Having a small computer in your pocket makes it easy to jot down a quick note. Before smartphones became ubiquitous, you probably relied on pen and paper to keep track of notes. This made them easy to lose.
Now, with helpful and free note-taking apps, it is easy to write a note on a photo or add it to your calendar. You can share your notes with contacts and collaborators. You can also add color coding and keywords for easy searches.
Bear is an easy-to-use, powerful app that lets you combine text, photos, to-do lists, and code snippets. Bear’s markup editor supports more than 20 programming languages. The app also makes it easy for you to search through all your notes and focus on specific items with triggers such as @task, @tagged, and @files. The app is compatible with iMessage and the Apple Watch.
You can expand Bear’s capabilities by subscribing to Bear Pro for $1.49 per month or $15 per year. The Pro version lets you convert your text into PDF, Word documents, HTML, and more. It also gives you the option to sync all your notes across devices. For the iPad, Bear supports the Apple Pencil and hand sketching on Pro models. More recent versions feature autocomplete for tags, notes, and code, a revamped mechanism for collecting webpages, Siri shortcuts and search, and the ability to use Siri to create new notes.
Simplenote aims to be simplicity itself and largely succeeds. If you need to back up and sync your notes across all of your devices without the hassle of a subscription, then this app has you covered. You can also share notes and collaborate with other users. Once you set up a free account, you can start creating, tagging, pinning, and sharing notes. The interface is straightforward and easy to use. Don’t worry about having too many notes — Simplenote lets you tag, pin, and organize your notes, and it also packs a good search feature.
Extensive updates for iOS include integration with Siri shortcuts and the ability to launch the app, open notes, and create new notes directly from Siri. New actions, pin, and share are available in the Notes List, which now displays an icon showing notes that have been published. When sharing to the WordPress App, Notes will no longer appear as blockquotes. Android updates include a new widget to view notes and open them in the app from the home screen.
If you’re looking for a serious note-taking and collaboration app that works well with larger teams, check out Quip — Docs, Chat, Sheets. The app provides a place for teams to create live documents that are accessible for edits by all participants. As a combo chat, documents, task list, and spreadsheets app rolled into one, Quip lets you create, share, and collaborate on notes, task lists, or documents with any group. You can also chat in real time with team members, eliminating the need to exchange multiple emails.
Whether you are working on your iPhone, iPad, or a desktop computer, you can access and edit spreadsheets with support for more than 400 functions. Your work syncs across all devices, so you can pick up where you left off. The app lets you import documents from Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and Google Docs and export documents as PDFs or Microsoft Office files. Quip also lets you import your address book from Yahoo, Hotmail, Microsoft Outlook, Google, or iCloud. Later versions let you attach videos to messages and comments. On iOS 12, notifications are grouped by document and conversation.
Notebook is a free, consumer-oriented, cross-platform note-taking app that organizes your to-do lists and tasks visually, in an attractive card interface, with notes appearing as colored stickies stacked atop one another. Notes are customizable so you can group them together by pinch gestures into a stack or swipe across them to view additional information. You can attach files to notes — audio, images, and web clippings — plus reminders and due dates. Content syncs across all of your signed-in devices, and notes are searchable within the interface — a downward flick shows the search bar.
On iOS, you can create and view recent notes from the notification panel, as well as record voice memos with an Apple Watch. On Android, you can create shortcuts to notes on your home screen. Recent Android versions let you view 20 previously modified notes across notebooks and quickly create notes from the widget. On iOS, Notebook is optimized for iPad Pros, complete with support for Apple Pencil. You can now easily add tags using # in the text card toolbar, add a title, organize your bookmarks, and delete completed items in your checklist with a click.
Any.do is a to-do manager and a deep productivity app wrapped in one. Its Moments daily planner helps prioritize your tasks. A unified timeline shows scheduled notes, reminders, and appointments. The app has many helpful features. For example, if you miss a phone call on Android, a pop-up at the bottom of the screen provides shortcuts to set a callback reminder. If you’re talking and receive a message, Any.do can a send a canned response. The app’s zooming feature lets you zero in on tasks to reveal subtasks and other details, or zoom out to a big-picture overview.
Any.do offers a premium $3 a month service in which you can share an unlimited number of tasks with collaborators and upload files to a larger digital locker. Moments, which appears only a few times a month for free users, recurs daily with Any.do Premium. Premium lets you customize Any.do’s theme, set recurring tasks, and establish location-based reminders. Recent iOS versions support Siri, have a new calendar with three views to assist with managing tasks and events, a focus mode (with the premium version) that helps you concentrate on specific tasks to avoid distractions, and more.
Rather than treat lists as the pillar of its productivity hierarchy, Todoist encourages you to organize tasks around projects. Individual to-do items live within projects and can be exhaustively customized. You can add due dates, recurring reminders, flags, and subtasks. Todoist, like Wunderlist, can interpret your notes for dates using natural language, so a task with the phrase “every three weeks” will be scheduled to recur at that interval. The service also features organizational filters by priority and due date alongside offline support and automatic backups to the cloud.
