Choosing a note-taking app is hard. It seems that there is a shiny new notes app released every other month. And we can't decide whether to stick with our current app or to hop onto the new one. If there is an app category where choice overload is real, it is this one. So, with this article, I aim to not only give you a list of apps to choose from, but also help you with the act of choosing itself. If you don't know which note-taking app is best for you, this article will help you make that decision. So, here are the best note-taking apps to use in 2020.

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Best Note Taking Apps of 2020

I have divided this article into two sections. The first part deals with the act of choosing a note-taking app, while the second one deals with the apps that I have mentioned in this article. I recommend that you read the full article to get the best results. But if you want to skip to the apps section, you can use the link below to do so.

How to Choose a Note Taking App

Choosing a note-taking app is not hard if you know what you need. Before you start looking for the perfect note-taking app, know that there are none. Every note-taking app excels in some areas while faltering in others. So, before you choose a note-taking app, you should know what you require from it. In this section, I will try to answer these questions.

What are Notes?

After spending an unreasonable amount of time thinking about note-taking and notes, and discussing the same with my peers, I have realized that the root of the problem is how we think of notes. Most of us bundle everything in the same category. From storing information to jotting quick ideas to researching, we classify everything as notes.

What are Notes

It's, for this reason, we have trouble finding the perfect solution for our note-taking needs. Once you know what types of notes you take, you will find it easier to associate a tool with it. I find that my notes segregate themselves into three different categories:

  • Reference Notes
    These are highlights, copied text, documents, links, and anything else that I use as a reference. The purpose of these notes is to store and retrieve information.
  • Quick Notes
    Anything that I note-down in the moment. Like quick tasks, house and work chores, call summary, reminders, new ideas, and more. These are temporary and need to be processed at the end of the day.
  • Thought Notes
    These are notes that I take in my own words. When I read books, watch videos, take a course, do research, or work on a project, I jot down notes in my own words. These are not copied text or highlights. I strictly write thought-notes in my own words. They may contain a reference to the source, but in no shape or form, a single sentence of these notes is copied. If I find something profound and want it verbatim in my notes, I create a separate quotes section.

These are my categories for notes. Before I started thinking about notes in these buckets, I had a hard time organizing them. But now that I have my structure, I use different tools to handle them, and everything runs like a well-oiled machine.

Your buckets will be different from mine. So, take a few days and observe what kind of notes you take. It will help you realize what kind of app you need.

Notes - Personality Archetypes

There is a great article on Nesslabs by Anne-Laure Le Cunff, where she talks about personality archetypes and how it can help you choose a note-taking app. She takes the inspiration from the two writer archetypes - which noted writer G.R.R. Martin explains as Gardeners and Architects. Traditionally, these two types are also known as plotters and pantsers.

She beautifully co-relates this concept to note-taking by postulating three main note-taking styles:

The architect → They enjoy planning, designing processes and frameworks, and need a note-taking tool that allows them to easily structure their ideas.
The gardener → They enjoy exploring, connecting various thoughts, and need a note-taking tool that allows them to easily grow their ideas.
The librarian → They enjoy collecting, building a catalog of resources and need a note-taking tool that allows them to easily retrieve their ideas.

While this is the simplest way to explain the different sides of note-taking that I have come across, I believe that all of us have each of these personality archetypes.

We are all architects when dealing with projects; a librarian when storing information; and a gardener when exploring new ideas.

And the reason why we struggle when choosing a note-taking app is that we lean heavily towards one of these archetypes. For example, if we choose an app that suits our librarian nature more, our architect and gardener natures are quick to get dissatisfied with our choice.

And there's no app that can satisfy all three personality archetypes. That's why, we don’t need the perfect note-taking app. We need a system that can not only meet our needs but also help us take better notes.

How to Create the Perfect Note Taking System

Most of us spend way too much time researching the perfect note-taking apps when the truth is that there is no such app. There is, however, a perfect note-taking system. As Scott Adams said,

“Losers have goals, winners have a system.”

