Now that everyone’s back in the swing of things in school and at college, it’s time to settle down and actually start learning something. When it comes to note-taking, whether in class or at home, there are a number of useful tools to help you take notes, then save, sync and organize them for easy access. Here are our ten favorites.
1. EVERNOTE (free)
Evernote always gets rave reviews, perhaps more than any other note-taking application. With Evernote, you create “notebooks”, which are collections of notes organized by class or topic (“Physics Class”, “Dostoevsky”). Notes can be anything from text to photos to voice recordings, or text you’ve highlighted and copied from a website. A standout feature is Evernote’s ability to recognize words in pictures (even handwritten words), which makes searching through your class notes incredibly simple. Everything you save is synced to all your devices.
Those using Evernote on their iPad 2s will enjoy Evernote Peek, an app you can sync to the notebooks you’ve created. Start the app and close the Smart Cover, then lift the first small panel just a bit. The app will ask you a question from your notes. Lift anther panel to see the answer. It’s like more sophisticated flash cards.
2. SIMPLENOTE (free)
Simplenote offers a lot of the same basic functions as Evernote. It’s got a community of developers and users creating apps and utilities that work with it, so more fun and useful features are being added all the time. Its search tool is one of the best around: enter the text you want to find, then tap the note you’re looking for. It doesn’t just bring you to the note; it brings you right to the text you’ve entered, saving a step. It also offers lots of options for organizing your notes, so you can list them by date modified, date created or name, and you can “pin” the ones you use most often so that they always appear on the top of the list.
3. Google Docs (free)
Google Docs offers a suite of web-based office programs that you can use for free. Create and edit documents, spreadsheets and presentations online easily – if you’ve ever used Microsoft Office, you’ll recognize the format. This is an excellent tool for collaborating with others, as you can all work on the same document together and share it without emailing. For example, each member of the group can take a turn taking notes in class, as everyone can access them right away and contribute their own notes when their turn comes along.
4. SPRINGPAD (free)
Springpad has almost as many fans as Evernote (they’re very similar), and for good reason. Its main feature is its ability to organize your notes for you: once you’ve established a few categories, the program guesses what you’ve entered, copied from the web or uploaded, then goes ahead and categorizes it on its own. It will even add relevant links. The mobile app syncs with your Springpad account, and it comes with alarms that you can set (“Study for chemistry exam”).
5. CATCH (free)
Catch offers a number of ways to take notes: enter text, take a photo or make a voice recording. Capture website content using the highlight and clip feature. Everything’s stored in the cloud, so your notes are available anywhere, and you can share them with classmates on Facebook or Twitter if you so choose. You can tag your notes, photos and recordings with hash-designated tags to create organized “streams”. It’s got a nice, clean interface and intuitive design, so it’s easy to use. The downside is that there’s not a lot of formatting options for text, but in the classroom, when you just want to capture information quickly, that can be an advantage.
6. ONENOTE (free with Microsoft Office)
OneNote, part of Microsoft Office, keeps adding features that make it a strong contender in the note-taking competition. It’s essentially a word processor with add-ons, and includes stuff like a stable of document templates that are very useful for note-taking in different situations (the calendar templates are helpful for class schedules and there’s a number of templates designed just for students). It can record audio synced with text, including handwritten text – handy if you’re using a Windows-based tablet. You can also download a version for the iPhone.
This tool is the savior of the easily-distracted (so…pretty much everyone). If you’re taking notes on your computer or phone in class while listening to the lecturer, it’s easy to find yourself checking email, on Facebook or otherwise goofing off. When you open WriteRoom, a black screen appears, which is the only thing you’ll see until you exit the program. Just type away!
8. DIIGIO (free)
Diigio is a cleanly designed app whose strength is taking notes from your online reading, rather than taking notes in class. Highlight text on webpages and attach sticky notes to add your comments – Diigio will save these so every time you return to the page you’ll see them. You can archive webpages as well, so they’ll be saved forever the way they were when you made your notes. Diigio is still in beta, but we see a lot of potential.
9. NOTESY ($4.99)
If you use Dropbox to store files across computers (and if you don’t you should), Notesy is an excellent note-taking app for the iPhone, iPad and the iPod touch. When you open a new file (plain text only), Notesy will automatically upload it to Dropbox, so it’s available on all your devices. You can also take notes offline and Notesy will sync them later. Dropbox has already proven itself to be one of the best file-syncing utilities out there, and Notesy turns it into a super-convenient tool for note-taking.
10. CLASSIC NOTES LITE + APP BOX (free)
For Android phones, Classic Notes Lite bundles a bunch of tiny, useful features into one simple note-taking program, which means you can get rid of all those single-function apps cluttering up your home screen. You can take regular notes in a text document, but also look words up in the dictionary or thesaurus, use Google Translate, make unit conversions, or look up random things like the age of Jupiter – perfect for those moments in class when you need to find out something quickly. You can also save the results as part of the note. Handy!