• John Rambo Rajendran

Best Note Taking Apps of 2021

Introduction


This is perhaps the most discussed topic in the productivity world. There are tons and tons of Note taking apps out there. You choose your notes app based on your needs and the devices you operate in.


Beyond these reasons, there are reasons that makes a note taking app stand out. I’d like to list out such apps that are potential, cost effective and most importantly elegant that makes you come back to it again and again.


I don’t wish to include Notion, Roam Research kind of popular ones here, as there are tons of videos and blogs that could be exhaustive already. And definitely not the old bees like Evernote and One note too.


Here you go.

Obsidian | Upnote | Mem | Amplenote | Reflect | Athens Research


Obsidian


Okay okay, I know that look. I agree, Obsidian is already popular. But not many have shared much workarounds to use Obsidian in mobile. I’m sure you will have something useful to take from here.


Obsidian had been my go to app for writing for almost a year. It is a device only app which stores your data in the medium of your choice. Whether you wanna have it locally or in Dropbox or any other Cloud service, your data is your choice to make.


It came out like a rebel when the productivity world started shouting about Roam Research which was charging $15 per month, while Obsidian gave away the application for free. Ever since then, the tool got evolved into a massive competitor for any advanced note taking tool out there.


Obsidian is a Second Brain for you, as the founders call it. You can Dump your ideas, Reflect on it and Retrieve when you need it in future.


It has almost everything you need for a Markdown first note taking app. Their founders are very active in pushing updates frequently.


Their community is equally active and they got some brilliant plugins for your needs.

I had a tough time trying to use it with my mobile. Obsidian did not have a mobile app (at least to this moment) and I had to do a lot of workaround to use it in my mobile.


Workaround 1:

I stored my obsidian vault in Syncthing in my Mac and installed Syncthing in my mobile as well. After both the folders are in a sync, I can view and work through all the .md files through any text editor. My preferred editor was Markor.


Workaround 2:

I stored my obsidian vault in Box in my mac. I installed FolderSync in my android. Once the sync is done. I can practically play around the .md files with Markor again.


Workaround 3:

I stored my obsidian vault in Dropbox in my mac. By simply installing Dropbox in my mobile, I can view, edit and create new .md files from within the app. Yeah, Dropbox supports markdown editing.


Even though you could identify all these workarounds, you only get to view and edit those files, you will not be able to use the Obsidian-ified features.


As I write this blog, Obsidian is already testing its mobile app with its paid customers. Soon expected to be arriving for public.


This back and forth workarounds, got me tired and kind of pushed me to look for alternatives. Hence I moved to 👇. May be I’ll come back, only time will tell.


Upnote


Boring interface is an enemy for productivity. Especially when you are someone who is just getting started with writing.


Upnote is the most recent gem I had come across. Bear like UI. Just fiddling with it for a day, it made me move my notes from Evernote and Obsidian and made me purchase their premium version. The transition was seamless. It hardly took 2 to 3 hours to import, connect and organize the notes in Upnote.

Pros:

  • It has got bi-directional linking

  • Nested folder structure

  • Supports markdown editing

  • Got export options to .md, .pdf, .txt, .html

  • Supports images and file attachments

  • Themes and Editor customizations.

  • Character & Word counter, Table of contents, Related wiki links - all showing in the side panel across respective notes.

  • Syncs flawlessly across devices. I use it in Mac and Android.

  • Got web clipper for chrome.

  • It is lightweight. Very very lightweight. You will start to doubt if you are working online or offline. BTW, it has offline support too.

  • Price is approximately $1 or INR 79 per month.


Cons:

  • Tags are missing. May be that will be a show-stopper for many.

  • The attachment options could be more presentable. Like pdf inline view.

  • Writing is in paragraphs and not in blocks, which is unlike Notion, Roam. But not a deal breaker.


This app is not complete. It needs a lot more to be done. But I have seen many improvements in it in my brief usage of 3 weeks. The dev team is super responsive and I’m sure they got a lot more up their sleeves. Try it out and you will see that I’m not bluffing.


