12 Best Note-Taking Apps for iPad [College Edition]

*A previous version of this article claimed that there were leadership problems at Evernote. We've updated this to say "past leadership problems" in reference to the big shakeup in Summer 2018.

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When you’re working toward a degree, classroom and study notes can be the difference between failure and success. 

While jotting down notes on pen and paper is always an option, you might miss out on key insights during a lecture. Technology can help by capturing audio, backing up files, and even combining your notes.

But, with so many note-taking apps for iPad, it can be hard to determine the best solution for digital note-taking.

That’s why we’re here to help! Below, you’ll find 12 of the best note-taking apps for iPad on the market today. So grab your iPad Pro (or your regular iPad) and get ready to explore!

Let’s jump right in.

 

Table of contents

Image of the usual supects of note taking apps

The Usual Suspects

In every category, there are big players. Of the hundreds of solutions out there, four or five always manage to climb to the top of the pile. Note-taking apps are no exception.

We don’t want to leave them out, but we also don’t want to highlight the same five apps that you’ll see in every single note-taking article. If you’ve already seen or heard everything you want to hear about the big players in the market, you’ll find a section for lesser-known apps below.

For now, though, here are some of the best note-taking apps for iPad on the market today.

Notability

Notability

Rating: 4.8/5 with 80.7k reviews
Coolest Feature: Audio recording synced with pen strokes.
Biggest Drawbacks: Limited pen sizes and organization options.
Platform: iPad, iPhone, Mac

Why use it?

With thousands of positive reviews, Notability has proven its worth to note-takers over the years. It does this by allowing users to record audio and sync it with handwritten notes in a way that other apps just don’t do.

While it might seem trivial at first, the ability to connect the word or phrase that prompted you to write something down is a powerful refresher when studying for a test or an exam. Combine that with the multitasking capabilities that accompany the multi-note and note switcher features and you’ve got a best-in-class writing experience that’s hard to beat.

While some find Notability’s organizational options limiting when compared to an app like GoodNotes, Notability takes a simplified approach to notes and filing. You may not find a ton of frills here, but you’ll definitely be able to find your notes! This includes imported documents like PDF files. Plus, thanks to embedded technologies like OCR and handwriting recognition, everything is always searchable.

Notability is connected with iCloud and is available on all macOS and iOS devices. It’s also important to note that, unlike other apps in this category, you only have to buy Notability once on a device in order to own it forever. Ginger Labs has never released a different version of Notability; they just update the one that you already have.

Goodnotes 5

GoodNotes 5

Rating: 4.8/5 with 99.4k reviews
Coolest Feature: Document organization using digital notebooks keeps your notes organized and looking good.
Biggest Drawback: Many users say that GoodNotes 5 lacks some of the features of the previous version. Users need to buy the new version of the software in order to stay current.
Platform: iPad, iPhone, Mac

Why use it?

GoodNotes 5 is a powerhouse for note-takers everywhere. 

Whether you’re jotting down class notes, writing music, or working on your doodles, GoodNotes 5 offers an attractive interface that you can use to store your notes in a way that makes sense to you. GoodNotes does this using digital notebooks. You can create as many as you want, then simply select one in order to take notes inside that notebook.

Of course, that’s not all. Just like Notability, GoodNotes offers powerful search tools, OCR technology, handwriting recognition, and more. You can use these features to annotate and mark up your imported documents. The app also syncs with iCloud so that you can keep your notes with you at all times.

If you’re looking for a stylish app that helps you keep track of your notes in an easy and effective way, GoodNotes 5 may be for you.

Callout: Check out our deep dive between Goodnotes & Notability right here.

Microsoft OneNote

Microsoft OneNote

Rating: 4.7/5 with 433.6k reviews
Coolest Feature: Flexible note-taking structure means that you can set this app up in any way you want.
Biggest Drawback: Microsoft-to-Apple compatibility has never been fantastic. This app has improved over the years, but users still report bugs and syncing problems.
Platform: iPad, iPhone, Mac, Android, Windows

Why use it?

OneNote is one of the most robust note-taking apps with complete cross-platform compatibility. No matter what device you want to use, the OneNote app is probably there. For Apple devices, you’ll download this through the appropriate App Store. For other devices, the Microsoft or Google Play store.

In addition to maintaining a presence on every major platform, OneNote is also unique in how it allows you to organize your notes. Unlike GoodNotes and Notability, OneNote maintains a flexible document structure that allows you to manage your documents in a way that makes the most sense to you. 

If you’re not great at self-organizing, the basic structure may be enough. If you’re a productivity aficionado, OneNote can give you the room you need to really stretch your legs.

Like most of the other apps on our list, OneNote allows you to organize and share your thoughts. But OneNote’s sharing tools are a bit more robust than what you’ll see in apps like GoodNotes or Notability. While OneNote users can export notes and notebooks to a PDF, they can also invite others to view and fully edit their notes in a collaborative process.

If you want your note-taking to become a team effort, OneNote may deliver in ways that other apps never will.

