With so many free tools available for taking meeting notes, you may want to use whatever application is closest to your fingertips. That would be a mistake.
Meetings are a collaborative activity that serves a vital function in every business. How you take notes and set agendas have a direct impact on the effectiveness of your meetings. It’s even more than that, though.
The culture and process around how you plan for meetings, participate in them, and follow-up afterward, are all inextricably linked to your meeting documents themselves. So, if you want to have better meetings, how you use meeting agendas and notes will help guide your group to that outcome.
The features and user experience of your note-taking software will have an impact here. For instance, whether or not it is easy to collaborate on notes will shape whether your meeting is naturally collaborative as well.
Likewise, if notes are hard to retrieve and organize, meeting insights will be lost and follow-ups won’t happen. The overall perceived value of meetings will be reduced.
That’s why, in this article, we will look at the most common free apps used for meeting notes. In comparing Evernote, OneNote, Google Docs, Hugo, and Notion, we’ll consider the following:
The first step in any effective meeting process is to set an agenda. The best meeting notes tools are going to be ones where it’s not only easy to create your notes, but it’s easy to create both an agenda and notes.
Hugo shines when it comes to meeting planning.
By pairing your notes and agendas with your calendar, Hugo effectively attaches agendas and notes to any given meeting. This makes agenda collaboration in Hugo very intuitive.
You don’t even have to have the document open to benefit because you are able to receive optional email notifications showing what has changed on the agenda.
Hugo also comes with 20+ meeting agenda templates in its note templates library which will be a welcome treat to anyone who has a hard time setting an agenda, or to companies that like to build a process around their meetings.
Google Docs, OneNote, and Evernote all suffer from the same shortcoming in meeting planning. While you can use any of these documents to create a meeting agenda, there are few specific features that will help you, and ultimately you will need to email out or share that agenda.
The one exception is in Google Docs, where creative use of the commenting features allow you to trigger notifications and assign tasks to others, but this is still a workaround.
Notion splits the difference between Hugo and the more standard note-taking apps. Like Hugo, Notion allows users to @-mention teammates. Notion also offers an easy way to see what’s changed in a note. Both are helpful when it comes to agenda planning, although with Notion, you have an extra step since agendas aren’t linked to a meeting in your calendar like they are in Hugo.
When looking at collaboration on meeting notes, we want to see how easy it is to share a document and mutually edit it. In this area, Google Docs and OneNote’s collaboration features are dependent on whether you use either’s systems as your core business software.
OneNote has a very similar UI to other Microsoft products, so if you are used to Word at work, it has only a minor learning curve. However, like Evernote, OneNote is geared toward individual use, and many shared features are cumbersome at best.
Google Docs, on the other hand, are designed to be collaborative from the ground up. While many users will find this comforting, Google Docs is fully baked into G Suite’s tools. If you’re not a Google user, this quickly becomes problematic.
For teams wanting to use the best-in-class meeting notes software, regardless of platform, this leaves Evernote, Hugo, and Notion in contention. While Evernote’s free version lets you set permissions for notes and share them with specific people, only Evernote’s paid Business plan allows you to share notes and notebooks with anyone at your company.
If you’re looking for power, you might consider Notion. Be warned, though. The learning curve for Notion is steeper, given how robust the app is. The user experience is frequently overwhelming.
For example, Notion offers many templates for notes that are mini-apps in-and-of themselves, and this can prevent collaboration for users with varying degrees of familiarity with the app.
Only Hugo blends all of these collaboration features in a free app. Hugo’s note-taking experience resembles Google Docs style collaboration. Plus, Hugo works not only for O365 users and Google users but also allows you to invite people from other companies to collaborate, regardless of whether they use O365 or G Suite too. This is especially powerful if you want to leverage your meeting notes with customers, clients, and partners.
The ideal meeting notes solution will allow notes to be easily organized and retrieved. However, a common problem with meeting notes is that even if notes are created, they are often saved in isolation. Without careful grooming, notes end up buried in folders where they are never seen again.
Hugo takes an innovative approach here. Because Hugo links to your calendar, all notes are automatically organized based on who is attending the meeting, and what company they are at. Furthermore, Hugo’s integrations with top CRM’s like Salesforce and HubSpot enable notes to be synced to matching records.
When comparing Evernote, OneNote, and Notion in this area, you can create folders to better organize your notes. (These are called notebooks in Evernote and OneNote.) These products also support tagging and have advanced search options for finding information. While this method of organization can get tedious versus Hugo’s calendar sync, it is sufficient if you’re willing to invest time into it.
Evernote’s search functionality is worth calling out here because it is more robust than other apps as well. In Evernote, you can search by keyword, where and when a note was created, and if there are media or attachment of various file types such as PDFs, images, and audio files. You can also search by people associated with or tagged in a note.
Google Docs users will suffer when it comes to meeting note organization. With only folders and search to help keep things organized, Google Docs tends to devolve into chaos without careful management.
A meeting isn’t useful because you gave updates. A meeting is useful because you made decisions and took action.
Sometimes the action items that come out of meetings are big projects. And often they’re also smaller, consequential activities. Having a quick, easy way to track these tasks in your notes will save you time and frustration, and make you more effective.
How well do these note-taking apps handle task management?
Evernote, OneNote, and Notion are similar. They allow you to create to-do lists — bullet-point lists where the bullet points are actually checkboxes.