And if you want to take good notes that can help you, you need to create a system. If you create a note-taking system, then it will be much easier to find apps to align with your system.

Here's what my note-taking system looks like:

  • Thought Storage
  • Thought Factory.

1. Thought Storage

It's the first part of my note-taking system where I enter information from the source. In other words, I am taking reference notes. Every day we spend hours consuming information on blogs, YouTube videos, podcasts, social media, forums, books, and so on.

Book showing highlighted passage

While we traverse the internet and read books, we find nuggets of information. When I find one, I add them to my storage system. Either I directly add the source or take a few moments to highlight the important part and then add the source.

For me, this is the capturing time. I don’t want to think about it. I add everything to my warehouse.

2. Thought Factory

Thought Factor is where real-work happens. In this step, I digest my reference notes and break them down into key ideas and concepts. The idea is to take those core concepts and write them down in my words. This step not only helps me understand the topic I am covering, but also filters out the unnecessary information. If your note-taking is limited to the storage part of the system, your notes will be full of fluff.

Also, when you break down everything into core components, you open yourself to the idea-serendipity. Most new ideas birth from the amalgamation of already existing ideas. So, when you interplay core ideas from different fields, you open yourself up to having new ideas.

When asked where you get your ideas from?, author Neil Gaiman said,

”For me, inspiration comes from multiple places, desperation, deadlines. A lot of time ideas churn up when you are doing something else. And most of all, I think ideas come from confluence. They come from two things flowing together.”
“Everybody knows that if you get bitten by a werewolf when the moon is full, you will turn into a wolf. You know that..it’s that moment when you are sitting and thinking, so what happens if a werewolf bites a goldfish”.

In this context, Mr. Gaiman is talking about the same thing. It’s when you play one idea with another, you generate a new idea.

This is the same as the concept of “First Principles Thinking” that most scientists and thinkers use. First Principles thinking or reasoning teaches us that any complex problem can be solved by breaking them down to their core ideas and devising solutions from there. Another benefit of First Principles thinking is that it allows you to take the core ideas from seemingly different fields and combine them into something new.

In your thought-factory, you can use the same principles. When you are taking notes on a subject, book, or paper, reduce the ideas down to their core concept and then use those ideas to generate new ideas. It is easier said than done, but it does make it more possible.

A Few Quick Points to Keep in Mind

Now that we have discussed note-taking at a conceptual level, let us talk about some key features that you might want to see in a note-taking app. Just make a mental note of features that you want in your notes app as I will mention if the apps listed below have these features or not.

  • Collaboration: For many, note-taking is a personal affair. But if you want to share notes with family, friends, or colleagues, you should make sure that the app you are choosing has a robust collaboration feature.
  • Cross-Platform Availability: If you work on multiple devices across different platforms, you will be better off by choosing a note-taking app that will work everywhere.
  • Organization Structure: While we have already talked about this in previous sections, this needs to be pointed out. You should know what organizational structure you find comfortable. Whether you want folders, tags, notes-linking, or something else, you should be clear about it.
  • Get It for the Long Run: If you want to create a robust note-taking system, choose the app you are going to stick with for a long time. Don’t fall for the shiny new app on the market. Once you make the decision, you got to stick with it. So, choose the app with the next five years in the mind.
  • User Interface: Choose an app that has an accessible and beautiful user interface. You don’t want to deal with menus and sub-menus when using an app. And make sure that the app is pleasing to your eyes. You are going to spend hours using the app; you should like it. You need to reduce the friction as much as possible.
  • Import and Export: If you select an app and want to move all your old notes in it, the new app should have a robust import system. In a similar vein, a good built-in export system is also a plus. You need to be able to take your notes out of the app, in case it ceases to exist, or you don’t want to use it anymore.
  • The Cost of Change: Finally, you need to ask yourself, do you need a new note-taking app, or are you just enamored by the new thing. The cost of change can be high. You have to import your notes in the new system and organize it. You also need to learn the ropes of the new app. So, just have a conversation with yourself if you need to make the change or not.

