7 Best Note-Taking Apps For Your Apple Pencil In 2021

The 7 Best Note-Taking Apps For The Apple Pencil In 2021

ZoomNotes

Cost: $7.99 on iPadOS/iOS and $6.99 on macOS. Both are one-time purchases.
Supported OS: iPadOS, iOS, macOS
Categories: Productivity, Note-taking, Planning
Developer: Deliverance Software Ltd
Full review

PROS

9.7

Rating: 10 out of 10.

MOST FEATURE-RICH

CONS

  • Ugly & old user interface
  • Too many functions can be overwhelming
  • No multiple instances
  • Very buggy; makes learning difficult

ZoomNotes is the most feature-rich note-taking app on the market. We have a saying about ZoomNotes: If you can think it, ZoomNotes probably does it. This app is perfect for anyone with an appetite for learning and mastering new apps. ZoomNotes can create the exact paper templates you want, including planners. It supports an infinite canvas and has a customisable user interface. You can write your notes in layers, create hyperlinks (even link to other documents in the app) and outlines. ZoomNotes integrates with Apple Reminders and Apple Calendar, the list goes on. 

To appreciate the app, you must first get over its old and ugly user interface. Feature-rich also means overwhelming and most users simply don’t have the patience to figure it out. At the moment the app doesn’t support multiple instances and after Noteshelf, ZoomNotes is quite buggy. It has too many ‘moving parts‘ and the bugs only add to the complexity of the app. We can’t decide which app is more buggy: Noteshelf or ZoomNotes. 

GoodNotes

Cost: $7.99 for all versions on the same Apple ID, one-time purchase
Supported OS: iPadOS, iOS, macOS
Categories: Productivity, Note-taking, Planning
Developer: Time Base Technology Limited
Full review

PROS

9.0

Rating: 8 out of 9.

TOP-RATED ON APP STORE

CONS

  • Unstable, can have a lot of bugs
  • Creates big files, takes up too much space.
  • Two-step handwriting-to-text conversion.
  • Slow syncing between devices

GoodNotes has a massive collection of page templates, a multi-level organisation system, supports multiple tabs and has real-time collaboration to make the app a great note-taking app. It is also a great PDF reader for simple PDF annotation and its ability to create and export outlines makes it amazing. It is by far the most popular note-taking app amongst note-takers in 2021. 

GoodNotes, however, creates huge files. Though a recent update tried to improve that, GoodNotes still has a long way before it can help us save space on our iPad and it appears the changes were only temporary. The conversion to text feature needs some improvement to make it a one-step process. Syncing across devices is a bit slow in GoodNotes. 

Nebo

Cost: Freemium with in-app, one-time purchases on iPadOS/iOS, $9.99 on Windows & $11.97 on Android
Supported OS: iPadOS, iOS, macOS
Categories: Productivity, Note-taking, Planning
Developer: MyScript
Full review

PROS

  • Best handwriting recognition engine
  • Supports 66 languages
  • Erases per letter
  • Useful gestures
  • Supports Math & Chemical equations
  • Custom dictionary

9.0

Rating: 9 out of 10.

BEST HANDWRITING CONVERSION

CONS

  • Doesn’t support multiple instances
  • You can’t drag & drop images
  • No recycle bin

Nebo is the best handwriting converting app on the market. It supports 66 languages in total, erases per letter and integrates text and handwriting as though they are one. You can combine text letters and handwritten ones in one word or sentence. Nebo offers better math and chemical equation conversions compared to Notability. You can edit your equations if there are any errors. Nebo lets you create a custom dictionary for technical terms. At the moment though, it’s a bit of a pain because you can only add one word at a time. 

Nebo has a few drawbacks. You don’t get a recycle bin in the app, neither can you drag & drop images into the app. Nebo also doesn’t support multiple instances yet. 

Nebo and Notability have introduced a new concept to note-taking apps in an effort to keep their apps reasonably priced and one-time purchases. In both apps, you can purchase features in their shops and in Notability even more: stickers, planners and themes. This has sparked some interesting conversations in the note-taking community. Would you rather have subscriptions, paid updates or shops with voluntary purchases? We know which one we’d rather go for. 

Notability

Cost: $8.99 on iPadOS, $1.99 on macOS & $2.99 for Handwriting Recognition, one-time purchase
Supported OS: iPadOS, iOS, macOS
Categories: Productivity, Note-taking, Planning
Developer: Ginger Labs
Full review

PROS

8.5

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

MOST STABLE

CONS

  • One Page size option: A4
  • No landscape mode for pages
  • No multiple page selection
  • Limited organisation levels (has only two).
  • Few page templates
  • You can’t save custom page templates to the app’s library.
  • No support for multiple instances.
  • Sells some features in their Notability shop

Notability’s failure to provide simple features like page rotation, multiple page selection and infinite organisation levels has seen the app lose its popularity over the past few years. The app only supports one page size and has few page template options. You are also still limited to the Note Switcher for your multitasking where most apps have adopted multiple instances. 

However, Notability still remains the most stable note-taking app on this list. It takes up the least storage on your iPad, has the best interactive checklists, supports web clips and recently added Math conversion OCR. There is still some work that needs to be done before most users can fully utilise this feature but we think it’s a step in the right direction. 

