Productivity

The 7 Best Lightweight OneNote and Evernote Alternatives

James Frew Updated 12-05-2020

OneNote is one of Microsoft’s crowning achievements. Not only is the note-taking software free, but everything is optimized for daily use, helping you stay focused and organized. The same is true of Evernote, too.

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However, neither app is perfect. This is especially the case when it comes to software. Their browser-based editions lack features, while the software versions can be bloated and slow.

If you’re after an alternative to OneNote or Evernote, then you do have options.

1. Simplenote

Simplenote note-taking app

If you’re after a minimal, no-fuss note-taking app, then you should opt for Simpltenote. The app lives up to its name, as you won’t find bloat or additional features here. The primary focus is on distraction-free note-taking. As a consequence, the app is pleasing to the eye, as well.

There aren’t any notebooks. Notes are organized using custom tags, although you can pin individual notes, so they stay at the top of the notes list. The notes themselves are plain text, so no rich-text editing. But, if you need formatting, you can switch into Markdown mode on a per-note basis.

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Another noteworthy feature is per-note revision histories. As notes are edited, Simplenote saves periodic snapshots. You can look through them and revert the note to a previous snapshot when necessary.

Download: Simplenote (Free)

2. Laverna

Taking a note in Laverna

Laverna’s main selling point is its focus on privacy. Your notes are never stored on the company’s servers. However, you can store your data on Dropbox or RemoteStorage if you want to sync across devices. It’s also possible to set a password that’ll encrypt your notes, too.

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Laverna has two other big points in its favor. First, all notes are written in Markdown with a live preview window. Second, it has three levels of organization; profiles, notebooks, and tags. Notebooks can even be nested within other notebooks.

Also, it has distraction-free editing mode, syntax highlighting if you ever write code in your notes, several handy keyboard shortcuts, and it’s open-source on GitHub.

Download: Laverna (Free)

3. Standard Notes

Standard Notes web interface

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Standard Notes is a secure, encrypted, and open-source note-taking app. If you’re after a privacy-focused Evernote alternative, then this software is ideal. Not only is the app available on all desktop and mobile platforms, but there’s even a web edition, too.

Standard Notes operates a freemium model; the app is free to use, but additional features need to be unlocked with the Extended edition. The free version comes with all the app’s encryption features, sync services, and offline access.

The Extended option opens up additional editor styles (only plain-text is available in the free version), adds two-factor authentication, and enables note history. For anyone who has used Apple’s Notes software, the Standard Notes interface will feel familiar, too.

Download: Standard Notes (Free, premium edition available)

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4. Turtl

Turtl note-taking app

Turtl is a secure Evernote alternative. Most of the app’s features mirror those available in Evernote and OneNote. However, privacy is the top priority here. To that end, Turtl is open-source and available to view on the project’s Github page. All notes are encrypted locally before being uploaded to the syncing server.

Despite being an alternative to OneNote, the way you use the app is different, and there will be a learning curve. Another important item to consider is that Turtl is currently not available on iOS. However, you can use it on the desktop and Android devices.

You can use the Turtl browser extensions to collect files, images, and bookmarks, too. All of these items are arranged into a board, which are notebooks with a more visual layout, and can be tagged for more granular organization.

Download: Turtl (Free)

5. CherryTree

CherryTree interface

CherryTree is a great open-source alternative to OneNote. Many of the features found in Microsoft’s note-taking app are here, too. Despite being open-source, the app is regularly updated. For this reason, it is one of the best note-taking tools for programmers The 7 Best Note-Taking Apps for Programmers and Coders Staying organized as a programmer can be tough! Here are the best note-taking apps designed with coders and developers in mind. Read More .

It can handle rich-text notes and code-based notes with syntax highlighting. And although CherryTree doesn’t have notebooks per se, notes can be nested under other notes, so top-level notes act as notebooks.

One of CherryTree’s standout features is the ability to create internal links to other notes. In this sense, it functions much like a wiki. This is fantastic for notes that are relative to other notes, such as when planning characters and plots for a novel.

Download: CherryTree (Free)

6. TagSpaces

Tagspaces interface

Unlike all of the other apps on this list, TagSpaces is completely offline. It never sends data across the internet. Instead, it only uses local folders and files, which also means no cross-device syncing. That is unless you sync using a cloud service like Dropbox or Google Drive.

TagSpaces is free, although you can unlock extra features by upgrading to the Pro edition. The app supports three note types: plain text (TXT), rich text (HTML), and Markdown (MD). The interface is a bit overwhelming at first, but once you get used to it, it will all make sense and boost your productivity.

And since TagSpaces uses the local file system, staying organized is as easy as creating your own preferred subfolder hierarchy.

Download: TagSpaces (Free, Pro edition available)

7. Google Keep

Google Keep Web Interface

If you prefer digital sticky notes over a virtual notepad, consider switching to Google Keep. Like most of Google’s services, there isn’t a desktop app here. Primarily, Keep is designed for web and mobile. However, if this isn’t a deal-breaker for you, then this may be the best Google equivalent to OneNote around.

This app is ideal if you’re after smaller notes, quick reminders, and checklists. However, if you dig a little deeper, Google Keep can make a great digital notebook, too. So, if you so make the switch, be sure to use these Google Keep tips for better lists 7 Useful Google Keep Tips and Features for Better Lists Google Keep may look like Post-It notes, but it's far more versatile. Here are the best tips for perfect lists on Google Keep. Read More .

If you use other Google services or have an Android smartphone, Keep’s integration with your account makes it a worthwhile alternative.

Download: Google Keep (Free)

The Best Note-Taking App for Your Needs

While we’ve listed some of the best OneNote alternatives, you shouldn’t spend too much time deciding which to use. Regularly switching between apps can be a wasteful way to spend time, and is often a symptom of procrastination.