Evernote

Evernote

Rating: 4.6/5 with 26.8k reviews
Coolest Feature: Integrations, templates, AI-suggested content.
Biggest Drawback: Lack of customer support and past leadership problems.
Platform: iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows, Android, web

Why use it?

For many, Evernote has been the first and last word in digital note-taking from the beginning, so it only makes sense that it’s one of the best note-taking apps for iPad. The app really came onto the note-taking scene in 2008 (though it was launched in 2000) as a web-based platform that eventually integrated with other platforms and services.

All that to say: Evernote has been around for a long, long time, and it pioneered some of the key features that note-takers look for in most modern note-taking apps.

Evernote has some interesting features that set it apart from the competition. It offers tiered pricing, including a free version, as well as unique features for power users and business teams. This is something that you don’t really see in smaller apps like Notability, and it allows Evernote to play to a larger market.

This app also offers integrations with major business apps like Google Drive, Slack, and Salesforce so that it’s easy to integrate your apps with your productivity tools.

If you’re looking to do more than simple note-taking, Evernote has a large toolkit for helping you organize your life. Between templates and integrations, you can expedite your note-taking process exponentially with Evernote.

For users who want a specialized, digital handwriting experience, Evernote also owns Penultimate, an award-winning app that combines Evernote’s sync and search functionality with a longhand experience.

Apple Notes

Apple Notes

Rating: N/A (It’s a native app!)
Coolest Feature: Super simple interface with most standard features from other apps.
Biggest Drawback: Lack of organizational tools and advanced functionality.
Platform: iPad, iPhone, Mac

Why use it?

While Apple Notes may be the baseline for all of the other apps on our list, it’s still a powerful note-taking companion in its own right.

If you only need to take a few basic notes or create a few checklists, Apple Notes is probably all that you’ll ever need. It syncs with iCloud, is available on every Apple device (except for Apple Watch), and is part of your standard operating system.

We’ll be the first to admit that Apple Notes is lacking some functionality around document organization and importing. For example, while you could attach a PDF to a note within the Notes app, Apple would prefer that you use the Books app to save, sign, markup, or share PDFs.

Even so, Apple Notes may be all you’ll ever need if you aren’t a note-taking power user. It even has full stylus compatibility — an experience that Apple Pencil users will enjoy — so you can give it a try before you hurry over to the App Store and download an alternative app.

Image of Up-and-Comers of note taking apps

Up-and-Comers

There are hundreds of note-taking solutions on the market today. We’ve covered the major players in the space up to now, but they aren’t your only option.

Here are some stylish, up-and-coming note-taking apps that you’re sure to fall in love with.

LiquidText

LiquidText

Rating: 4.5/5 with 1.8k reviews
Coolest Feature: The split-screen view makes it easier than ever to take and consolidate notes
Biggest Drawback: High price point for pro-level features. Syncing and saving functionality needs improvement.
Platform: iPad, Mac

Why use it?

While many students use an app like Notability or GoodNotes as their primary note-taking workhorse, LiquidText is a great alternative when you need to read/review and take notes at the same time.

Using LiquidText, users can import PDFs and documents directly to the app and then take notes directly on those documents or in the “document workspace” provided by the app. Essentially, the app loads the document onto the left half of the screen and provides an empty workspace on the right where users can pull out key ideas or snippets in the text. 

That, combined with the ability to take handwritten notes at the same time, adds unique functionality to LiquidText that you don’t see in other apps. While other apps may offer a highlighter or a web-page markup, LiquidText gives you the space you need to actually do something with the document once you’ve uploaded it.

While there is a free version of LiquidText available, the Pro version offers a greater selection of features and functionality.

Noteshelf

Noteshelf

Rating: 4.2/5 with 1.1k reviews
Coolest Feature: Simplified interface and superior handwriting recognition.
Biggest Drawback: Various bugs and missing features that are common in other apps (Ex: Handwriting to text conversion.)
Platform: iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, Mac, Android

Why use it?

For many note-takers, Noteshelf strikes that perfect balance between an iOS-based program like Notability and a more versatile software like Evernote. Noteshelf makes it easy to connect to Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive. It can also be used on both Android and Apple devices.

Most notably, Noteshelf has a reputation for its simplified interface. The app doesn’t clutter your workspace with unnecessary menu options or selection tools. Instead, it provides as much white space as possible so that you have room to work.

The other big takeaway that users enjoy is the responsiveness and fluidity that comes when writing in the app. Handwriting is fluid and writing feels more natural in Noteshelf when compared to other note-taking apps.

Post-it App

Post-it App

Rating: 4.0/5 with 264 reviews
Coolest Feature: Capture your sticky notes!
Biggest Drawback: Limited functionality.
Platform: iPad, iPhone, Android, Mac

Why use it?

This little app is a clever way for visual learners and creative to digitize their study notes. If you like to mind map your ideas using notecards or stick notes, the Post-it Sticky Note app allows you to import your notes into a digital whiteboard where you can organize your thoughts and shuffle your notes around.

You can capture up to 200 notes at a time, import them to a board, then edit or drag them around for additional clarity. You can even combine boards and share your display across multiple platforms or devices.

