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The 9 Best Note-Taking and Productivity Apps Compared: OneNote, Zoho, and More

Zoho Notebook

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Productivity software company Zoho typically gears its development efforts toward enterprise, but its newest app, Notebook, is strictly consumer-oriented. It’s a note-taking app for iOS and Android that organizes your to-do lists and tasks visually, in a card-like interface, with notes appearing as colored stickies stacked on top of one another. And, like real-life sticky notes, they’re manipulable – you can group individual notes together by “pinching” them into a stack, or swipe across them to see additional information.

Notebook packs a few novel features. You can attach files to notes — i.e., audio, photos, and miscellaneous web clippings — plus reminders and due dates. Content syncs across all of your signed-in devices, and notes are searchable within the notebook interface — a downward flick surfaces the search bar.

In terms of platform-specific functionality, on iOS, you can create and view recent notes from the notification panel, as well as record voice memos with an Apple Watch. And on Android, you can create shortcuts to notes on your home screen.

Notebook’s not without its shortcomings, to be fair. You can’t label or tag notes, and it lacks a web-based interface. But it’s free, and Zoho said the app will “never include ads.”

Any.do

Any.do
Any.do positions itself less as a to-do manager and more a productivity “accelerator.” Its headlining feature is undoubtedly “Moments,” a daily planner that helps you to prioritize the upcoming day’s tasks. It takes the form of a unified timeline that shows the notes, reminders, and appointments you have scheduled in the next few hours. The best part? Once you finish checking items off your Moments list, you get a random motivational message and pleasant chime.

Beyond Moments, Any.do sports a few other handy features that its note-taking competitors lack. When you miss a phone call on Android, a helpful pop-up at the bottom of your screen provides shortcuts to set a callback reminder. If, on the other hand, you’re on the line with someone and receive a message, Any.do offers the option to send canned responses like “I’ll call you right back” and “Can’t talk now.” Also worth mentioning is Any.do’s “zooming” feature, which lets you “zoom into” tasks to reveal sub-tasks and other details and “zoom out” to a big-picture overview of ongoing projects.

Any.do’s premium $3 a month service is all about flexibility. You can share an unlimited number of tasks with collaborators (free accounts are limited to just one) and upload files to a larger (100 MB versus 1.5 MB) digital locker, so to speak. Moments, which appears only five times a month for free users, recurs daily with Any.do Premium. And finally, Premium lets you customize Any.do’s theme, set recurring tasks, and set up location-based reminders — features more or less on par with paid offerings from rival its note-taking rivals.

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Wunderlist


Wunderlist may have been acquired by software behemoth Microsoft in 2015, the architect of note-taking competitor OneNote, but the to-do platform is still alive and kicking. One of its cooler tools is natural language interpretation. Much like Google Calendar on Android, Wunderlist automatically recognizes words that might as due dates — e.g., “tomorrow,” or “Friday” — and schedules reminders accordingly. Unfortunately, it doesn’t recognize locations, and Wunderlist doesn’t support location-based reminders like Any.do does.

Wunderlist sports a few features that are exclusive to its platform. On Android, you can quickly add to-dos straight from the notification bar. Wunderlist integrates with Google Now on Tap, Google’s intelligent assistant, so if you compile a list of movies in Wunderlist, Now on Tap will provide the synopses and showtimes of each. The note-taking app provides templates for the most common sorts of tasks — i.e., those involving work, personal, bills, vacations, family, and purchases — and much like the email inbox which undoubtedly served as its inspiration, it allows you to group tasks into folders and sort them chronologically, by a particular day, or alphabetically.

Wunderlist has a premium tier that grants you more. The $5-per-month Wunderlist Pro nets you the freedom to upload files of any size (the free service caps out at 5MB), you can share an unlimited number of tasks with collaborators (free users are limited to 25), and create as many subtasks as your heart desires. As an added bonus, you get 10 background images to swap between at your leisure.

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Todoist

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Rather than treat lists as the pillar of its productivity hierarchy, Todoist encourages you to organize tasks around projects. Individual to-do items live within those projects, and can be customized to an exhaustive degree. You can add due dates, recurring reminders, flags, subtasks, and more. Todoist, like Wunderlist, optionally parses your notes for dates using natural language, so a task with the phrase “every three weeks” will be scheduled to recur, as you might expect, every three weeks. The service also features organizational filters by priority and due date.

Todoist, much like Any.do, is far more capable than your average to-do app. A few of its major differentiators is offline support and automatic backups. If you find yourself without Wi-Fi, the service’s apps will show you the last couple of tasks you added, replete with due dates and time stamps. When an internet connection is readily available, Todoist will save every major change you make to the cloud as a revision. Mistakenly delete a bunch of tasks? Not to worry — you can restore the dashboard’s last known good configuration.

Todoist, unfortunately, places serious limitations on free accounts. You can’t add labels, notes, or files to tasks without a $29-per-year Premium subscription, and you can’t perform searches within your dashboard’s projects. Email, text, and location-based reminders require a paid account, as does the ability to add new tasks via email and sync tasks to a calendar. But Todoist’s premium offering is generous in other respects. You get 200 tasks per project (versus 150 with a free account) and up to 200 projects. You can also access Karma, an analysis tool that gamifies your goals, so that when you accomplish a certain number of tasks in a day or week, you earn points toward digital productivity badges like “Professional,” “Expert,” and “Master.”