List of Best Note Taking Apps

If you did not skip the previous section, I hope you now know what kind of apps you want. Whether you want an app to store notes like a librarian, take notes like a project manager, or open yourself to new and novel ideas like a gardener, you are going to find a note-taking app that can help you in this article.

1. Roam Research

If you follow online forums on note-taking, you must have heard about Roam Research. Or maybe this is the shiny new app that has made you question your already existing system for taking notes. Well, it did to me, and after using the app for a month (using the free trial), I am a convert. If you want my full reasoning and want to try Roam Research yourself, click on the link to read my getting started guide on Roam Research.

Roam Research - Example Note with Graph View

Roam Research is unlike any other note-taking app that I have used before. This is the app that made me realize why I was struggling with note-taking for so long. Previous to Roam Research, my note-taking mostly consisted of collecting information by saving articles, papers, videos, and anything good that I came across on the internet. I used to do minimal processing, and that too when it was required for a project.

Writing in Roam Research

My note-taking habit was not improving my knowledge or helping me think in a better way. Roam Research changed all that by changing my approach towards note-taking. It makes note-taking a more conscious and deliberate effort. Features like interlinking notes, backlinks, block-referencing, and more, help you create a relational database of notes. And as you add more notes to your system, you get more benefits.

Backlinks in Roam Research

That said, I acknowledge that it’s not for everyone. First, it doesn’t have a folder structure organization. You also don’t get any native apps (only a web app is available) and there’s no true offline mode for users. If these are the features that you cannot live without, you might want to look at other apps on this list.

Roam Researched clicked for me because before using this, my though-factory part of the system was never satisfied with existing apps. There was no way to take atomic notes and to see the connection between those notes. Roam Research solved those problems for me. Again, I am not talking about Roam Research in detail here, as I have already published a 5000-word article on the topic. Know that I consider this to be the best app for the thought-factory system.

Best used as

  • Thought Factory System

Pros:

  • A new approach to note-taking
  • Interlinking notes
  • Backlinks
  • Block reference and Block embeds
  • Graph View of connected notes
  • Excellent query system for collecting notes in one place

Cons

  • No folder organization
  • No true offline mode
  • No native apps (mobile or desktop)
  • Not good at handling files (PDFs, images, audio files, etc)
  • Limited collaboration features

Get Roam Research (30-day free trial, $15/moth)

2. Obsidian

If you want the backlinks and graphs but cannot afford Roam Research, Obsidian is your best option right now. Several users prefer Obsidian over Roam because the files are saved offline in simple text format (Markdown). You can sync notes across devices using any cloud provider of your choice. Since these are simple text files, you will not encounter any sync problems, provided you are working on one device at a time.

Let us first talk about the similarity between Obsidian and Roam Research. Like Roam, Obsidian supports backlinks and graph view. If you change the name of a note, it automatically changes everywhere. Like Roam has multiple graphs, Obsidian has different vaults. Similar to Roam Research, you can use CSS to customize the interface of Obsidian. You can select from dozens of themes that the Obsidian community has built over time.

Obsidian Community Themes

Talking about some unique features of Obsidian, it uses plain markdown language. It has an extensive search feature. You can use Regex to search for almost any string in your vaults. Obsidian also treats tags and page links differently. Obsidian has a vibrant community and its forum is more active than Roam’s forum.

Obsidian Editor

That said, just like there are benefits, there are drawbacks to using Obsidian. The biggest drawback is that there is no support for block reference and block embeds. You can either link to pages or headings inside pages, but not individual blocks. Obsidian also doesn’t transclude backlinks. Obsidian only shows you a few words around the link, and none at all, if the link is not inside a paragraph. You can, however, embed notes in other notes.

Obsidian Embed Note View

My problem with Obsidian is that I don’t find it intuitive and good looking. A note-taking app is something you are going to spend a lot of time in, and if you don’t like the interface, using it will become that much harder. Now that’s a personal choice, and I would suggest that you try the app and see for yourself.