If you’re hands-on, and you like using something that you can touch and feel when you take notes, this may be one of the best apps for you. Keep in mind that traditional sticky notes are square, and Post-It® has designed it with their own products in mind — but they say that it can work with any piece of square paper.

Notes Plus

Notes Plus

Rating: 3.7/5 with 1.3k reviews
Coolest Feature: Vector-based handwriting and integrated web browser.
Biggest Drawback: Past trouble with data loss.
Platform: iPhone, iPad

Why use it?

Notes Plus is a winner for note-takers who want to supplement their handwritten notes with digital technology. 

Don’t let the lower-than-expected reviews put you off from giving it a try. Many of the low-scoring reviews are several years old. In fact, Notes Plus also made it to Business Insider’s Top 100 apps in 2014.

Notes Plus allows users to write, draw, and reshape handwritten notes by using a vector-based technology solution to capture your handwriting. This means that you can write something down and then reshape or resize it to fit perfectly on the page.

Selecting text is easy; all you need to do is draw a circle around it. To delete it, scratch it out with a pen stroke. The integrated web browser allows you to pull in images and text directly to your notepad without ever leaving the app.

Between handwriting recognition, handwriting to text, and other unique technologies, Notes Plus is a great app for tech-savvy individuals who want to give their notes a digital edge.

MarginNote 3

MarginNote 3

Rating: 4.7/5 with 2k reviews
Coolest Feature: Mindmap and multi-document functionality.
Biggest Drawback: PDF-prefered support.
Platform: iPad, iPhone, Mac

Why use it?

The most important thing to understand about MarginNote is that it’s an e-reader first and a note-taking app second. As an e-reader, MarginNote allows users to import PDF and EPUB files into the app. Once inside that environment, users can mark up the document and take notes while studying the text.

In some ways, this is similar to LiquidText, although the functionality provided by MarginNote is a bit different. Where LiquidText focuses on taking handwritten notes and marking up the document (all of which is possible in MarginNote), this software is more focused on clipping notes, creating flashcards or mindmaps, and building study outlines.

MarginNote also allows you to compile a single set of notes from multiple sources or files, so if you have several books in a series or several documents where you should combine notes, MarginNote makes it easy to simplify that process.

While this app probably isn’t a replacement for an outright note-taking app like OneNote or GoodNotes, it’s a great study tool for students who need to comb through a large number of documents and keep everything organized at the same time. 

The only major drawback here is that, like LiquidText, MarginNote doesn’t offer support for KPF file types. If you have a Kindle file, you’d need to convert it to a PDF or EPUB format — something that can be difficult to do thanks to DRM protection.

Noted

Noted

Rating: 4.4/5 with 567 reviews
Coolest Feature: Audio-focused note-taking.
Biggest Drawback: Annual subscription.
Platform: iPad, iPhone, Apple Watch, Mac

Why use it?

Noted takes a special place in our app lineup by placing audio-focused note-taking at the center of its product offering. Other apps (Notability, OneNote) perform this function, but not with the level of focus that makes Noted stand out.

Noted aims to bring full audio controls to your note-taking experience by adding noise reduction and EQ, as well as tag-base timestamps, to your note-taking and audio recording experience.

With built-in highlight and rich text formatting, Noted wants to make it easier to take notes and capture critical information in the process. Plus, with the Apple Pencil support, you can sketch, draw, and doodle your way to better notes while taking advantage of all the features that this unique and well-polished little app has to offer.

Nebo

Nebo

Rating: 4.5/5 with 5k reviews
Coolest Feature: Productivity shortcuts and keyboard-plus-pen functionality.
Biggest Drawback: Handwriting recognition is spotty.
Platform: iPad, Windows, Android

Why use it?

Nebo does its best to marry the pen and keyboard mindset so that it’s easy for users to handwrite and type their notes simultaneously. 

Nebo’s handwriting recognition is designed to make it easy to translate handwritten notes into text, and the app comes equipped with a battery of productivity shortcuts (strikethrough, scribble, underline, etc.) that make it easy to organize and structure your notes.

Unfortunately, this is where it also falls short in some use cases. Myscript Nebo has unique features that make it stand apart from other note-taking apps on our list. For example, the app can help users write out and solve smart math equations. The problem is that some of these characters are very unique, which leads to confusion in translation.

Aside from those specific use cases, Nebo is stocked with powerful features and functions that can help note-takers thrive.

 

Use Paperlike to Make the Best Note-taking Apps for iPad Even Better

We hope that you found an app to improve your digital note-taking experience. Without a doubt, having the right app can make the difference between success and failure when studying for the next exam or jotting down quick notes in a meeting.

If you’re planning to use the Apple Pencil or a similar stylus to take your notes on your iPad, don’t forget to pick up a Paperlike so that you can improve your note-taking experience.

Paperlike transforms your screen from a slick, glassy surface into something that feels just like real paper. This helps your pen stop slipping across the screen while you write.

Download an awesome app, pick up a Paperlike, and set yourself up for note-taking success.