Writing notes on scraps of paper is a quick and dirty notetaking solution, but digital notetaking apps are definitely the smarter option.
Writing notes on scraps of paper is a quick and dirty notetaking solution, but digital notetaking apps are definitely the smarter option. Good apps make your notes easy to find and reference. They work even when you don’t have pen and paper handy and they ensure you never lose another important idea. However, notetaking apps don’t come as ‘one size fits all’ solutions so you’ll do well to hunt around to find one that suits how you work. Some apps support text notes very well, others are great for hand-drawn ideas and some work best for people who clip web content. Consider too the devices you use – it’s frustrating to write a note at work only to find that, when you need it at home, it’s stuck where you can’t get to it. Using an app that works across your devices will ensure your notes are always available everywhere you are.
Until recently, when most people talked about notetaking apps they touted the efficacy of Evernote. It was the go to program and for most users the free version was great and all that they needed. It’s still great but the for fee pricing has changed (increased to $34.99 pa for Plus and $69.99 pa for Premium) and the free version lost functionality (it’s now limited to syncing across only two devices). If you use a laptop, tablet and phone that means you need to pay for Evernote, live with less functionality or go elsewhere. If you stay, you’ll continue to enjoy seamless integration of your notes across devices including Mac, iOS, Windows, Web, and Android. Evernote stores your notes inside notebooks to keep them organized and each note can contain text, clipped webpages and even recorded audio. Evernote has a handy search option for finding text across notebooks which can also find text in images – while it uses OCR to do this, the actual content remains stored as an image and no text transcription of handwritten data is available. If desired you can share notes with others and there is a handy privacy feature that lets you lock Evernote on a phone or tablet so your passcode is required to open it.
OneNote is Evernote’s nearest competitor and a worthy one at that. As a Microsoft Office application it is available not only as a desktop application but also at free online at office.com and as an app for iOS, Mac and Android. If you use a desktop version of Microsoft Office, then you probably have it already installed with the rest of the suite. If you’re used to using Microsoft applications then the OneNote ribbon interface will be familiar to you. In OneNote you store your data in notebooks and these can contain multiple sections and pages within those sections thus providing you with a robust hierarchical level of organization. Notebooks can be synced automatically across as many devices as you have connected to your Microsoft account. Notebooks can contain text, images, sound, web clippings, video and objects from other office applications such as Word and Excel. There are also drawing, handwriting and highlighting tools built in and, because you can click to make a note anywhere on a page, it’s easy to make side notes such as a shopping list as you take meeting notes elsewhere on a page.
If want a notetaking app that looks and functions a bit like digital sticky notes on steroids then Google Keep is worth a look. Google Keep is a free cloud based solution available for Android, iOS and the Web and its specialty is for storing images and creating short notes and lists. Keep is integrated with Google Docs so you can choose to copy a note to Google Docs where it will be converted automatically into an editable document. You can also use Google Keep as a mini transcription tool – simply record a short note into Keep and it will store the conversation as an audio recording and transcribe it for you too.
A handy Chrome extension for Google Keep lets you clip content from the web and save it automatically as a note complete with its related URL. Other useful features include the ability to extract text from an image using the built in OCR and notes that include built in reminders.
While Dropbox might be your first choice for a file sharing application it probably won’t be your first thought when looking for a notetaking application. However, when your notetaking needs are based around shared files and collaborative work then you may find the new Dropbox Paper useful. At the time of writing, Dropbox Paper is still in beta – it is free with your Dropbox account and you will find inside the Dropbox Web application. Click to launch Paper and you can choose a sample document from the templates provided or create a brand new document. Paper’s documents can contain formatted text and images, checklists and other content such as videos and music as well as content that you have stored in Dropbox folders. Paper also lets you tag other users, they can comment on the document and share ideas and the note itself can be shared via a link similar to sharing a Dropbox file. When you first start using Paper, it’s worth browsing the template documents to see just what can be done in the application – you might be surprised!
As its name suggests, Simplenote is a free open source notetaking application with few frills – it handles lists and simple text but that’s all. Available for Windows 7 and later, Mac, iOS, Android, web and Linux, Simplenote seamlessly syncs your notes automatically across all your devices and the web and it offers a handy roll back feature allowing you to easily return to earlier versions of a note. There is a search feature which lets you find text inside notes quickly and you can tag your notes for easy access. You can share notes with others and collaborate on them, and you can print and send them via email from inside the app. If you’re looking for a simple application for writing notes, then Simplenote might just work for you.