The Best Note-Taking Apps for Writers: A Roundup

In this article, I profile the best note-taking apps for all types of note-takers and how you can use them.

Perhaps, you know how important it is to take notes regularly. And you make an effort to capture ideas every day. You also spend time recording your thoughts. But, you're having trouble finding the best note-taking app.

If you're a writer, you need note-taking apps you can depend on. This way, you can spend more time developing your ideas and less time waiting for inspiration to arrive.

This updated article features the best digital note-taking apps and tools for all types of operating systems and platforms. At the end, I've also got a free bonus which will help you proofread and edit your notes faster.

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1. Simplenote

Pricing: Free

Simplenote is used to capture digital notes

Simplenote is a free note capturing app with a cult following. There are Simplenote apps for Windows, Mac, iOS, and Android. You can also access Simplenote through a web app.

Simplenote is geared towards those who want to capture and organize text notes. Unfortunately, you can't keep or store webpages and clippings in Simplenote.

To be honest, I like that about Simplenote.

It also plays nicely with the popular long-form writing application, Scrivener.

Previously, I used Simplenote to capture digital notes and ideas for articles on the go on my phone. You can categorize your notes using tags, and these tags make it easy to organize and find notes later on.

It also plays nicely with Notational Velocity for OS X, and it is great for taking notes at meetings (if you have internet access).

  • Minimalist
  • Widely supported
  • Can't capture webpages
  • Not much use for those who work with multimedia

Tip: If you have an idea for a blog article, use the @blog tag to arrange and find these ideas later.

2. Evernote

Pricing: From free to $14.99 per month

It's an “everything bucket.”

Evernote is one of the more popular cross-platform note-taking apps available today.

The logo for Evernote is an elephant for a reason. It's an “everything bucket” in that you can capture, organize and store almost any type of digital note with your phone, web browser, or desktop client.

Evernote has apps for Android and iOS as well as desktop apps for Windows and OS X. You can also access it through a web browser and use several different browser extensions to capture snippets of web pages for your notebooks.

When I first wrote this article, I relied primarily on Simplenote. Then, a few years ago, I migrated all my notes from my paper systems and Simplenote into Evernote and added PDFs and pictures.

I capture ideas for articles I want to write, I “swipe” articles by others that I want to reference later on, and I even store audio recordings and photo notes in Evernote.

I subscribe to numerous blogs, and when these bloggers send me free content, I store these giveaways in Evernote too. This way, my desktop, and email aren't cluttered, and I can find this content easily.

A few years ago, I attended a Photoshop course, where the lecturer shared an Evernote workbook of useful articles and images with the class. This is an excellent way to take advantage of Evernote's free multimedia features and share them with others.

I'm happy to pay for Evernote as it's a powerful digital note-taking app. A free version is available. The premium version starts at $7.99 per month.

  • Powerful search and tagging
  • Stores multimedia
  • Apps for Android, iOS, Windows, Mac, Chrome, Edge, Safari…
  • Slow on older devices
  • Premium version needed for offline mobile access and heavy users
  • You'll only see the power of Evernote if you use it to store all your notes

3. Your Camera

Pricing: Free

 iOS Camera
Snapping a picture with a smartphone is an excellent method for capturing information quickly

Use your camera alongside text notes to record and document your thoughts

Alright, it’s not technically a note-taking app, but snapping a picture with a smartphone is an excellent method for capturing information quickly. If you hold your finger on your smartphone’s screen, it will automatically focus on what you're looking at and enable you to snap a picture that's easy to read.

Most smartphones are synced to the cloud meaning your (photo)notes are backed up, even if you lose your phone.

If you snap notes with your camera, consider Day One for iOS. It encourages you to use your camera alongside text notes to record and document your thoughts. Unfortunately, there's still no Android version.

  • Fast
  • It's probably in your pocket
  • May not suit those who prefer just to write
  • You'll have to get your notes out of your photo gallery

4. Microsoft OneNote

Pricing: Free

One Note
OneNote integrates with Outlook and the other MS Office apps like Outlook and Powerpoint.

Microsoft OneNote is a cross-platform note-taking app that comes as part of Office 365. It's intuitive and a surprisingly fun to use tool aimed at business people.

OneNote's biggest selling point is that it makes it easier for people on a team to share digital notes and collaborate with each other. It also syncs all of your data back to Microsoft OneDrive.

You can use Microsoft OneNote to keep your digital notes, create To-Do Lists, and store articles you find online using the OneNote web clipper. That web clipper is good, but it's not as intuitive as Evernote.