Best used as

  • Thought Factory System

Pros

  • Free for personal use (you can pay to support the development and get access to beta updates)
  • Supports backlinks and graphs
  • Local file storage with universal text files format
  • Extensive search feature

Cons

  • Does not transclude links
  • Does not support block reference and block embeds
  • Uses Electron for desktop apps and doesn’t offer mobile apps
  • Harder to learn for beginners
  • No native collaboration features (You can use a shared folder on Dropbox to collaborate with other users)

Get Obsidian (Free for personal use, $25+ to get access to insider builds

3. Evernote

When we think of traditional note-taking, Evernote is the first app that comes to mind. After all, Evernote was one of the first universally popular note-taking apps to grace the market. While the app had fallen into disarray a few years back, a new core team, along with a renewed focus on basics since January 2019, has brought it back to life.

If you love the traditional files and folders approach, this is one of the best note-taking apps that you can use. The biggest benefit of Evernote is that it can handle anything you can throw at it. Whether you want to save text notes, voice notes, handwritten notes, files, images, PDFs, or anything else, Evernote handles everything with excellence.

PDF in Evernote

Another big plus for Evernote is that it’s everywhere. You can use it on Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, iPad, and even the Web. On Mobile platforms you are getting the native experience. So, you don’t have to deal with web-app shenanigans. That said, the desktop apps have switched to Electron app which is a bit sad.

Evernote is Everywhere

With their latest Evernote 10 update on iOS, the company is showing its commitment towards the long-term vision. The app has been built from the ground up and is now more stable and fast. The user interface has also received improvements, and now the app is much easier to navigate and use. Its document scanner and web clipper remain the best in business. And it offers the best OCR and handwriting recognition experience.

Finally, it offers a robust collaboration interface. You can create different spaces for different teams and share notebooks and notes. There’s a “What’s New” section that lets you see what documents were last edited, along with a pinned notes section that you can use to pin important information.

Evernote Sapces Demo

Talking about the negatives, some crucial features are missing here. First of all, there is no easy way to link notes, and it does not support backlinks. The version 10 update on my iPhone has made things better, but I still encounter sync issues. Maybe it is because the apps on other platforms are on the older version. Hopefully, it will be solved in the future with updates to other apps.

Another missing feature in Evernote is nested folders. You can create notebooks and notebook stacks, and that’s it. This is a big disappointment as Evernote depends on folders for storing and categorizing notes, and yet, it doesn’t allow users to nest folders.

What irks me the most about Evernote is that it doesn’t support Markdown. I have completely switched to Markdown a few years back, and I find it a better writing environment than dealing with rich-text formatting. If you also write in markdown, then I think Evernote won’t be for you.

Best used as

  • Thought Storage System

Pros:

  • Native apps on Android and iOS
  • Good user-interface
  • Support for multiple file formats
  • OCR and handwriting-recognition support
  • Neat collaboration features

Cons:

  • Doesn’t support nested folders
  • No straight-forward way to link notes
  • Doesn’t empower idea generation
  • Doesn’t support backlinks
  • Doesn’t support markdown

Get Evernote (Free with restrictions, Premium plans at $7.99/month)

4. DevonThink

If you are primarily a Mac user, then you should try DevonThink as the - Thought Storage - part of your note-taking system. I consider DevonThink to be the best notes filing system on Mac. You can store all kinds of documents, including PDF files, word documents, text files, Markdown files, PowerPoints, and more. You can also add images, videos, and email archives. DevonThink is good at handling PDFs. It OCRs PDFs, makes them searchable, and lets you create highlights. You can then export those highlights in the format of your choice. I do most of my PDF readings inside DevonThink.

Devonthink Handling Documents

DevonThink also OCRs all your documents so you can search for text inside PDFs. My favorite thing about DevonThink is that it lets me save webpages in the web archive format. While the web archive format is not the best looking, it preserves all the original links inside the webpage, which is a must-have feature for me. And even if that webpage goes down, you will have an offline copy of it.

