Whether you're in a meeting or solo brainstorming, you take notes—and immediately forget they exist. There's a better way: taking notes on your iPad to access them anytime, anywhere.
iPad note-taking apps do more than replace the iconic duo of paper and pen. These apps store and organize your notes, import links and media files, record meetings, mark up PDFs, foster team collaboration, and much more.
It's like carrying around one magical notebook instead of 463 dog-eared, coffee-stained hot messes. Interested? I've tested all the top iPad note-taking apps, so you don't have to.
The 7 best note-taking apps for iPad
Apple Notes for text notes
Zoho Notebook for variety of formats
GoodNotes for the most paper-like notebook experience
Freeform for brainstorming and mind-mapping
Milanote for creative project planning
Nebo for handwriting-to-text
Noteful for layered notes
What makes the best note-taking app for iPad?
How we evaluate and test apps
All of our best apps roundups are written by humans who've spent much of their careers using, testing, and writing about software. We spend dozens of hours researching and testing apps, using each app as it's intended to be used and evaluating it against the criteria we set for the category. We're never paid for placement in our articles from any app or for links to any site—we value the trust readers put in us to offer authentic evaluations of the categories and apps we review. For more details on our process, read the full rundown of how we select apps to feature on the Zapier blog.
Like you, I've been taking notes since elementary school. I'm sure you agree our notes now are more essential to daily life than previous scribblings about photosynthesis, right?
In my opinion, these are the five features that the best notes app for iPad needs to have:
Apple Pencil support. Good note-taking apps make full use of Apple Pencil with pressure sensitivity and tilt support to make writing on the screen feel like paper. For those who prefer to type, apps should also offer full keyboard support.
Organization tools. The benefit of digital storage can also be its downfall: nearly unlimited storage can turn you into a packrat. These apps offer easy ways to find your notes, such as folder (or "notebook") organization, categories, tags, and more.
Multi-device syncing. For most of us, our iPad isn't our main work device. You need to be able to easily access your notes—and preferably edit and create them—from all your devices.
Exporting and sharing options. Whether you want to archive, print, or email your notes, you'll probably need to save them as a PDF. Great apps go even further with collaboration tools and additional formats.
Productivity boosters. Today's top note-taking apps offer audio recordings, link and media imports, handwriting recognition, and more.
With these criteria in mind, and after weeks of testing apps with my usual workflow of creative brainstorming and client meetings, these are the seven best iPad note-taking apps. And if you're looking for the best free note-taking app for iPad, you're in luck: all of these apps are either completely free or have a free version.
The best iPad note-taking apps: at a glance
Free; $1.99/month for more storage, powerful search, and other features
A variety of formats
Free (up to 3 notebooks); $8.99 one-time payment for the full version
A paper-like notebook experience
Brainstorming and mind-mapping
Free for up to 100 notes and 10 files; unlimited Pro plan is $12.50/month for individuals, $49/month for 10 users, and $99/month for 50 users
Creative project planning
Free; $8.99 one-time payment for syncing and other features
Free; $4.99 one-time payment for multi-device syncing and additional features
Best iPad note-taking app for text notes
Apple Notes (macOS, iPadOS, iOS)
Made by Apple, Notes comes pre-installed on your iPad and offers an intuitive user experience and flawless syncing over iCloud—and it's free.
Notes supports handwritten text or sketches with the Apple Pencil, typed text, links, photos, and videos, and it offers some basic text formatting options like checklists, lists, and headings. In short, it's got most of the features you probably want for simple note taking, and it's easy to use from the second you open it.
There are a few drawbacks for more advanced (read: picky) note-takers. It's awkward to combine typed text and handwriting within the same note. Similar to other text-first apps like Evernote, in order to handwrite with Apple Pencil, you have to add a handwriting "section" inside a note. You can insert multiple "Pencil sections" within a note, but this segmented, document-style format can be limiting. Even the act of inserting a section can be enough to disrupt your creative workflow if you enjoy sketching out ideas. It left me wishing I could type or write wherever I wanted.
But if you mostly prefer to type notes and want seamless syncing between your Mac, iPad, and iPhone, Apple Notes could be the perfect iPad notes app for you.
Apple Notes pricing: Free
Best iPad note-taking app for variety of formats
Zoho Notebook (macOS, iPadOS, iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, Web Browser)
I've previously written about Zoho trying to be Google Workspace on steroids, and the same is true for Notebook. It's a lot… but in a good way.
