Digital Note-Taking – What Tools You Need To Get Started

No matter what level of schooling you’re in, taking notes is a fundamental part of the learning experience! From sketching and drawing in preschool, mathematical equations in high school, and lengthy essays in college – you need to be on top of your note-taking to excel.

There are plenty of ways to start taking digital notes and move away from writing notes on a piece of paper. Believe us, once you transition from handwritten notes on paper to digital note taking you won’t look back! These note-taking tools are viable for any tablet and are especially useful for writing on the go.

Let’s jump right into it!

Why You Should Take Be Taking Digital Notes

Whenever you pull out your tablet, there’s not only a wealth of knowledge that’s at your fingertips but an expert way to take notes with your fingertips! You can take digital notes quite easily using a tablet, whether it’s with a built-in keyboard or with a pen.

Digital note-taking is also a more environmentally friendly alternative to paper notes, for obvious reasons. You have an unlimited hoard of perfectly good digital paper at your disposal when you’re using a tablet – there’s no excuse to be using paper anymore if you have a tablet.

We also want to make clear that we’re speaking about digital notes on a tablet, as a 2014 study showed that handwritten notes compared to typed notes yielded higher test result scores and an overall increased understanding of the material.

What Types of Digital Note-Taking Are There?

Before we hop into our top choices for digital note-taking tools, let’s first cover the different types of digital note-taking that exist out there. How you’ll most often be using your digital notebook is important to inform what note-taking app will suit your method the best.

If you’re mainly using your tablet for other things like reading comics or playing Roblox, then don’t worry about this section and skip on over to our 5 top picks for note-taking apps – any of the choices will serve you well.

But if you’ve gone browsing online for apps that will satisfy a serious note-taker, you’re going to want to continue reading.

Handwritten Notes

From paper to tablet, handwritten notes don’t change how you take notes but simply the medium you write them on. While handwritten notes are a great way to jot down information in a way that is flexible and quick, you may need to purchase a drawing pen or pencil to write more quickly.

Handwriting notes are preferred to typing notes on a laptop or desktop computer, as studies have shown that written notes are a better way of remembering and processing information for longer.

Typed Notes

If you don’t have a tablet on hand, then you’re likely to be taking notes on a laptop or Chromebook while in class. While this way of taking notes is not as great to retain information, it’s still a viable way to absorb information if you have no other options.

We recommend that you invest in a 2-in-1 laptop or Chromebook if you want to keep the processing power of laptops but want to level up your note-taking game. You can combine the best aspects of digital notebooks and laptops.

Annotated Notes

When we speak about annotated notes, we’re speaking about taking a pre-existing PDF or JPG document and writing notes over it. This type of note-taking is a middle ground between handwritten notes and reading through established notes to cover the content.

You don’t write the bulk of what you learn, however, so in terms of taking notes digitally, this one isn’t for everyone.

Sketching & Drawing

Using various sketches and drawings to retain information from a class is only efficient for a certain type of class. Art students, life sciences, mathematics, and technical classes would all benefit from using sketching and drawing to get across the main ideas of a class.

You can’t learn effectively with just sketching and drawing so it’s best to employ this with one of the other methods we’ve listed here.

Dictated/Audio Notes

Audio recording the class and being able to listen back to it at any point is an extremely useful feature if your classes or lectures aren’t recorded. While note-taking doesn’t have any clear benefits over writing notes yourself, it is a useful tool to make you a better note-taker overall and check if what you’ve written makes sense.

You can also dictate your notes, but we recommend that you mix them with other note-taking techniques.

The Top 5 Note-Taking Apps

Now that you know the way you take your notes and potentially know about a few other ways to level up your note-taking game. Your notes will improve if you blend different techniques, and the earlier in age you start this process, the more attuned to it will be.

If you’re using apps like Notes or Adobe Illustrator, set those aside and take a look at our list of top 5 note-taking apps!

Microsoft OneNote

We’re starting strong with one of the most popular contenders for digital note-taking – Microsoft OneNote!

Microsoft OneNote is usually the first choice when it comes to note-taking tools and it’s no surprise why. If you’ve had any experience with Microsoft Word, Powerpoint, and Excel, then Microsoft OneNote will seem extremely intuitive and easy to understand.

What’s more, OneNote offers you the chance to add and edit notes in extremely versatile ways, from typing them on a laptop or adding your own words with a stylus, adding images to your notes, and even employing a variety of colors to spice up your note-taking.

This application’s pages are like a ring binder, with multiple ways to navigate between pages that make it easy to hop from your content outline to specific pages! It’s one of our favorite features of the application, and you can hop from concept to concept with the press of a button.

It has integration with OneDrive, so you have extensive storage to make use of when you’re making notes. You can easily upgrade the storage size, but you won’t need to for a while thanks to the generous initial storage amount.

Best of all, you can create on OneNote no matter the processing power of your device as the digital format requirements are fairly low to run it well. If you do find that your OneNote is slow, it may be worth deleting some of your current applications to free up space like ABC Mouse or Netflix.

Apple Notes

If you have an iPad device, then you should be checking out Apple Notes on your device. This application is also referred to as Notes or iCloud Notes based on which Apple device you’re accessing it from. Think of this as the Apple version of OneNote, but with even more compatibility with the Apple suite of applications like Siri, iCloud, and your other Apple devices.

