Ask LH: What's The Best Way To Sync All My Notes Across Devices?

Dear Lifehacker, There are so many apps for syncing notes and I'm not sure which one to choose. Some are simple, some are feature rich. Some sync well across all platforms, some don't. How do I figure out what's best for my needs, and what works best overall? Thanks, Writer's (App) Block

Photo by mika48 (Shutterstock)

Dear WAB,

Every major platform has a lot of options for syncing notes. We've picked out our own favourite for Windows, Mac, Android and iOS before, but our needs may not exactly mirror yours. We favour syncing plain text via simple apps that do that one task well, but you may want a different solution. Let's talk about our favourite option first, and then examine some alternative approaches.

Our Favoured Approach: Syncing With Dropbox

Dropbox is a favoured Lifehacker solution for all sorts of syncing needs, and it's an excellent choice for handling notes. Dropbox comes with 2GB of space for free; you can easily get more, but that's plenty for note syncing.

You can sync any kind of document using Dropbox. Plain text works best, but you can also use rich text files if you need more styling options. Because all the files will simply sit in a folder you can edit them with any text editor on your computer. That means you can use a full-fledged word processor when you want, and a basic notes app the rest of the time. You also have a local copy of your notes that can easily be moved to other platforms.

Both of our favourite syncing notes apps for Windows and OS X work well with Dropbox, even though they were designed primarily for Simplenote. iOS and Android have good options that work specifically with Dropbox. See the list below for some great options for every platform.

Apps for Dropbox Notes

The Alternative: Simplenote

Simplenote offers apps on every platform, supports simple styles, and syncs well. On paper, it's nearly a perfect compromise between simplicity and features. But . .

We loved Simplenote when it first began. It offers a great feature set, allows simple text formatting (such as bold and italic), and includes the ability to roll back notes. It syncs everything, and it isn't hard to find an app that works with it.

Unfortunately, Simplenote's syncing was never perfect and its performance has declined badly in recent months. As well as sync issues, not all Simplenote apps are created equal. Some do not respect the text styles and only sync plain text. It's still a good option, but it doesn't work quite as well as we'd like. If you want to give it a shot, check out the apps below.

Apps for Simplenote

For More Features: Evernote or Google Drive

Evernote is the king of feature-rich digital notebooks, offering software for every platform. You can create complex documents and organise them easily. If Evernote is too feature-rich for your needs and you want something simpler, several third-party developers have created alternatives that focus on taking notes.

The downside of Evernote is that your notes are stored on Evernote's servers and you don't get a collection of text files in a folder. If that doesn't bother you, there really isn't a more versatile note syncing option available.

Few people see Google Drive as a note-taking app, but it actually works well as an alternative. If you want to work with more complex documents, such as Microsoft Word files or rich text, Google Drive can handle them without a problem. Not only that, it syncs files to your computer in much the same fashion Dropbox. You can use it for simply plain text or go beyond. While we prefer the app options that work with Dropbox because they're so efficient, if you need additional features and want the best word processor the web has to offer, Google Drive is a great choice.

Apps for Evernote

Apps for Google Drive

What's the Bottom Line?

We like using Dropbox because it's open, simple, free and reliable. We would like Simplenote if it worked a little better and offered a consistent experience on each platform. If either of these solutions are too simple for you, try Evernote for great consistency and a rich feature set or Google Docs for high compatibility and the openness you get with Dropbox. Every choice gets your notes on pretty much every platform, so don't worry too much about your decision. In the end, you're just trying to get text everywhere. The minute details of how it happens are only so important.

Cheers Lifehacker

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Comments

    Evernote allows for offline storage/access of notes. The windows 8 'metro' evernote app doesnt support ink at the moment which is disappointing, however OneNote does. If syncing to a windows phone the OneNote app is quite good but it cant display any ink notes. Im yet to test if the WP7.5 evernote app will display ink notes - it wont let you create them but if I can display the ones I create with my laptop/tablet then that would be fine.

    Another good app is springpad. It allows for notes based on particular themes (recipes, movies etc...) and can also sync events to gCal. - Great for deadlines, due dates.

    At the moment Im using Evernote, OneNote, Springpad and Tasks (WP7.5 app). Would ideally like to consolidate into 1 but not sure I can.

    One of the advantages of Google Drive is the ability to share docs, so you can have notes for multiple people. not sure if the others allow that without having to give away your credentials.

    CatchNotes. Similar to EverNote, but cleaner.

    The one problem with Evernote is this: i can't seem to create formatted notes with rich text (highlighted text, big headings). This is important to me to be easily prioritise things in my to do list. I don't want to fiddle with third party add-on apps. I want one program that a: syncs b: lets me write in my to do list.

    Going to try Google Docs and see if it does this.

    Followup comment to my earlier one - i used to use Google Docs, but found it very, very laggy. Sometimes unusable, even with a decent connection, sometimes it was fine. Not sure if this is still something that separates Google from Evernote.

    Re Evernote - if you have an Android 4.0.0 device upwards, the Notes are automatically cached in Android's own Note function - you don't need to be online to read them

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