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 one of the OneNote alternatives for something a little different?
Or are you looking for something alternative that visualizes your notes in more interesting and 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 prioritizes 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
Multi-platform and brimming with features, Zoho both looks and feels incredibly good. It’s vivid, color-coded and elegant. Some of its more notable 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 Evernote. Zoho is available across Windows, Mac, iOS and Android.
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 on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. This allows you to share notes by uploading them to the Web and enables 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.
The arch-nemesis of OneNote went down in a lot of peoples’ estimations since limiting free users to syncing across just two devices. That’s true across Windows, Mac, Android and iOS, Evernote’s four platforms. However, if two devices or less are all that you need, Evernote remains a comprehensive option among OneNote alternatives.
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. 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.
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 on Windows, Mac, Linux or the Web.
6. Google Keep
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 easy as 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. If you don’t want to use the Web, you can always add Google Keep to your Android or iPhone.
Whereas OneNote bills itself as a digital note-taking app, Notion views itself as more of an all-in-one workspace. Its generous free tier offers a bevy of options for capturing notes with an inviting, distraction-free interface. Once you start typing, Notion says “everything else fades away” so your focus is only on your writing. Once you are done with any note-taking, you can drag and drop it, rearrange it and add an image or video, with just a few mouse clicks.
It’s this personalization that really helps Notion stand out among the OneNote alternatives. The opportunity to mimic a Kanban board is another powerful tool for staying organized that also sets Notion apart from OneNote. All of your data syncs between Windows, macOS, iOS and Android, including your “blocks,” which is how Notion identifies all of your notes, images, links, files, etc.
8. Standard Notes
Like SimpleNote, Standard Notes drops all of the fluff for a OneNote alternative that is very notes-focused. The app prides itself on being 100 percent private, so anything you write is encrypted, ensuring that only you can read what you wrote. Apps for macOS, Windows, Linux, iOS, Android and the Web make it certain that you are never far from an opportunity to capture something that just popped into your head.
Data syncs without any additional cost between an unlimited number of devices, and everything is available offline at any time. That the entire app is open source gives you a sense of confidence that it’s as secure as the developer claims, and any bugs will be quickly identified and fixed by the larger community of users.
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 of these OneNote alternatives suits you best and run with it. If you’re on iOS, check out 10 of the best note-taking apps for iOS, and if you’re on Android, check out four of the best note-taking apps for Android.