“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”
Those words—written in 1977—are found in Apple’s first-ever marketing brochure.
For Steve Jobs, elegant solutions shouldn’t be complicated. But, despite Steve’s sage-like wisdom, most note-taking apps are just that—complicated.
Not everyone needs a second brain. Sometimes you just want to remember what was said in a meeting, written on a whiteboard, or sent over Slack.
And that’s where these easy-to-use note apps come in.
Not all of them are fancy. Some probably came preinstalled on your phone. But what they lack in features, they make up for in functionality. Plain and simple.
So how did we come up with this list?
Aside from one obvious, fairly biased suggestion, the apps we chose had to be practical—allowing you to quickly capture, organize, and find your notes when needed.
The best note-taking apps help you to take notes on the go, so mobile was a must, too.
But, above all else, they had to be simple yet powerful enough to facilitate searching for, sharing, or resurfacing information—otherwise, you’d be fine using a paper notebook.
So, with that said, look below for our full list of note-taking alternatives for jotting things down quickly.
We think the top choice is obvious. But realistically, any of these apps could help you capture ideas, insights, or inspiration when it strikes.
Nook (Available on iOS, macOS, Android, and Google Chrome extension)
On the surface, Nook looks like a straightforward note-taking app, allowing users to capture notes anytime.
But appearances can be deceiving. In reality, Nook is more like a personal knowledge base for professionals, syncing with Gmail, Calendar, and Slack, so users can easily capture notes from conversations, record meeting notes, and gain insights from previous correspondences and contacts, all in one place.
Unlike other note-taking apps, it uses a unique tagging system that suggests topic titles and themes based on the content of notes, so it’s easy to form associations between all your pages of notes, helping users stay organized.
Calendar events and previous notes coalesce on the home screen, showing users a timeline of past events and recent notes, making it easy to reference information with a quick scroll. And meetings can be joined directly from the top of the carousel (or menu bar on desktop), and sends push notifications as a reminder ahead of time, so you don’t need to open your calendar to join a meeting.
In addition to a Slack integration that lets users push any messages they want to reference later on directly into their notes, Nook also provides a Chrome extension that lets you save things you find on the web by adding them to specific notes.
Price: Free to users as part of a private beta. Sign up to get early access.
Apple Notes (Available on iOS, macOS, and Web)
If you have an iPhone, you’ve probably used this before.
This basic note-taking app, also commonly known as Notes or iCloud Notes, has been a go-to for impromptu checklists and random thoughts for many people over the years.
Ever since iOS 9, this simple note-taking app has undergone a significant overhaul and now provides users with more common note-taking features such as text formatting, the ability to create sketches, and save web links, images, and other attachments. Users can also add hashtags to organize notes and share them with @mentions.
But, despite being an Apple product, the Cult of Mac seems mostly ambivalent towards Apple Notes. Users complain about the apps overall sluggishness, poor organization, and, perhaps most surprising, simplicity. (It currently holds a 3.4 out of 5 stars in the App Store.)
Being able to scan documents, capture handwritten notes, and sync across devices is undoubtedly cool. But sadly, these features seem underused (if users even know they exist).
These days, it seems Apple Notes is used more for posting long-winded updates, apologies, or resignations on Twitter than actual note-taking.
Price: Free for 5GB of storage across all services and devices. Users can purchase an additional 50GB of data at $0.99/month via iCloud+.
Google Keep (Available on Android, iOS, and Web)
Perhaps the most straightforward and minimalistic note app on our list, Google Keep, is often viewed as more of a place to store digital post-it notes than a full-fledged note-taking tool.
But Google Keep actually offers an array of features that make note-taking more convenient. Users can use speech-to-text to dictate voice notes directly into Google Keep, and it actually works pretty well—look at this.
And, unlike other apps on this list, users can use titles, labels, colors, and pins to create aesthetically pleasing, minimalist notes.
Unsurprisingly, the true power of Google Notes, especially when compared to Apple Notes and other alternatives, is how it works within the Google Workspace ecosystem: Users can set reminders that appear in Google Calendar; notes can be converted into a document in Google Docs; but that’s about it, really
Google Keep is clearly a step up from Stickies. But as a note-taking tool, it falls short. As reviewers have previously mentioned, for a company whose name is ubiquitous with “search,” Google Keep’s advanced search capabilities are lacking, and the app itself has more potential than what’s currently provided.
Price: Free for 15GB of storage across services and apps. Users can purchase an additional 100GB of storage at $1.99/month.
Evernote (Available on Windows and macOS, iOS, or Android)
In that time, Evernote has evolved from a simple note-taking app to a more advanced tool, providing much of the same features—such as audio and image capture, PDFs, and other attachments—as its successors listed above. It can also scan handwritten notes and add them to the app (although your handwriting has to be somewhat legible).
Similar to Nook, users can add Slack messages to their notes and use Evernote’s web clipper to save web pages and articles. It also provides an organizational framework that, once set up, auto-suggests tags that may be applicable (but this requires the users to make a few first).
Maddeningly, much of these features, as well as unlimited sync, tasks, and offline mode, are only available as part of a premium plan. And the 60MB monthly upload limit isn’t exactly a generous amount.
That said, as the well-known inspiration behind many modern-day note-taking apps, Evernote certainly deserves some credit. But, as a longtime user recently said in an App Store review: “Buyer beware; this is not the Evernote of 5 or so years ago.”
Price: Free for basic functionality and syncing between two devices. $8.99 per month for a personal plan. $10.99 per month for a professional plan.
OneNote (Available on Windows and macOS, iOS, and Android)
One of the few simple note-taking apps on this list that’s used primarily for jotting down more than a quick thought or to-do list, OneNote has become somewhat ubiquitous in professional and educational settings (in part due to Microsoft 365 being heavily marketed towards educators, students, and businesses of all sizes).
As far as cross-platform note-taking apps are concerned, OneNote makes it easy to jot down notes, upload images, and even scribble right on the screen with your finger or a stylus—handy for people who don’t want to be constrained by standard text and page layouts.
Its organizational system—comprised of notebooks, sections, and pages, sort of like a three-ring binder—is known for being a tad chaotic, with tags only being used to highlight can’t miss notes and to-dos.
Similar to Nook and Evernote, you can also use OneNote to clip any links you want to remember or reference from the web.
Unlike other personal and collaborative note-taking apps on this list, OneNote does provide users with a web-based interface. But like other software in the Microsoft 365 suite, there’s a limited range of features available to users.
Price: Free for 5GB (via OneDrive). Users can purchase an additional 100GB for $1.99 per month.
The Final Word
Some would argue that note-taking is a pretty personal process, and it’s impossible to find a one-size-fits-all solution to meet all of your needs.
But that’s what’s great about a simple note-taking app.
Whether you’re a meticulous note-taker or just need to jot things down quickly, these note-taking apps are simple-yet-sophisticated, helping you capture, organize, and find what you’re looking for when you need it.
Give them a try. And if you’re looking for a note-taking app that does even more, get early access to Nook.