Are notes stored on your computer, phone or in the cloud in plain text that anyone can read? Here are free apps for PC, Mac and mobile that encrypt your notes for privacy and security.
Notes apps and services like Microsoft OneNote, Google Keep and some others, store your notes in unencrypted format on a server in the cloud. Notes software that runs on the computer may store notes on the disk unencrypted. Even if the disk is encrypted, backups may not be.
This means that if someone gained access to your computer, phone, server or online account, they could read all your notes. It is therefore not a good idea to store private or sensitive information in notes that are exposed this way. It is best to use secure and private encrypted storage for your notes.
There are a few apps and services that offer encrypted notes and here I look at three of them, Notesnook, Standard Notes and Turtl. All offer free plans and paid plans if you want more storage and more features.
Standard Notes encrypted notes
Standard Notes provides secure private encrypted notes for Apple Mac, Windows PC, Linux, iPhone, Android phone and the web. A basic account is free of charge and includes syncing between devices, but there is an option to subscribe ($90/year or $7.5/month) to add more features.
A free account, which it calls Standard, provides a very simple notes app and the only organizational feature is tags. Create tags, add them to notes and when one is selected, only notes with that tag are displayed. This enables you to organize notes for projects, work, personal and so on. Select a tag and you only see notes of that type.
Mac and PC desktop apps look like Standard Notes in a browser. Phone apps can’t show this three column display because of the size, but they work in the same way.
When All notes or a tag is selected in Views, note titles and the first few words of each note is displayed in Notes. Select a note and it is displayed. It works in a similar way to some email services, so it is a familiar interface that is easy to get used to.
Notes can only be plain text with a free account, but paying subscribers can attach photos, videos and other files to notes. A professional subscription ($120/year or $10/month) provides 100 GB of storage for them. Subscribers (Productivity or Professional plans) can style the text using Markdown, create spreadsheets, checklists and to-dos, and organize notes into folders.
The free version of Standard Notes has limited features, but you can create unlimited text notes, everything is encrypted so that only you can access your notes, it has apps for every device and OS, and it keeps them all in sync. Notes can be exported and saved to disk.
Standard Notes is good, but I wasn’t overly excited by the free plan. All the best features require a subscription, unsurprisingly, but it is just a bit too much for me.
Notesnook encrypted notes
Notesnook is an end-to-end encrypted private notes app that can be used for free with a few limitations, or in full featured form for a reasonably priced subscription. That is cheaper than many alternative notes app, Standard Notes, but is a dollar more than Turtl.
Notesnook is available on everything, and there are apps for PC, Mac, Linux, Android and iOS. It can be used in a browser too. The app is free and can be used with a free plan or paid subscription ($49.99/year or $4.17/month). Notes are automatically synced between devices on all plans, so you are always up to date, no matter what you access your notes on.
I am using the free plan, which enables you to create up to three notebooks. It is an organizational feature and notebooks enable you to keep separate collections of notes.
If you simply want to store notes in Work and Personal notebooks, and maybe one other category, a free account will be fine for you. However, if you want to create a new notebook for each project you work on, to keep all your notes and files together, you need to subscribe to Notesnook.
Another organizational feature is tags. These are keywords that can be assigned to notes, so you could tag notes concerning a project with a descriptive tag, or tag important notes with ‘important’. Click a tag and only notes with that tag are listed, so it acts like a filter. A limitation of the free plan is that you can only create five tags, whereas it is unlimited for subscribers.
There is no limit to the number of notes that can be created. However, notes in the free plan are text only, whereas subscribers can attach images and other files. A nice feature of Notesnook is that rich text notes are supported in all plans, even the free one (unlike Standard Notes), so you can create headings, subheadings, use bold, italic, and underline, insert links to web pages and websites, and choose from three fonts.
Numbered lists and bulleted lists can be created in notes, and reminders can be created. You will already have reminders elsewhere, like a calendar or to-do app, but if you are working in Notesnook it may be convenient to create the reminder without having to leave the app.
Backups of all your notes can be created and the encrypted file saved to disk. Notes can be exported, only as HTML, Markdown or plain text for free, but to many other formats, like PDF, with a subscription. A note can be published, which makes it publicly available. This is useful if you want someone else to have access to the note. It can be password protected and also made self destructing, deleting after it has been read, Mission Impossible style.
Notesnook is a good notes app. It is encrypted and private, it syncs all your devices, and it has unlimited notes. Subscribing, which is reasonably priced, enables even more features. I like it a lot.
Turtl encrypted notes
Turtl notes provides encrypted notes for Windows PC, Apple Mac, and Linux. However, I worry about the future of the app. Two years ago it said an iPhone app was coming soon. It still says that. The Android app no longer works because it was created for an outdated version of Android. There are no phone apps, which is a major limitation.
You won’t have any problems getting the software running on Windows, Linux or macOS. A plain, almost empty, window awaits you when it is run and clicking the plus button in the bottom right corner provides options to add text, a bookmark URL, an image, file or password.
Turtl organizes notes into spaces, like Work, Home, Personal or whatever you want to create. Spaces are useful for keeping collections of notes separate. Boards are created within a space and notes are stored in boards. In the Personal space, photos, bookmarks and passwords are suggested, but any number of boards can be added. Tags can also be added to notes.
Notes are displayed as cards or tiles, a bit like the way Google Keep does it, and while it is useful to be able to see what is on a note, it can be difficult to find a note when there are a lot of them. It would be useful to have an alternative view that just lists note titles.
Notes are written in plain text and Markdown is supported, so you can add headings, bullet lists, to-do lists with checkboxes and so on. There is a button to switch to a preview mode to view the note.
Turtl notes are encrypted and only you can see them. For convenience, the app can remain logged in so you don’t have to sign in every time you run it, but it recommends you log out each time, then no-one can access your notes. Unless you share them.
You can invite others to any space, so you could create a space for a team at work and there are several levels that determine what people can do. There is admin, moderator, member and guest. An admin can do everything and a guest can only view a space’s contents. Typically, you would be the admin and others would be members.
What does all this cost? A free account enables you to store up to 50 MB of note data and collaborate with up to three people. That is a lot of space for text notes, but files and photos would rapidly consume it. A $3/month provides 10GB/10 collaborators, and $8/month is 50GB/50 collaborators
The Turtl desktop apps are OK and I personally could manage with a free account since most of my notes are text. If you want to store files and photos and collaborate with teams, subscriptions are cheap. However, the lack of phone apps is a deal-breaker for me.
If you are looking for a free notes app that encrypts everything for security, I liked Notesnook best. It has a good range of features and is cheap. For paying subscribers, Notesnook and Standard Notes are closely matched in features and they look and work in a similar way. However, Notesnook free plan offers more features than Standard Notes free plan and paid plan is cheaper too.