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Remember the Milk


If bare bones task management is what you’re after, Remember the Milk may fit the bill. You can create to-dos, of course, and attach things like due dates, tags, notes, and the estimated time a task might take to complete. As with Wunderlist, you can organize tasks by categories. Like Todoist and Wunderlist, Remember the Milk features natural language recognition. Simply type a due date as part of task — e.g., “tomorrow” — and it will schedule an appropriate reminder. There’s basic support for reminders, including location-based ones, and there are nifty sharing features that let you share entire individual tasks or entire categories. Furthermore, Remember the Milk allows you to set permissions restrictions on task editing and writing if, say, you want Aunt Bertha to be able to read the week’s grocery list but not amend it.

That’s not to say Remember the Milk isn’t versatile. A major update in February introduced a bevy of new features like subtasks and advanced sorting. And in addition, Remember the Milk’s mobile and web interfaces received a much-needed revamp that introduced slick, sliding panels and simpler ways of sharing and assigning tasks.

Remember the Milk’s premium tier adds a few more features to the mix, but not many. In addition to unlimited task storage, users who decide to shell out $40 for Remember the Milk Pro will see devices associated with their account back up tasks automatically and receive push notifications, plus sync offline and integrate with Microsoft’s Outlook Tasks software.

iOS Android BlackBerry Mac Chrome Web

Google Keep


Google Keep, Google’s take on task management, admittedly isn’t quite as holistic as other productivity managers. But it’s entirely free, and packs more than enough useful features to warrant mention.

Predictably, Keep plays nicely with Google’s other services, so every note you add to Keep is searchable and accessible from within Google Drive, Google’s cloud storage locker, and reminders appear within Google’s virtual assistant Now on your smartphone. Keep inherits a few of Google’s machine learning smarts, too. It can transcribe text from images using optical character recognition, and, by parsing the content of your notes for key words, it automatically filters your notes by topic, location, and activity. As you’d expect, Keep’s search features are fully featured. You can perform queries like “Blue notes with voice memos,” and “Yellow notes with checkboxes,” for example, to quickly surface tasks you’ve created.

Keep is not without its shortcomings, though. There’s no way to group notes and tasks by folder, and Keep lacks support for sub-tasks. Its collaboration tools are also a tad disappointing. You can’t delegate tasks to other people, fine-tune permissions, add comments, or see edits by others reflected in real time. But for free note-keeping synced across a broad range of devices, Keep can’t be beat.

Dropbox Paper


You’re more familiar with Dropbox’s cloud file storage than Paper, the company’s note-taking app, but the little-known service has quietly grown since it launched in beta last year as Notes. Paper is all about minimizing distractions. Its interface is quite literally a big, blank canvas on which you tap out your agenda. You can organize notes by title and create to-do lists, but even basic formatting tools are obscured from view — they appear in a floating box above words and phrases highlighted by your cursor.

Paper is not a to-do organizer, per say (it has a heavy emphasis on group collaboration), but it’s well suited to the purpose thanks to a bevy of labor-saving conveniences. For example, despite its minimalism, Paper supports more media than most of its to-do and note-taking counterparts. You can embed videos from YouTube and music from SoundCloud, for example, and links to photos and other files in your Dropbox account attach seamlessly to Note documents.

Paper’s collaboration tools are as extensive as you’d hope, and then some. You can invite other users to edit your notes, and, if you so choose, restrict certain folks’ privileges. You can see a list of changes and revisions in a timeline. You can create and amend comments, plus chat with any users that happen to be editing the same note as you. And perhaps best of all, you can assign tasks in a to-do list by mentioning users with an [email protected] symbol.

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Box Notes


Dropbox isn’t the only cloud locker with a to-do and note-taking app of its own. Storage behemoth Box rolled out Box Notes in 2013, and it, much like Dropbox Paper, places an emphasis on collaboration and jotted tasks. Like Paper, Notes supports photo embeds and simple formatting, but unlike Paper, that’s about the extent of it. Absent from the note-taking service is the sort of advanced video and audio embedding that Paper has on offer. Somewhat surprisingly, Notes lacks even links to the files and folders in your Box account. As far as to-do apps go, Notes is about as utilitarian as they come.

But it has the essentials covered. Collaboration tools are in tow, so you can edit documents with other users in real time, and track changes that have been made with Notes’ helpful NoteHead feature in which the thumbnails of users appear next to edits they’ve made. Each Notes document features a version history.

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OneNote


Microsoft’s OneNote is the grandaddy of all note-taking apps. It debuted way back in 2003, but in 2014 received a fresh coat of paint and bunch of new features.

OneNote supports to-do lists with subtasks, starred tasks, highlights, labels, tags, and, on desktop and the web, a virtually endless array of formatting options. You can attach images, videos, links, screenshots, files, Excel spreadsheets, geometric shapes, too, and pretty much every other type of file imaginable. That’s just the tip of the iceberg. OneNote has a file revision history browser so you can see what changes authors have made to a document over time. It’s got optical character recognition, too — OneNote automatically transcribes the text of any PDF or paper documents you upload. And, much like like with Keep, your notes are stored in a cloud storage locker, Microsoft’s OneDrive, accessible from any device with an internet connection. You get up to 15GB for free, shared among any other Microsoft Office apps you use.

OneNote has a few platform-specific features worth mentioning. On all iOS devices, it supports document search through Spotlight and multitasking by way of Split View. And on the iPad Pro, it supports note-taking with Apple’s Pencil stylus. Android users, meanwhile, get the OneNote badge: a floating widget that allows you to create a note no matter what app you’re using at the moment.

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