WHEN IT COMES TO note-taking apps, speaking of Google Keep vs Evernote vs SpringPad and so on, you quickly realise there are two kinds: apps on a grand prix run with a million features we would all like but never use, and stripped down apps that help us take notes and do little else.
Both are hard to get right: you risk either over-stuffing your turkey or leaving it hollow. But if any four apps get the formula right, these four have to be it.
What we are looking for
Here are some important, must-have features we looked for in note-taking apps:
- Speed and a light weight application
- Syncing options
- Widget for quick access
And here are some extras we would enjoy:
- Cross platform presence and syncing
- Cross-device presence
- Good design
- Array of note types
- Organising features
- Sharing features
Neither this website nor anybody associated with it are being paid in any form to write for or against any app. These reviews are based on experience and are subjective but give a very accurate idea of the product and have been written from a neutral standpoint.
Google’s silent entry into the note-taking world
Google began by turning users away by closing one product after another, often unannounced, and finally gave the public no good incentive to use their latest brainchild, Keep. If they tried, nobody knows about it. So then why is Keep on this list? It is because Keep —
- is light weight, fast to save and syncs just as seamlessly
- has a slick widget that offers scrolling previews and ability to start taking notes from your home screen
- offers text, checklist, voice and photo notes
- has presence on both desktops (via chrome,) phones (Android, iOS)
And what’s special about Keep?
- Keep automatically transcribes voice notes (US english only, right now)
- Keep saves using your 25GB space on your Google Drive
- Keep allows text note to checklist conversion even after creating a text note
- Keep uses color coding (limited to eight — and five really distinguishable — colours)
If you take extensive vocal reminders and messages, Keep’s automatic transcribing may prove useful even if not 100% accurate. If you used Catch Notes before it was shut down, you will find Keep a pleasing alternative.
In other words, if you like to take quick notes and get done with it, Keep is just the app for you. And Keep works beautifully offline too.
Looking for a little extra muscle, though, or some charm or fun? Throw Keep out the window and head on to our next competitor.
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Does the veteran app still have what it takes?
If you came here just looking for an answer to that question just above, then you’ll be happy to know that yes, it does. But other apps are not exactly what you might consider stagnant.
Evernote satisfies the basic needs of any user, at any level, any profession, any use you can think of. Here are some of its most advantageous features:
- Neat suite of apps including web clippers and readers
- Excellent integration with third-party apps
- Searches inside images
- Perfect solution for long notes or long hours of note taking
- Good cross-browser, cross-device presence
But there are some things that hold us back here too,
- Way too many features: UI appears cluttered if you do not use them all
- Free account gets you <50MB a month, but a $45/month paid option exists
- Poor security (if you are really paranoid)
- Overall, not a very intuitive or quick solution for note-taking
Evernote is best for taking down college lecture notes, (or speeches and lectures in general,) interviews, creatives jotting down long ideas, shooting textual documents to use as notes and so on. It’s basically a lengthy note-taking process, but a perfect solution if you are looking at tonnes of crisp, formatted, heavily organised notes to maintain for a long time.
If all you want is to use an app as a digital edition of your post-it notes, get back to Google Keep, not Evernote. But if you have a huge notes collection you would rather hold on to for a long time, Evernote is perfect. And again, if you’re photo- (and generally media-) happy, try our next contender, SpringPad.
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The Pintrest of note-taking
[NB: Review carried over from our previous edition
I think Springpad was here before Pintrest, but people seem to compare how similar it looks to the newer product, especially after the recent re-design. This is, in fact, the simplest definition of Springpad. It has a gorgeous interface laid out like pinboards and makes it a very visual task to manage your notes.
Springpad’s biggest plus still remains across-the-web, link, media and group sharing. And little else. But Springpad mostly makes things fun. Here’s what you’ll like:
- Note-taking by categories such as movies, restaurants etc.
- Great sharing capabilities for collaboration
- Springpad boasts its own social network for its users
- Tailored for media sharing and cataloguing
And, as always,
- Works poorly for quick note-taking
- Still shows only select tags on note pages
- Nothing attractive, but a lot of useless features for text-heavy note-takers
Springpad is for people who like to handle media, especially pictures, and bookmark stuff they come across on the web: you get the point, using Springpad is like having your very own Pintrest. With your very own Springpad social network.
If you want quick, or lots of text, Springpad is a poor option; if text is a once-in-a-while thing and pictures are your everyday style of usage, pick Springpad. In short, Springpad is for people with a flare for media, bookmarking, and group sharing, all without heavy emphasis on text.
But for uber serious note-takers who rarely use lot of media and neither prefer Keep’s simplicity or Evernote’s complication, but rather a mixture of the two, look at Microsoft’s very own One Note.
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Microsoft got it right this time. Almost.
I want you take a good look at the screenshots above. Take your time. What do you see? You see a little Microsoft Word.
Microsoft’s biggest strength is, arguably, its Office suite. And with OneNote, the tech giant has made a fine decision to use formatting and document creation to their advantage. And it’s one huge advantage, believe you me. Here are some things you’ll like:
- Formatting. Formatting. Formatting.
- Two-level organisation like Evernote’s notebooks and stacks
- Autosync for SkyDrive Pro users (Office 365 or SharePoint)
- Interesting Catch-like colour coding (not editable, though)
But OneNote has some drawbacks:
- Not quick, not intuitive
- Sync is slow at best, even with a pretty good Wifi connection
- No handwriting features like the once-famous OneNote for PC
OneNote users love a physical keyboard: Microsoft removed support for it in their latest update. That speaks volumes by itself. Also, that says OneNote is extensive enough in its “toolbar-equivalents” that it warrants the use of a physical keyboard.
But OneNote, surprisingly enough, serves as a fine quick note-taking app as well. Sort of like Keep. And the huge notes, formatted to perfection reflect a little Evernote. OneNote is cross between Keep’s simplicity and Evernote’s organisation with Microsoft’s rich text formatting thrown in for good measure. The best of both worlds? Yes, but at a price.
OneNote is laggy. It is slow. OneNote syncs poorly, sometimes not at all, but notes do not exactly go missing, so you’re safe there; they just hesitate to sync every now and then. What is good, though, is Microsoft’s track record in updating OneNote. It has been consistently pleasing and shows good signs of improvement.
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So which is the right note-taking app? Consider this to help you decide: which words best describe your usage and style of note-taking?
- Elaborate, extensive, well organised, multiple devices and OSes, liesurely
- Media, group sharing, social networking, browsing, bookmarking, heavy tablet usage
- Elaborate, organised, formatting, tables, charts etc., multiple devices and OSes
- Quick, simple, voice reminders, checklists, write and delete, multiple devices
If you picked 1, pick Evernote; 2, try Springpad; 3, OneNote; and 4 Keep.
That should help you choose. If you came here because Catch Notes was discontinued, you’ll enjoy Keep just as much, or you might also like the added advantages OneNote gives you.
So which app did you decide to use?
Share it with us in the comments below.
Cover image: Taiwan Evernote users meet-up — Flickr/othree