Web-archive format in Devonthink
Web-archive in DevonThink

If you don’t want the web archive format, DevonThink also gives you the option to save webpages in HTML, PDF, rich-text or plain-text, and formatted notes format. If you just want the collect links, you can save them as bookmarks. DevonThink can also act as an RSS reader, allowing you to collect articles from your favorite sources.

Webpage saved in PDF format in DevonThink
Webpage saved in PDF format in DevonThink

Finally, DevonThink lets you organize your files and notes the way you want. You can create Databases based on projects and then used folders and sub-folders to organize documents. You can also use tags and nested tags. My favorite organization feature is “Smart Rules”. You can create actions based on events and search queries. Based on these rules, you can automatically file, tag, and rename files based on the content of files. The smart rules have helped me automate a large part of my filing process. For example, all my bills are filed automatically to the right folders, based on content.

Smart Rules in DevonThink

The final thing that I love about DevonThink is that it lets me create unique URLs for all the files. This allows me to add a source document inside my note-taking app. When I want to refer to the original text, I click on the link, and it opens the file in DevonThink.

I have not even scratched the surface of what DevonThink can do. If you deal with hundreds and thousands of documents, want to keep them organized, and find them in seconds, it is the option out there.

Best used as

  • Thought Storage System

Pros:

  • Handles all kinds of file formats
  • Supports basic wiki-links for notes
  • Email archiving and webpage archiving
  • Smart rules to automatically file documents
  • Built-in OCR
  • Powerful search feature that can find anything in seconds

Cons:

  • Comes with big learning curve
  • Setting up collaboration is tedious and costly
  • Mobile app is not in the same league as the Mac app
  • Only available for Apple devices
  • Doesn’t support backlinks

Get DevonThink (Free trial, starts at $99)

5. OneNote

If you want a replacement for Evernote that is available on all platforms and is also free to use, check out OneNote. OneNote is an excellent app for people who want to port their physical notebooks to a digital note-taking system. Its user interface feels the same as a physical notebook. OneNote gives you an infinite canvas style writing environment. You can start writing anywhere, add images and documents, and even take handwritten notes.

OneNote User interface

OneNote also has a robust organization system. You can create notebooks, sections, and pages. You can sort and arrange notes any way you like, and use tags to enhance your notes management system. You can apply tags anywhere as there's no specific tag area. But this can be a double-edged sword. Since it makes it easier to apply tags, people tend to go overboard with tags usage, essentially making tags useless.

Like Evernote, OneNote supports OCR and handwriting recognition. It can search for text inside PDF files and even read your handwritten notes and makes them searchable. You can also record audio notes directly into OneNote. This feature is good for students who sit in long lectures. They can record the teacher’s voice while taking notes, and then match their notes with actual audio to see if they missed anything.

One Note Voice Note

Other features of OneNote include a web clipper for saving webpages, create to-dos, use reminders, the custom icon for tags, integration with other Microsoft services, password protection for notes, note links, and more.

Best used as

  • Thought Storage System

Pros:

  • Free to Use (with 5GB of online OneDrive storage)
  • Good organization features
  • Real-time collaboration support
  • Efficient handling of documents
  • OCR support
  • Handwritten notes and handwriting recognition support

Cons:

  • No straight-forward way to link notes
  • No Nested folders
  • Doesn’t support backlinks
  • Doesn’t support markdown
  • Web clipper is not as good

Get OneNote (Free)

6. Apple Notes

If you use only Apple devices, Apple Notes is the perfect app for taking quick notes. Over the years, Apple Notes has become better and better and is now in a place where it can be used as a capable note-taking app.

You can use Apple Notes to save text notes, photos, scanned documents, and even handwritten notes. Apple Notes also has a basic collaboration feature that lets you collaborate with other users. It’s not as instantaneous as OneNote or Google Docs, but it’s more than good enough for people who don’t need real-time collaboration.

