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Grow Your Business Technology

Ditch Pen and Paper: Best Note-Taking Apps

Ditch Pen and Paper: Best Note-Taking Apps
Digital notes have big advantages over their pen-and-paper counterparts. / Credit: Shutterstock

It's 2018, and it's time you ditch the paper and embrace the future of note taking. For school or in business, taking notes in lectures or meetings is the best way to keep track of what's happening.

Clearing your desk of notebooks and stacks of paper is environmentally friendly, gets rid of clutter and modernizes your entire operation. Whether you need an app that converts handwriting to text, or a complete notebook management system, stop digging around for the right binder and a pen when you need something.

If you're ready to take the leap from scribbling in a composition book to note taking on your phone, tablet, or laptop, these four applications are worth trying.

Credit: Microsoft

Microsoft OneNote is arguably the most robust note-taking and organization app out there, and we recommend it for entrepreneurs and business owners. OneNote is part of the Microsoft Office Suite, so you might already have it on your device, but if not, you can download it for free. 

There is a difference between the OneNote web app and the full Windows version; they're both great tools, but the web app doesn't have all the same features built in. 

  • Compatibility: You can run Microsoft OneNote on practically any device, including Chromebooks, Apple laptops and desktops, Windows laptops and desktops, iPhones, and Android phones. You can also use OneNote with touchscreen devices and styluses. 
  • Interface: Using Microsoft OneNote is intuitive because it's modeled after a physical notebook. You can create as many different notebooks as you want, and there are built-in tabs for easy labeling. 
  • Note-taking features: You can take notes by typing, using a stylus, or drawing with your cursor or your finger. OneNote allows you to make notes wherever you want on the page, and you can add in photos, audio files, screen clips, Excel spreadsheets and online videos. You can also record audio and video directly into OneNote.
  • Organizational features: One of the best things about OneNote is the ability to assign permissions to different notebooks. You can create personal notebooks that only you can see as well as shared notebooks with other people on your team. When you create a shared notebook, everyone who has access to it can make changes to the notebook, and those changes will be instantly reflected, which is great for group projects. Another reason we like OneNote for business owners is that it works seamlessly with Outlook, so you can do things like create and assign tasks in OneNote based on employee email addresses. You can also highlight text in one of your notebooks and create an Outlook task directly from OneNote; the task shows up on your calendar automatically, and you can track which tasks have been completed and which ones haven't. 
Credit: Google

Google Keep is great for organizing your professional and personal life. While it's not preloaded on most devices, Google's note-taking app is free to download. Google Keep is not as powerful or customizable as OneNote, but it's great for simple organization, checklists and note taking. It's most recent update in July included the ability to indent items in lists and create subtasks.

  • Compatibility: Google Keep is exclusively a web app, which means you can use it on Android phones and iPhones, Apple laptops and desktops, Windows laptops and desktops, Chromebooks and tablets. Compatibility is never a problem. 
  • Interface: Google Keep is colorful, bright and uncomplicated. Your main Notes page will always show you the most recently added notes, and you can choose a single column view or a multicolumn view. The only downside to the interface is that it makes it difficult to read long notes and search for older items.
  • Note-taking features: Google Keep's note-taking features are best for people who want to keep track of short notes and checklists. If you're using Google Keep on a device with a camera, you can save images directly into your notes and even extract text from images, so you can take a photo of a business card and instantly extract editable text containing all the contact info and put it into your notes. 
  • Organizational features: You can easily color-code and label notes in Google Keep, and you can share those notes with other people, so they can update them as well (changes are reflected in real time). You can also set reminders for yourself, which means you can create a to-do list and attach a reminder to complete it at a future date/time. 
Credit: Evernote

Evernote has been around since 2008, and it's still a popular note-taking app today. You can sign up for a free account, but if you want to use it on more than two devices, you'll have to pay extra. 

  • Compatibility: The app is compatible with Android phones and iPhones as well as Apple and Windows computers. You can also download the Android app on a Chromebook, but some users say the app is inconsistent and slow on a Chrome OS. That said, the ability to run Evernote on anything from a tablet to a phone to a desktop (and have it synced across all those devices) is part of the app's popularity.
  • Interface: Evernote looks great on devices of all different sizes. It has lots of menu options and optional add-ons (and third-party extensions) and makes it easy to create lots of different notebooks, tag them and search through them. Most people find Evernote easy to use and pleasing to look at. 
  • Note-taking features: You can take notes by typing or by writing with a stylus, your finger or the sketch tool. Just like in OneNote, you can save photos, documents, audio and video. Further, you can record audio, grab parts of web pages and snag text content from images. You can also password-protect certain notes for added security, use templates and share notebooks with certain people while keeping other notebooks private. 
  • Organizational features: If you plan on having your whole team use Evernote, you should consider Evernote Business. The service is $12 per month, per user, and it offers the same note-taking tools as the individual version in addition to team features that allow multiple people to collaborate in a single workspace, maintain team projects, and share and give feedback. Evernote Business also allows for single sign-on, includes basic admin tools and has added security features. 
Credit: Luminant Software

AudioNote 2 is a unique note-taking app that allows users to store typed (and stylus) notes with audio files. This app is ideal for assistants, administrative professionals, journalists, students and anyone else who frequently relies on recording audio as well as taking notes by hand.

  • Compatibility: AudioNote 2 is available on iOS, Mac and Windows devices, and the previous version (called AudioNote) is available on Android. It is unclear whether Luminant Software intends to create a version of AudioNote 2 for Android.
  • Interface: AudioNote 2 looks like an old-school notebook, which makes it ideal for note taking with a keypad or with a stylus. At the top of each "page," you can add audio files, which means you can keep the recordings of your meetings linked with your meeting notes for easy access.
  • Note-taking features: The playback feature in AudioNote 2 allows you to follow along with your notes automatically (with highlighting and autoscrolling) and adjust playback speed as needed. You can also add in PDF slides and photos so everything is in one place.
  • Organizational features: In addition to offering a variety of methods of note taking (audio, stylus, keypad) and linking audio recordings with the notes taken during the time of the recording, this app allows users to create folders and label files, and share notes through iCloud, Dropbox, Facebook, Twitter, Email, AirDrop, and more.

Additional reporting by Mona Bushnell.

Carlyann Edwards

Carlyann is pursuing her Bachelor’s degree in Business Journalism with minors in sustainability and music at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and will graduate in 2020. She is incredibly interested by the intersection of business development and environmental preservation. When she isn’t writing, she enjoys working for non-profit organization Carolina Thrift, running and playing the ukulele.