You can't remember everything. Whether you're on a business call or planning your workday, sometimes you just have to jot down a few notes. But there's no need to reach for the nearest notepad. With the right apps, your smartphone or tablet can become a note-taking machine.
Digital notes have big advantages over their pen-and-paper counterparts. You won't lose them, since they're stored on your mobile device. Best of all, digital notes are searchable, so you can say goodbye to rifling through huge stacks of paper in search of that one important note.
Notes (Free) - iOS
If you're on and iPhone or iPad, Apple's stock Notes app might be all you need. The app -- which comes pre-loaded on all iOS devices -- doesn't have quite as many features as some of the third-party options on this list, but it's still pretty powerful. I particularly like the ability to create checklists and to-do lists, then tick off items with one tap. You also get powerful formatting options, with the ability to add a title, heading or bulleted list to your notes. Adding an attachment -- including photos and video -- is also simple. Best of all, Notes integrates with Siri automatically, so you can save notes using voice commands.
Evernote (Free) – iOS, Android, Windows Phone
Evernote (available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone) is a robust note-taking app that lets you dictate or manually enter notes, snap photos, create to-do-lists and more. The app features text identification, which can recognize and index printed — and even handwritten — text. That means you can search for specific words, whether they're in a PDF, a typed memo or a photographed note scrawled on a scrap of paper. Evernote is available for a wide range of platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Mac and PC, so you can access your notes on any machine and stay organized.
ColorNote (Free) - Android
ColorNote (available for Android) is a no-nonsense notes app for users who don’t want to fiddle with tons of features. The app’s trademark feature is the ability to quickly and easily organize notes by color-coding them. That makes notes both easy to sort, and to view at a glance. Other key features include the ability to sync with your calendar, and to set custom task reminders. ColorNote also has a nice widget, so you can view your notes from your phone’s home screen.
OneNote (Free) – iOS, Android, Windows Phone
For serious business users, the mobile version of Microsoft's OneNote (available for iOS, Android and Windows Phone) has one big advantage over competing apps: full integration with Microsoft Office. That's because OneNote automatically syncs with Microsoft's OneNote cloud-storage platform, so your notes are accessible from anywhere, on any Internet-connected device. When you want to recall a note, the app's search functionality can help you find it. And Android users can take advantage of the OneNote widget to take notes right on their phone or tablet's home screen without opening the app.
Simplenote (Free) – iOS, Android
Sometimes, extra features just get in the way. The aptly-named Simplenote (available for iOS and Android) is a no-frills note-taking app lets you jot down ideas from distractions. It excludes most of the frills you’ll find in apps like Evernote and OneNote, but the tradeoff is that it’s a lot easier to use. You can quickly create new notes, then add bullet points. Later, you can search through your notes with keywords. I also like Simplenote’s history feature, which makes it easy to restore any note that you accidentally deleted.
Notability ($2.99) – iOS
Unlike other popular alternatives, Notability (available for iOS) isn't free. But the app features some premium features that might make it worthwhile. In terms of note-taking functionality, the app covers all the basics, letting you type out notes, sketch ideas and incorporate photos and video. Additionally, it lets you annotate documents and PDFs, then share them with others. One premium feature that really stands out is the app's ability to sync written notes with an audio recording; when you're reviewing your notes, tap a word or picture to hear what was said at that moment.
Penultimate (Free) – iPad
Penultimate (available for iOS) is an iPad-exclusive note-taking app for the stylus devotee. As its name implies, the app's functionality is centered around pen input so you can scribble down notes and draw diagrams on the fly. You can use your finger or a capacitive stylus to take notes, and the app features effective palm rejection so you won't make any unwanted marks. Your notes can be organized by topic, project or category, and the built-in search functionality can recognize and locate printed words. Penultimate is also integrated with Evernote, so you can easily sync your written notes with your entire Evernote library.