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The 5 best note-taking apps for iPad: Take notes for school

What is the best note-taking app for iPad? ZDNet chose Notability, thanks to its all-in-one approach. We analyzed features to determine the top note-taking app for iPad, as well as some alternatives worth considering this back-to-school season.
Written by Lena Borrelli, Contributing Writer on
Reviewed by Allison Murray

Notes can be our lifeline, whether it is for back to school, work, or home. We all know the feeling of crumpled paper lost to overstuffed backpacks and briefcases. Thankfully, those days are over with the addition of note-taking apps for iPad. 

However, you can't trust just any app to hold your most important notes and to-do lists. So instead, it is crucial to find exactly the right app that is both trustworthy and reliable, so you never have to worry again about losing your most important papers.

To help you make the best notes and create streamlined to-do lists, we've rounded up the best note-taking apps for iPad based on pricing, reviews, features, and compatibility so you can be a master notetaker. 

Features: $11.99/month for annual plan | $2.99/month for monthly plan | Available app for Mac and iPhone

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. It melds together 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 not only allows for note-taking but also PDF annotation, as well. It is a convenient additional feature for students and professionals who spend a lot of time reviewing and working with PDF documents. Templates are available to help get you started, or you can simply upload your own document or slide to begin. The app is compatible with Apple Pencil for greater convenience.

The Starter plan is free with limited note edits, but you will need to subscribe to the Plus plan if you want access to extended features.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Supports multiple formats
  • Multiple pen styles
  • Extra formatting tools
  • Paid subscription for Plus membership
  • Limited document sizes

Features: 3 different plans $0-$9.99/mo | Up to 20 GB monthly uploads | 200 MB max note size 

Evernote is a fully-loaded powerhouse for the serious note-taker. 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 even clip your favorite sites with Evernote's Web Clipper tool. You can even scan in your own handwritten or printed notes when you use your own camera. You have the option to sync all of your devices with the number of devices determined by your subscription plan. Also controlled by your plan is the number of monthly uploads you can make and the size of your notes.  

Pros:

Cons:

  • Excellent for organization
  • Saves more than files
  • Extremely efficient processing
  • Limited storage under the free plan
  • No offline access

Features: Free starter plan with 3 notebooks | $7.99 one-time purchase | Compatible with Dropbox and Google Drive

Like Evernote, GoodNotes also syncs across your devices for easy access, no matter where you are or what device you are using. 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. 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. There is a generous selection of covers and paper templates to add some pizzazz and style to your notes. GoodNotes 5 is compatible with a series of devices and programs, including iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, and Microsoft OneDrive. 

Pros:

Cons:

  • Specifically for iPad
  • Custom pen styles and colors
  • Works with your personal handwriting
  • Must pay one-time fee after trial
  • Creates storage-zapping files

Features: Free option as well as plan upgrades up to $7.99 | Artificial intelligence technology | 66 languages

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 offer the option of handwritten notes, or you can simply annotate where you see fit. Nebo works with a total of 66 languages, converting your scrappy hand-scribbled notes into lovely notes. If you are picking up where you left off, simply import a file because the app offers PDF, Word, and Powerpoint compatibility. Regardless of what you choose, you can easily transition from handwriting to text to dictation even in the same word to make transcription a breeze, no matter which method you prefer. It even has the capability to 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 at any time on your iPhone. You first must make a free MyScript account and then access cloud sync before you can see your notes.

Pros:

Cons:

  • Easy handwriting conversion
  • Can use mathematical and chemical equations
  • Multiple languages available
  • Not the simplest to use
  • On the pricier side
Apple Notes app on a black iPad
https://apps.apple.com/us/app/notes/id1110145109

Features: Free | Built-in scanner | Share notes with others 

A handy addition to any iPad, the Notes app is Apple's signature note-taking app with a straightforward functionality that makes it our best free note-taking app for iPads. If you own an iPad, you probably already have the Notes app installed. It is one of the easiest ways to take notes, but there are other ways to use the app than just note-taking. It can also handle other types of media, like images, checklists, and sketches. 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 use the built-in scanner to scan paper documents. With the app based on iCloud, you can access your notes on any iCloud device. 

Pros:

Cons:

  • Free to use
  • Automatic save feature
  • Already built into your iPad
  • Rather basic features
  • No fancy extras

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. 

Note-taking app

Standout feature

Rating

Notability

All-in-one app

4.7

Evernote

File storage

4.4

GoodNotes 5

Handwriting feature

4.8

Nebo

Apple Pencil-compatible

4.6

Notes

Free and already built-in

3.5

Which note-taking app is right for you?

After a while, all the different iPad note-taking apps can begin to blur together, so here are some expert recommendations to help you make the right choice for your iPad.

Choose this note-taking app...

If you want...

Notability

The best overall option

Evernote

An app worthy of teams with cross-platform support

GoodNotes 5

To prefer to digitize notes in your own handwriting

Nebo

An app for advanced users with stylus capability

Notes

The original iPad app that offers simple, streamlined use

How did we choose these note-taking apps?

There are some features we considered when searching for the best note-taking apps.

  • Interface: We looked for apps that offer a clean, streamlined interface that is not too cluttered or distracting from your work. 
  • 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.
  • Security: Security and file backup are critical when choosing the best note-taking app for iPad. Many notes contain sensitive information, so you want to be sure that your files will not be lost and are also secure from any prying eyes. 
  • Cost: Budget is critical, so we considered how much each app costs and what each purchase gives you. 

When choosing iPad's best note-taking app for you, think about how you plan to use the app and which features are essential to your needs. 

Why should I use one of the best note-taking apps for iPad?

The best note-taking apps offer far more than you may expect. In addition to storing your notes and bright ideas, there are also many other support features, including 

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

GoodNotes 5 receives the highest rating from the App Store on our list, earning a 4.8 average rating. However, Notability and Nebo also receive high ratings on the App Store.

Are there alternative note-taking apps worth considering?

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

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