Apple Notes on iPhone

Apple Notes offers good organization features. You can create folders, nested folders, and use tags to enhance the organization structure. Apple Notes syncs reliably across devices, and I never had any problems with using the app on multiple devices.

That said, I find that Apple Notes is insufficient as both storage and factory parts of the system. Since there’s no easy way to add webpages or handle PDF documents (you can insert PDFs but the experience is not good enough), you can’t use it as a good filing system. Also, it doesn’t let you interlink notes, so referencing notes with other notes become much harder.

Apple Notes Text Note

What I think Apple Notes is good for is keeping snippets of texts that you need regularly or a place for wiring and storing quick texts. You can even use it for long-form writing. And if you don’t need features like linked notes, you can use it as your main notes app. My favorite thing about Apple Notes is that it makes entering text effortless. And that’s a big plus.

If you want a simple note-taking app that can handle text and occasional photos and documents, you don’t need to look any further than Apple Notes.

Best used for

  • Quick Notes
  • Jotting down in-coherent ideas that you can process later

Pros:

  • A good place to quickly enter text
  • Supports image and document uploading
  • Collaboration features available
  • You can lock notes behind password
  • Supports handwritten notes

Cons:

  • No OCR for documents
  • Basic search feature
  • Doesn’t support note links

Comes Pre-installed

7. Drafts

While Apple Notes is good enough, my favorite note-taking app for taking quick text notes is Drafts. I have already reviewed Drafts on this website before so I am not going to go deep here. If you want the full review that lists all its major features, you should click on the link to check it out.

To me, Drafts is a temporary holding place for ideas, notes, and everything else that has to do with text. The best thing about Drafts is that when you launch the app, it opens with a blank page (you can change this behavior in the setting to open the last note). This allows me to quickly add ideas or things that I want to note down. Drafts also supports markdown, which makes it preferable to me over Apple Notes.

Capturing Notes in Drafts

My favorite feature of Drafts right now is the voice notes. Drafts does a really good job of transcribing everything I say. This makes it easy to record my jumbled thoughts. I don’t have to think about it. I hit the record button, start speaking, and it transcribes the entire note.

Drafts - Voice Notes

Drafts also has a robust organization feature. You can use tags, filters, flags, and workspaces to organize your notes. That said, I don’t need to use organization features much, as my notes in Drafts are temporary. I generally process them at the end of the day and archive them, so the app itself remains clean. But it has the power should you need it.

Drafts - Oranizaiton Features

The USP of Drafts is the "Actions" feature. Actions allow you to process text. From Drafts, you can send the text to email, Twitter, Evernote, and more. I regularly use the email action when drafting emails on my iPhone.

Drafts Actions

Recently, Drafts also added wikilinks. You can link notes, workspaces, and even create links to search queries. Drafts automatically create backlinks. But it doesn’t transclude links and doesn’t have any block-linking features like Roam Research. Also, linking notes is not as easy as it is on Obsidian or Roam.

Drafts Wikilinks

For me, these are all the extra features in Drafts as I use it for taking quick notes only. But if you want, you can use Drafts as your Thought Factory part of the system. It won’t be perfect, but it will work.

Best used for

  • Quick Notes
  • Thought Factory

Pros:

  • The quickest way to capture text notes
  • Exceptional voice transcription feature
  • Wikilinks
  • Backlinks

Cons:

  • No native support for images or documents.
  • Only available on Apple devices
  • No native collaboration feature
  • Doesn’t transclude links
  • Doesn’t support block embeds or block reference

Get Drafts (Free, $19.99/year)

8. Notion

Notion is a note-taking app that revitalized the note-taking and project knowledge management industry. And that’s understandable, seeing how it brings the perfect feature-set for taking project-based notes. Notion features are geared towards realizing fixed goals. You set up a project in Notion and then slowly build your resource around that project that can help you complete it.

Notion is great for collecting information from articles, Twitter threads, and books, among many other things. Notion gives you all the building blocks you need to create the perfect set-up for tackling a project. You get text notes, support for image and document uploads, a robust database system, query system, and more.

