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The best note-taking apps for iPad: Digitize your notes

Scrap the pen and paper. These top note-taking apps for iPad digitize your notes while keeping them all in one place.
Written by Kayla Solino, Associate Editor
Reviewed by Emery Wright
Notability | Best iPad note-taking app overall
Best iPad note-taking app overall
View now View at Apple App Store
Evernote | Best iPad note-taking and productivity duo app
Best iPad note-taking and productivity duo app
View now View at Apple App Store
Goodnotes 6 | Best alternative iPad note-taking app
good notes 6
Goodnotes 6
Best alternative iPad note-taking app
View now View at Apple App Store
Nebo | Best iPad note-taking app for handwriting recognition
Best iPad note-taking app for handwriting recognition
View now View at Apple App Store
Apple Notes | Best native iPad note-taking app
Apple Notes
Best native iPad note-taking app
View now View at Apple App Store
LiquidText | Best note-taking app for annotating PDFs
Best note-taking app for annotating PDFs
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Show more (1 item)

Did you upgrade from a spiral notebook to an iPad? For many of us, an iPad is the perfect work, school, or personal tech companion to a laptop to level up daily productivity. If you love the tactile feeling of writing notes on paper, or it's your preferred study method, you won't have to sacrifice. The iPad is equipped with a native Notes app, and third-party developers offer tons of specialized, detailed, and upgraded app experiences for taking notes on your Apple tablet. 

Also: The best iPad stylus for your iPad 

But with hundreds of notebook-style apps on the market, it's hard to know which are worth your time or fit your needs. No one wants to waste time testing different apps and jumping ship until finding what works best. That's why we went hands-on with over a dozen note-taking apps for the iPad, keeping in mind cost, functionality, practicality, and design while focusing on apps that level up the hand-written note-taking experience. 

Also: The best digital notebooks you can buy 

What's the best note-taking app right now? 

Our pick for the best note-taking app overall goes to Notability for its tiered plan offerings, multiple pen styles, added format and design tools, and easy-to-use interface. But tons of apps are available for note-taking on your iPad, and some are suited to different wants and needs. See how Notability compares to our other top note-taking apps for studying, tool variability, and more. 

The best note-taking apps for iPad in 2024

Pros & Cons
  • Supports multiple formats and pen styles
  • Good free version
  • Templates available
  • PDF editing
  • Tiered subscription options, but no one-time purchase option
  • Limited stylus compatibility for use of Ink
  • iCloud sync for subscribers only
More Details

Notability is widely regarded as one of the best note-taking apps for iPad, thanks to a simple interface matched by powerful capability. Notes are no longer just notes when you can add different forms of multimedia, like audio and video. 

Also: The best iPad models you can buy

It melds several different types of note-taking apps for iPad, offering the ability to take notes, create a journal, or utilize special tools like ink and highlighter. It allows not only note-taking but also PDF annotation. This is a convenient additional feature for students and professionals who spend time reviewing and working with PDF documents. 

Francois Gouelo uses Notability to help him in his role as owner of Enso Connect. "I've found Notability to be an invaluable tool in managing my business and helping us take our guest hosting game to the next level," he says, adding that it has significantly streamlined his workflow. "This versatility has been a game-changer in terms of productivity."

When I tested Notability, I immediately preferred it over other options because it was so easy to use. The app is arranged thoughtfully, and all the essential tools needed while jotting down notes are conveniently at the top of the screen. Plus, I appreciated the ability to use templates right away (even with just the free version). It brings the notebook experience to life and makes it fun. 

You can also upload your document or slide to begin. The app is specifically compatible with Apple Pencil or Logitech Crayon for specific tools like ink (I tested using the Apple Pencil 2nd Gen). When you first create an account, you'll be limited to the free plan, which offers a decent amount for free, but your note edits are still limited until you subscribe to a paid option if you want access to extended features. While there are several tiered subscription options, though there isn't a one-time payment option, which is a downside compared to alternatives like Goodnotes 6. 

Several users on Reddit said they recommended Notability for note-taking, with one user emphasizing the all-in-one nature of the app. "Notability is better if you will be using the notes app for anything besides just writing (drawings, diagrams, math). The dotted line tool sealed the deal for me; as an engineering student, I use it quite often," one Redditor said. 

As an editor, notes are primarily notes to me, but Notability's multifunctions greatly set it apart from other users. My closest friend is an AP statistics teacher in New Jersey, and she says there's nothing better than making answer keys and worksheets for her classes. She swears by Notability for in-class demonstrations on her projector while student teaching. 

