, memories, and dreams. To organize your notes with voice commands, just say something like, “Cacoon Shopping” and the app will automatically put your notes in the Shopping category.
Unlike other note-taking apps where you need to enable dictation to record an audio note, and then carefully watch to make sure your text is going in correctly, CacoonWeaver records your audio and transcribes at the same time.
You can play back your notes, or read them back, which gives you the peace of mind to know that no matter what, your information won’t be lost, and there are no limitations on the max length of an audio recording.
CacoonWeaver also keeps track of where you had ideas, showing you blips on a map.
The UI is clean and minimalistic for distraction-free recording and offers custom push notifications and nudges to help you be your best self.
Because it is still in its debut phase, CacoonWeaver is currently free and keeps your data private and secure. The app claims to be in beta but it is fully functional and in better shape bugs-wise than a lot of other apps you’ll find on the AppStore.
Compatibility: Desktop apps for Mac and Windows, plus mobile apps for iOS and Android
The Next Web calls Milanote “the Evernote for Creatives” and it’s easy to see why creative directors, filmmakers, photographers, marketers, and designers of all kinds enjoy using it.
Unlike most note-taking apps, Milanote takes a highly-visual approach, allowing you to organize your ideas and projects in visual boards. Collect images, videos, text, and tasks all together on your screen.
If your creative process includes activities like mood boarding, brainstorming, storyboarding, or mind-mapping, the visual canvas offers a flexible and delightful experience.
Milanote works for teams and clients too, with build-tin commenting, sharing, and notifications. Plus, you can download a high-quality, printable PDF of any board.
You can try Milanote free with no time limit, although it is limited to 100 notes, images, or links (and only 10 file uploads). After that, it’s $9.99 for unlimited storage
Compatibility: iOS (iPhone/iPad) and Mac
For Apple fans looking to upgrade beyond Apple Notes, Bear offers a good balance of features, design, convenience, and software speed. If you’re coming from Evernote, for example, it’s so fast, you’ll notice the difference immediately.
From your very first note, Bear’s design shines, treating you with elegant typography and theme options which include multiple dark modes.
Bear's speed isn't just for writing notes, either. Searching in the app also runs fast, with minimal delays when searching notes.
With many advanced markdown options (or is it markup?), Bear works great if you like to format as you type. Hybrid markdown support means you can see the formatted text as you’re typing, although if you’re not a regular user of markdown, you might not enjoy the experience at first. You can easily export these nicely-formatted notes to HTML, PDF, and TXT.
It also has quick shortcuts, such as for finding today’s date, and supports checkboxes to help with to-dos. Built-in tagging is powerful and allows you to create tags anywhere in a document that are automatically captured in the sidebar.
Bear uses iCloud to speedily sync notes between iOS and Mac with a Pro membership. Still, some users complain that this should be a free feature like it is with most other note-taking apps.
Bear is rated 4.5 out of 5 on G2 Crowd with positive reviews from many note-taking app power users, such as consultants, software developers, and UI/UX designers. The biggest complaint about Bear is a lack of helpful or effective support.
Compatibility: For desktop/laptop computers only (Mac, Windows, and Linux)
Typora is a slick alternative to Bear that is even more minimalist and distraction-free. The app is simple, with very little UI getting in the way. It’s also beautifully designed, with clear, aesthetically-pleasing text.
Typora has a night mode and also supports custom themes so that you can create the perfect writing experience.
It also has two cool modes. One is a unique Focus Mode that highlights the paragraph you’re currently working on, while graying out everything else. Typewriter Mode similarly highlights the center of your screen.
Many of the same advanced markdown features are in Typora, meaning that you can type up nicely-formatted notes without ever having to shift your hand to your mouse. Even so, if you want to get a little bit fancy, Typora supports tables, diagrams, mathematical formats, footnotes, code fences, and task lists.
Compatibility: Desktop apps for Windows, Mac and Linux, plus iOS, Android, and in your browser
Do you love taking notes with bullet points?
Do you wish everything in life could be bullets — Infinite, ever-expanding bullet points, as far as the sky can reach?
Does your whole world spin around lists and bullet points? If not, would you like it to?
If the answer the above is a resounding Yes!, you’ll be in heaven with Workflowy.
The concept is simple. Workflowy lets you create infinite piles of bullet points which are also each their own document. Expand, collapse, move documents, drill in and out — it’s intuitive and natural bullet points at a scale that you may have never dreamed of.
The product works well for outlining and project organization just naturally. It’s novel, intuitive, and requires very little learning to figure out.
The only downside to Workflowy is in organizing more matrixed information. This might be more challenging, because every bit of information may not have a clear place in your stack of bullet points for where it should belong. (Contrast this with Hugo, which organizes meeting notes based on your calendar, so notes don’t live in just one particular place — they’re associated with names, companies, dates, meeting titles, etc...)
