The 5 Best Note Taking Apps of 2021

. 11 min read

Taking notes using virtual software has become a way of life for the vast majority of people. Breaking out the pen and paper simply does not cut it anymore. Why? Because traditional note-taking can make it extremely difficult to keep track of your notes, share the information with other people, and use the information in tandem with other kinds of media (video, audio, etc). Thus, note-taking applications are the best way to put down your thoughts quickly, without having to scramble to stay organized, up-to-date, and communicative.

So, what are the best note-taking apps of 2021? In today’s post, we will answer this question in detail by highlighting 5 of the best note-taking apps currently available on the market. Not only will we discuss basic functionality and pricing, but we will also delve into the pros and cons, as well as additional features offered with each application.

5 Best Note Taking Apps of 2021

  • Otter.ai - Note taking and live voice-to-text transcription application.
  • Evernote - User-friendly note taking and collaboration application.
  • Apple Notes - Free note taking app with built-in Apple integrations.
  • OneNote - Free note taking app with built-in Microsoft integrations.
  • Notability - Note taking app including varied formats and presentation options.

What makes a great note taking app?

Before we look at the 5 best note taking apps of 2021, it’s important to examine what makes some note taking apps better than others. More importantly, what makes a great note taking app in general? The truth is that most people use note taking apps for both their personal and work lives. This means that the average user’s note taking app is filled with a wide range of files, from grocery lists to work project deadline reminders. Additionally, many people use different note taking methods on a daily basis, from scribbling down drawings to recording audio notes.

So, first and foremost, a great note taking app has to take a wide range of needs into consideration. Secondly, a note taking app must be easy and (ideally) enjoyable to use. It’s 2021 (soon to be 2022) and nobody likes working with clunky software or bad UI. Lastly, notes are not always about setting personal or work reminders. In many cases, you will need to collaborate with others through shared notes that allow for group comments and revisions.

Therefore, there are a few features that every great note taking app needs to include:

  • User-friendly interface for taking notes via text
  • Settings to organize notes based on topic, schedule, or workspace
  • Collaboration tools to share and edit notes in real-time
  • Integration with existing software to allow for cross-platform functionality

With these standards in mind, let’s take a closer look at the 5 best note taking apps of 2021:

The 5 Best Note Taking Apps of 2021

It goes without saying that every note taking app comes with its own set of advantages and disadvantages. No single app is perfect for every single user or business. Nonetheless, the 5 apps in today’s guide offer the best possible quality, features, and UI to make your personal or professional life easier.

Otter.ai


Otter.ai is a platform designed to make note taking easier than ever, particularly for students, professionals, and businesses. In addition to standard note taking and organizational features, Otter.ai is most notable for its automatic dictation tech that allows you to create rich notes from meetings, interviews, or just brainstorming sessions — without having to lift a finger. This is especially useful for students or professionals with hearing or physical impairments.

“Speech-to-text software used in schools helps students write and perform to their abilities. The software takes what they are saying and types it down for the student. They can edit it for more accuracy and clarity and the process is faster. [It also] gives the student confidence and the ability to get their ideas down in a productive manner.” - LDRFA Foundation

Otter.ai’s live transcriptions are created in real-time, which means that you can keep up with the notes as they are being created. You can also make edits to the text, highlight important sections, or automatically share your notes with others. As an added bonus, Otter.ai works seamlessly with popular video conferencing applications like Zoom, Google Meets and Microsoft Teams. It is truly an all-in-one application for people in need of next-gen note taking and voice transcription.

Basic Offerings:

  • Standard note taking and storage capabilities
  • Real-time voice-to-text note transcription
  • Keyword and summary analytics
  • Highlight, revision, and comment features
  • Calendar, video conferencing, and Cloud software integration
  • File sharing and collaboration

Pricing:

  • Basic - Free version
  • Pro - $8.33 per month (billed annually) or $12.99 per month (billed monthly)
  • Business - $20 per month (billed annually) or $30 per month (billed monthly)
  • Enterprise - Customized pricing

Pros of Otter.ai:

  • Provides high-quality live transcriptions and notetaking
  • Can quickly and accurately transcribe pre-existing files
  • Offers both free and paid plans
  • Excellent UI to help you create and share notes with ease

Cons of Otter.ai:

  • Automatic note transcriptions require human review for 100% accuracy
  • Some features are limited to Otter.ai paid plans
  • Currently only offers audio-to-text transcription in English

Evernote


Evernote is one of the most popular note taking apps because it offers simple, easy-to-execute note taking and sharing functionality. You can quickly open the application to jot down thoughts or important points for future reference, without having to navigate through endless menus or complicated interfaces. Evernote also allows you to add images and videos to your notes with just a few clicks. Finally, if you need to share your notes, you can do so by converting them into PDFs or similar documents in seconds.