Notability key features: Price: $5/month or $15/year (other plans available) | Available app for Mac, iPhone, iPad | Templates | Customize notes with images, text, audio, and more | Import and mark-up PDFs and other docs | Store and organize notes | Math Conversion technology

Pros & Cons
  • Efficient workflow and notes app in one
  • Numerous tiered subscription plans
  • Multi-platform capabilities
  • Good basic note-taking
  • Limited storage under the free plan
  • More costly than other subscription options
  • No focus on handwritten notes, rather overall productivity
More Details

Evernote is a fully loaded powerhouse for the serious note-taker. You can create notebooks to organize your notes and add content like PDFs, sketches, and other multimedia like photos and audio. You can sync your account to your Google calendar, offering full scheduling capability beyond your note-taking abilities. 

You can make to-do lists, create tasks, and clip your favorite sites with Evernote's Web Clipper tool. In addition, you can scan your own handwritten or printed notes with your camera. 

You can sync all your devices with the number of devices determined by your subscription plan. Your plan also controls the number of monthly uploads you can make and the size of your notes.  

"I've come to like Evernote," says Tina Grant, quality assessor for Aerospheres with 17 years in the aviation industry. "The fact that it's a multiplatform tool helps, as I use a Windows computer at work. This means I can take notes on my iPad and then later access them directly in my browser on the PC. The fact that there is a built-in organization system that allows you to set up categories and tags also really helps to keep things in order."

I previously used Evernote as a high school student and was familiar with its overall interface, but it's gotten a lovely facelift in the last few years. Evernote is easy to use and helps keep your notes, ideas, and thoughts more organized, especially if you need help to be the neat. 

That said, I found it to be more useful as a productivity tool than the best option for note-taking. If you're looking for more detailed tools, color options, and note-taking templates and are less concerned about overall workflow productivity, another app option on this list may better suit your needs. Plus, the accessible version of Evernote is pretty limiting in terms of overall storage, note size, and more. 

Many Redditors said they like Evernote's features, organization, and workflow. Still, recently, some users said they ditched the platform for more simple, decluttered productivity apps and to escape "annoying" ads or pop-ups. 

Evernote features: Price: Starting at $15/month or starting at $130/year | Supports text, docs, PDFs, sketches, photos, audio, web clippings, and more | Camera scan to add and organize documents | Sync with Google Calendar | Create separate notebooks | Sync across devices 

Pros & Cons
  • Supports file storage on several platforms
  • Templates included
  • Several paid plan options
  • PDF note-taking supported
  • Can purchase outright
  • If purchased outright, you don't get the latest upgrades as they come out
  • No monthly or 3-month plan
More Details

While embarking on this journey to test note-taking apps, I've discovered that the Goodnotes vs. Notability lure runs deep. Much like you're either Team Edward or Team Jacob from Twilight, you're either Team Notability or Team Goodnotes. 

The pitting of the two against each other is for good reason. They offer many of the same features, have cult followings, and are Apple Editors' Choice-awarded apps. 

GoodNotes also syncs across your devices for easy access, no matter where or what device you use. You can adjust and change your handwriting or use different colored inks with included tools, like Shape, Lasso, and Elements, that allow you to import photos and diagrams. Plus, it's perfect to use in conjunction with the Apple Pencil. You also have the option to work with PDFs and document outlines, housing them in an unlimited number of folders and subfolders for better organization. From handwritten notes to typed ones, your notes, files, and folders are all easily searchable. 

When I tested Goodnotes 6, I liked the three notebooks provided while using the free tier. I found the app easy to use, intuitive, and similar to the Notability experience. Ultimately, the deciding factor between the two came down to the subscription options. While Goodnotes can be purchased outright and Notability can't, the latter offers monthly and quarterly subscription options, which is excellent for students or those who know they will only use the app periodically or for one semester. A subscription model ensures that you'll always have access to the most up-to-date app version. 

Several Redditors said they would recommend Goodnotes 6 over Notability or other apps, with many saying it's well worth the cost to upgrade to the paid plan. Some said the one-time purchase option of Goodnotes makes it more cost-effective than other note-taking apps. However, other Redditors said that purchasing the software outright limits any future upgrades without having to pay and that the developer never lets customers know when a new version will be available.