These checkboxes, while interactive, are ultimately a limited approach to tracking tasks in a note-taking app. Checkbox to-dos cannot be assigned to a person or given a due date. As such, they also cannot trigger notifications to the person who is responsible for the task.
Google Docs does have a checkbox option for formatting bullet points. However, to actually check these boxes involves some left-click-right-click wizardry that most people aren’t aware of and would never figure out on their own. So the boxes end up unchecked.
More commonly, Google Docs also allows you to hack tasks by creating comments and assigning them to people. If you only have a handful of tasks to do, using comments can work okay, but it easily becomes chaotic and challenging to track.
Ultimately, in most note-taking products, people just use bullet-point lists and strikethrough, highlight, or delete text when things are done.
Hugo is the only app on this list with a fully-functional approach to managing tasks. On top of that, Hugo grants some advantages for meeting tasks thanks to Hugo’s integration with your calendar.
In Hugo you can add proper tasks to meetings, assign them, and create reminders and due dates. These aren’t just bullet-point lists in your notes. They’re fully configurable, and can be added to help with meeting preparation (“Please fill in your updates before the meeting”) or in meeting notes as action items (“Rob to follow-up in 7 days”).
Hugo organizes all your tasks from all of your meetings on a page so you can keep track of everything across many meetings. You can group tasks by due date — or by meeting title for a recurring meeting series. You can also see tasks by customer, for example, any action items from meetings with people whose emails end in @customer.com.
It’s not uncommon for laptops to be brought to meetings these days, but many meeting-goers prefer to have mobile apps as well. Most of the free note-taking apps for meetings offer mobile apps.
Additionally, while most meetings take place somewhere that hopefully has WiFi, it’s worth noting that Evernote, OneNote, and Notion have stand-alone desktop apps for macOS and Windows that allow for offline edits as well.
Ideally, your meeting notes solution will integrate with other apps you use for work. Notes need to be filed in a CRM, and tasks need to be created and logged in pest management software, for example.
Here Evernote and OneNote have very little to offer. Evernote’s free version is pretty much an island to itself, with the app offering integrations with email, chat in the Premium tier, and CRM integrations in the business tier. And while OneNote synchronizes with OneDrive, it doesn’t do anything especially useful with the rest of Microsoft’s products from a meeting notes standpoint.
Google Docs, as well, offers an array of features and add-ons to better integrate some applications, but ultimately the result is not particularly more useful than with Evernote or OneNote.
Hugo, on the other hand, offers over 20 integrations with many of the most widely used applications at work. These integrations cover many categories, such as:
Notion splits the difference. While Notion has handy tools for importing notes from other tools you may have used in the past, most of its functionality is baked into the app. So, for example, if you want to manage your action items from your meetings as tasks, you’re better off doing that within Notion than in the tool that you use today.
When taken on the whole, Hugo delivers the best solution for meeting notes, out-performing other apps by a lead of a star or more.
Across all note-taking apps compared here, Hugo not only has the best feature set for taking meeting notes, it also offers the most affordable and feature-rich free plan which includes advanced functionality for up to 10 team members.
Hugo's Basic plan is free for teams of up to 10 users, so it’s easy to get started and grow usage without pressure. The Pro version, which includes premium integrations and some team-focused features, is also highly affordable at just $6/month when paying annually. Both Evernote and Notion's comparable team plans are ~$8/month.
Evernote has three plans, Basic, Premium ($7.99), and Business ($14.99). The Basic plan is free, but it omits most of the features that are useful for collaboration or team sharing. As a personal note-taking app and web-clipper, Evernote’s free version shines, but as a collaborative product for businesses, it omits key features and integrations.
Google Docs is also free (or free insofar as it comes with G-Suite for business which costs $6, $12, or $20 per user depending). If you’re not using G Suite, while you can use Google Docs for free on a personal email, in practice, most organizations would find this too tedious and not secure enough for business communications.
Notion has thankfully moved away from "storage blocks" in their pricing. The general note-taking tool now offers four plans: Personal (free), Personal Pro ($4/month), Team ($8/month), and Enterprise ("Contact us," but previously was $20/month).
When thinking about using Notion for meeting notes, you run up against the constraint of how many "guests" you can share with. If you're only out to help yourself, this solution may work for you, but if you want to manage meetings with your team, the aptly-named Team plan is where you'll need at start, at $8 a month.
OneNote gives away everything for free, with the caveat that storage is tied to your OneDrive account. If you need more space, you’ll have to purchase it. 100 GB is only $1.99/month, making the paid version highly affordable if that is all you need. However, OneNote is the lowest-rated solution in this list for meeting notes specifically, and it lacks many business-oriented features available in the other apps.
Evernote, OneNote, Google Docs, Hugo, and Notion.
Based on our comparison, given its generous free plan and broad feature set, Hugo scores 4.4 out of 5 as the best app to prepare agendas, collaborate on notes, and sync tasks and action items to project management tools.
Identify meeting goals and state them clearly. Share your meeting agenda in advance, and allow attendees to contribute. When your meeting begins, fill your agenda in with more information. For more, see How to create effective meeting agendas for productive meetings.
Browse, copy, or download from our free library of meeting agenda templates covering all sorts of meeting types such as a Product Roadmap Meeting, Sales Meeting, One-on-One, and many more. We’ve got templates contributed from team leaders at companies like Shopify, Trello, Etsy, Drift, and more.
Note all decisions, outcomes, and action items in one collaborative document. For more, see How to take meeting notes your colleagues will actually use.