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5 Best Notetaking Apps for Students in 2020

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OneClass Blog
30 Jan 2020
8 min read

Today’s note-taking apps make it easy to capture clear and organized class notes without the heft or inconvenience of paper notebooks. Most note-taking apps can sync between multiple devices. Some convert handwriting into searchable text and can integrate alternative media such as photos, audio recordings, files or webpages. 

But which note-taking app is the best? Let’s review the top note-taking apps for 2020. 

Best Overall: Evernote 

Evernote frequently tops lists for the best note taking app, and there’s a good reason for that. It’s got a ton of great features. 

Devices: It's a cross-platform app, working on either Android or iOS devices, as well as Windows or Mac machines. You can access notes from any device, so if you take notes on a tablet, you can access them later from your laptop. 

Multimedia: Use it as a dictation tool with speech to text, or use ink mode to capture handwritten notes. You can drag and drop files to attach images, Powerpoint slides and more. It even integrates with Web Clipper so you can capture online articles, emails and webpages. You can use Evernote to scan documents. And thanks to Evernote's optical character reader (OCR) capabilities, images, including handwritten notes, are searchable.

Organization: Evernote helps you keep things organized with folders and tags. For example, you use folders for your subjects to group all of your Economics 101 notes together. You can then use a “Midterms” or “Finals” tag for notes across any of your subjects. You can also add reminders to notes so you’ll know what you need to revisit. Plus, the search feature helps you find notes based on their content. 

Cost: Evernote has a free plan. However, features are limited. For example, with the free version, you can’t see version history, there’s no offline access for mobile, and you can’t integrate with apps like Google Drive or Microsoft Office. Students can get a 50 percent discount on Evernote Premium, which would make your costs $4 per month or $48 per year. Compare features for each plan to see which option is right for you. 

If You’re a G-Suite Fan: Google Keep

Google Keep can be used on either iOS or Android devices. The straightforward note taking app is especially useful if you’re already using G-Suite. Google Keep is even accessible as a sidebar within Gmail. 

Multimedia: Within Google Keep, you can add images, create handwritten notes or drawings, and create to-do lists. You can easily convert a note into a Google Doc. You can transcribe text using Google Assistant’s voice-to-text. Like Evernote, you can also search for text that’s within an image or handwritten note. You can even search for words inside a spoken voice memo. Plus, you can invite other users to collaborate on your notes. 

Organization: The organization format within Google Keep is similar to digital Post-Its. They can be color-coded, you can add labels, and you can pin notes to have easy access. There’s even a reminder feature so you’ll know when you need to follow up on something that happened in class. 

Cost: Like other G-suite products, Google Keep is free. There’s also a Chrome extension for easy access. 

A Favorite of Mac Users: Apple Notes

Apple Notes is pre-installed on most Apple devices including iPhones, iPads and iMacs. That makes it the first choice of many Apple fans. 

Multimedia: Apple Notes relies on the same clean design principles that we expect from Apple. Your notes won’t feel cluttered or chaotic, even after adding images, attachments, scanned documents, website screenshots or handwriting. Plus, you can also use Siri to create new notes or dictate text. 

Organization: To keep your class notes organized, there are category folders and subfolders. A great strategy would be to create a folder for each semester and a subfolder for each course. 

Cost: You can use Apple Notes for free, but usage is a part of the 5GB limit on free iCloud storage. You can upgrade to a paid plan with 50GB of storage for 99 cents per month.

If You’re a Minimalist: Simplenote

Rather than leveraging add-ons and integrations, Simplenote gives you the basics of a blank white page and black text. This minimalist approach is especially useful for students who struggle to stay focused. Rather than distractions, the back-to-basics app can help you pay close attention to what happens in class. 

Multimedia: The straightforward text editor avoids most of the frills. It doesn’t offer the ability to add images or other multimedia files. However, there is a version history feature so you can view changes or revert back as needed.

Organization: Simplenote does offer a tags function so you can sort and organize your class notes. 

Cost: All users get free access, and there are no subscription upgrades. The notes app is put out by Automatic, the folks who make WordPress. The company says there are no limits to how many notes you can make (within reason).

For Group Projects: Dropbox Paper

When you need to brainstorm, share ideas, or collaborate with your classmates, Dropbox Paper provides an integrative and flexible digital workspace.

Multimedia: The app includes a task management tool so you can develop shared to-do lists including due dates and the ability to assign tasks to team members. You can annotate notes to offer feedback and mention collaborators to start a dialogue. You can also sync with your calendar and add many types of content including images, audio files, YouTube videos or other Dropbox files. 

Collaboration: It’s important to note that when using Dropbox Paper, the full name and email address of any Dropbox user who opens the document is visible. While this privacy issue isn't a problem for small group projects, a commenter on Hacker News noted that if a Paper document has been viewed by a large number of people, you can easily spam them by writing @doc.

Cost: Dropbox Paper is free and accessible via a web browser or apps for iOS or Android.

Runner’s Up

Microsoft OneNote: If you prefer using Microsoft Office apps, there’s a note taking app that lets you stay within the Microsoft sphere. Microsoft OneNote is frequently compared to Evernote because it has a strong set of features including the ability to add photos, audio recordings and hand-written notes. The app is free for students and is included in Office 365 Education.

Notion: In 2019, Notion became free for students. The app has database-like power that lets you keep your notes organized, build tools like a grade calculator, and collaborate with classmates. The downside is that there is so much power, flexibility and versatility, there is a learning curve when you’re getting started. It’s a good choice for those who want customization. Notion is available via mobile apps, desktop apps, or via a web browser. 

Zoho Notebook: Zoho Notebook is similar to Google Keep. The Indian software company Zoho offers the free notetaking app as part of its suite of apps that is similar to Google or Microsoft. It wasn’t designed for collaboration, but its main advantage is its visual organization features and color-coded tabs. You can also use the AI-power voice assistant, Zia, to interact with your notes. 

OneClass: Instead of each student working individually, OneClass helps more students succeed through a shared class noted model. Paid note takers upload their lecture notes within 24 hours of class, allowing other students to stay engaged without worrying about writing things down. It’s become a valuable learning platform across many college campuses, and 90 percent of users have improved by at least one letter grade. 

Discover what OneClass class notes are being used by students at your school. 

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