Evernote, Google Keep, OneNote – Which Note Taking App is the Best?

By Gary Cutlack on at

Popular cross-platform ideas-saving aide-memoir Evernote has suddenly and drastically gone down in everyone's estimation, thanks to the money men winning some internal arguments and limiting the features available to users of the free version. So is it time to jump ship and start using something else to tell you a thing needs doing on Friday?

Evernote has rocked its own boat by limiting the features available in its Basic account, restricting it to only working with two synced devices -- meaning if you're modern and juggle a laptop, desktop, work PC, mobile phone, tablet and internet-connected fridge, you're not going to be able to carry on using Evernote for free. Hence it might be time to give some of its competition a try, like...

Google Keep

The Competition and Markets Authority won't approve of this should someone there give it a go, as Google leverages its position to provide this free notes app on mobile, PC, Mac and Chromebook formats, all for free. It's much less fancy looking than Evernote, but then if you only use it to share phone numbers, URLs, appointments and screencaptures of funny GIFs between all the screens you keep in your death grip all day, it's ideal.

The mobile app is clean and fresh, with a selection of widgets on the Android version that have buttons for jotting down text, recording audio, embedding photos and populating lists. Times and dates are handled clearly, with human options like "next Wednesday" and "evening" when it comes to organising schedules. And although the desktop thing's a pretty basic narrow column of words, it's an ideal way of sharing stuff within your own little tech ecosystem.

Microsoft's OneNote

Also free and available on Windows, Mac, iOS and even Chromebook via a web app, this is Microsoft's attempt at doing a colourful, fun and friendly little ideas-for-things sharing tool. The mobile app has one very nice little feature for people constantly having ideas but without a personal secretary to transcribe them -- a floating badge. Similar to Facebook Messenger's chat icon thing, it's a permanent shortcut to a quick note you can leave running all the time.

onenote-badge

The downside is that the PC tool is tied in with Microsoft's Office suite, so the innocent appearing OneNote installer actually takes forever to download and warns you that it's installing and spends half the morning grabbing secret extra files it doesn't tell you it's going to need at the outset. It's still downloading now, in fact. Most people would've given up on it by now.

Oh, there it is. Only took 20 minutes and now I've got Microsoft OneNote Home and Student 2016. The good-ish news is that, thanks to the Office branding, you get full rich text editing within the notes, so if you only really ever respond to things underlined and in red capital letters, it'll help motivate you. Plus any old Hotmail account you hold on to as an occasional burner when signing up to things you're not really committed to should get it working.

Evernote

Well now that it's limited its features, it's lost quite a bit of ground on the above. Limiting it to only syncing across two devices unless you pay is a bizarre choice, as there are five-year-olds in developing nations juggling more than two devices these days -- plus the 60MB upload cap will impact on media-rich sharers. Still, if you're happy to pay $3.99 a month for the Plus version, it's still a top choice.

The mobile app does so much, from clipping images out of web pages to scanning in business cards so you can then screw them up and thrown them away as if the person meant nothing to you, even scanning in handwritten notes and converting them to modern digital text should you be transcribing the work of an old person.

It almost does too much and can be baffling when you first try it, plus some features are pretty slow and clunky if you're using a three-year-old Xiaomi, but at least it's comprehensive and reliable -- presumably why its makers are confident enough that people might need it enough to start paying for it.

Dropbox

Don't just use this to get photos of your dinner off your phone -- sharing a text file is a great way of keeping notes synced across devices. It's not a fancy method, but if you just want to do a shopping list and don't need colours, emoji, checkboxes and scheduling features, it works. Saves on having other apps installed, too.

Simplenote

Taking the shared text document approach and making it just a little bit prettier is Simplenote, which, as the name infers, does away with any attempt to clone the Post-it note style of jazzy coloured things and just wants to share words. It's killer feature is a Version History slider, letting users scroll through their edits and get back any lost classic lumps of text that may have been accidentally deleted.

It's really quite similar to Google Keep when you get down to it, augmenting its cross-platform text saving features with lists, searching powers and tags, plus it's all free no matter how many things you stick it on.

The Rest

Apple enthusiasts will be using Notes with its iCloud support already, so can ignore the above. Box Notes encroaches on Google's Drive territory by allowing collaborative editing of notes should your ideas be legal enough to be shared with others. Plus there's also Fetchnotes that uses hashtags so you can #sort #your #own #stuff plus you can email yourself things and they'll appear within the tool, Squid Notes that's based around capturing handwritten notes and even has a Kindle Fire app, or Note Everything, which could really do with putting some new images up on its Google Play listing.

But What Wins? 

Evernote's still comprehensive and nicely designed and very well supported by its maker, but that's only if you're happy to pay to have it... work properly. Google Keep's free, unintrusive, fairly minimal, and works without fuss on most devices with a display. If you're in a sulk with Evernote, the lightweight Keep's probably the best alternative; although Simplenote's looking like being a keeper too, thanks to its nice minimalist approach.


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