Apps for students: A list of apps I have tried (as a productivity & student coach and as a lifelong student myself!) that could make your student life easier
Note taking apps:
Students need simplicity. And Evernote has been the standard note-taking app for many years that focuses on simplicity.
It may have raised some eyebrows when it reached version 10 (it’s not as fast as it once was), but the fact that it’s used by 250 million people worldwide ensures its future-proof status.
So, how exactly does it work? Consider a left-hand pane containing all of your folders (notebooks) and a right-hand pane containing the notes. Pretty much like your usual Gmail inbox interface. Straightforward and easy to use. But it is Evernote’s powerful use of tags, which help you sort out your notes, where it shines. You can simply assign each note one or more tags and move on with your work without worrying about which folder to put it in.
What’s more, Evernote comes with OCR support. What this means is that it can read and scan your photos or images with handwritten notes and recognise the text so it can pop up in your search results. It also comes with a PDF viewer and annotator. The most recent version also includes a simple task manager. And not to mention another killer feature: perhaps the most robust web clipper available for a note-taking app. You install it as a browser extension and whenever you want to capture the web page you’re visiting (or even part of it) you just click on it.
The free version allows you to use the app on two devices but you can get the premium subscription at half price as a student.
Notion is a hip choice and a company valued at $10 billion!!! This amazing app does follow the traditional hierarchical structures of folders/notes but goes way beyond that. For starters, it allows you to custom sort your notes (which Evernote does not). Then you can create databases within your notes, embed websites or Spotify playlists, use Kanban boards, and add beautiful covers and icons.
Imagine Notion as a combination of a word processor, spreadsheet and excel sheet features, multi-functional tables (a real swiss-army knife!) — and all of this looks absolutely stunning because Notion also relies heavily on being aesthetically pleasing and beautiful to look at.
So, if you enjoy arranging and rearranging things in any way you want, Notion could be for you. It even lets you create homepages and backlinks to other notes!
Best part? You get almost all of the features for free! Even the premium plan (dubbed Personal Pro) is free for students who sign up with their student email address!
UpNote at $0.99 per month or $24.99 (currently) for a lifetime subscription is a no brainer. What is it? It’s an Evernote-like app, but with a much cleaner interface (in my opinion) and many of the features found in Notion that Evernote lacks. For example, you can easily backlink notes and create collapsible sections, custom sort your folders and notes, and so on.
Two additional features not found in Notion or Evernote are the ability to password-protect notes and inline tags, which means you can place a tag anywhere in your text and tag each sentence separately if desired! An extra feature, also not found in the other two apps, is the ability to pin the window on top of other applications so it always stays there when you’re taking notes – useful if you’re in a Zoom meeting and want to quickly take notes without worrying about where the note windows is!
The downside? I haven’t found one yet, apart from the fact that it’s maintained by a very small development team, so you could speculate that you don’t know how future-proof it will be. But don’t worry, you can export all of your notes in markdown format if you decide to switch to a new system later on and the price is too good to be true.
1Password / Bitwarden / Dashlane / LastPass
With almost every website requiring some sort of membership, having a secure location to store your passwords and other sensitive documents is essential. Bitwarden, Lastpass, 1Password, and Dashlane offer some of the most popular browser extensions.
Each one differs in certain ways. This is just my personal view but for me the most visually appealing password manager is 1Password, while Lastpass has an almost seamless auto-fill feature. Dashlane has many pro features, and Bitwarden is totally free for use across multiple devices and is also open source (with a simple interface). In fact, Bitwarden is a definite first choice if you want to avoid spending any money and use it on multiple devices (i.e. your laptop and phone, etc.)
Amazon Music / Apple Music / Tidal / Spotify
There’s not much to say here apart from the fact that each one is a reliable service for streaming music.
Spotify has a lightning-fast and responsive interface, but it does not yet support lossless audio formats. Tidal offers lossless and high definition (HD) formats (at an additional cost), whereas Apple and Amazon go a step further in terms of pricing and include HD quality as part of their premium service at no additional cost.
They all have student plans and offers.
