App review: Basic Note-Taking

February 9, 2023
4 min read
Day 9/90

Intro & Links

As I recently mentioned in Second Brain Surgery, writing notes remains at the core of any Personal Knowledge Management toolkit.

It's the oldest principle in the personal productivity book: don't use your brain to remember, and instead, write things down somewhere as soon as you think of them so that you can free your energy to think, knowing that nothing is ever lost.

I used these five apps for various lengths of time until a new generation came up a few years ago, but I still find them valuable today, and for some of us, they may even still be what's best.

Disclaimer: Automattic, the company that employs me, owns Simplenote. I don't think my point of view will be biased because of that, but I prefer to be upfront.


What I liked

In one word: simplicity.

Although they already cover quite a spectrum from the ultra-focused Simplenote, to the much more convoluted Evernote, at the core, these apps do only one thing: they allow you to take notes.

They diverge quite a bit in how to organize the notes you took and how to integrate with other apps and tools.

From the simplest to the most complex in this list, here's what I like:


Still the simplest and most focused app. It only does one job. You have minimal distractions due to a minimal set of features, and it works across all platforms.

It's not for you if you want to add more than text to your notes or if you want inline tags.


Bear's design is a lot more polished. It also gives you more control to format notes and add some rich content like images. It also offers inline tags and nested tags, which give a bit more control to organize your notes.

Not a radically different app, though, if iOS and macOS are enough for you.


This is the Apple app that comes by default on all their devices. On the positive side, it doesn't require a paid plan to sync via iCloud and is already on your device when you first turn it on.

It also offers a quick activation option:

  • On iPhone, it can be accessed from the control center on the lock screen.
  • On iPad, it can be activated by using the pencil on the lock screen.
  • On Mac, it can be activated by moving the cursor to the bottom right corner of the screen.

The Notes app also accepts images, jotting, and scanning documents which can be very practical.


This app offers very powerful automation and integration with the sharing system in iOS, so it's often considered a quick capture tool in a workflow that uses a different app to organize notes.

I have used it that way a few times when my primary app didn't yet offer a satisfying experience (early days of Roam on mobile, recently with Tana).

I never used it as a primary note storage.


Evernote is on this list because one can't omit the original mobile note-taking app. It pioneered several tools now common, like the web clipper, to quickly capture all or part of a web page.

Unless you are a heavy user with thousands of notes, there's not much to like today, as it has become old and bloated. This is a personal opinion you may totally disagree with, and that is fine.

Why I don't use them anymore

None of these apps satisfies today's needs for a more structured content graph, which is something we'll talk about in-depth in future reviews.

That said, there are a few things I don't like specifically in some of them:

  • Evernote: I find it slow, and the feature list has grown beyond what's acceptable, in my opinion, for a note-taking app.
  • Notes: I can't believe that in 2023 an app can use a fixed color, yellow in this case, as the accent and highlight color everywhere in its interface and not allow the user to modify it.
  • Drafts: Too. Many. Buttons. Also, it feels designed by engineers, but that may be a side effect of having too many controls to cram on an iPhone screen.


If you are looking for an ultra-basic note-taking app, I suggest using Bear if you only have Apple devices and Simplenote if you need Android, Windows, or Linux compatibility.

Nice reviews! You might like Standard Notes if you haven’t tried it yet. It’s like Simplenote with end-to-end encryption.
Hope you are enjoying sabbatical 😉

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The WEELO Factory OG
Paolo Belcastro
Phone: +43 1 9467169
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The WEELO Factory OG
Paolo Belcastro
Phone: +43 1 9467169
Powered by WordPress