There are also plenty of apps out there that will give you a taste of their potential for free but keep major features locked until you pay a premium price.
However, we’ve rounded up a couple of apps for handwritten notes that are completely free to use. No timed trials, distracting ads, or in-app purchases are needed.
1. Microsoft OneNote
Microsoft OneNote is the classic notebook app available from Microsoft. It’s free to use and packed with useful productivity features. This is a choice you can’t go wrong with, especially if you are already using other Microsoft applications.
In this app, your notes are organized on the sidebar by Notebooks, Sections, and Pages. You can also create sub-notebooks and sub-pages, making it very easy to stay organized. It’s also straightforward to switch from one page to another with the convenient sidebar.
You to add text, insert files, draw, change paper styles, record audio, and much more. It comes with a pressure-sensitive pen tool and a highlighter, both of which you can completely customize the colors for. There are even some glitter options for the pens.
One of our favorite underrated pros to note-taking with OneNote is the ability to save an unlimited amount of favorite pens and highlighters to the toolbar. It also lets you choose from six stylus orientations to better suit your writing style.
OneNote integrates all types of content—text, drawings, PDFs, and more—together on one page. And it does it well. Your notes also sync across devices, making it easy to switch from writing out notes on your iPad to typing them on your computer.
With all the features this app has, it will meet the productivity needs of most people. It’s also a great app for students who want to annotate PDFs and want to take a good combination of typed and handwritten notes. Explore more about the app and read up on some little-known OneNote features you’re sure to love.
Download: Microsoft OneNote (Free)
This app offers a great deal of note-taking functionality for free, which is hard to believe. CollaNote is one of the best free alternatives to popular digital note-taking apps such as Goodnotes and Notability.
CollaNote comes with the classic pen, pencil, highlighter, lasso, and eraser set. The colors are completely customizable and you’re able to add pen color, and thickness combinations to your favorites for easy switching.
Additionally, there are a couple of other handy tools like a laser pointer, adjustable ruler, stickers, and even voice notes that sync with the time you started writing. There are dozens of templates to choose from, ranging from paper types to cute pages for digital bullet journaling.
CollaNote’s biggest advantage is its ability to facilitate collaboration on notes with other users. You can even create public documents that serve as “rooms”. If you collaborate on a note with others, you can merge everyone’s notes, saving time during note-taking.
The only drawback about CollaNote is that its text tool is not as easy to use. Adding text takes you to a separate screen to first type out all your text, or by default, write it out with your Apple Pencil. Make sure to also take a look at other great apps for the Apple Pencil.
After you’re done, it will appear on the note page for you to adjust. It’s not the most fluid process, but the rest of the app’s features make up for it. It’s the ultimate choice if you want most of your notes to be handwritten and need more productivity features.
Download: CollaNote (Free)
3. Notebook by Zoho
Notebook is a great app if you want to blend typed notes with the occasional hand-drawn diagram or handwritten note. You have complete customization for the colors of a pencil, pen, and highlighter tool. In fact, the pencil tool offers one of the most realistic pencil experiences on a digital app.
A few neat features include the ability to lock specific notes and set a password to be able to open them. You can also scan documents and directly annotate them. Note that the document scanner on Notebook is very similar to taking a picture.
The only real downside to Notebook is that handwritten notes are kept completely separate from other types of notes, even when they’re both on the same page. This makes this app really useful when you only want to handwrite notes, or when you just need to insert an occasional hand-drawn diagram on a page of text notes.
Download: Notebook – Take Notes, Sync (Free)
4. Loose Leaf
Loose Leaf is a hidden gem of an app, and it operates exactly as the name suggests. There are no notebooks, only stacks of loose-leaf sketches and notes. The app is designed to really feel like you’re working on loose pieces of paper.
The iPad has a lot of features that require two-finger gestures, such as closing loose-leaf stacks, flipping pages, and deleting notes, especially when the device already has so many gestures. Once you get the hang of it, the movements will feel like second nature.
The pen and marker tools are completely pressure-sensitive with no manual way to adjust the thickness. Unfortunately, you only get five choices of primary colors, but that could be more than enough depending on your needs.
Some unique features about this app are the Scissor tool in place of the Lasso tool and an asymmetry tool to have your drawings mirrored. It also comes with useful page styles, including a blank music score and a blank to-do list.
This is the perfect choice if you’re looking for a simple app to sketch out ideas on.
Download: Loose Leaf (Free)
5. Apple Notes
Apple’s default app for note-taking is packed with hidden features, so don’t underestimate its functionality. With this note-taking app, you can take notes and handwrite them, sync them across multiple devices, and even use the Apple Pencil to handwrite with.
The Notes app has all the basic tools such as the pen, highlighter, pencil, and eraser available through Markup. It also comes with a lasso tool and an adjustable ruler, and the ability to customize your own colors.
It also has an Auto-Minimize option, which moves the toolbar out of sight when you start writing. You can even change the paper style from a few different options.
Another useful feature that Notes have is the ability to scan documents. You can even use your phone camera to do it and have it immediately added to the note on your iPad. The scanned documents on a note are kept as attachments, so you won’t be able to mark them up with the pen, but it’s still handy to have your information in one place.
6. Post-it Notes
Post-it Notes brings the old-school technology together with your iPad.
It’s easy to create new, short notes directly on the app. Or you can even import information from up to 200 real-world Post-it Notes with your camera. For analog notes, handwriting recognition will help you search and export information.
On the iPad, you can use a wide variety of editing tools to draw, erase, and more with your notes. There are multiple ways to organize notes like by thought or just on a simple grid. You can export your notes to cloud services like Dropbox or to PowerPoint, Excel, or a PDF.
A home screen widget can also show the most important notes at a glance without seeing to open up the app.
As a nice plus, the app is also available on the iPhone or Mac. With iCloud sync, work on one device will automatically appear elsewhere.
Download: Post-it Notes (Free)
Choose the App That’s Right for You
Now you know that there are a few completely free options available to take good digital notes without any surprises. Download one, or all five, of them and give it a try to see how they meet your productivity needs.
Whether you’re taking notes for class, sketching out ideas, or digital bullet-journalling, a good app for handwritten notes is just what you need.
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