OneNote integrates with Outlook and the other MS Office apps like Outlook and Powerpoint. It also handles Excel, Word, and other MS Office attachments better than the other note-taking tools featured here.

If you use an iPad, OneNote works with the Apple stylus.

It's free, but to get the most functionality from OneNote, buy MS Office or subscribe to Office 365 (approximately between $70 and $100 for the year).

  • Easy to use
  • Works best if you use Microsoft Office 365

5. Google Keep

Pricing: Free

Google Keep also supports image recognition.

Google Keep is a lightweight note-taking app aimed at people who want to capture what's on their minds quickly.

It's free, it's colorful, and it comes on many Android devices. In addition, you can use Google Keep to take notes and create lists, which are stored on Google Drive.

Like Evernote, Google Keep also supports image recognition, enabling you to convert images (photos of your notes) and PDFs into searchable text.

If you keep digital notes, tags are a great way of organizing and finding these notes later on. Unfortunately, Google Keep doesn't support tags and, for this reason, I don't use it (but that doesn't mean you can't).

  • Colourful
  • Intuitive
  • Free
  • No tags
  • Better suited for those who already use Android/Google services
  • Less useful for larger note databases

6. Apple Notes

Pricing: Free

Note-Taking Apps for Writers
You can use Notes to write and manage basic to-do lists

Lately, I use Apples Notes most of the time to capture ideas from courses I take and while out and about. It suits how I work as I use an iMac, iPad, and iPhone.

So all of these devices play together. To be honest, Apple Notes is similar to Simplenote. 

When iCloud and Notes launched years ago, they used to have syncing issues. These days it appears to be rock-solid.

Apple upgraded this app with each update to iOS and MAC OS. Now, you can drag and drop content into it, including photos and organize your information with folders. You can also use Notes to write and manage basic to-do lists.

If you have an iPad or iPad Pro, Notes works with the Apple stylus.

  • Syncs across all iOS devices
  • Ideal for iPad, iPhone, and Apple Mac users
  • Kind of like Simplenote
  • Not much use if you have an Android device and or a Windows computer

7. Bear

Pricing: From $1.49 a month or $14.99 for the year

Bear - Note-Taking App for Writers
This app also has a web clipper for capturing online content

Bear is an alternative to Evernote that feels lightweight and faster. It also supports Markdown, which means you can write notes faster. Many Evernote users have migrated to Bear since I initially wrote this article.

It's available on Mac and iOS only. Like Evernote, it also has a web clipper for capturing online content.

It costs $1.49 a month or $14.99 for the year.

  • Supports Markdown
  • Search is fast
  • It's also cheaper than Evernote
  • Not as feature-rich as Evernote
  • No integrations with third-party apps like Trello

8. Day One

Pricing: $2.95 per month

Day One - Note-Taking App for Writers
You can also tag photos of your index cards and other notes and add them to Day One.

Day One is a journaling app, but I use it to capture my ideas about random topics and arrange them into journals. I also sometimes tag photos of my index cards and other notes and add them to Day One.

Day One syncs across all of my devices. I also like the template feature of Day One, as I can save a series of questions and insert them quickly into individual notes. I use Day One regularly and syncing work effortlessly across my iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Premium costs $2.95 per month, billed annually.

Read our Day One review.

  • Pleasing to use
  • Ideal for writers
  • Contains templates for taking the same types of notes regularly
  • Windows only
  • Best suited for writer

9. Ulysses

Pricing: $5 per month or $40 per year

Ulysses icon
Ulysses supports Markdown and contains a number of themes and a typewriter mode.

Ulysses is a note-taking and writing app.

It's more powerful than Simplenote in that you can turn notes into articles and even blog posts and book chapters. Use it to arrange your notes into folders and even set writing goals.

Ulysses supports Markdown and contains a number of themes and a typewriter mode. It syncs to Dropbox or iCloud. Unfortunately, it's only available for Apple Mac.

It costs $5 per month or $40 per year, but remember, you're getting more than a note-taking app. It's writing, blogging, and publishing tool.

  • Supports many types of writing
  • Tags and folders are good for arranging ideas
  • A small learning curve
  • Apple Mac only

10. Notion

Pricing: From free to $4 per month

It aims to consolidate all the tools writers or creatives might use

Notion bills itself as an all-in-one workplace for notes, writing, project management, collaboration, and more.

It aims to consolidate all the tools writers or creatives might use as their writing app of choice, to-do lists, and even project management tools. It's available on Windows, Apple Mac, iOS, and Android. Many writers I know to love Notion because it's so customizable.

