Microsoft OneNote is an easy go-to for those looking to bring some organization into their lives. It’s a recognizable brand, it’s free, and it’s integrated into the world’s most popular operating system. But maybe you want to break out of Microsoft’s watchful ecosystem and try something a little different?
Or are you looking for something alternative that visualizes your notes in more interesting and, ahem, noteworthy ways? We’ve handpicked the best OneNote alternatives that should make your note-taking a cinch.
This one’s an Apple exclusive (iOS, Mac, Apple Watch), but Bear deserves a mention because it’s quite possibly the overall best-designed note-taking app out there. It uses a three-pane structure and prioritises a Search function in the top right corner which is so crucial to getting where you want.
So what makes it special? A big factor is that you can have any number of nested tags, letting you break down tags into as many levels as you like. It’s not as feature-rich as OneNote, but the experience is much faster and more efficient – making notes is simple, and that’s what a lot of people look for.
2. Zoho Notebook
Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android
Multi-platform and brimming with features, Zoho both looks and feels incredibly good. It’s vivid, colour-coded and elegant. Some of its more notable (hah!) features include the ability to create covers for your notebooks and a web-clipping tool that makes it easy to grab articles and other bits from the Internet.
You can sync your notes across as many devices as you like for free, giving it an edge over the notoriously restrictive.
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS
Perfect for those who find OneNote a little bit garish, Simplenote isn’t sprinkled with superfluous colors or other excesses. True to its name, it keeps things very simple and doesn’t offer any options for changing font sizes, text styles and so on. Instead, it relies on Markdown – an HTML-like open-source syntax that creates symbols using code. So it’s a bit techy, but some people like that.
Simplenote syncs across multiple devices, allows you to share notes by uploading them to the Web, and allows you to collaborate on notes with your friends. It may not be flashy or particularly customizable, but if you’re looking for a solid no-frills notebook app, this is a good option.
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
The arch-nemesis of OneNote went down in a lot of peoples’ estimations since limiting free users to syncing across just two devices, but if that’s all the devices you need, then Evernote remains the most comprehensive option.
Web-clipping is the biggie in Evernote. This browser extension is capable of chucking Web pages into your notebook with extreme accuracy, allowing you to pull text, screenshots or simplified versions of articles. If you pull images, then the way they appear as thumbnails in Evernote really brightens the app up. While Evernote is less customizable than OneNote, it still offers plenty of flexibility, and its more sparse color palette may be a draw for some.
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Web
The thing with using organizer apps from big corporations is that you just don’t know what your data is being used for. Laverna is an open-source app designed by people who prioritize privacy. None of your data is stored in any online servers, but you can still sync across multiple platforms thanks to Dropbox integration.
Like Simplenote, Laverna uses Markdown, so some basic knowledge of that is useful, and highlighting is done using various popular syntax coding languages. If you’re up for getting just a little bit techy, though, give Laverna a go.
6. Google Keep
Platforms: Android, iOS, Web
Not many people talk about Google Keep, which is a rare thing to say for a Google product, but over the past few years this app has been improving apace. It’s remarkably simple, and instead of splitting your notes up into notebooks, it divvies them up by tags and color-coding. (So if you do like the more vibrant style of OneNote, you’ll feel right at home here.)
As easyas it is to use, Google Keep also has a few fancy features, most notably the capability of turning images with text in them into editable text files and a Chrome extension that lets you pull info from websites much like with Evernote’s beloved Web Clipper.
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android
If you want your organizer to resemble a corky notice board with pieces of paper pinned to it rather than your typical digital notebook, then Turtl is for you. Much more visual than the other options, it lays your notes out like a Pinterest board, which is particularly handy if you use plenty of images and also a good way of making each note stand out, making it easier to remember.
Turtl is security-focused, too, offering encryption from the get-go and creating dedicated encryption keys whenever you choose to share specific notes with other people across the Internet. Turtl perhaps isn’t as deep or tweakable as other note-taking apps, but it’s secure and stylish.
Different notes for different folks, as the saying goes. These apps accommodate people of varying tech savviness and with differently-wired brains with their own ways of memorizing things. Work out which one suits you best and run with it.
This article is first published in December 2017 and was updated in August 2019.