I absolutely love OneNote. Not only is it completely free, but it has a bunch of features that make daily note-taking such a breeze. I’ve also enjoyed Evernote in the past, although I haven’t used it in a while due to its pricing. All in all, both apps are excellent (see our OneNote vs. Evernote comparison).
But neither app is perfect. I recently got a Chromebook and am unimpressed by the web versions of both apps. Furthermore, both OneNote and Evernote sit on the “heavy duty” end of the spectrum, meaning they can be slow and bloated. Sometimes speed and performance trump features.
And that’s why I’ve been looking for an alternative. Perhaps you have, too. The good news is, lightweight alternatives do exist — you just have to be willing to sacrifice some power and flexibility for them.
1. Thinkery (Free)
Available on Web, Android, and iOS.
I’m not a huge fan of web-only note-taking apps because web interfaces tend to be slow and unimpressive, so I was skeptical when I heard about Thinkery. But I can confidently say that this one deserves every bit of praise it gets.
Thinkery is truly lightweight. It supports three entry types: Notes, Todos, and Bookmarks. Notes are just regular rich-text notes. Todos are notes that can be marked as completed. Bookmarks are snippets from the web. Beyond that, notes are mainly organized using custom tags.
The web version works well enough, but the Android and iOS apps haven’t been updated in a few years so you may run into occasional bugs.
2. Simplenote (Free)
Available on Web, Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS.
Simplenote lives up to its name. The developers haven’t wasted any energy implementing useless bloat that you’ll never use. Instead, we have a streamlined note-taking app that’s fast, organized, and pleasing to the eye.
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 (no rich-text editing), but if you need formatting, you can switch into Markdown mode on a per-note basis.
Another noteworthy feature is per-note revision histories. As notes are edited, Simplenote saves periodic snapshots — and you can look through them and revert the note to a previous snapshot when necessary.
3. Laverna (Free)
Available on Web, Windows, Mac, and Linux.
The biggest selling point of Laverna is its focus on privacy. Your notes are never stored on Laverna’s servers, but you have the option of integrating with Dropbox or RemoteStorage if you want to sync across devices. You can also set an encryption password to keep your notes 100 percent private.
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 (and notebooks can be nested within other notebooks).
In addition, 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.
4. Turtl (Free)
Available on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android.
Turtl is another security-minded note-taking app — so much so that it doesn’t have a “lost password” feature. If you forget your login details, all of your notes are doomed and irretrievable. Keep this in mind before committing to this app.
What makes Turtl unique is that, in addition to notes, you can also collect files, images, and web bookmarks. All of these items are arranged into boards (which are basically notebooks with a more visual layout) and can be tagged for more granular organization.
Turtl is definitely unconventional, so it may take a while for you to grow into its design and structure — or you may never come to like it. I do recommend that you give it a try, though. Who knows? Maybe you’ll love it.
5. CherryTree (Free)
Available on Windows and Linux.
CherryTree was my preferred note-taking app for years prior to falling in love with OneNote. It’s extremely lightweight, it’s open source, and it’s been regularly updated for several years now. I consider it the best note-taking app for Linux.
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 basically act as notebooks.
The coolest feature, and the reason why I started using CherryTree in the first place, is that you can create internal links to other notes like a wiki. This is fantastic for notes that are relative to other notes (such as when planning characters and plots for a novel).
6. TagSpaces (Free, $40)
Available on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, and iOS.
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 (unless you sync using a cloud service like Dropbox or Google Drive).
TagSpaces 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.
While the free version is fully functional, you can unlock extra features (like advanced search, geotagging, and file/folder tagging) with the one-time $40 Pro version.
7. Google Keep (Free)
Available on Web, Android, iOS, and Chrome.
If you prefer the “sticky notes” approach over the “pages of text” approach, then why not use Google Keep? I don’t use it much because I like dedicated desktop apps, but I have to admit that Google Keep is fantastic for mobile note-taking.
You should check out these awesome Google Keep tips and tricks: color coding, quick notes with gestures, organizing with labels, voice notes, and more. A lot can be done with it, including planning travel trips and managing simple projects.
What’s Your Favorite Note-Taking App?
Don’t spend too much time trying to decide which one to use.
I know all too well that searching for a new app can be an incredibly wasteful way to spend time and is often done as a form of procrastination.
So download the ones that look interesting, give them each a few minutes, and don’t be afraid to drop all of them and go back to OneNote or Evernote if they aren’t satisfactory. It’s possible that OneNote and Evernote are the best options for you, at least for the time being.
Are there any other lightweight note-taking apps that we missed? What’s your favorite? Which features do you consider essential? Let us know in a comment below!