PS: I’m writing this post using Upnote



Mem


This is perhaps the newest note taking app in the market. It is still in early access stage and not yet available for public access. I got an opportunity to play with it. Man, what an experience it has given me. It’s User Interface and Swiftness is mind blowing.


One of the pain points of a note taking app is “Search” functionality. They have mastered it to an extent you won’t need your folder organization at all. Anyways, you don’t have Folder organization in this app at all 🤷‍♂️. But I can guarantee that you won’t miss it either.


It has bidirectional linking and Tags which does almost everything flawlessly.


You don’t have to go somewhere to start writing in Mem. You open your mem app and just write. It is as simple as that.


It has got Timeline view, Inbox, Tasks which eases your workflow and collaborate. You can create automations like Daily Mem, Templates and many more.


Did I tell you about its Spotlight feature? No matter wherever you are in your computer, A Cmd+Shift+Space will open a spotlight. You can use it to note any content into Mem.


Lets’ copy this very article about Mem and hit spotlight (Cmd+Shift+Space). Voila, you will see it is ready to be put inside Mem.



Now hit Enter, and you are done.


Mem works two ways. Like how you capture content, You can apply content from Mem to anywhere else.


Now lets use the spotlight again to get the same Memed text into an email.


Isn’t this amazing. There are many more features in it. Perhaps I could write an elaborate blog if I get paid for it 😉.


For now, its price is unknown. It is a VC funded company, so hopefully the price would be competitive in the starting stages as their prime objective will be target customers. But you don’t need to actually sell a product that is as good as this. Try this little beauty (beast), you will be amazed too.

Amplenote


A unique tool which has great functionalities for Note taking and Task management. It has created a following with its unique approach to Knowledge management.


Like Roam, they take the Daily note approach. All your knowledge gets built from the Daily note. You got “Jots” for quick capture or daily notes. “Notes” for all your content. “Tasks” for task management. Any checkbox inside a note gets automatically tracked in your “Tasks” column. Then you have a Calendar to manage your tasks.


Looks like a complete package right, it sure is.


Pros:

  • Bi-directional linking and tags to track your notes.

  • One of its most interesting feature is its “Task score” concept. It uses AI to create a score for the task you create inside Amplenote. You can later review them, snooze them, rearrange them to your needs.

  • Files and Attachment access with offline support to some extent.

  • Calendar support.

  • A functional mobile app.

Cons:

  • It doesn’t have a free version. There is only freemium version. You get a 30 day trial to decide if you wanna proceed further or not.

  • Their pricing starts at $5 and goes on till $20. Though the $5 pricing is quite reasonable for the features they provide.

  • Mobile app needs work to be done. Offline support isn’t that great.

  • This is subjective. UI is not for my liking. But it definitely looks decent.

Couple more tools to watch out for


Reflect


I did not get a chance to play with this tool as yet. But everything looks promising as far the promos and first looks are concerned. May be I’ll edit this blog with my review once I get my hands on it.

Athens Research

Open source. Yeah open source. That’s kinda new for this segment right :-). Another Roam Research competitor in the making, but this is a device only tool. Meaning, you can set up your vault at your preferred location just like Obsidian. The rest of the functionalities look very similar to that of Roam. Still in very early stages, worthy to watch out for.

Verdict

Obsidian’s mobile app is coming soon. Upnote is still in early stages. Mem hasn’t come up with pricing and a mobile app yet. They haven’t announced proper import export options yet. Reflect is too soon to judge.

Bidirectional linking is the new kick across the Note-taking fraternity. Even the old wolves are working around bringing this feature.


All these apps are great. Fiddle around with all of them before fixing yourself into one.


Before you choose a Note taking app for your knowledge management, check on the below pointers before committing yourself completely.

  • Does this app have a conventional import export options like .md, .html, .txt. This is key when you plan to move to a different app in future.

  • Files and attachment access. You sure might need it.s

  • Search functionality. Is it seamless? Is it enriching my experience?

I hope this blog gave a fair perspective to you over your Note taking system. Feel free to add in comments if I had missed anything here.


Happy Writing!

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