One of the key points that make Apple Notes the best choice among the strong competitors that Apple tablets have available is the fact that it’s free! Note-takers will also be delighted to know that it has a wealth of features that allow you to add specific tags to your Notes, contribute to longhand note-taking or typing, and you can even add images, record audio, and insert them, as well as organize your ideas with mind mapping easily.

And if you’ve forgotten your iPad at home but still want to take notes, you can jot them down on your phone and be able to access them easily when you get home since they’re saved to iCloud! The Apple network allows you to seamlessly share and receive all the information you have between Apple devices with the click of a button.

If you have an iPad and are planning to take notes in classes like 3D modeling or visual design, the versatility of Apple Notes won’t let you down!

Google Docs

If we’re accessible, then you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything easier to find than Google Docs – there’s an extremely high chance that it’s installed on your device right now! No matter the model type or price.

Google Docs sits as one of the best note-taking apps when it comes to writing notes to laptop note-taking thanks to its simple and minimal design. Just open up a new document and you’ll be treated to a new and fresh page ready for your notes in an instant. Like Microsoft Word and other apps, you have a wide variety of fonts and formatting options to choose from, which are saved to your Google Drive for backup.

It’s also free like the above-mentioned applications, the only hassle you may come across is the limited storage space on your Google Drive. This can crop up if you’re using your Google Drive for storing other apps and images.

We also recommend Google Docs over the other applications we’ve mentioned if you’re in an especially wordy and dense class since a Google doc has fewer bells and whistles than Apple Notes or OneNote but is killer when it comes to long-form essays – not necessarily the best if you’re in a visual class like engineering or art.


Notion is a powerhouse! While it can serve as a great note-taking software for your tablet, there’s so much potential within its features that you can utilize and upgrade the notes you’re taking.

Notion is a collaborative tool that allows you to bring in and manage assignments, and projects, and streamline a process with your fellow students or colleagues. It’s best used between quite a few like-minded individuals who are happy to share, collaborate, and work on creating the ultimate notes together.

You can combine the note-taking capabilities of you and your friends to create an expansive wiki on any topic, even draw on online resources like Google Classroom to supplement your information, and then divide and conquer assignments and homework using the project and task manager features to take notes more efficiently.

Notion truly is an amazing tool for students in the digital age, but if you don’t have multiple people to contribute and make use of it then it’s the exact opposite. But even if it’s just you using Notion, it can still be the right system for you thanks to its note-taking functionality.


If Microsoft OneNote is an easy and intuitive application for note-takers, Obsidian levels up the game by providing you with an extremely expansive way to compile and jot your notes together in the application’s software.

There is quite a steep learning curve that comes with Obsidian, however, so while it may take a while to grasp its full functionality, you won’t be able to switch to something else thanks to the Obsidian thinking of everything!

One of our favorite features of Obsidian is that it offers full customizability for your notes app – you change the formatting and interface to match any style you want. You can even add plug-ins to make the experience better, which you can grab from the community to increase the usefulness of the system. Once you’ve mastered Obsidian, you can say goodbye to paper notes for your college lectures and use your tablet and laptop for everything you would ever need.

Obsidian is considered to be one of the best note-taking software for college students and great for taking notes. Although creatives who mainly want to draw and create visual notes for themselves may be happier with one of our other choices.

Frequently Asked Questions

Hopefully, that’s given you a good indication of not only what kind of note-taking works for you but also what app you’d most likely get the most out of. But if while reading this article you found some questions brewing in your brain then we’ve got you!

Written below are some answers to the most frequently asked questions we’ve received about tools for digital note-taking, methods for it, and much more! Otherwise, feel free to look at our other articles that cover the best tablets for Cricut Explore Air 2 and the best Windows tablet for under $500.

Should I Do Analog or Digital Note-Taking?

In this digital age, the use of analog notetaking is still viable but slowly being eclipsed by digital notes. Not only is digital note-taking better for the environment when it comes to reducing the use of paper and deforestation, but it is also easier to back up and save your notes.

If you have a tablet or laptop, you already have a tool to take notes digitally, so there’s no reason not to make the switch. You can even still write your notes by hand on a tablet, which is the recommended way of taking notes anyway.

So if you’re already using a tablet to stream or have an available tablet with lots of storage and connectivity, taking notes digitally is the way!

Is Digital Note Taking Worth It?

Absolutely! Not only do not use any paper when you take your own notes this way, but the amount of notes you can make without taking up any storage is immense!

If you already have a tablet, then making it into your go-to digital notebook is as easy as downloading an application or piece of software, and potentially purchasing a stylus.

What Is The Most Popular Note-Taking Method

Four note-taking methods are considered to be the most popular, and for good reason. Instead of copying things down word for word, consider employing one to write notes with. Here are the four most popular options for note-taking:

  • The Outline Method
  • The Mapping Method
  • The Cornell Method
  • The Mind Map Method

Parting Shot/Conclusion

Hopefully, you can check out these digital tools on all your devices, and upgrade your notes apps when you’re taking longhand notes. Students hear about a lot of studying tips and tricks for getting their grades up, but hopefully, you’ve increased your digital notebook game!

If you’re interested in reading more of our articles, check out the best tablets with a keyboard, the best tablets for 8-year-olds, or the best tablets for artists!