Battle Of Top Note-Taking Apps: Evernote, Springpad, Catch and Keep

When Google launched Keep a couple of months ago, everyone started comparing it with similar apps that have been around much longer. Although Evernote was the most talked about, there is no dearth of note-taking apps on the web or any of the popular mobile platforms. From plain text solutions to feature-packed mammoths, there is a ton of competition out there.

Having tried and endlessly switched between a whole bunch of apps over the years, I decided to give Keep a shot to check how it fared against some of the others that have come close to being a staple on my Galaxy Nexus.


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The Contenders

What follows is as fair a comparison of the top four note-taking apps on Android as I can put together. These are apps that provide more functionality that plain text notes and sync, so SimpleNote — ie Flick Note, their only half-decent Android client — is out, and so are any apps that do not have a workable web interface. That leaves us with the aforementioned Keep, Evernote, Springpad and the comparatively lesser-know Catch. Honorable mentions go to Mobisle Notes and ColorNote Notepad — both perfectly good apps, but just not in same the league as the top four.

As a disclaimer, I’ll state that my note-taking app of choice at the moment is Evernote, but that’s mostly because I have way too much content in it already.

Core Features

If you get down to the basics, all four apps let you take notes that can contain plain text, checklists, photos and audio. Plain text notes in Keep, Catch and Springpad are just that — plain text with no formatting support — while Evernote gives you rich text formatting support. Unfortunately, none support Markdown — by far the most popular plain-text based formatting solution out there. Springpad has by far the most note types, which include everything from recipes to movies to events and more.

Keep's plain text vs Evernote's rich text formatting

Keep’s plain text vs Evernote’s rich text formatting

We all know how quickly notes can get out of hand unless you have a way to categorize them. Keep comes in last in this department, with absolutely no way to really organize notes — everything just gets lumped together. All the remaining apps have folder support, although in Catch they are called workspaces, while Evernote and Springpad prefer the notebook metaphor. In addition, you can also tag notes in Evernote and Springpad for another level of categorization. Once you have the folders created, you can share them with others in all three, leaving Keep biting the dust when it comes to collaboration.

Catch's workspaces vs Springpads notebooks

Catch’s workspaces vs Springpads notebooks

Once you have added your notes, each platform readily syncs them to the cloud and in turn on any other device you have them installed on. Although sync worked perfectly well on all devices, I found it to be quickest on Keep (probably because it integrates directly with your Google account on Android) and slowest on Springpad, although the difference was pretty negligible.

User Interface

What use is an app with a ton of features if it is not well executed? There are three key parameters one can look at the user interface from – aesthetics, ease-of-use and performance.

As far as eye-candy goes, Catch takes the cake by a mile. The gorgeous bright interface is coupled with buttery smooth performance making it an absolute pleasure to use every time. I even weild it to show off sometimes. Evernote and Springpad also look pretty good, and so does Keep if you prefer a minimalistic yet vibrant approach.

Catch's gorgeous visuals vs Keep's elegant simplicity

Catch’s gorgeous visuals vs Keep’s elegant simplicity

As far as simplicity and ease-of-use go, Keep is as simple as it gets, partly because of its decidedly minimalistic feature-set. There are no folders and controls to fiddle with — just create your note or search for something — in and out in seconds. That is not to say that Catch is difficult to use. For its feature set, I found the app to be extremely intuitive and usable. Evernote and Springpad bring up the rear in this department respectively, with Springpad  specifically suffering from its sky-high aspirations in the features department.

The results in terms of performance are not very surprising then — Keep leading everyone else in snappiness, followed by Catch and the remaining two. Both Evernote and Springpad apps can actually get pretty sluggish, especially when syncing content with the servers, loading images and editing rich formatted text.

Bells & Whistles

So we’ve already established that as far as note-taking goes, all four apps do a pretty good job. The real differentiators then, are the extra features they bring to the table.

As far as Keep goes, the only real stand-out feature it offers is automatic transcription of audio notes. Now I’ve not been able to get this to work thanks to my Indian accent, but the overall feedback on Google’s transcription capabilities has been good so far, so this might work for you if you come from the US or some parts of Europe.

Keep transcribes audio notes while Evernote lets you apply a passcode to open the app

Keep transcribes audio notes while Evernote lets you apply a passcode to open the app

Springpad differentiates itself with its huge list of smart note types which are built to work with the web, giving it an upper hand if you capture a lot of stuff while browsing rather than just manually taking notes. The app will figure out whether you are on a recipe website or a movie database and create notes of the appropriate type with the necessary data fields.