"Only the current version you buy is forever, so if you buy GoodNotes 6, you will continue to benefit from it 100%, but once they release GoodNotes 7, you will have to buy that to stay up to date. If you don't, your current version will not continue to receive updates, and they will bombard you with ads telling you to move to the next version," one Redditor wrote. 

Goodnotes 6 key features: Price: $10/year or a one-time fee of $30 | Free starter plan with three notebooks (paid plans include unlimited notebooks) | Compatible with Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and iCloud | Paper Templates and customizable sizes for notes | Add, create, or import stickers | Supports audio notes | AI support

Pros & Cons
  • More affordable
  • Great handwriting recognition
  • Easy to use
  • Useful tool panel for control while writing
  • Lacks some features competitors have
  • No subscriptions
More Details

Nebo offers full stylus support when you have an Apple Pencil you are itching to use on your new note-taking app for iPad. It uses leading AI technology to provide the option of handwritten notes, or you can annotate where you see fit. Nebo works with 66 languages, converting your scrappy hand-scribbled notes into lovely notes. 

Also, How to take notes on your iPad with an Apple Pencil 

If you pick up where you left off, you can import a file because the app is compatible with PDF, Word, and PowerPoint. Regardless of your choice, you can easily transition from handwriting to text to dictation, even in the same word, to make transcription a breeze, regardless of your preferred method. It can even handle math equations and diagrams, available as LaTeX or image.

Nebo also offers a companion app called Nebo Viewer, which allows you to access read-only versions of your notes anytime on your iPhone. Before seeing your notes, you must create a free MyScript account and access cloud sync.

"I operate in a sphere where time is precious, and managing day-to-day operations can be a Herculean task," explains Athina Zisi, Chief Operations Officer of Energy Casino. "This is where Nebo comes in with its meticulously designed features. Whether I'm jotting down notes during a high-stakes meeting or capturing action points during an operations review, Nebo handles it with aplomb."

Plus, Nebo's latest AI updates up the ante. Now, Nebo AI can be utilized for PDFs, empowering users to summarize content, clarify complex concepts, engage in quizzes, or interact with an AI assistant directly within their PDF documents. English users can enjoy improved quiz questions with Nebo's AI Quiz tool. 

When I tested Nebo, my favorite features were the lasso tool and the handy toolbar, which made it easy to switch colors and writing tools, change size and weight, and customize my note-taking. It's also easy to teach yourself the Nebo interface, which makes it a good pick for a beginner or student. 

Redditors said that they liked Nebo's handwriting-to-text feature, which some emphasized was better and more practical than that of Goodnote 6. Users said it has some of the best handwriting recognition across the note-taking app space but lacks some features of other competitors, like synching and audio notes. 

Nebo key features: Price: $9 for full version |  Artificial intelligence technology | Compatible with PDFs | Freeform canvas for unique note-taking control | Writing to text conversion | Lasso tool for maximum control | Add photos, sketches, and math | Create and edit structured notes | Solve simple math 

Pros & Cons
  • Free to use
  • Automatic save feature
  • Already built into your iPad
  • Easy to use
  • Rather basic features
  • No fancy extras
  • Only syncs on other Apple devices
More Details

A handy addition to any iPad, the Notes app is Apple's signature note-taking app. Its straightforward functionality makes it our best basic note-taking app for iPads. If you own an iPad, you probably already have the Apple Notes app installed on your home screen. 

It is one of the easiest ways to take notes, but the app can be used for more than note-taking. It can also handle other media types, like images, checklists, and sketches. 

"I freely admit to Notes being a complete lifesaver for me on more than one occasion," shares Troy Portillo, Director of Operations of Studypool. "In business, you can have unexpected conversations and need to be able to remember pertinent information. Having Notes has helped me save important information easily during those unexpected conversations."

I use the Apple Notes app for many things, from checklists to grocery lists to to-do lists. I wouldn't recommend trying to complete detailed educational notes on this app because there are much better options for in-depth note-taking, but the app is great for everyday jotting and reminders. 

It also works with handwritten notes or scanned documents that you need to keep at the ready. You can lock your notes with passwords or scan paper documents using the built-in scanner. The app is based on iCloud, so you can access your notes on any of your Apple devices. 

"It's easy to use, save, and already included on your iPhone," says Portillo. "Wins all around."

