The mobile revolution means its easier than ever to ditch a pen and paper for a smartphone or tablet when jotting down ideas, making records of meetings or simply articulating ideas.
Advances in 4K monitor and mobile display technology ensure that reading notes from a device is just as good as a notebook, while a new wave of applications can make you more organised and productive, handle rich content.
What’s more, there’s no scrambling for a pen or running out of paper, and the rise of cloud services and superfast mobile networks mean you can access your data anywhere you like on the device of your choice.
Whether you’re looking for an app that’s suitable for sharing information with other people, is a good fit for storing research or merely offers a more pleasant writing environment than your current word processor, these are our picks of the lot.
- Platforms: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Windows Phone, WebOS, Maemo, BlackBerry, Google Wave
No list of best note-taking apps is complete without Evernote, which is one of the oldest and most fully-featured. Evernote lets you create both simple and complex workflows using a combination of notebooks, notes and tags to keep everything organized.
One of its best features for gathering research is the Web Clipper extension (supported in Chrome, Firefox and Safari), which lets you save entire webpages – including text, images and PDFs – with a single click. Notes can be accessed on laptops, mobile devices and the web, so you're rarely left with a situation where you can't retrieve what you've saved. Other features include the ability to set reminders, present notes PowerPoint-style, and merge them together.
Recent additions include new tables and a Siri integration for those using the iOS edition.
- Platforms: Window, macOS, Windows RT, Windows Phone, iOS, Android
Like Evernote, OneNote lets you sync notes across various devices. While a free version is available on the Mac, the app is particularly useful on Windows 10-powered hybrid devices due to the interface's close resembling of an actual notepad.
Unlike Evernote however – which works more like a traditional word processor – OneNote lets you scribble on ruled pages with your device's stylus, and you can position text boxes, images and tables anywhere on the page. It also has a few features you're unlikely to find in other note-taking apps, such as the ability to record video and embed it in notes and embedding Excel spreadsheets and other Microsoft Office files. In fact, OneNote plays nicely with all of Microsoft's Office suite, so it's ideal if you're already invested in it.
Ulysses (£35.99/$39.99 per year)
- Platforms: macOS, iOS
Ulysses has been around for a while now, and it's one of the most polished note-taking apps on Apple's computing platform. (One that's perfectly equipped for long-form writing, too.) Notes are written and stored in the app's proprietary Markdown style, which allows for inventive (and colorful) use of headings.
Added to that, images can be embedded in the form of links within documents; rather than displaying them in the body text, you can double click the links to preview image thumbnails. Ulysses also positions images in a sidebar that can also display a word count, mini notes and other information at a glance.
Of course, you need to be invested in the Apple ecosystem to benefit as there's no Windows or Android version available.
Google Keep (free)
- Platforms: Windows, macOS, Android, iOS, Web
Google Keep is the simplest note-taking app on our list, both visually and how it operates. Think of Keep as your place for storing digital post-it notes, with each note dotted around the interface as if they were laid on a table in front of you.
Notes can be given labels, pinned to the top, given a color, paired with reminders and collaborated on in real time. It's much more minimal than other writing apps, which either works for or against it depending on your viewpoint. If you want to break away from your operating system's notes app, but don't want all of the features that come with other apps on our list, Google Keep is an, ahem, keeper.
Bear (free trial)
- Platforms: macOS, iOS
A relative newcomer to the note-taking app scene, Bear lies somewhere in-between Evernote and Ulysses, allowing you to create notes and sync them across various Apple devices through its subscription-based cloud service (a free trial is available too).
Using a Slack-like three-pane interface, you can arrange notes by applying hashtags, which allows a subfolder style system. Bear uses rich Markdown for editing, so you can insert links into documents without having to display the full URLs in a similar manner to Ulysses. However, Bear, which is pretty easy on the eye, and one of the few polished Markdown apps that allow you to insert images directly into notes, which could make it a far more valuable app overall if images are a big part of your workflow.
Bear 1.4 added Tag autocomplete, one of the most requested features for the app, so it's even better.
- Platforms: Windows, macOS, Linux
Something of a left-field choice, Atom is primarily an app used for coding, but its sheer range of customization options means that you can mould it into a useful text editor too. Because it's based on common web standards, you can hack its CSS stylesheet to create just about any visual theme you can think of. Want to make it look and feel like Word 2016 with a Smooth Typing Animation-style effect? No problem.
Want to write in Markdown with a solarized color scheme? Then download the Markdown Writer extension and choose from one of the hundreds of community-generated themes.
Atom is far from perfect as a text editor due to its lack of one or two standard features – such as an automatic grammar changer – that have been standard in other note-taking apps for years. But it's certainly one of the most interesting and capable when in the right hands.
- Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Simplenote’s selling point is its clear, simple user interface, making it easy to keep track of notes. It is available for iOS, Android, Mac, Windows and Linux, with data synced automatically. There’s also a web app if a client can’t be downloaded.
Tagging and search tools ensure users can find what they’re looking for and notes can be shared or published to others working in the same team or on a project. Simplenote backs up previous versions of documents so it’s always possible to revert to an earlier one.
Simplenote doesn’t have many advanced features, but is an ideal candidate for simple note taking. And best, of all, it’s free.
Dropbox Paper (free to sign up)
- Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Dropbox Paper launched in August 2016 and works across the cloud platform’s suite of PC and mobile applications. What separates Paper apart is its focus on collaboration, allowing teams to share their ideas, images and videos for projects.
There are integrations with productivity apps such as Google Calendar and Slack as well as some more surprising tools like Spotify.
Recent additions include new organisation tools such as the ability to create mobile folders on the go as well as improved delete and archive features. Dropbox also redesigned the Paper homepage which brings users Paper docs and Dropbox files together.
Its enterprise features make it an ideal note taking app for businesses, but it goes without saying that you get the most out of it if you are already a Dropbox customer.