Cloud storage & Office suites
You will need some cloud storage to save your files, be it assignments, documents or photos, so you can access them from anywhere. While there may available, with Dropbox and Box being really popular, I will focus on Google Drive and OneDrive since they also offer a full suite of apps.
Google Drive vs OneDrive (or Google Workspace vs Microsoft 365)
The decision here may depend on a variety of factors.
To start with, many universities and colleges provide students with the free student version of the Microsoft Office suite—soon to be called Microsoft 365. Therefore, the option is obvious if you are asked to submit your assignments in Word format. You can also find out how much personal storage space your university provides through your 365 subscription. Just keep in mind that you will need to move your files somewhere else once you graduate, in case you have been provided with a free university subscription. Since the personal free version offers 5GB of storage space this might be sufficent.
On the other hand, Google Drive offers their own personal storage called Google Drive and comes with a generous 15GB of free storage space. The advantage here is that most Google apps have a less cluttered and simpler user interface compared to their Microsoft counterparts (again, my opinion). The downside (and this can be big for some) is that there is no desktop version – in fact most (if not all) Google apps are web-based.
Call home cheaply
While there are many international calling services, Skype and Viber offer some of the most reliable services. Both of them now let you use your phone number as a display number when calling someone so the person you’re calling knows who you are.
How they work is you either top-up as you go or pay a monthly fee to be able to call landlines and mobile phone numbers. Of course internet calling is free.
Their prices can vary significantly depending on the county you’re calling so it’s better to always look at their official pricing plans before making up your mind.
Organise your time
Todoist / TickTick
These are top apps that offer natural language support for the time being. I emphasize this because this is an evolving space and many time management and task management apps are being developed at the time of writing this (I’ve beta tested some of them and they are impressive!)
How both Todoist and TickTick work is this: Let’s say you have either of the apps installed on your phone or desktop, all you have to do is type a task, such as “Submit essay tomorrow” or “Book tickets at 2pm,” and it will be added to your task list and synced with your Google Calendar (or other calendar software). You can also use reminders and a Kanban board to manage your projects.
Which one should you use? Both have a free plan that is very generous, so you can try them both out.
Todoist is more minimalist, has less clutter, syncs with your calendar instantly, and the free version allows you to do most things (the premium version only costs $4 when paid annually, or $5 if you pay monthly). If you want dependability, simplicity, and speed, this is a good option.
TickTick includes additional features such as a Pomodoro timer, habit tracker, and an integrated calendar so you can schedule your day from within the app. The only caveat is that many of the features are only available in the premium version, but at $2.4 per month, it is the most affordable option. And, unfortunately, there is no true 2-way sync with Google Calendar, and tasks sometimes can take up to 8 hours to show on your Google Calendar.
From photos to text
Microsoft Lens / Acrobat
Both apps allow you to convert handwritten or typed text from screenshots and photos into readable text.
Microsoft Lens works great with whiteboard snapshot while Acrobat takes nearly perfect shots of receipts. Why not install both and see which one works best for you? In fact, I’ve been using both for different use case scenarios.
Browser extensions and apps
Lastly, some browser extension that will make your life more productive:
Let’s you capture online articles and PDFs and annotate them. You can even extract the meta info and turn them into a bibliographical reference or list.
Let’s you underline text on webpages and make notes. It even goes beyond that, making you highlight event YouTube videos and images and sahre your highlights with people you want.
Highlight, save, annotate and organize your articles and research. Weava is trusted and used by many academic institutions and offers a generous 70% student discount for the premium plan.
Collects all your highlights from Kindle, Tweets and much more. You either view them in your dashboard or automatically set up Readwise to export them to your Evernote or Notion account or even send them right to your email inbox or other platforms you might be using. For me, it is by far the easiest way to have all my references in one place. Apart from the free version, there is a also a premium version that students can get at half price!
Disclaimer: This is a very personal list of apps I have been using and, as a productivity coach and a lifelong student, think are of great value to students. I cannot list all possible alternatives in such a brief post but only mention the ones I have personally tried. I acknowledge that there are other options that might even be better than what I have proposed above
Photo by Arnel Hasanovic on Unsplash
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