Notion Building a Page Using Blocks

Every page on Notion is malleable. You can start by writing down notes then add related pictures and links, inline tables, tasks, formulas, files, and tags as per your needs. You don’t have to use all the blocks, you only need those building blocks that can help you complete the project that you are working on.

For most users, Notion also offers a better long-form writing environment than an app like Roam Research or Evernote. Because it sticks to the traditional word-processor look, users fell more at home here. Notion also has a built-in collaboration feature that lets you collaborate with other Notion users. Of all the apps I have mentioned in this list, Notion offers the best collaboration workflow.

Notion Writing Interface

Recently, Notion added the ability to add links to other pages. It also shows backlinks to linked pages. Apart from linking to other pages, you can also link to blocks on the same page. This is helpful when creating a table of content for a page. But like half-baked note linking features in other apps, it doesn’t fully transclude links. It also doesn’t let you embed or reference blocks.

Notion backlinks

So, on paper, Notion looks appealing, but it’s not for everyone. I will give you my reasons, and you can see if they resonate with you or not. First of all, Notion doesn’t offer native apps. While it has apps for all the platforms, they behave like web apps. The pages take too long to load, and I just don’t like the overall look of the app.

Second and more importantly, Notion has a steep learning curve. We see perfect Notion databases of users and get enamored by it. But know that you will have to sink tens if not hundreds of hours to get your set-up right. It’s not an app that you can download and start using. And finally, it doesn’t work offline. If you live in an area with a shoddy connection, this might not be the app for you.

Best Used as

  • Project-based note taking app

Pros:

  • Best collaboration features of all note-taking apps
  • Malleable pages that you can customize using its building blocks (tables, images, text, files, etc…)
  • Can handle all file types
  • Good web-clipper
  • Embed anything from web
  • Support for link notes and backlinks

Cons:

  • No offline mode
  • Apps take a long time to load
  • Doesn’t support block embeds and block reference
  • Complex app with steep learning curve

Get Notion (Free, starts at $4/month)

Honorable Mentions

The article is already too long, so I don’t want to take any more of your time. I will just add some good note-taking apps here with a couple of lines about them. You can check them out if you are not satisfied with any of the apps mentioned above in this section.

1. Bear

Bear is an excellent note-taking app for taking quick notes. It brings a beautiful UI that is pleasing to the eyes. Bear also supports markdown, which is perfect for a user like me. Its markdown is user friendly. It automatically converts the markdown to rich-text formatting styles, so you know whether you have applied formatting options correctly or not.

I don’t love that approach, but I understand that this is a feature that new markdown users will appreciate. When it comes to organization, Bear uses tags instead of folders. You can add multiple tags to your notes so a note can live in several places.

Bear App Linked Notes and Backlinks

Recently, Bear also introduced support for note links. Like Obsidian, Bear allows you to link both notes and headings inside notes. You can also link to headers inside the same note. This is helpful when creating a table of content. What you don’t get with Bear is backlinks, block embeds, and block reference.

Other features of Bear include the ability to lock notes, support for note export in multiple file formats (PDF, HTML, Word File, and more), gorgeous themes, image support, to-dos, and more. If you want a clean writing environment for your notes, Bear is the app for you.

Best used for

  • Quick notes

Get Bear ($1.99/month or $19.99/year)

2. Milanote

Milanote is a visual take on note-taking. Instead of getting folders, you get boards where you can add anything you want. You can add text notes, images, audio files, weblinks, tables, tasks, and more. You can create boards inside boards, so you have full control over the organization.

Novel Planning in Milanote

Just like a whiteboard, MilanNote is free-form. You can put notes anywhere on the board. You can add shapes and use arrows to show the relation between notes. You can also drag and drop notes to rearrange them. These features allow you to also use Milanote as a simple mind-mapping tool.