You can quickly open the application to jot down thoughts or important points for future reference, without having to navigate through endless menus or complicated interfaces.

One of the best things about Evernote is that it doesn’t overcomplicate the note taking process. The application makes it fast and easy to type out notes and then select a folder or category to keep your notes organized. Additionally, Evernote integrates with Google Calendar and Google Drive to ensure that your notes are stored securely and synced with your schedule.

Basic Offerings:

  • Standard note taking and storage capabilities
  • Highlight, revision, and comment features
  • Calendar and Cloud software integration
  • File sharing and collaboration

Pricing:

  • Free - Free version
  • Personal - $5.83 per month (billed annually) or $7.99 per month (billed monthly)
  • Professional - $8.33 per month (billed annually) or $9.99 per month (billed monthly)

Pros of Evernote:

  • Notes are quick to create and easy to share
  • High-end free plan and affordable paid plans
  • Excellent keyword search capabilities
  • Regularly updated to fix bugs and enhance UX/UI

Cons of Evernote:

  • No option for automatic note transcriptions
  • Storage space is very limited with the free plan
  • Integration with apps like Microsoft Outlook does not always perform well

Apple Notes

Apple Notes is the built-in notes software offered on Apple products like iPhones, iPads, Macbooks, and iMacs. Though simple in nature, Apple Notes is one of the most-used note taking apps by virtue of its automatic integration with iCloud, as well as its straightforward, intuitive design. From just about any device (Apple or otherwise), you can open the app and create a new note, organize your notes into different files, search by keyword, and share your notes via Airdrop, email, iCloud, and more.

“I’m a big fan of simple app design. I love white space, limited controls, and clear affordance. Apple Notes consists of a pane on the left for your folders, the contents of the selected folder to the right, followed by the note itself. That’s it. The majority of controls are nestled neatly at the top of the screen, and they’re all pretty self-explanatory.” - Mark Ellis, Tech Reviewer

What makes Apple Notes stand out from most of its competitors is the fact that it offers many of the same advantages as other note taking apps — at absolutely no cost to you. There is no paid version of Apple Notes because you get everything you need as soon as you download and launch the application. However, if you want to store a lot of notes without clogging up your local storage, particularly notes that contain videos, images, or other data-heavy content, you might need to upgrade your iCloud or third-party Cloud software plan.

Basic Offerings:

  • Standard note taking and storage capabilities
  • Highlight and revision features
  • Calendar and Cloud software integration
  • File sharing and collaboration

Pricing:

  • Free
  • (optional) iCloud storage upgrade
  • Free: 5GB of storage
  • $0.99 per month: 50GB of storage
  • $2.99 per month: 200GB of storage
  • $9.99 per month: 2TB of storage

Pros of Apple Notes:

  • Automatic transcriptions for quick note taking via Siri virtual assistant
  • Seamless integration and storage via iCloud
  • Simple, user-friendly interface
  • Free of charge
  • File sharing and collaboration

Cons of Apple Notes:

  • Automatic note transcriptions via Siri require human review for 100% accuracy and do not work for meetings or similarly long notes
  • Sharing Apple Notes files with others can result in formatting issues
  • Accessibility and storage options on non-Apple devices require extra steps

Microsoft OneNote

Much like Apple Notes, Microsoft OneNote offers a high-quality note taking app that automatically integrates with the company’s own operating systems and applications. This means that, beyond standard note taking and storage, you can also expect to integrate your OneNote files with a wide range of Microsoft products, from Outlook to Powerpoint. This means that you can easily take projects from the brainstorming and planning stages all the way through to the final results with greater efficiency. And while the free version of OneNote offers just about everything you need to create, organize, and share notes, you can gain access to additional features by upgrading to a Microsoft 365 paid subscription.

Beyond standard note taking and storage, you can also expect to integrate your OneNote files with a wide range of Microsoft products, from Outlook to Powerpoint.

Unlike Apple Notes, Microsoft OneNote does not work as well with systems, software, or platforms outside of the Microsoft suite of products. This isn’t to say that you cannot use OneNote in conjunction with services like iCloud or Gmail, but it may prove a little more complicated than keeping all of your processes within the Microsoft family. Therefore, while Microsoft OneNote is a great all-around note taking app, it is best for individuals or businesses that use Microsoft applications for just about everything.

