The best note-taking apps for Mac

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Note-taking apps are essential tools for keeping things organized, and there are plenty of them for macOS. A good note-taking app has all the features you need and none that you don’t.

There isn’t a perfect app for everyone either, so we’ve compiled a list of the best ones so you can make an informed decision.

Free and easy for Apple users: Apple Notes

Apple Notes for Mac

If you primarily use Apple devices, Apple Notes is a great option. The app has come in leaps and bounds since the early days of iOS, with Apple not only adding powerful features, but also making it much more enjoyable to use.

Apple Notes syncs with all of your devices using iCloud, which means you can access your notes on all devices using the built-in Notes app. If you need to access your notes from a device other than Apple, like an Android smartphone or Windows PC, you can use the web version by signing in to iCloud.com. It’s not perfect if you spend a lot of time with these operating systems, but it’s better than nothing.

The app supports attachments including photos, maps, web links, and documents that you can “scan” using the built-in document scanner on iPhone and iPad. There is simple text formatting, tables, and the ability to create checklists. You can even lock notes with a password and use Face ID and Touch ID to unlock them on supported devices. There’s also support for markup with a finger or Apple pencil on compatible devices (not on Macs just yet though).

Apple relies on hashtags and folders for organization, and you can even choose to keep notes outside of iCloud and only on your Mac or mobile device. Your data is indexed and easy to find on Apple devices with Spotlight search, which can often fail with third-party solutions. You can even use smart folders to assemble notes based on tags.

Notes also has powerful collaboration features. You can add other users with an Apple ID to your notes and even use inline mentions to get their attention with a notification.

RELATED: How to Quickly Add Links, Photos, and Media to Apple Notes on iPhone and iPad

Microsoft OneNote for Mac

Microsoft OneNote is a heavy note-taking app that comes with a lot of features, and it doesn’t cost a dime to use. You don’t need a subscription to access all of the app’s features, including cloud sync across all platforms. If you’re using more than a Mac, you’ll be happy to know that OneNote offers native apps for almost any platform, including Android, Windows, and the cloud. There is also a native version of Apple Silicon, which works great on the latest Apple computers.

OneNote looks more like part of the Office suite than a simple note-taking app, with an array of UI elements and formatting options missing elsewhere. It’s part of OneNote’s approach to let you arrange your notes exactly the way you want them. It’s a scrapbook-like approach: you can type anywhere, format the text, drag the container around the page, and have other items next to it.

This approach is liberating for power users and overkill for anyone looking for a simple note-taking app. This is great if you organize meeting notes, take pictures of whiteboards, and annotate product designs or concept illustrations. It’s a bit much if all you want to do is make a shopping list or take a quick memo (but it works anyway).

The emphasis is on drawing, with a “Convert to Shapes” option if you lack artistic merit. You can also take audio recordings, solve equations, create tables, attach files, change paper color, secure notes with a password, or have body text read aloud.

This comprehensive approach is reflected in OneNote’s organizational approach, which uses notebooks, sections within notebooks, and pages within sections. You can choose from built-in tags like “To Do” and “Important” to organize things quickly or create your own. Reorganizing and sorting notes, sections, and notebooks is also quick and easy to do.

The collaborative features are also strong, with a simple “Invite to notebook” link allowing everyone to contribute. You can share read-only links, see when your note was last synced with the server, and see others making changes in real time.

Text-only and cross-platform: Simplenote

Simplenote for Mac

If you’re looking for simplicity but need better native support than Apple Notes, take a look at Simplenote. The clue is in the name, but Simplenote is about as simple as a note-taking app can be. This comes at the expense of functionality, but it makes for a quick and enjoyable note-taking experience.

Simplenote does not support attachments, which means it is a purely text-based note-taking experience. It is completely free to use, with free synchronization between the many native versions available. This includes macOS, Windows, Android, and a wide variety of Linux versions. If you don’t want to use the Mac App Store or Google Play Store, you can download Simplenote directly from GitHub.

The app supports plain text, Markdown, and simple checklists. The organization is done only by means of tags, which have a dedicated field at the bottom of the notes. Searching and syncing is blazingly fast, which is made even easier by the fact that the app has a native version of Apple Silicon for chips like the M1.

Despite the no-frills approach, Simplenote still manages to include support for basic collaboration. Type an email address in the tags field and the recipient will receive an invitation to contribute to your note. You can even view and undo earlier versions of the notes, a benefit of the app’s text-only approach.

Polished and Premium: Bear App

Bear app for Mac

Bear is a beautiful general-purpose note-taking and writing app for macOS, iOS, and iPadOS. There is no native Windows or Android version, but a web version is in the works. If you’re not strictly limited to Apple devices, Bear probably isn’t for you.

The app takes a very neat approach to capturing your thoughts and other written content, with a heavy emphasis on Markdown. Bear is a little different in that it presents Markdown as a rich preview while writing, beautifying words on the page before you’ve exported or previewed them. It’s about making the writing experience more enjoyable, which in turn can help you get more done.

The editor also highlights over 150 programming languages ​​(great for snippets) and can recognize things like email addresses and web links. You can add attachments to your notes and there is online support for images. The organization is done only by means of hashtags, except that there is no separate field (they must be mentioned in the body of your note).

Most of Bear’s features are free, but to access syncing between devices, you’ll need to pay a monthly or yearly subscription ($ 1.49 per month or $ 14.99 per year). You’ll also have the option to lock your notes, more export options, and a few more themes.

Collaborative development: Boost Note

Boost Note for Mac

If you’re a programmer or web developer who uses a note-taking app differently from most people, Note Boost might be right for you. It’s a Markdown editor that caters directly to developers, with an emphasis on collaboration. Boost Note describes its interface as “IDE-like” with a flexible organization system that allows you to nest notes in multiple folders.

You can also use smart folders to group notes by certain criteria, and there’s both quick and full-text search to get you to where you need to be quickly. It is possible to create a direct link to notes or to embed certain aspects of other notes in the note you are currently working on. You will get a proper grade revision history so that you can go back or view previous versions just like you would with other programming tools.

Collaboration is at the heart of Boost Note. You can have multiple teams within a shared workspace, working on the same projects at the same time in real time. It is even possible to generate public URLs to share documents with clients or external collaborators without having to set up additional accounts.

Boost has a native version for most major operating systems, including Windows and Linux versions like Debian (Ubuntu) and Red Hat, as well as mobile versions for Android and iOS. Boost Note also has a web version which you can access from most modern browsers.

Boost is free as long as you have a small team of three or less. You only get 3 days of version history, 100MB of storage, and 10MB of downloads at this level. The price then increases per member, to $ 3 or $ 8 per member per month. You get more storage, more versioning, and extended support depending on whether you go Standard or Pro.

Apple Notes is a great place to start

There’s a reason Apple Notes is first on this list, and that’s because you get a lot of features for free in one easy-to-use package. You’ll have to keep using Apple’s ecosystem, but if you’re already a Mac or iPhone user, that probably won’t be a problem.

You can even access Apple Notes on Android and Windows if you’re happy with a web version. And for iPad users, there’s no easier way to take handwritten notes or draw perfect shapes.

About Jon Moses

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