young professional, working at their desk, writing notes on a tablet

Even if you switch to digital notes, you can still write notes by hand with a stylus. (Photo by Fotostorm/Getty Images)

@Work | Tools

Save the trees—switch to digital note-taking apps to keep track of your thoughts

Evernote Premium, Microsoft OneNote and Simplenote make it easier to take your work with you wherever you go

A Facebook IconFacebook A Twitter IconTwitter A Linkedin IconLinkedin An Email IconEmail

It’s even easier to take your work with you and dive into it from anywhere when you use digital note-taking apps. Just like pencil and paper, you can track your thoughts and ideas with digital notes. Unlike traditional notes, though, you can do much more than that with them.

Your notes are available on all your devices

You can start a note on your computer, add to it on your smartphone at the coffee shop, and change it on your tablet at the airport. The information automatically syncs across your devices.

You can work with others

You can share your notes with co-workers and family members. With Evernote Premium, Google Keep, and Microsoft OneNote, you can all contribute to a shared note at the same time.

You can see what changes have been made to notes

Evernote Premium, Microsoft OneNote, and Simplenote all track the history of your notes, so you can see what information was in the note days ago.

You can attach files to your notes

You can attach audio memos, photos, videos and PDF documents to your notes. Evernote and Microsoft OneNote go even further, letting you insert snapshots of web pages into your entries. With those programs you can also send emails to your notes, so you can automatically add things such as travel itineraries, electronic newsletters or sales reports.

You can organize notes, and search them

Categorizing your notes into folders or binders makes it easy to find them when you need them. And digital note apps will let you search your entries, too. Microsoft OneNote can search your audio and video files for spoken words, and even your handwritten notes. Yes, I said “handwritten”.

You can still write notes by hand

If you’re using Microsoft OneNote, you can use a stylus to handwrite notes, or annotate images, screenshots and PDFs that you’ve attached.

You can’t misplace them

It’s easy for a scrap of paper to get tossed into the recycling bin by mistake. That can’t happen with a digital note.

The five best digital note apps

Of the five apps I’ve listed here, Evernote and Microsoft’s OneNote are the most full-featured solutions. If you’re in the Apple or Google ecosystems, though, solid free alternatives include in Apple Notes and Google Keep. And Simplenote delivers what its name promises: straightforward simplicity. Evernote is the only one that requires a separate subscription fee.

1. Apple Notes

Cost: free 

Devices: iOS and macOS

Storage: iCloud

This app is free as part of Apple’s operating systems, and syncs to all your Apple devices through iCloud.

2. Evernote

Cost: Annually US$47 for Plus, $90 for Premium, or $15 per month per user for Business

Devices: Android, iOS, macOS, web browser, Windows

Storage: unlimited

Evernote’s different pricing levels limit the number of notes you can upload: 1 GB for Plus versus 10 GB for Premium. The Business version upload limit is 20 GB for a team, and adds “Spaces”, which are separate working areas for teams that collect all notes for a project or campaign.

3. Google Keep

Cost: free

Devices: Android, iOS, Chrome, web browser

Storage: Google Drive

Keep works with your Google account, and is available across all your devices through apps or through a web browser.

4. Microsoft OneNote

Cost: free

Devices: Android, iOS, macOS, web browser, Windows

Storage: OneDrive

As part of Microsoft’s approach to have its software work everywhere, OneNote is available on virtually every device, including Wear OS and Apple Watch. Your notes are stored in your OneDrive cloud account. As you’d expect, OneNote integrates seamlessly with your other Microsoft Office programs like Excel and Word.

5. Simplenote

Cost: free

Devices: Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Windows

Storage: unlimited

While Simplenote is plain—it can’t accommodate audio or images—it is a great option if you’re just looking for something to collect and sync text-based notes.