Brainstorming in Milanote

Milanote is visually appealing, and I loved using it when testing the app. There are dozens of templates to get new users started, which made the app easier to learn. Sadly, it was not for me. But if you are a visual thinker and use creative processes like storyboarding and visual brainstorming, then it might be for you.

Best used for

  • Visual thinking
  • Storyboarding

Get Milanote (Free, $9.99/month)

Note: The free version is heavily restricted so consider it more like a free trial.

3. Notebooks

If you only use Apple products, Notebooks is an excellent note-taking app that can replace Evernote for the storage element of the note-taking system. Notebooks is rich with features, and it has everything that a good thought storage app should offer. You can add text both in markdown and rich-text. It also supports importing of other files, including images and documents like PDF, Office, RTF, HTML, and more.

You can create notebooks and nested notebooks for organizing your notes. Unlike Evernote, there’s no limit to notebooks hierarchy. You can move notes from one notebook to another. It also supports tagging.

Notebooks App

A unique feature of Notebooks is that it allows you to convert notes into tasks. Since any note can be a task, you can add all the information related to that task including text, links, and documents, in the note itself. While it’s not as powerful as Notion for managing projects, it works well as a project-based note-taking tool.

And unlike Notion, all your notes are available offline and sync across devices using iCloud. That means you can work anywhere and anytime without needing an internet connection. Also, it’s one of the few good note-taking apps on the market that doesn’t require you to buy a subscription.

Best used as

  • Thought storage system
  • project-based note-taking app

Get Notebooks (30-day free trial on Mac, $35.99 on Mac, $9.99 on iPhone and iPad)

4. Agenda

Agenda is a unique app in the note-taking filed. I reviewed Agenda a while back, and it’s a great starting place if you want to learn more about the software. The app has improved a lot since then and has become more refined.

Agenda is an app that combines daily journaling, note-taking, task management, calendar, and events in one app. The app starts by giving you a daily note. Here, you can enter quick notes as you go through the day. What makes Agenda different is that it lets you tie the notes with events on your calendar. So, suppose you are in a meeting. All the notes that you take are tied to that meeting. This is a very handy feature for people whose days consist of calls, meetings, and planning sessions.

Agenda App

In Agenda, you can organize apps in categories and projects. You can assign due dates to important notes, and they appear on your Agenda as important notes. You get timely reminders on all the notes and tasks.

Apart from its features, my favorite thing about Agenda is its design. I love how fluid and beautiful everything looks. Other apps should take learn a thing or two from Agenda. If your work life revolves around your calendar, maybe give Agenda a try. You will never forget another meeting and have all the notes right where you need them.

Best used for

  • Calendar based notes (meeting notes, call notes, etc…)
  • Daily journal
  • Project-based notes
  • Quick notes

Get Agenda (Free, $34.99/year)

Best Note Takings App in 2020: Final Thoughts

Wow, this turned out to be a longer article than I anticipated. And that’s when I cut around 700 words in my editing process. First, if you have made it till the end, congratulations, you have a longer attention span than 90% of the people who will come across this article. As a small reward, here are the key points that you should keep in mind:

  • Create your note-taking system
  • Your system should be based on your needs
  • Depending on your system, choose the apps that fit into your system.
  • Don't run after apps with new features. Ask yourself, if you are going to use that feature or not.
    • Don’t be me at 20, a guy who bought a new phone because it had a cool hover-touch feature. Never used that feature in my life.
  • If you are starting from scratch and don’t know what should be your system, read some books and figure it out. Here are some recommendations:
    • How to Take Smart Notes by Sönke Ahrens - Amazon link
    • How to Read a Book by Mortimer J. Adler - Amazon link
    • Make It Stick by Peter C. Brown - Amazon Link (Not essential for note-taking but it deals with several ideas that you can utilize for taking notes)
  • Finally, once you create your system, stick to it. Improve it, but don’t abandon it.

That’s all I have to say about that topic. I hope that this article was helpful to you in finding the right note-taking app. If you liked it, consider sharing it to help improve its visibility.