Audio recording synced to your handwritten or typed notes still remains Notability’s best feature. This makes the app ideal for anyone that can’t keep up with writing in lectures and meeting. You can also password-protect PDFs you export out of the app. 

Noteshelf

Cost: $9.99 on iPadOS, $7.99 on macOS & $5.18 on Android, one-time purchase
Supported OS: iPadOS, iOS, macOS
Categories: Productivity, Note-taking, Planning
Developer: Fluid Touch Pte. Ltd.
Full review

PROS

  • Password protect notebooks
  • Publish to Evernote
  • Improves handwriting
  • Add stock images from Pixabay & Unsplash
  • Has the most page templates library
  • Has planner templates
  • Tag pages

8.5

Rating: 8.5 out of 10.

BEST HANDWRITING EXPERIENCE

CONS

  • Unstable, sometimes has visible handwriting lag
  • Alters handwriting, which some may feel is an inaccurate presentation of handwriting

Noteshelf is an app we feel is the most underrated on this list. When it has no bugs, the app has the best handwriting experience you can get on the iPad. It supports the largest page templates library we have seen in any note-taking app and has special templates for planning. 

You can password protect your notebooks or publish them to Evernote. If you use Evernote and want a good handwriting app to use, try Noteshelf. The app is also available on Android but it does not sync to the iPad version yet. You can also add stock images to your notes from Pixabay and Unsplash. 

As wonderful as Noteshelf sounds, it is the most unstable app on this list. It is plagued with a bug that makes your handwriting lag and that is very unpleasant. This bug is rare in 2021 but if it pops up, the app becomes unstable (until they release an update to fix it of course). Another thing to note, if you love your handwriting, is that Noteshelf alters and improves your handwriting. Some people love this but others hate it. 

OneNote

Cost: Free
Supported OS: iPadOS, iOS, macOS, Windows, Android, Web app
Categories: Productivity, Note-taking, Planning
Developer: Microsoft
Full review

PROS

  • Supports tags
  • Insert space between your notes
  • Supports audio files and videos
  • Attach any file (less than 100 MB though)
  • Supports tables

8.0

Rating: 8 out of 10.

MOST UNIVERSAL

CONS

  • No distinct page sizes on the iPad
  • Researcher only available with Microsoft 365 subscription
  • No recycle bin on the iPad version
  • Inconsistencies on different platforms
  • Only 5GB free OneDrive space

OneNote by Microsoft is the one free note-taking app you can actually use for serious note-taking. It is available on any operating system you pick up, which makes it the most ideal app to use when you use different devices. Like with Apple Notes, OneNote can create space between sections of your notes, supports videos and tables.

You can attach videos with the file attachment feature. Audio recording (on the iPad) doesn’t allow you to use the app while recording. You can attach any file that is less than 100 MB in OneNote. Tables are easy to add and edit.

What defines whether or not you can use this app is the fact that on the iPad, OneNote only has an infinite canvas. You will either dislike this enough to stop using the app or love it to embrace the app forever. On the iPad, you can’t define your page sizes and that makes most people dislike the app. 

Another pain that might plague you with OneNote is the fact that the app has a lot of inconsistencies across different platforms. Hopefully, the more you use the app on different operating systems, the less confused you’ll be. One last thing to note about OneNote is that the app is free as long as you have free OneDrive Space. Initially, Microsoft gives you 5GB of free space on OneDrive. When that finishes, OneNote becomes a subscription under Microsoft 365. 

Apple Notes

Cost: Free
Supported OS: iPadOS, iOS, macOS, Web app
Categories: Productivity, Note-taking, Planning
Developer: Apple
Full review

PROS

  • Minimalist
  • Interactive checklist
  • Supports tables
  • Insert gap between sections of your notes
  • Smart selection & data detection
  • Supports videos
  • Collaboration on folders

7.5

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

BEST FOR SIMPLE NOTES

CONS

  • Uses raster ink
  • Limited text formatting
  • No handwriting conversion
  • Poor exporting options
  • No distinct page sizes
  • Poor exporting options
  • Text & handwriting don’t mix

Apple Notes got some very impressive updates in iPadOS 14. If you’re interested in a minimalist app for noting down random ideas or you are a minimalist note-taker, this app is definitely for you. 

With smart selection, you can select your handwritten notes as though they are text. Double-tap and long-press gestures to speed up how you select sections of your handwriting. Data detection makes Apple Notes recognise addresses, numbers, dates and emails from your handwritten and typed notes allowing you to interact with them. 

Apple Notes is one of the few apps that supports tables, videos and creating space between your notes. Even though you are limited to adding your videos from the Photos library, you’re still getting more with videos than offered in most note-taking apps. When you want to add more information to a section, you can use your lasso tool to create the space you need. 

Of course, not all is rosy with this minimalist note-taking app. Apple Notes uses raster ink, which pixelates when you zoom into your notes. This makes up for an unpleasant digital note-taking experience. You also can’t mix your handwriting with text or images in the app. Apple Notes creates blocks for different types of content and it is not always convenient. 

The lack of distinct page sizes means you can continue writing downwards as long as you want but it makes exporting your notes out of the app extremely difficult. Your notes get cut off in the most inconvenient places. Lastly, even though you can copy your handwriting to paste as text in other apps, Apple Notes does not convert your handwriting to text.

Any thoughts? Do tell, do tell!