The 4 best secret note-taking apps that can change everything in your life


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Note-taking is something we all do, whether it means writing down a grocery list on an envelope, a phone number on the back of a business card or a more detailed set of notes, like minutes for a meeting. 

No matter how you take notes, an app out there can handle it all.

Whether you want to create notes with bulleted lists, numbered lists, many headings or just simply write down a few lines of text, there’s an app for you. 

Having a great note-taking app can simplify your workflow or help you organize your daily life. Here are the best note-taking apps we’ve tested that are great for a variety of different needs.

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1. Best overall

Microsoft OneNote

note-taking apps 1

Microsoft’s OneNote is a personal favorite of mine and is probably the note-taking app that I use the most. It’s one of the best note-taking apps for most people thanks to its free version, which, even in the free version, packs nearly every feature you could imagine being in a note-taking app.

There are easy ways to organize the structure of your notes, features for inputting voice notes and images, and even optical character recognition, which allows you to scan files and convert them into machine-readable texts.

NOTE-Taking app 2

Microsoft’s OneNote (Microsoft)

Microsoft OneNote is a great choice for anyone, regardless of whether you are using a MacOS or a Windows computer. It also has a mobile app available from the Google Play Store and the Apple App Store. It’s easy to use, and you can synchronize your saves across any device. Multiple pen and brush styles can be used with a Windows tablet or convertible laptop, allowing you to markup and sketch doodles on a document.

The free version includes 5GB of storage space, which should be enough for most people. However, if you decide to pay for it, Microsoft’s payment plans for OneNote are tiered, starting with 1TB of additional storage space.

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2. Best for MacOS/iPhone

Apple Notes App

NOTE-taking apps 3

If you have an iPhone or Mac computer, you’ve probably seen Apple’s free Notes app. The Notes app is probably my second-most used notes app after Microsoft’s OneNote. I like Apple Notes because it’s easy to use, consistently improving with new software updates that have greatly improved the app over the years, and best of all, it’s free and seamlessly integrated between all of your Apple devices.

Apple Notes can also be accessed via your browser, by heading to icloud.com/notes, giving you an online version of the app, and if you have an iCloud account, all of your notes will be synced and can be found here. This is the case even if you use a Chromebook or Windows PC. While you are able to view your Apple Notes app files on a Windows PC or Chromebook via browser, we don’t recommend using the Windows application for Apple Notes, as getting the application to play well with Windows 10 or 11 is a headache and not worth the trouble. You can download the Notes App from the Apple App Store.

MORE: HOW TO PROTECT YOUR APPLE IPHONE NOTES

3. Best for Google Chrome users

Google Keep

note-taking apps 4

Google Keep is there for anyone who needs a place to quickly write down an idea they will reference but doesn’t need to keep a bunch of notes at once. Google has taken its inspiration for Google Keep from old-fashioned sticky notes, and it provides users with an easy-to-use interface.

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While Google Keep is easy to use, it comes at the cost of features. There’s no desktop application; you’ll need an internet connection at all times to use the app, and you can’t clip an entire website as you can with OneNote or Apple’s Notes app. It’s by no means a bad note app, but it is bare bones. It’s particularly useful in seamlessly integrating into the rest of your Google ecosystem.

If you use Gmail and Keep, you’ll notice there’s a light bulb icon in the right sidebar. Clicking this will give you full access to your Google Keep Notes. It’s a useful feature for replying to emails. I’ve used it in Gmail to remind myself of important deadlines, upcoming assignments and questions I have for anyone.

You can also transfer your Keep notes into Google Docs, which is my personal favorite feature of Google Keep. If you are already working within the Google ecosystem, I highly recommend using Keep. It’s a free and easy way to streamline your workflow, leave important reminders for yourself and jot down anything you need quickly. You can download Google Keep from the Google Play Store or Apple App Store.

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4. Best for power users

Obsidian

5 Best note Taking apps

Obsidian is the most powerful note-taking application on this list. I’ve been testing out Obsidian for the past two weeks, and while I was skeptical at first, it has truly changed the way I take notes on my computer. It has a steep learning process compared to every other app on this list, and I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone without disclosing that fact upfront. You must spend some time with Obsidian to get comfortable using it.

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Obsidian works similarly to OneNote in that you can sort your notes into folders and subfolders with the sidebar, but you can also link between them using internal hyperlinks. This allows you to reference previous notes easily. For example, if you were writing this article, you could create a list of all the note-taking apps you’ve tested and link to the notes where you have written reviews for each individual app.

NOTE-taking apps 6

Obsidian Connected Notes (Obsidian)

There’s also a neat visualization tool called Graph Mode, which organizes your sidebar notes into a graph. This is one of Obsidian’s driving features. Obsidian wants to function as a database note-taking system, and in my testing, it excels at this.

Obsidian is also the most customizable app on this list. Nearly everything within Obsidian can be customized. You can have hundreds of notes open in the same window if you want, and you can change anything about the UI on the fly. There are also community plugins that can add a wide variety of features to Obsidian. It can be a daunting app to learn, but if you are willing to put in the time, it is one of the most rewarding and feature-rich applications available. You can download Obsidian from the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

Kurt’s key takeaways

At the end of the day, digital note-taking is just as personal as writing in a journal. In the same way that there are several options for journals — lined paper, unlined paper, graph paper, pencil, pens, etc. — there are several options available for digital note-taking. All of the apps on this list are either free or can be tried in their full version for free. I would recommend checking each of them out and seeing which one resonates best with you. Personally, I love OneNote and Obsidian, but given the learning curve associated with Obsidian, I’m inclined to stick with OneNote. Remember to have fun with it.

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