Zoho Notebook excels at organization. Each notebook is like a folder where you can store any of the various note types, including text notes, to-do lists, checklists, and sketches. Each format is well-designed for its purpose with familiar settings. In fact, Google users will recognize Zoho's to-do list format as nearly identical to Google Keep.
Zoho Notebook supports both handwritten and typed notes with a few limitations, like not being able to combine the two within the same note. And "sketch" notes can only be the size of your iPad screen, without the ability to add pages or change the canvas size.
Despite this, I found the folder-style organization of Zoho Notebook far easier to use versus the flipbook-style pagination of GoodNotes (and others). Whether you use Zoho's other apps already or only need a notes app, Notebook is a solid choice if you want easy organization above all else.
Plus, you can connect Zoho Notebook to thousands of other apps with its Zapier integrations and do things like automatically creating a text card in Zoho Notebook whenever you have a new note or calendar event.
Add new Evernote notes as new Zoho Notebook note cards
Add new Google Calendar events as new Zoho Notebook text cards
Zoho Notebook pricing: Free; get more storage, powerful search, and other features for $1.99/month.
Best iPad note-taking app for the most paper-like notebook experience
GoodNotes (macOS, iPadOS, iOS, Windows, Android)
I personally use GoodNotes as my main iPad note-taking app. Yes, I'm one of those #aesthetic nerds who use textured paper templates to make my fake digital notebook feel more like the real thing. GoodNotes has a certain notebook-y je ne sais quoi that other apps don't.
You can organize notebooks into folders, or star favorite files. But the core of GoodNotes is the way individual files operate: a bunch of pages one after another, like a physical notebook. To avoid swiping a hundred times to get where you want, you can add key pages to the outline or bookmarks sections.
For years, main rival Notability's audio recording feature gave it the edge over GoodNotes for students and professionals, but GoodNotes has this now, too. Tapping the microphone icon starts recording the audio around you, and tapping again stops it. When you have at least one recording, the wavy audio line icon appears where you can replay or delete that note's clips. I love that it separates clips, which is perfect for taking notes in fast-paced meetings or conferences. When you play a clip, the opacity of your notes fades as GoodNotes shows what you wrote in sync with the audio, like a magically appearing replay.
Other smaller features that add up to a big impact are being able to work on two documents simultaneously with split screen, PDF importing, storing digital stickers as reusable elements, and easy template management.
Unlike the previous apps in this list, you can combine handwriting and text on the same page. Start writing with Apple Pencil, or insert a text box anywhere. You can also move an existing element around using the selection tool and drag it somewhere new. This open canvas approach is perfect for flexible note-takers and quickly sketching ideas.
To me, GoodNotes offers the best mix of the most important features a note-taking app should have combined with an intuitive user interface. And it's not another subscription. What more could you ask for?
GoodNotes pricing: Free (up to 3 notebooks); get the full version for an $8.99 one-time payment.
Best iPad note-taking app for brainstorming and mind-mapping
Freeform (macOS, iPadOS, iOS)
Freeform is the new kid on the block, having launched in December 2022, but it's quickly becoming a favorite for creatives and brainstormers. At first I thought, "A digital whiteboard with sticky notes, ok, whatever," but it has since become a key part of my creative workflow.
Yes, there are many other mindmap-style apps. And, yes, I could draw the above diagram in an app like GoodNotes, too. But Freeform offers the perfect mix of structure and freedom in one.
Type, handwrite, draw, or insert media anywhere on an infinite canvas. Attach files or share URLs directly from your browser into a Freeform board for Pinterest-style bookmarking. Collaborate in real-time with team members within the same board, or use it solo to organize your personal projects. Connect elements and ideas together with auto-snapping arrows that stay linked even if you move things around.
The more I use Freeform, the more I find it the best at keeping up with my 1,000 mph brain when trying to get ideas out quickly (which is half the battle in actually accomplishing them). And built-in iCloud syncing to your Mac and iPhone provides access to your notes anywhere inspiration strikes.
I wish there were a few more pen and highlighter styles, or templates to quickly start new projects. But overall, Freeform has everything Apple-wielding visual thinkers need to take notes or brainstorm ideas, from outlining a novel to planning your next marketing campaign.
Freeform pricing: Free
Best iPad note-taking app for creative project planning
Milanote (macOS, iPadOS, iOS, Windows, Android, Web Browser, Chrome extension)
At first glance, Milanote looks very similar to Apple Freeform. And in some ways, it is: you can use a mix of typed text or handwritten notes and include links, photos, and other media. But Milanote comes packed with built-in project plan templates, stock photos, task organization, and other tools to power creative teams. Milanote basically takes everything I love about Freeform and expands it.
