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Note-taking apps for the data conscious

──── 4 mins#Writing, #Privacy

When Roam Research took the world of note-taking by storm, I reconsidered my current note-taking process. As a privacy-minded person, I pay a lot of attention to how my data is used. I take a lot of notes so I wanted to avoid vendor lock-in. Here’s a set of requirements that I came up with for a notes app. They cover both a technical and a data standpoint. Then, you’ll find a list of a few apps that meet them.

Spoiler Alert: Roam doesn’t fit the bill.

Technical Requirements

I won’t consider adopting an app for note writing without these features. The apps listed here all have:

  • Cloud sync between devices. Because it’s not 1999 anymore.
  • A mobile app. Because the best notes get written with wet or greasy hands. This usually occurs after a shower or during a meal.
  • Dark mode. Because if my little website can have it, they can too.

Data requirements

  • Your data is protected from third-parties. It is not collected or analysed for marketing and the privacy policy is explicit.
  • Your data is yours and you can export it.
  • Your data is portable. You can switch to another provider easily.

Bear

Price: $1.49 / month or $14.99 / year

💚 Yay: It looks sleek and beautiful, it’s Markdown-first and the export is great. Made by a small company that takes privacy seriously.

Nay: Apple only (macOS/iOS). I would be OK with just a macOS app for the desktop, but I need my Android app.

🔗 Download link

Evernote

Price: Free on 2 devices only. £4.99 / Month

💚 Yay: Beautiful. Lots of integrations with Zapier and IFTTT help you build workflows with it. Folders and subfolders.

Nay: No Markdown support. They use their own weird-ass HTML specification but it’s easy enough to convert the export. Few things annoys me more than repeated marketing banners shouting “TRY IT FREE.”

🔗 Download link

Notion

Price: Free for individual use

💚 Yay: Beautiful, Powerful, and has folders (kinda). It’s definitely the easiest way to organise things and make them look pretty. And it’s free.

Nay: The mobile app is so slow it’s unreal. The desktop app is also too heavy. Copy-paste is a bit flaky. Their Markdown export is nonsensical but it’s better than no export.

🔗 Download link

StandardNotes

Price: $9.99 / month or $49.99 / year

This is somewhat of an exception since the free version doesn’t give you anything.

💚 Yay: The only app in this list with End-to-end encryption. There’s a variety of writing modes. Very ethical company, take a look at their jobs page if you want to be inspired. You can publish your notes online directly for free using their blogging platform called Listed.

Nay: Dark mode only for paid version. It only exports to plain text files and not Markdown. By trying to do too much, none of the “editors” was good enough. I wanted to like this but I found the paid experience very clunky. They honoured their 30-day money back guarantee and gave me a refund.

🔗 Download link

Simplenote

Price: Free

💚 Yay: Beautiful, simple, and easy to use. The sync feature is super fast and reliable. The native apps on all platforms are light and fast too. It’s made by Automattic (the creators of Wordpress) so you know your data is in good hands. And it’s free.

Nay: Your notes are stored in their database in plain text. Your data is only encrypted in transit. It’s hard to organise lots of notes (please add folders!). Desktop writing experience could be improved.

🔗 Download link

Current setup

My current setup is pretty chaotic.

  • I use Simplenote for “quick notes” like music to check out, groceries, etc.
  • Notion for longer and more complex writing like this article, and other drafts.
  • Obsidian as a “second brain”.

I would love to have folders and a better writing experience on Simplenote. Or that the Notion mobile app was much, much faster.

For all the apps that I use for everything else, head over to my /uses page.

Why don’t you include [app name] ?

Please see requirements above :)

However, if there’s an app that I should include and meets the requirements, please send me an email or a tweet. Conversely, if one app shouldn’t be here because I missed something, let me know too.

Good luck!