It can act as a document library, to-do list system, Trello board, company wiki, writing app, and much more. A few power users even sell digital products built with Notion.

Overwhelmed? I was. It struck me as a useful note-taking tool for those on a team. You can try it out for free before paying $4 per month.

  • Great user interface
  • A decent alternative to Evernote
  • The volume of features might put off some
  • Comes with a learning curve.
  • Blocks hard to get used to

11. Zoho Notes

Pricing: Free

Zoho Notes - Note-Taking App for Writers
It supports checklists, photos, sketches, audio clips, and files

Zoho Notes is ideal if you approach taking notes with the idea that each one should be separate and focus on a single idea. It presents each note as a card that you can review quickly on the go. That's a good feature if you're learning a new skill and want to review key concepts.

It supports checklists, photos, sketches, audio clips, and files. Zoho notes works on Windows, Apple Mac, Android, and iOS.

  • Free
  • Works everywhere
  • Cards might put off some

12. Pen, Paper, And Index Cards

Pricing: Free

Pen and Paper
They're cheap, available, and just work.

Yes, that's right!

I know it's not digital, but it's hard to beat pen and paper or index cards. They're cheap, available, and just work. You can always GTD your Moleskine notebook.

You don't have to upgrade or worry about battery life or passwords. You can bring it anywhere, and it comes in many form factors.

  • Minimalist
  • Doesn't need a charger
  • If you lose a notebook, you lose your notes.
  • Search, what search?!

13. Roam Research

Pricing: $15 per month

You'll need a large database of notes to get maximum value from it

You'll need a large database of notes to get maximum value from it

Roam Research is a newer note-taking app, popular with techy types and those in the startup community.. It bills itself as a “tool for networked thought.” I tested Roam Research for a month, and it shows huge promise … it's also got a cult following on YouTube.

It auto-suggests links between your notes bi-directionally. So, unlike other note-taking apps, it will unearth connections between ideas organically.

However, Roam Research has a modest learning curve, and you'll need a large database of notes to get maximum value from it. It's also only accessible via a web browser and Mac desktop app. 

I'm not quite ready to move everything into it just yet, but it’s an interesting note-taking app for researchers and academics.

Roam Research also costs $15 per month.

  • Unlike any other note-taking app you've out there
  • Ideal for building a personal database of notes
  • $15 per month is a lot for a note-taking app
  • Has a modest learning curve

14. Plain Text Files

Pricing: Free

Plain text graphical user interface
Plain text files work anywhere too, so you don't have to worry about a database.

Plain text apps work just fine for note-taking. Whatever your device, it probably has one. And they are free.

Plain text doesn't allow for rich content or multi-media, but that's fine because you'll spend less time formatting your notes.

Plain text files work anywhere too, so you don't have to worry about a database. The only other downside of plain text files is that you'll have to figure out a system for managing all of your new notes. Many prolific note-takers use folders for this.

  • Works everywhere
  • Free
  • Less practical for larger databases
  • No rich or multimedia content … but that's the point

Testing Criteria

I regularly update this roundup as these note-taking apps evolve. I test new features and compare them using an iPhone, web browser and tablet. I also evaluate based on criteria like price, ease of use and affordability.

Why You Can Trust Me

I’ve written and published dozens of articles for newspapers, magazines and online publications including, Forbes and Lifehacker. I'm also a best-selling non-fiction author, a trained journalist and a copywriter.

Note-taking apps form a key part of my research and writing workflow. I use these types of apps regularly to manage my work.

Finding The Best Note Taking App: Your Choice

All of the above note-taking apps will get the job done. Your choice boils down to personal preference and how you like to work or write. Do you want a note-taking app that syncs with your productivity apps?

Or would you simply like a place to record your ideas quickly?  And is cost and cross-platform functionality important?

Whatever note-taking app you decide on, it's vital that you have a trusted system for getting ideas out of your head. Then, make a point to review these notes regularly and act on them before you write.

This way, you can become a more productive and creative note-taker.

Best Note Taking Apps FAQ

What are the best note-taking apps for iPad? 

Apple Notes is one of the best note-taking apps for the iPad. It works with the Apple stylus and supports multi-media content. Syncing is also fast and reliable. Simplenote is another popular choice.

What's the best free note-taking app?

Consider Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote, or the free version of Evernote. If you use an iPhone, Mac, or iPad, Apple Notes is an excellent free choice. It's fast and effective.

What is the best cross-platform note-taking app?

Evernote is a good cross-platform note-taking app as it's available on iOS, Android, Mac, and Windows. Moreover, it syncs across all these operating systems (and your devices) quickly and accurately.


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