The 5 best note-taking apps, and which one Twitter CEO Jack prefers

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Jack Dorsey, the CEO of Twitter, recently tweeted that he uses iOS Notes on a daily basis, an app that is free on iPhones, iPads and Macs. He said he mainly uses the app to “think through stuff, draft, remind, record, and doodle”. It’s intriguing that the CEO of one of the largest social media platforms in the world would use (and freely promote) a basic app that came preinstalled on his iPhone.

Go ahead and type ‘notes’ into the App/Play store, and you’ll see the massive range note taking apps available, not to mention the ones that come preinstalled on most smart devices. We’ve downloaded and kicked the tyres of a bunch of them, and these are the best of the lot. Download the one that best suits your needs and boost your productivity.

iOS Notes (iOS)

Over the past few years, Apple has transformed its Notes app from a basic notepad into a powerful note-taking app, especially if you’re running it on an iPad. It boasts a range of note-taking features that turn the built-in app from a mere afterthought into a tool that handles text, drawings, and even scanned documents.

Jack Dorsey especially enjoys Notes. “I spend most of my day in iOS Notes app. I use it to think through stuff, draft, remind, record, and doodle. I also have a note for every person I meet regularly where I queue up things I want to talk about. And a note per city for everything I discover (and want to return to).”

Does this meaning using iOS Notes will make you as productive as a social media CEO? Nope, that’s still up to you. But if it’s good enough for Jack… Also, while the app is technically ‘free’, the price of admission is an iDevice, of course.

Evernote (iOS/Android)

Evernote provides 60MB of free storage per month, so along with being a noting app, it’s a storage app, and a project management app, and a scheduler, and a calendar. We’re not quite sure what it ‘is’, but you can take notes on it. And that’s what it was originally intended for. Once the darling of the note-taking app world, Evernote’s shifted its focus a bit in recent years, and came in for criticism in the process.

These days, the app seems aimed more at cooperation and streamlining business projects and decisions than at being a personal note-taking app. So for business notes, this is arguably one of the best options. The new Spaces feature in Evernote Business lets team members have combined access to all notes and works as a project management tool. But, it’ll cost you R96/month per user, which might be a big ask if you’re already using Slack or similar.

The basic Evernote app is free, but there is a super ‘freemium’ feel to it. It’s riddled with ‘Upgrade your plan’ and ‘Get the Plus Plan’ ads, that make you feel like it’s trying to get you to upgrade just to get it to stop annoying you with ads. Premium will cost you R50/month per user, or R33/month if you’re willing to fork out a year’s subs upfront.

Using only the free account you’re limited to syncing two devices, so if you’ve got a laptop, phone and tablet you’re going to have to forgo using Evernote on one of them unless you’re prepared to pay for it. It wasn’t always that way — previously you could sync as many devices as you wanted with the only limit being the 60MB/month upload. The price of progress, eh? If you’re a longtime Evernote user it might seem like a pain to move, and Evernote does offer an impressive feature roster, but if you’re just starting out with a note-taking service, you may be better off looking elsewhere.

OneNote (iOS/Android)

In relation to Evernote, OneNote is pretty simple, but simplicity is welcome when it comes to note-taking apps. It has all the basics covered — noting, lists, drawing (and supports a stylus), linking, and sharing. The interface is easy to understand and makes for a easy-to-use app, although it is super-powerful in its own right. 

Microsoft’s note-taking app offers 1TB of online storage and — bonus — you get access to all MS Office applications through the app. You’re going to need an Office 365 account to use it, though, and that’ll cost you anything from R89 a month depending on what plan you go for. 

On the other hand some of the features, like constant syncing, requires you use Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage. Our app kept on nagging us to sync, but our OneDrive storage is full so we had a constant warning on-screen. If you’ve worked on any recent Windows device you will probably have already set up a OneDrive account, so all of your notes should be saved there (if you’ve still got space).

The app is available to download on any desktop or laptop (whether it be Mac or Windows), which then syncs with your mobile device.

Bear (iOS)

Bear is a very nifty app developed for iOS, ideal for those who enjoy writing anything from short notes and to-dos to essays, short stories or blog posts. Because the app supports markdown, it’s particularly useful for those looking to publish their words online. Bear will also help keep count of your words, and can even convert your notes into PDF and Word docs.

The apps also features a focus mode that helps you concentrate on the task at hand, and full in-line image support helps store more than just words. You can choose from a range of themes and fonts to truly personalise your note-taking experience. Bear Pro feels a lot like what Evernote used to be, and it’s a lot cheaper at $1.49 (R20,60) a month. There’s even a how-to for Evernote users looking to abandon it in favour of this furry upstart.

Sadly, Bear only supports Apple products for now, but if you live in the walled garden and can’t stomach Evernote’s fees it’s a great option.

Drafts 5 (iOS)

Drafts 5 opens to a new page with the keyboard ready so you can type immediately, so it’s great for jotting down ideas in a hurry.

The app features nifty dictation, so you can go hands-free and still take notes with your voice, or ask Siri to create a note using Drafts. She’ll understand. Use actions to copy text, share it, or deep link it into other apps and services (like Bear or Evernote). You can even compose a tweet or message, create a file in Dropbox, or send a task off to Reminders.

Drafts 5 also includes support for coding and creating custom document formats. Like Bear, it’s Apple-only for now, and you’re going to need the paid version (R27.50/month) if you want to create and edit actions, set up personalised themes and icons, have access to some cool extra widgets and enjoy enhanced URL automation. Still, the free version is pretty feature-packed. If you’re the sort who demands total control over what you create, this is the note-taking app for you.

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Digital Editor at Stuff. Nevermind the fancy title, I like writing about things that are cool. Like games, gadgets and sometimes even software. Depending on how cool it is.

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