If you can organize your life with an analog tool — like a printed notebook or daily calendar — then more power to you. But if you use smartphones and computers all day, you probably find you need digital tools to stay organized and get stuff done. The note-taking apps on our smartphones serve two basic, yet hugely important functions: they are a place to organize our lives, and a place to curate lists — be it media, wants, needs, or tasks.
Finding the right app for you takes a little trial and error. But when you find it, you become a more productive person — guaranteed.
Best for Constant Notetakers: Evernote is one of the better-known note-taking apps, having first launched in 2011. The platform offers three different plans: basic, plus and premium. All versions include notetaking, passcode-protected notebook sharing and image annotation. You’ll also be able to use the Evernote Web Clipper feature, allowing you to save any web page in Chrome to Evernote for offline use. The plus package ($35/year) gives users access to up to 1GB of notes offline; for a steep $70 a year, the premium plan provides 10GB of storage, along with searchable PDFs and photos of handwritten notes. You can also look back and revisit older versions of certain notes, in case you deleted something you didn’t mean to. Frankly, Evernote’s plans are pricier than others, but the robust platform is dependable for those who take a lot of notes.
If You’re Committed to Apple: Since this app works with Apple’s Handoff feature, it can sync notes instantly across your Apple devices. For instance, if you write a note on your iPhone, you’ll be able to view it on your Macbook Pro or iPad without doing a thing. The app has been updated over the years to add tools for formatting and drawing, and it even allows you to insert a picture from the web or your photo gallery into your notes. Most notes apps have a reminder feature built in, but the iOS-stock Reminders app works nicely in conjunction with the Notes app. If you need to remember to send an email at a certain time or set a reminder to switch your laundry, reminders in iOS can do all of that pretty well.
If You Use Gmail and Google Calendar Already: Google Keep is a simple solution for keeping track of grocery lists and ongoing TV to-watch lists. And for work purposes, the app can keep track of long-term projects and future ideas; you can share notes with others to edit in real time (just like Google Docs); tasks can be archived and searched for later on. Plus all your notes can be color-coordinated for peak organization.
Google Keep integrates with your Google Calendar, so you can order tasks around existing events. The app has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve, such as transcribing text from photos and from voice memos. Best of all, it’s free.
Best Look and Feel: Things 3 has received consistent praise for its design; just this year, it was featured in this year’s Apple Design Awards. Any tasks you enter can be set with a completion date in mind, and the app will create a daily list of upcoming tasks for you. Since the app syncs with your calendar (Google Calendar or other), your appointments will also conveniently be added to the upcoming tasks list. What you get is a snapshot of your tasks each day, with progress indicators showing how much work you’ve done, and what still needs to happen on any given day. Unfortunately, Things 3 is only available for the Apple ecosystem and can’t be accessed on the web. It’s also not cheap: Things 3 is $10 for the iPhone, $20 for the iPad, and $50 for Mac. And no, you can’t bundle the three together.
Fastest, Simplest Interface: Bear was developed for writing first and organizing tasks second. Its interface strips away all unnecessary features — and, as a result, it’s faster and easier to use. Its quick editing shortcuts, auto-hyperlinking URLs, and easy exporting of notes (as PDFs, HTML docs or JPEGs) are what make this app really shine. At $15 per year, it’s significantly cheaper than Evernote. And if you’re thinking about making the switch from Evernote, Bear has a migration guide to help you do just that. Unfortunately, this app is only available for iOS.