Taking notes is a necessary task for many.
Whether you’re a student attending classes, a business person who needs to take minutes, or just someone that wants a way to jot down thoughts and ideas on the fly, there is a mobile solution to help. We’re taking a look at five superb note-taking apps that offer a vast improvement over your iPhone’s native Notes app, and all of them are available now — for free.
Take note of our carefully curated list of the best note takin’ and makin’ apps below.
A clean and contemporary solution for Apple device owners
Bear is an advanced editor that supports over 150 programming languages and is far superior to the iPhone’s native Notes app. Many of the Bear app’s features are available for free on Mac, iPad, and iPhone. Using the free version you can create notes, add tags and attachments, and export to a variety of formats. Bear Pro, which you can subscribe to monthly or annually, offers more advanced features such as the ability to sync between all your devices, improved security features, and more powerful export options. We like the Bear app for its incredibly clean and simple design, which makes it both easy to use and easy to view.
It has three main sections. The first section is the Sidebar, which is where you’ll see a list of tags you’ve created within the app. The middle section is the Note List which offers a chronological list of all your notes (although you can choose to pin a note to the top), and then there’s the Editor area, where you create your notes. We love how clean the Editor is. You have a blank screen at the top and your keyboard view at the bottom. In the middle is a tidy, scrollable icon menu that offers one-touch formatting options such as text style, bulleting, link making, adding the date in different formats, inserting images, and adding attachments.
Another thing we love about taking notes with Bear is that you can use your iPhone’s Spotlight search to look for words and phrases within your Bear notes. It also integrates brilliantly with Siri. You can ask Siri to create a new note in Bear, and even start dictating what you’d like the note to say.
A date-focused option that’s ideal for anyone who works chronologically
Agenda has a different approach to note taking that might be just the ticket for your organization needs. It is a date-focused note-taking app that incorporates planning into the process. Agenda creates documents that can be readily converted to formats like HTML and PDF. It’s currently available on Mac, iPhone, and iPad. The iPad version has support for Apple Pencil.
Agenda organizes your notes into a timeline. You can attach dates to your notes, which is useful if you’re making meeting or lecture notes, connect notes to your calendar, and add due date reminders. You can create Projects to file notes under, or create a Category if you want to make notes for different areas of your life, work, or study.
Agenda’s Editor is nice and uncluttered, but on the iPhone you only get a small window to type in by default. You can swipe to expand to get a larger, clearer text editor to work in, however. The formatting options are comprehensive and easy to use. There is a small menu bar above the keyboard that offers expandable options that you click on to generate different header styles, list formats, text formats, and an add button that lets you add links, hashtags, images, attachments, and create Reminders in your iPhone’s app.
A two-in-one audio recording and note-taking tool for iOS and Mac
Noted has a unique note-taking premise as it’s a fully-integrated audio recording and note-taking app. This makes it ideal for anyone who needs to both record audio and make notes at the same time in lectures, meetings, and interviews. It’s available for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, with an Apple Watch version that allows you to record from your wrist.
This app is highly effective and easy to use. You simply create a new Notebook, which works like a folder, give it a title, add a new note to it, hit the record button to start the audio recording, then make notes using the text editor. This has a clean interface and allows you to do basic formatting, including highlighting. You can quickly and easily add a searchable time tag at any point during the recording. Within the text editor, there is also the option to snap a live photo, add an image from your camera roll, attach a document, and even create a quick sketch, complete with Apple Pencil support. Once you’re done, there are options to share and export both the audio and the notes.
Other functionality worthy of note is the ability to activate the app using Siri, the ability to sync across Mac, mobile, and Apple Watch, to pin Notebooks to the top of your list, and to search via hashtag.
A straightforward, cross-platform note-taking and syncing solution
Originally developed as a Notes alternative for iPhone users, Simplenote is, as the name would suggest, a very straightforward note-taking solution. If you’re looking for a robust note-taking app that will sync across multiple platforms with no gimmicky bells and whistles, this could suit you perfectly.
Simplenote helps you take notes and create to-do lists, organize them with tags and pins, and find what you need with instant search. This free solution is available for iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows, and Linux and works seamlessly across all the different platforms. With Simplenote, notes are quick to create. You can add tags to find notes quickly, and the notes automatically sync, in real-time, across all platforms, meaning you’re always backed up.
It’s easy to share and collaborate with others using Simplenote; you can share a to-do list with a colleague or a shopping list with a housemate, for example. Particularly useful for bloggers: Simplenote can publish directly to a WordPress site by connecting your WordPress.com account.
A robust handwriting recognition app, perfect for tablet owners
Nebo changes the game for tablet owners who want to make handwritten notes on their digital device and not have to then take the time to type them up. It’s a very capable and competent solution that boasts accurate handwriting recognition across 66 different languages and is available on iOS, Windows, and Android. It works best with an active pen, such as the Apple Pencil.
In addition to writing with an input device, you can also type, and mix up typing with handwriting. There is also the ability to sketch and draw, with math equations and shape recognition abilities built in to the app. Nebo even recognizes drawn emojis and can convert these into digital versions. The app uses simple gestures to create sections, edit and resize your notes, create headings and lists, add and remove spaces and line breaks, delete content, and emphasize text.
You can add images into Nebo notes, then annotate them in the note. Nebo notes can easily be organized by dragging and dropping. You can add words, names, or acronyms to your personal dictionary to “train” Nebo to recognize them in the future. All Nebo notes, whether handwritten or typed, are searchable. When you’re done you can export Nebo pages as a Word doc, a PDF, HTML, and text.
We’re big fans of all these apps, all of which offer something to suit particular needs and users. Our overall top choice is Bear. This is a contemporary note-taking solution with an intuitive user interface and a clean design.
Anyone looking to hand write their notes on a digital device is advised to check out Nebo, it’s ultra-smart handwriting recognition technology will take your hastily scribbled scrawls and convert them into neat type in no time. If you need to combine recording audio with note-taking then we thoroughly recommend Noted. It’s an ideal choice for students attending lectures, business folk that need to take minutes of meetings, and a handy way to record interviews while jotting down comments.