Catch is the one with the least number of bells and whistles, and focuses on its core features with top-notch visuals and performance. One feature Catch shares only with Springpad that is the ability to add comments to notes, which makes a lot of sense when you are sharing notebooks.

Both Springpad & Catch let you add comments to notes

Both Springpad & Catch let you add comments to notes

Evernote, as you have probably guessed, is king in this category. Being the only contender with native desktop apps for Windows and OSX, I find it to be the most accessible of them all, especially when I’m on the move and do not have internet access. On top of that you get the ability to add documents to notes, seamless integration with other apps like Skitch, Food and Hello, the ability to secure your notes with a passcode lock when opening the app and more.

But the one feature that takes the cake by a mile is its ability to index text inside images. Took a photo of a business card or a screenshot of a website? Evernote will include the text from these images in its search results. For me, this is one of the top reasons I’ve not been able to move away from the service.

Conclusion

I’m not going to get all anti-climactic and say it’s a four-way tie because all apps work well on their own and you need to try them all to decide what works for you. Here are my recommendations in as much objectivity as I can garner:

  • If you crave simplicity and are just looking for a quick way to capture notes, go for Keep.
  • If categorization is important, but you still want simplicity and a beautiful, smooth interface, Catch is for you.
  • If you do a lot of capturing of information from the web and need a personal smart information archive, try Springpad.
  • If you need the most powerful and versatile information management system out there, and you can’t live without offline desktop access, Evernote will not disappoint you.

I’m confident a number of you will disagree with my views here. Note-taking is such a personal matter, and everyone has their own methods, tricks and peeves. Feel free to let us know your thoughts in the comments below. I would love to see if I’ve missed an obvious feature in these apps and maybe also try out solutions that I haven’t discovered yet.


  • rap

    Catch also has tagging by putting a hashtag before a word. To tag a note as a recipe you’d put #recipe somewhere in the note. I often tag at the bottom of my apps.

    One thing not addressed is the availability of the information when no internet connection is available. This can be especially important for tablet users. Catch allows uses to access the information when offline, Evernote requires you to be a premium (paid) user to access content not created on that device.

    I have used all 3 to some extent depending on the content but use Catch most. I’d probably use Evernote but I can’t justify being a premium user to get the offline access at this point.

  • Evernoter

    I’m a long time use of Evernote, and pretty much have my life documented in it. But I’m also using Keep for quick notes, shopping lists, etc. Using voice input it’s very quick to record reminders to yourself. Permanent stuff goes into Evernote.

  • fardin hussein

    Evernote has one big disadvantage. You cannot delete notebooks unless you are premium.

    • http://ashish.bogawat.com Ashish Bogawat

      I don’t think that’s true. You can create and delete as many notebooks as you want on the free plan.

    • Edgar Liu

      How about YodaNote 0.3 for Android,it save your note to Dropbox,cost nothing,and provide real WYSIWYG editor.
      You are free to create notebook or delete.

  • http://HumanExcellence.com JD Mumma

    Thank you! Excellent overview and having tried all 4, I agree with your conclusions.

    I agree with one commentor about offline access since I would like to keep some notes available from anywhere in the world since my travels take me to very remote locations.

  • RCh

    I’ve used all the 4 services and i’ve decided to go with Catch: it’s simple, fast and beautiful. But for me the major advantage over evernote is the offline access to my notes. i don’t find justifiable to pay to have offline access to my information. Another problem i find in evernote is the security of the information: the notes are storage in plain text, even the encripted text.

  • TonyM

    I agree that Evernote is the greatest note taker since hot dogs (well, maybe not that good). I find the feature set so rich it’s hard to believe it’s still free! Sptingpad is good too, but it is too complicated to use on the fly. you’ve got to ‘dig’ to get to the good parts. If I wanted just a simple notebook app, I would just use the Notes app that comes with the Android or IOS core.
    Thanks for a ‘fair & balanced’ comparison of these apps.
    TonyM

  • Suzanne Moore

    Why is “memories” ap never reviewed ? It’s your seems easier to me than evernote

  • SmoochTheCook

    Terrific write-up! I’m now able to narrow my choices to springpad and evernote, but I think I’ll go with evernote. Thank you so very much for your insight!!!