Apple Notes key features: Price: Free | Simple to use | Share notes with others | Native to Apple ecosystem | Already installed on your iPad

Pros & Cons
  • Ultimate research review and annotating capabilities
  • Multi-platform sync
  • Student discounts available
  • Shareable files
  • Several subscription options
  • Limited traditional notebook experience
  • More catered to PDF and document annotating
More Details

LiquidText was named the "Most Innovative iPad App of the Year" by the Apple App Store, and it's not for nothing. LiquidText offers a quick and easy way to review, gather, and organize information across tons of documents and web pages and then apply your findings to writing, studying, prepping, and more. You can pull out key facts and connect them, squeeze a document to compare sections, draw a line to connect ideas in different documents, comment on multiple pages, build upon your thoughts, and more.

When I tested LiquidText, I was impressed with its capabilities and was honestly quite mad that this was the first time I had found something like it before graduating from college. This would have been the perfect tool to have on hand throughout my graduate studies because it makes it so easy to take and connect ideas through files like PDFs, which traditionally are pesky to work with, especially when dealing with scanned copies of class readings, etc. This would've been great while writing my master's thesis, but lucky for you, I'm telling you about it now in this list. 

If you're looking for a solid note-taking app specifically for research, PDFs, and detailed annotating, LiquidText is a good pick. LiquidText users on Reddit said they liked the layout, app structure, and easy editing and note-taking on documents and files. Some said they would prefer something other than the subscription offerings or the synching capabilities. Still, many Redditors found it a better option than other note-taking apps for seamlessly annotating things like PDFs. 

LiquidText key features: Price: Starts at $10/month | Easily organizes research | Review and annotate PDFs | Import from email, Dropbox, and more | Cross-platform synching | Backup on cloud | Share files easily 

What is the best note-taking app?

The best note-taking app for iPad is Notability and for several reasons. It works with the different types of media that you want to add to your notes, plus you can organize all of your notes into neat notebooks that are easy to access. Notability is also free to use, but you can upgrade for a minimal fee should you want access to the bonus features. 

Below is a look at the standout features and rating of the best note-taking apps we chose:

Best note-taking appStandout featureApp Store Rating
NotabilityAll-in-one app4.7
EvernoteProductivity tools, structured app design 4.4
Goodnotes 6Notebook and PDF markup tool4.7
NeboAI upgrades, top-notch handwriting capabilities4.7
Apple NotesFree and already built-in4.6
LiquidText PDF editing and annotating 4.5

Which note-taking app is right for you?

Finding the best note-taking app is personal. It really depends on what you're looking for and what features are most important to you. So many iPad apps offer a lot of the same capabilities, so here's a breakdown of the standout features and our recommended best use case for each app we've rated to help you make the right note app choice for your iPad. But remember, it's going to come down to your personal preferences, and perhaps even some trial and error. 

Choose this note-taking app...If you want...
NotabilityThe best overall option for most people that supports multiple formats and stylus options, and is great for all types of notes.
EvernoteA note-taking app with exceptional organizing tools and efficient processing, which doubles as a productivity app.
Goodnotes 6To digitize notes in your own handwriting with custom pen styles and colors and don't mind paying a little for it.
NeboAn app for advanced users with stylus capability and great handwriting recognition, and works to solve simple mathematical equations.
Apple NotesThe original, native iPad app that offers simple, streamlined use with an automatic save feature.
LiquidTextAnnotating and note-taking specifically designed for PDFs.

Factors to consider when choosing a note-taking app for iPad:

If you're on the hunt for a good note-taking app, here's a few key features we think would be good to consider when searching for an app that fits your needs: 

  • Interface: We looked for note apps that offer a clean, streamlined interface that is not too cluttered or distracting from your work. It's going to be key to decide what overall interface and design style suits your lifestyle, skills, and needs -- you're not going to want to take notes on an app that you struggle to find the tools on. 
  • Tools: When it comes time to write, you want to be sure that there are the right tools to help you get the job done. We looked at features like the type of writing, dictation, presentation, and editing tools available with each of the best note-taking apps. Be sure to consider if you need a multitude of writing tool types, fonts, colors, and more artistic features, or if you just need the basics. 
  • Continuity: If you want to be able to take notes on your iPad, but pick up where you left off on your Mac, you're going to need to look for apps which offer continuity between your device ecosystem. Most apps make it incredibly easy to access your notes from another device, but keep in mind that some apps may require a subscription or fee to do so. 
  • Use: Narrowing down your use case for an iPad note-taking app will make it easier to find the perfect app for you. Do you need an app that can handle educational notes, to-do lists, reminders, and more? Will this app just be for school or work notes? Consider what you'll be using the app for the most and go from there. 
  • Note-taking style: While all note-taking apps are designed to take notes, some are catered to different styles of note-taking. If you're looking to type your notes, or are looking to have your written text turn into text, you may need to pay closer attention to app descriptions before downloading tons of apps. Most "note-taking" apps on iPad are optimized for written notes using a stylus. 
  • Cost: Budget is critical, so we considered how much each app costs and what each purchase gives you, and think you should too. 