If you seek more advanced features, you have to pay for them. With the $3-per-month subscription you get auto reminders by phone or email, the ability to create your own templates, automatic backup of your tasks, projects, comments, or files, your own labels, themes, task views and more. Todoist’s premium offering allows up to 300 projects. Newer versions customize your watch face with the number of tasks you have left for today or your next upcoming task, let you pick from over 20 color schemes, and more.
Remember the Milk
If minimalist task management is what you’re after, Remember the Milk may fit the bill. You can create to-dos and attach items like due dates, tags, notes, and estimated time of completion, and organize tasks by categories. Like Todoist and Wunderlist, Remember the Milk features natural language recognition for words like “tomorrow” that will prompt an appropriate reminder. It has basic support for location-based reminders and there are nifty features that let you share tasks or entire categories. Remember the Milk lets you set restrictions on task editing so Aunt Bertha can read the week’s grocery list but not change it. The App supports Siri Shortcuts from iOS 12 onward and watchOS 5 and onward. It also supports Apple Watch Series 4 and later, as well as complications, and haptic feedback on selection and swipe actions.
A premium tier adds a few features. In addition to unlimited task storage, people who shell out $40 per year for Remember the Milk Pro will see devices associated with their account, back up tasks automatically, get subtasks and advanced sorting, and ways to share and assign tasks, receive push notifications, sync offline, and integrate with Microsoft’s Outlook Tasks software.
Google Keep, a free task manager, packs a large number of useful features. Keep plays nicely with most of Google’s other services, so every note you add to Keep is searchable and accessible from within Google Drive, Google’s cloud storage locker, though it still lacks integration with Google Assistant. Keep inherits a few of Google’s machine learning smarts, too. It can transcribe text from images using optical character recognition, and, by parsing the content of your notes for keywords, it automatically filters your notes by topic, location, and activity.
You can color and add labels to code notes for quick organization. You can record a voice memo and Keep will transcribe it. Keep’s search features lets you perform elaborate multi-word queries. You can save items on your phone, tablet, computer, and watch, and everything you add syncs across all of your devices. There’s no way to group notes and tasks by folder, but it does now support subtasks. You can’t delegate tasks to other people, fine-tune permissions, add comments, or see real-time edits by others. Recent versions feature a new dynamic canvas that lets you create more drawings and handwritten notes,
Microsoft’s OneNote is one of the older note-takers. It debuted way back in 2003, but in 2014 received a fresh coat of paint and a bunch of new features. OneNote supports to-do lists with subtasks, starred tasks, highlights, labels, tags, and, on the desktop and the web, an array of formatting options. You can attach images, videos, links, screenshots, files, spreadsheets, and most file types. OneNote has a file revision history browser that lets you see what changes authors have made to a document over time. It’s got optical character recognition and can automatically transcribe the text of any PDF or other documents. And, much like Keep, your notes are stored in the cloud. OneDrive is accessible from any device with an internet connection. You get up to 15GB for free, shared among other Microsoft Office apps you use. On all iOS devices, it supports document search through Spotlight and multitasking via Split View. On the iPad Pro, it supports note-taking with Apple’s Pencil. Android users get the OneNote badge: a floating widget that lets you create a note no matter what app you’re currently using.
Updated versions let you quickly import details from any scheduled Outlook meeting into your notes, such as date, location, agenda, topic, and attendees. You can now lock pictures to the page background for easier drawing and annotating over images. The page sync status button lets you see when the current page was last synced. iOS versions also support the 2nd Generation Apple Pencil and the ability to drag and drop content into and out of OneNote and between other apps.
Microsoft To-Do, a neat, free productivity app, aims to make your life easier to manage. My Day, a personalized daily planner with suggested tasks, is designed to help you stay focused. The app helps you keep track of color-coded lists on any device while sharing tasks with friends, family, and colleagues. Set one-time or recurring due dates and reminders, break down tasks into smaller steps, add notes to any task, attach files up to 25MB to any task, and sync tasks between Outlook and To-Do. The app helps you separate your home, work, and personal lists with list groups. Just tap on the icon next to New List in the sidebar, rename your group, and drag your lists into it. An assignments feature lets you share a list of all tasks you want to delegate and assign them to colleagues, friends, or family. Tap on the detail view of a task in a shared list to assign it to someone else on that list. Flagged email integration, if enabled in your app settings for a work or school account, can flag an email so it will automatically show up in your To-Do Flagged Email list.
Wunderlist was acquired by Microsoft in 2015, and despite rumors of an eventual demise, the app is alive and kicking — but it is only being maintained without new features being added or updated. Still, it continues to work and serve its existing customers. The app syncs between your phone, tablet, and computer, letting you access lists from anywhere. One of Wunderlist’s cool tools is natural language interpretation, where the app automatically recognizes due date words like Tomorrow or Friday — and schedules reminders accordingly. Unlike Any.do, it doesn’t recognize locations.
On Android, you can add to-dos straight from the notification bar. The note-taking app provides templates for common tasks involving work, personal, bills, vacations, family, and purchases, and it facilitates grouping tasks into folders and sorting them chronologically by day or alphabetically. While the app advertises a pro tier, all the former paywall features are now available for free. We include Wunderlist in this list for the benefit of current users, but we do not recommend it if you are looking for something new, as it is on its way out and due to be replaced eventually by Microsoft’s To-Do.
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