  • 3lis3

    Your article is interesting, you have selected very good apps. I also used Evernote before but as you said in your conclusion, is depend of the need, that why finally I definitely adopt Beesy thanks to Evernote. All needs that you mention in your article are met in one app, with it I don’t need to switch with an other app.

  • Dan

    Something to consider – Catch only allows 5 or 6 folders,’workspaces’, in the free version. To get more you have to pay an ongoing fee, a ‘subscription’. Annoying, because I was seriously considering jumping from Evernote to get offline Android access..
    Thanks for the comparo.

  • Hari

    It is good to have secure notes on phones. It is better to be able to send secure notes. Even better is to send secure notes to your trusted contacts.

    To that end, I recently created an app called Celatum. It also allows you to add trusted contacts using public key cryptography. Encrypted notes can be sent to these contacts in a jiffy. GMail is the preferred channel for communication.

    AES 256 bit session keys are used for notes in transition which means that there is no single key to encrypt notes in transit. Also, public key cryptography and digital signatures ensure that only your contacts can see the notes.

    Celatum for Android is available at:
    https://play.google.com/store/search?q=pub:Harisankar%20Krishna%20Swamy
    Looking for reviews, feedbacks and suggestions. Don’t forget to checkout the FAQ and how it works pages.

    Best,
    Hari

  • Chris Allen

    A great read thank you very much. I have recently started using Google Keep and while does a good job I still think I’ll be hard pressed to replace my moleskine notebook, I’m working on it though.

  • Don

    I just got this message when I signed into Catch. So it looks like Catch is out of the running.

    Catch has made the difficult decision to take the company in a different direction. As such, we will be terminating service next month. We value our users and have greatly enjoyed providing Catch to millions of people over the last several years, but it is time for us to move on.

    Catch will no longer be available after 30 August 2013. Please follow these directions to download your data before this time.

    • http://www.symbian-guru.com khouryrt

      Yes, the news spread yesterday. Such a shame, as it was one of the main contenders in the note-taking space.

  • Steve

    As a long time catch user I’m totally bummed out that it is shutting down. My big requirement is offline data as I travel a lot (airplane mode) and get out of data range at other times.

    Do you know if any of these allow for offline access and syncing? I know evernote does for $5/month. I’d like free if able.

  • Alan Keno

    This is a message from Catch Notes:

    Dear user,
    Catch has made the difficult decision to take the company in a different direction. As such, we will be terminating service next month. We value our users and have greatly enjoyed providing Catch to millions of people over the last several years, but it is time for us to move on.

    Catch will no longer be available after 30 August 2013. Please follow these directions to download your data before this time.

    We thank you for your support. If you have any questions or concerns, please email us at [email protected]. We apologize if we are not able to respond to all emails.

    The Catch Team

  • Dave Lamont

    Catch is on the way out. The end of August Catch is going off-air….dark forever. I’m sorry to see it go away. It provided exactly what I needed…all of we CATCH people have 3 -4 weeks to transfer data to another service….good luck.

  • Ally Beatriz

    I love Catch. It works perfectly for what I want it to do but today they announced essentially, they were shutting down Catch witch really annoys me. I since have switched over to springpad. It is a little early to tell but the concept seems the same with the added bonus of more customization. Please make an updated version of this list.

  • catchman

    now catch is going away.

  • Noopura Coeur de Lion

    you can use stringnote….. its the best app for taking down notes… you can take videos, audio and texts and just sync themto evrnote.. it has the auto geotagging so you wont forget the stuff you jotted down
    link to Stringnote
    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.kandasoft.stringnote

  • erwinanciano

    The biggest issue with Evernote is its cost. Free, it’s good, but a lot of important features are missing, like a Password to lock the app unless you pony up. Evernote also has the most horrendous interface, what a mess!

    Springpad is slightly better from an interface perspective, but still cluttered, and worst of all the app is freaking sluggish. Makes using it less pleasurable and more of a chore.

    Catch Notes is the effect note taking app, which is beautiful, fast, versatile, and can handle oodles of text or small check lists easily and wonderfully. It’s only problem is that its not profitable, so now it’s out of business.

    Keep is not a contender at this time, it’s too simple IMO. Also, Google will probably pull the plug on Keep in a few years so I’d be careful keeping too much on it if I were you.

    • Money Loo

      Doesn’t your phone have a password lock? (Hint: It should)

  • Xavier

    If you want your note to be organised in hierarchical order you can try

    https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=tree.note

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