Milanote describes their iPad note-taking app as allowing people to turn "nothing into something." It's open enough that you can start typing, writing, or adding elements anywhere, but also structured as it auto-aligns elements and offers specific formats, such as color cards with built-in HEX codes.
Anyone can use Milanote, though it excels in project planning for designers, writers, filmmakers, marketers, and other creatives. Team collaboration is deeply embedded, with changes instantly visible for everyone in the same board. You can also leave comment cards anywhere, with the ability to tag users and reply in threads, similar to Google Docs.
Milanote is like if Freeform, Evernote, Pinterest, and Trello had a baby… and that's a beautiful thing.
Milanote pricing: Free for up to 100 notes/10 files. The unlimited Pro plan is $12.50/month for individuals, $49/month for 10 users, and $99/month for 50 users.
Best iPad note-taking app for handwriting-to-text
Nebo (macOS [M1 and M2 only], iPadOS, iOS [read only], Windows, Android)
Nebo organizes notes a little differently than most. A "Note" is a blank page to handwrite or type notes, add doodles, arrows, stickers, shapes, and more. A "Document" is like a traditional Word file, breaking your handwriting or text into separate horizontal sections. You can also import and markup PDFs. Any of these formats can live inside folder-like notebooks.
Nebo really shines at converting your handwriting into text. The accuracy is pretty good, considering my handwriting is often unreadable even to myself. Handwriting to text is great for taking work notes and turning them into professional-looking typed summaries or emails. If you're way smarter than me, Nebo can also convert handwritten math formulas into equations.
Most of Nebo's features are free to use, including all three note formats and its impressive handwriting recognition. The only reason I can see to upgrade is for multi-device syncing, which sadly isn't included in the free plan.
If you often type up handwritten notes after meetings, Nebo can save you a lot of time.
Nebo pricing: Free; unlock syncing and more for a one-time payment of $8.99.
Best iPad note-taking app for layered notes
Noteful (iPadOS, iOS)
Part of the reason digital notes are so popular is that they can do things a physical piece of paper can't, like contain multiple layers. Yep, Noteful is like the Photoshop of iPad note-taking apps. You can type or handwrite notes on multiple layers and show or hide any of them.
Cool, but… why? Besides the obvious of students using it to quiz themselves, layered notes are also helpful at work. Write notes from a client meeting on one layer and your action items (or mindless scribbles) on another. Hide the layer with your messy scribbles (or secret company info) and export only the layer with nicely formatted notes meant for your client's or team's eyes.
Layers also work well with Noteful's presentation mode to turn your notes into a click-to-reveal slideshow when mirroring your iPad to an external display. (Hot tip: hide your snarky scribble layer before mirroring.)
One (small) complaint I have about Noteful is I kept accidentally drawing with my finger. I'm used to GoodNotes, which you can set to only draw with the Apple Pencil and ignore finger pokes. I'm so used to being able to scroll around a document with one finger instead of leaving a pen smear. Classic iPad gestures like pinching in/out with two fingers to zoom and the three-finger swipe to undo still work in Noteful, though.
If you regularly share notes with clients or your team—or doodle swear words during conference calls—Noteful's layered notes can save you a ton of time (and disciplinary action).
Noteful pricing: Free; for multi-device syncing and additional features, the Pro plan is a one-time payment of $4.99.
Other iPad note-taking apps
It's hard to choose a note-taking app when there are so many options. The truth is, you have to test them to see what works best for you. I believe the seven options above represent the best choices for most people, but there are a few more I enjoyed testing that didn't make the final cut:
Notability: Popular with students, Notability was one of the first to offer audio recording and remains a top-ranked, full-featured note-taking app.
Evernote: A cross-platform productivity powerhouse combining note-taking with scheduling, planning, and project management tools.
LiquidText: If you edit a lot of documents, create contracts, or conduct research, LiquidText will be your new BFF for organization.
Which iPad note-taking app is best for you?
The best iPad notes app for you depends as much on how you like to take notes (keyboard or Apple Pencil?) as on what you take notes about (visual planning or meeting minutes?).
Sure, you can let me tell you what to do by picking one of the apps above. But the best way to find your One True App is to test them all and see which one best fits your workflow needs and—most importantly—your personal style.
This article was originally published in 2019 by Tim Brookes. The most recent update was in April 2023.