Still, for your next novel or work project, especially for people whose minds work in a certain bullet-driven way, give Workflowy a try.
For iOS, Android, macOS, Windows, and in the browser
Simple, practical, and ubiquitous for Windows and Office users, OneNote is a free note-taking app that seems to be everywhere.
It’s a great basic option, with a familiar UI to anyone who has ever used Microsoft products like Word, and while it does most of the things Evernote does, it stands out because of one big four-letter word that starts with an F.
You get more advanced functionality here without having to pay.
In OneNote, you can add multimedia elements to your notes, such as audio, video, images, and even websites using the Webclipper browser extension. Task lists are an option, although robust task management in OneNote can be challenging because you can’t put due dates on anything.
OneNote has a large folder organization system, letting you create notebooks and sections, and nest them inside each other. The way that sections get dragged around can be frustrating — trying to move one section below another and can have it end up inside on accident — but again, for a free option, for many, this may be a minor inconvenience. Cross-notebook search is available, although there is a learning curve to finding your information.
OneNote uses OneDrive to sync across all of your Microsoft apps. If you don’t have an Office 365 subscription, you can upgrade your OneDrive to a paid plan for an increase in storage space.
Compatibility: iOS, Android, Windows, macOS, Linux, and in your browser
Stylish, markdown-enabled, and fully open-source, Boost Note is a developer’s dream. The interface resembles Sublime, the popular text editor, with a slight skew toward taking quick and easy notes.
Boost Note highlights syntax for you and recognizes over 100 programming languages. It also supports math blocks where you can write math equations using LaTeX syntax. Themes are fully customizable.
Notes are stored safely in the cloud, with more file system-based storage coming soon.
Boost Note Pricing:
Compatibility: Android, iOS, and in your web browser
Google Keep is a straightforward notes app that comes as part of your G Suite or Gmail account. It offers a clean, nicely-organized UI that has most of the standard features you’re looking for in a note-taking app, without too many bells and whistles.
If the rest of your life already revolves around Google products, Google Keep may be the right pick for you.
As you create notes, they are organized on your screen visually in a corkboard style. You can change the background colors to give it a post-it notes effect. While if you take a ton of notes, this may feel haphazard, with moderate use it's colorful and fun.
You might be wondering, Why do I need Google Keep when I have Google Docs?
For some users, it may be redundant to have multiple types of Google Docs, but others may enjoy the simpler note-taking experience in Google Keep. And if your notes start to become something more than just a note, there’s always the Copy to Google Docs action to transfer it over.
Google Keep Pricing:
Compatibility: Mac, iPad, iPhone
For writers and authors, Ulysses is a notes app that will replace your word processor 99% of the time. Fully-featured and elegant, it is a very power writing app.
Export in various file formats, including text, HTML, ePub, PDF, and DOCX, plus a number of export styles for professional-looking PDFs and manuscripts. You can also schedule or publish articles to Wordpress and Medium directly within the app.
Ulysses also excels at organizing, if you’re willing to set it up. With views, custom searches, filters, and tags, it’s the most organizable note-taking experience on this list (except for Hugo, which auto-organizes meeting notes based on your calendar.)
All of this functionality comes at a cost, however. Ulysses is free to try, but if you get hooked, there’s not paired down free version to stick with.
Compatibility: iOS (iPhone and iPad)
Combine handwriting, photos, and typing into a single note with Notability. The elegant interface is nicely-designed, letting you choose from a variety of typing and drawing instruments with ease.
Notability has a nice range of sketching tools that make it easy to recolor, scale, and adjust your ideas and sketches. You can also pick from different paper backgrounds, for example, to sketch your notes on graph paper, or more textured art paper.
Notability syncs with iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, AirDrop, and Email for easy sharing with colleagues and study partners.
It’s also great for annotating PDFs.
(Note: Nebo, discussed below, is another great option that works across all tablet platforms.)
Compatibility: iOS, Android, and Windows
Microsoft’s Surface Pen offers a delightful drawing experience on the Surface Book, Pro, and Studio, and there’s no reason you can’t use OneNote for this purpose. The anniversary update of Windows 10 also brought the Windows Ink Workspace, which gives you three cool apps: Sticky Notes, Sketchpad, and Screen sketch.
If you have an active pen like the Surface Pen, you might be asking, with all this greatness bundled for you in Windows, can note-taking get any better?
The answer is yes, and the other answer is Nebo.
Draw sketches and diagrams. Easily switch between your pen and keyboard.
There are tons of cool gestures that make the experience delightful, like how you can scratch out a letter to delete it, or swipe up to join two sentences together.
Getting notes out of Nebo is a breeze, with image, text, DOCX, and HTML formats available. You can also copy/paste diagrams to PowerPoint and they stay fully-editable.
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