You may find that these feature-rich alternatives offer more than you really need. In which case, consider using one of these uncomplicated note-taking web apps 5 Uncomplicated Note-Taking Web Apps to Be More Productive Note-taking apps tend to add a whole lot of features. These simpler, uncomplicated notepad apps can actually make you more productive. Read More instead.

Related topics: Evernote, Google Keep, Microsoft OneNote, Note-Taking Apps, Task Management.

Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the site alive. Read more.

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  1. G Acs
    July 5, 2020 at 11:51 am

    I am using Perpetual Notes. It is simple and saves notes as RTF files locally.
    http://enselsoftware.com/product/PerpetualNotes.html

  2. Ethan
    May 13, 2020 at 3:09 pm

    Another good alternative is Joplin. It does use Electron, so not as lightweight resource-wise, but it is available on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android. It uses Markdown, and can by synced with any cloud storage provider.

    • Mark
      May 13, 2020 at 8:05 pm

      Thanks ^^ this is great.

  3. steve
    May 20, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    If you're on a Mac or iOS check out Notability. Pretty amazing little app.

  4. Spoxi
    October 3, 2017 at 5:45 pm

    Most of my research consists of web clips, short notes and many short lists of different types like ip addresses, medical files, passwords, etc. I have always used Evernote for notes but it's become so slow with my more or less 5000 notes that I'm looking around for a replacement. I've come across Qbase (www.qbasesoft.com) which is essentially a database manager but it allowes to add a rich text column and use it for note taking. The good thing is it's free and it also reminds me of my old ListPro outliner, the bad thing though is that it looks still under development. The data is stored locally or on your network so no security issues here plus it offers password protection.

  5. TBolt
    September 5, 2017 at 2:54 am

    For research / study notes, which tend to get very long & need embedded images, links, tables & other features, few things beat the simplicity of Google Docs. I use Google Docs for all of my heavy note-taking needs, aside from To Do lists, shopping lists or small reminders -- for those, I use Google Keep.

    Both Google Docs & Google Keep are available on the web, iOS, Android.

    Occasionally, I'll use the Notes & Reminder apps on my iPhone, but I never use either of them regularly.

  6. Zubin
    May 23, 2017 at 7:03 pm

    I really like OneNote for its sync , movable textboxes and (ftw) Per-Tab password protection.
    I like to know I can see my notes from any windows device and Internet connection, being able to organize entire paragrahs and displace them is handy and most important per-tab/note password protection, I like to open fast for the quick jot-down so going through a login screen is quiet annoying.
    But Major issue; slow...so very slow, 1N hangs a lot sometimes you open a tab and its completely emptied like it failed to load. quite the headache when you're in a rush.

    Do any of these apps have the above(good things), I'm going through them one by one and already hit cherrytree and realizing that I might be stuck with OneNote

  7. Caroline
    May 14, 2017 at 7:57 am

    I loved catch and used it a lot; then it died and i had all these notes that couldn't export to say evernote. I could export plain txt but i uswd a lot of images to accompany my notes and these were not exported together with the notes. So i am now weary of using another note app. Although i would love to find one that let's me export notes with the images i have attached to that specific note. Any note apps cover this issue ?

  8. Bo Grimes
    May 6, 2017 at 3:02 pm

    Collate is new (.3 just released) and seems to have promise. Cross-platform, MD, rich text, and outline modes. Tagging. But it saves everything locally or in a service like Dropbox, and essentially organizes like a file manager, so you can basically navigate your files in any file manager (or at the command line) and edit using any editor. The tagging will be only in Collate, and I don't know if tags will inherent from, say Linux to Windows versions, but grep is still grep.

  9. Clint Walker
    May 5, 2017 at 4:23 am

    I've never yet seen an article on note taking apps that focuses on *search capabilities* For example SimpleNote beats every other note taking app in the area of synchronization speed, but is unable to search more than a single tag.

    Even Evernote falls Shor when search tags.

    Example: search for notes tagged "cat" OR "dog" but exclude notes containing "bird"

    This is beyond many note taking apps. And this is a horrible thing to discover when you're already 50 000 notes and 4 years invested into an app.

    Secondly: Recommending web only services for anything more than a shopping list is irresponsible - here today, gone tomorrow - unless there a copy on your on drive (which you're backing up) you're better off with pen and paper.

    • daniel
      April 3, 2018 at 8:15 am

      using CHERRYTREE's search, you will see all instances where the "keyword" exists. You can then click on the one you want and it will take you to that keyword instantly.
      This is super helpful when you have lots of notes..

    • lordmax
      May 21, 2020 at 6:24 am

      Hi
      the best for searching, imvho, are zim desktop and vnotes

    • lordmax
      May 21, 2020 at 6:26 am

      Hi
      For search capability try Zim Desktop and/or Vnotes

  10. Andrew W
    May 5, 2017 at 3:06 am

    I'm all in on Bear (http://www.bear-writer.com/) right now, because I have the luxury of keeping it all Apple. When I'm on my non-Apple hardware, I rely on my phone for note keeping. It's beautiful, and I find the copy/export as options super handy. I also appreciate that it's smart about handling code blocks.

    That said, I also bought a year's subscription to Standard Notes (https://standardnotes.org/) because I like their approach of emphasizing simplicity, longevity, portability, and security while not letting those things detract from the experience.

  11. Khiusttin
    May 5, 2017 at 1:47 am

    Yeah, I will install Thinkery right away, especially because it hasn't been updated in almost 4 years

  12. Philip Truax
    May 4, 2017 at 11:50 pm

    Boostnotes is pretty solid and has a clean interface. It's great for small bits of code.

    QOwnNotes allows self housing your notes for sharing across computers.