- Free (no in-app purchases, free account required for maximum functionality)
- Download Simplenote
Notes for iOS is perhaps the weakest of the built-in panoply of apps offered by Apple. It's very capable, without doubt, but feels clunky and unintuitive. Generally speaking, to compete against it other apps head in one of two directions: they add-in even more features, or they take them away. Those that add-in features include Microsoft OneNote and the venerable Evernote, both of which we certainly recommend. One app that keeps things nice and simple, yet offers just the right amount of useful features, is Simplenote - and this is our choice as the best Notes alternative.
Indeed, it's perhaps easier to list what's missing from Simplenote than to list its features. There's no text formatting, for example, so you can't apply bold or italics, or choose an alternative font. You do get Markdown support, the somewhat fashionable alternative to HTML that's designed to be simpler, but you can't insert pictures, videos or audio within your notes. You can’t create folders to organise your notes although you can organise them via tags, which is almost as good. More of that in a minute.
What you do get, and all entirely for free (Simplenote is created by Automattic [sic], the same public-spirited folks behind the Wordpress blogging platform), is cloud syncing of your notes that brings with it the ability to both share and collaborate with others. There are versions of Simplenote for just about every popular computing platform in use today, from Android through to Linux, and including macOS - which allows desktop-to-mobile syncing within the Apple universe. You can also share notes with others for them to edit via any web browser, which is also the destination when you choose to publish a note (which is to say, share it without giving others the ability to edit).
Creating and editing notes is elementary, although some nice tricks are included. Lists are automatically created should you start a line with an asterisk or number, for example. As with most word processors, you can subsequently terminate the list by hitting Enter twice on the on-screen keyboard.
At the bottom of each note any number of word(s) or phrase(s) can be added to tag that note, and you can use these to locate the note in future, either by typing within the instant search field, or by opening the sidebar (tap the down arrow at the top left) and then selecting the tag within the list. Important notes can also be pinned to the top of the list of notes. A particularly nice feature is the ability to step back through the history of the document, which provides the ability to revert to earlier versions of the document. Versions are automatically saved on a minute-by-minute basis as you write.
The app can be secured via Touch ID on compatible phones, but only for when initially opening the app, and notably individual notes can't be protected as with the built-in Notes app. Notes are also stored unencrypted in the cloud for ease of searching, with Automattic warning that you shouldn’t store sensitive information within Simplenote. However, this is true of nearly every note-taking app.
For scribbling quick notes, memos or lists then Simplenote is ideal. The only thing that would improve it would be the ability to attach files to each note, such as photos. However, this would require a fundamental expansion of Simplenote's brief - and we rather like how it keeps things basic.