The Best Note-Taking Apps for Back to School

The Best Note-Taking Apps for Back to School

Make sense of your jotting and scribbling with these versatile apps.

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Photo of note taking app
Photo: Nebo

Being a notepad and pen replacement is just one of the roles that smartphones fill for us now—alongside being our go-to digital cameras, musical jukeboxes, address books, ever-expanding encyclopedias and so much more. Not all the note-taking apps for phones and tablets are created equal, though: Whatever the reason you need to take down notes, these are the best tools to do the job.

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2 / 10

The best all-round note taker: OneNote

The best all-round note taker: OneNote

It took a while for OneNote to get going on mobile platforms, but it’s now a very polished and intuitive app. Its main appeal lies in its versatility: The way it can take text, images, and web links and combine them into a cohesive whole. Of course, all your notes sync seamlessly across devices and the web, so you can access them from any platform.

Screenshot of OneNote
Screenshot: OneNote

Drop in audio recordings, images, bulleted lists, checkboxes, and just about anything else you want, then tie it all together into a series of color-coded nested notebooks. The search tool is slick and works across all your notebooks, there are collaboration tools to explore as well, and the app is able to work with handwritten text and text embedded in images.

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3 / 10

The best note taker for flexibility: Notion

The best note taker for flexibility: Notion

Notion is perhaps the best option on this list for aesthetic appeal. It really is a pleasure taking notes in this app. It’s also one of the most flexible note takers in the business, giving you more or less a blank canvas that you can utilize as you need to— combining text, images, tables, links, and wiki and Trello-like tools into one package.

Screenshot of Notion
Screenshot: Notion

If you do need something that’s suitable for work and teams, then Notion can be that too, with a variety of options for collaborating and sharing notes. It can even publish documents and notes to the web, if you need it to. Everything is fast and responsive throughout, and the syncing across multiple devices and platforms is all seamless too.

  • Notion (freemium up to $5 a month) for Android and iOS
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4 / 10

The best note taker for Google fans: Google Keep

The best note taker for Google fans: Google Keep

Like many Google apps, Google Keep manages to pack a lot of features into a lightweight and user-friendly interface: We like the straightforward color-coding system, the ability to attach labels to notes for easier sorting, the comprehensive search tool, the collaboration features for working on notes with others, and the option to set reminders for notes.

Google Keep screenshot
Screenshot: Google Keep

Tight integration with other Google services is another good reason to use this as a note taker. Keep can be added as a side panel to Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Calendar on the web, and you can turn notes into Google Docs documents with a couple of clicks. If you’re already well immersed in Google’s ecosystem, then it’s the most obvious choice.

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5 / 10

The best note taker for handwritten notes: Nebo

The best note taker for handwritten notes: Nebo

You’re going to have to pay more than you usually would for an app to get Nebo’s best features, but it does a fine job of turning your handwritten scribbles into actual searchable text—so it’s probably only worth investing in if you have a tablet and a stylus and plan to do a lot of writing and drawing. It’ll still work on smartphones as well, though.

Screenshot of Nebo
Screenshot: Nebo

Besides that key handwriting recognition and conversion feature, Nebo comes packed with a host of other features too, from some excellent note organization features (including colors, labels and custom notebooks), to support for a ton of formatting options, interactive diagrams, and just about every export format you’re going to need.

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6 / 10

The best note taker for Apple devices: Apple Notes

The best note taker for Apple devices: Apple Notes

As with Google Keep for Google fans, Apple Notes is the obvious pick if you use a lot of Apple hardware and software. It comes with iOS, iPadOS and macOS, and it covers all the basics as far as note taking goes: You can combine lists, text, images and web bookmarks, you can split notes into folders, and you can better organize them with customized tags.

Apple Notes screenshot
Screenshot: Apple Notes

Notes can be password protected or shared with others if needed, and recent upgrades include the ability to filter notes using smart rules. You can also make quick notes very easily from the lock screen of an iPhone or an iPad. While this isn’t the most advanced note-taking tool out there, it offers most of the features that most people will need.

  • Apple Notes (free) for iOS
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7 / 10

The best note taker for collaboration: Dropbox Paper

The best note taker for collaboration: Dropbox Paper

Dropbox is better known for cloud storage services, but its Paper tool is a simple, speedy app for making notes on any device and syncing them everywhere—as with the main Dropbox client apps, the syncing and sharing options are all really well done here, and the app handles everything from collaboration to comments with a real elegance.

Dropbox Paper screenshot
Screenshot: Dropbox Paper

Dropbox Paper scores highly for simplicity, but that doesn’t mean it’s basic: It can handle video, images, and sound as well as text, and it works offline too. Where the app excels is in the way its collaboration features and tools are combined into one intuitive whole—it’s a breeze to use throughout, with a clutter-free interface that’s very easy on the eye.

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8 / 10

The best note taker for storing text: Evernote

The best note taker for storing text: Evernote

The veteran amongst note taker apps, Evernote continues to offer one of the best app experiences in this category, offering just about every feature you can think of. There’s one main area where we still prefer it over the competition, and that’s in the way it’s able to manage large amounts of text—essays, notes, text from web pages, tables, and so on.

Evernote screenshot
Screenshot: Evernote

In other words, Evernote is one of the note-taking apps that’s most competent as an actual word processor, on top of doing everything else that it does (like syncing across multiple devices, incorporating images, handwriting, lists, and scanning in from the camera). Collaboration tools are included too, for working on your stored documents with others.

  • Evernote (freemium up to $10 a month) for Android and iOS
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9 / 10

The best note taker for power users: Obsidian

The best note taker for power users: Obsidian

Obsidian markets itself as your “second brain”— this isn’t something for those who want a lightweight, straightforward note-taking app, but for those who want something that’s fully customizable that can grow and grow and grow. Notes are all based around linked text files, but they can be combined together in an almost limitless number of ways.

Obsidian screenshot
Screenshot: Obsidian

It helps if you know something about Markdown before you get started, but Markdown isn’t that difficult to learn if you’re a beginner. It helps you set out the formatting of your documents, and there’s also a graph view for getting an overview of your notes. Obsidian isn’t going to be for everyone, but for those it suits, it can prove to be hugely useful.

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10 / 10