How did we test these note-taking apps for iPad?

ZDNET went hands-on with every note-taking app recommended on this list, using a 2022 iPad Air. I spent time during using this app during my own daily activities to test out tool options, design or layouts, continuity and security, ease of use, user appeal, and most importantly, writing capabilities -- not just for a day or two, but over the course of a few weeks to really get a feel for an app's add-in value. That is, can you "add-in" this product into your life and benefit from its presence, or is it just another fad product that's too good to be true or collects dust after the buzz wears off? 

We know buying anything in the current economy is not just for your whims, and that's why this list, as well as our other advice, is tailored to your needs, wants, and your budget, and why our picks are expert-tested and expert-vetted. 

Why should I use a note-taking app for iPad?

Note-taking apps offer far more than you may expect. In addition to storing your notes and bright ideas, they also can offer many other support features, including converting handwriting to digital notes, templates to choose from, and even adding different forms of media like video and audio. 

And they're great for organizing ideas on the go. Whether you're scribbling your own ideas or collaborating with friends or colleagues, you'll have a central hub to access your notes easily. 

What can I use to take notes on my iPad?

If you plan on using a keyboard to type out your notes on your iPad like on a computer, you won't need to worry about a stylus. However, if you want a true pen-and-paper-like experience on your iPad, a stylus will be the best way to replicate that. ZDNET's top pick for an iPad stylus is the Apple Pencil (2nd Gen) -- especially if you can grab it while it's on sale, or the Apple Pencil Pro, depending on what iPad model you own. We also have tested and liked options from Zagg, Logitech, and more. 

Also: The best iPad stylus you can buy

And if you're really committed to the notebook bit, there are even paper-like screen protectors designed for various iPad models to offer users a similar tactile experience to real paper. 

Also: The best iPad screen protectors of 2024

What is the highest-rated note-taking app for iPad?

Many of our picks for best note-taking apps have high App Store ratings. Goodnotes 6, OneNote, Notability all have a 4.7/5 star rating. Few apps, like CollaNote and "Old Notepad", have an even higher rating of 4.8/5. 

Does iPad have a free note-taking app?

It is possible to use a free note-taking app for iPad. The best free iPad note-taking app is Apple Notes, since it comes pre-installed and could not be easier to use. However, there are other options available to you, too. 

What's the difference between a smart notebook and a note-taking app?

A smart notebook (often called a digital notebook) is essentially a digital version of a traditional notebook, designed specifically for note taking and writing tasks. They often offer cloud services, storage, and different upload options. An iPad, like other tablets, runs on an operating system and can offer a wider range of function such as browsing the web, multimedia, gaming, and other tasks. With an iPad, you can download specific applications designed for note taking to provide a notebook experience, while also using it for a multitude of other things. A smart notebook is only designed for note-taking, and not for other activities. 

Also: The best digital notebooks you can buy

Where are my notes stored when I use a note-taking app?

Where your notes are housed will ultimately differ from app to app, but most offer options to additionally export files to alternative storage places or automatically update to the cloud. This makes your notes easy to share and find, no matter what device you choose to access them on. Of course, you can access your notes directly from each app, too. If you plan on taking many digital notes, we recommend ensuring you have ample storage space and a proper cloud system. Nothing is worse than losing notes you worked hard on before a big test or meeting. 

Also: The best cloud storage services for secure file keeping

Do I need a stylus to take notes on my iPad?

No, you don't absolutely need a stylus to take notes on your iPad. Some note-taking apps are designed to better suit typing your notes, so a stylus wouldn't be required. But if you're looking to replicate the feel of paper and pen, a stylus is the easiest way to do so and works much better than your fingers. The Apple Pencil (2nd Gen), Apple Pencil Pro, and Logitech Crayon are some great stylus options, though we've tested others you can consider, too. 

Also: The best stylus for your iPad

Other note-taking apps we've tested:

While searching for the best note-taking apps, we came across other apps that may work for your needs. Here are a few other note-taking apps to look into. 

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