Basic Offerings:

  • Standard note taking and storage capabilities
  • Content tagging for revision or future review
  • Integration with virtually all Microsoft products
  • File sharing and collaboration
  • Additional features available with paid Microsoft 365 subscription

Pricing:

  • Free
  • (optional) Microsoft 365 upgrade
  • Individual: $8.33 per month (billed annually) or $9.99 per month (billed monthly)
  • Business:
  • Basic: $5 per user (per month)
  • Standard: $12.50 per user (per month)
  • Premium: $20 per user (per month)

Pros of Microsoft OneNote:

  • Automatic transcriptions for quick note taking via Cortana virtual assistant
  • Seamless integration and storage via Microsoft’s OneDrive
  • Free of charge
  • File sharing and collaboration

Cons of Microsoft OneNote:

  • Automatic note transcriptions via Cortana require human review for 100% accuracy and do not work for meetings or similarly long notes
  • Does not integrate well with non-Microsoft products
  • Mobile version lacks some of the formatting options available on the desktop app

Notability

Notability is a relative newcomer compared with other note taking apps on this list. However, it stands out from the rest by focusing on sharing and presenting important information with others. While it is one of the best note taking apps for students and professionals, it also works well for people who need an intuitive app for personal use.

“I use Notability for my classes every day. I record lectures using Note Replay and annotate textbook PDFs. I’ve never seen a program load such large PDFs so quickly.” - Joshua Kim

You can always use Notability for simple note taking, but it is ideal for creating visual presentations. Its features extend far beyond mere text creation; you can draw, record audio, add video or images, and customize your notes using dozens of unique tools. This also makes Notability one of the best note taking apps to use with a stylus and touch-screen device. In short, Notability is the kind of note taking app that lets you get creative and turn your notes into beautiful showcases, storyboards, meeting breakdowns, business plans, and more.

Basic Offerings:

  • Standard note taking and storage capabilities
  • Drawing, highlighting, and visual revision tools
  • Quick conversion to PDF and other formats
  • File sharing and team notes
  • Offers free and low-cost plans

Pricing:

  • Starter - Free
  • Subscription - $11.99 per year

Pros of Notability:

  • Dozens of templates and visualization tools
  • Easy storage integration with iCloud
  • Free and paid versions
  • Regular updates and bug fixes
  • More affordable than many of its larger competitors

Cons of Notability:

  • Focused on turning standard notes into visual creations, which may not appeal to all users
  • Free version does not include most of the advanced features
  • Audio files created through Notability can take up a lot of storage space

What is the best note taking app?

Now that we’ve looked at the 5 best note taking apps of 2021, it begs the question: what is the best note taking app? While it would be great to state unequivocally that one note taking app beats out the rest, it’s simply not true. Even the best note taking apps on the market have their drawbacks, and no single app will appeal to every demographic. Fortunately, we can identify the best apps for certain budgets, individuals, and organizations.

Best free note taking app

Though every app on this list offers a free version of its product, Apple Notes comes out on top as the best free note taking app. Why? Because you get everything the app has to offer without spending anything. Naturally, you may run into storage issues if you do not have a paid iCloud subscription (though you can still turn to other Cloud storage services like Dropbox). Otherwise, Apple Notes beats out the competition by offering everything you should see in a great note taking app, without asking you to pay for it.

Best note taking app for students

This category is a little more difficult, as all of the note taking apps listed here are great options for students. That said, the best note taking app for students is Notability. It offers the most versatility in note taking, allowing students to write, draw, record, and organize their notes to meet various educational needs and requirements. If and when students have to give a presentation or take notes that include multimedia files, Notability provides them with all of the necessary tools to get the job done.

Best note taking app for businesses

Finally, if you’re managing a business or a professional team, your note taking needs will differ greatly from those of students or even most budget-conscious consumers. The best note taking app for businesses needs to include features for optimal team collaboration, live note transcriptions for meetings, and integration with existing business tools. As a result, Otter.ai is the best option for businesses of all sizes. Rather than trying to take notes by hand, you can simply rely on Otter.ai’s advanced, automated transcription tool to create voice-to-text notes on your behalf, giving you more freedom to focus on collaboration and growing your business.

The Bottom Line

As you can see, there are a lot of great note taking apps out there. While there are dozens that did not make the list, the products above comprise the best note taking apps of 2021. Depending on your specific circumstances, one app may be better than another, but they will all fulfill your essential note taking requirements.

Do you want to learn more about using the best note taking apps and creating high-quality content for your team or clients? Would you like to find out more about the perks of Otter.ai live transcriptions and captions? Contact Otter.ai today for more information!