As a teenager, I sometimes carried a small notebook or a pad of sticky notes. When inspiration struck (or random thoughts for college application essays), I wrote down my thoughts. But years later, once I bought an iPhone, Apple Notes became my lifeline on the go. I no longer had to carry a bulky notebook. Instead, my phone allowed me to make calls, text friends, browse the internet, and take notes (with the added bonus of being pocket-sized!).
I have used Apple Notes for everything like shopping lists, random thoughts, travel plans, recipes, gift ideas, etc. One of the last times I upgraded my iPhone, one of Apple’s staff reacted to my 300+ Apple Notes as if he had walked into a house overflowing with trinkets. Apparently having hundreds of notes was the equivalent of being a digital packrat. It didn’t really bother me, especially since my new phone came with more storage capacity.
While using Apple Notes was convenient, useful, and in some cases invaluable, it was not without a cost. Some features are just not available or as easy to use as I would like. But the incredible simplicity of basic note-taking made it so convenient. Finally, I went in search of a better performing replacement in the App Store. Below are three free note-taking apps I’ve tested and my verdict on each (so far).
01. Microsoft OneNote
Overview: OneNote has been a completely free Microsoft product for the past few years. It is similar to Microsoft Word and has an intuitive design. In OneNote, it’s very easy to create bulleted lists and format the text however you want, features made heavier in some other apps.
Advantages: Organization, organization, organization. The OneNote interface is delightfully simple and beautifully organized. Categories basically work like folders: notebooks, sections, and pages. For me, it almost feels like I’m writing in a notebook, with tabs separating the topics.
The inconvenients: One of the downsides of OneNote that I quickly discovered is the number of clicks it takes to switch to another notebook. When you’re multitasking or have ideas for other projects, navigating OneNote is definitely not as quick as writing ideas in the margins on paper.
Best Uses: OneNote is a useful tool for work, especially for managing complex projects, keeping track of documents, and recording notes for recurring meetings. It’s also great for documenting anything with different layers, like holiday shopping lists, menus and recipes, and trip planning.
02. List of wonders
Overview: Wunderlist is really straightforward which makes it fantastic for quick note taking. You can add due dates, reminder notifications, tasks, and even files. There is also a share option, so you can share the list with someone else.
Advantages: This app nests notes (called “to-do’s” in the app) under lists. For example, a “Movies to Watch” list might contain to-do items that specify each movie and a viewing date. So if you made it your mission to watch all the Golden Globe nominees with friends, Wunderlist would come in handy.
The inconvenients: Wunderlist only shows you the subject of each note. There’s no preview text like in OneNote or Apple Notes, which can save you a few clicks if you need to see the first few words of a note immediately.
Best Uses: This application is ideal for to-do lists and the reminder function is particularly convenient. Opening a reminder notification takes you directly to the to-do item, which can include a deadline, subtasks, notes, files, and comments. Tracking errands for specific recipes and managing certain projects with lots of subtasks and deadlines, such as house renovations, might all work well in Wunderlist.
03. Google Keep
Overview: This app is quite versatile, offering two approaches to displaying notes: a linear list and a grid. You can also label and color-code your notes, similar to Gmail.
Advantages: Google Keep has lots of bells and whistles, including the ability to write notes with a stylus, record voice notes, and create picture notes with quick access to your camera or photo library. The navigation is pretty smooth and the vivid Google colors are hard to beat.
The inconvenients: It might seem like a small thing, but the actual note-taking feature is an inconspicuous text box at the bottom of the screen that doesn’t stand out much. This contrasts with the obvious icons used in other apps.
Best Uses: Google Keep’s simple interface and powerful features make it possible to create reminders and to-do lists, as well as notes and projects with more text.
Choosing a note-taking app (or several!) Is no easy task; it is a tool that you will probably use in many areas of your life on a daily basis. There are design and functionality preferences to consider. So, take the time to figure out which features are most important to you and jump into a little digital experimentation. Remember, no app is perfect – all apps certainly have their pros and cons. Regardless, I hope you find something that will help you be more efficient, more productive, and more focused.
As for me, I enjoy continually testing applications for various uses. But I’m not sure I’m going to give up on Apple Notes altogether. For some things, I’ve come to the conclusion that convenience just trumps other features. Even if that means having too many notes to sort through if (and when) my phone reminds me that I don’t have unlimited storage.