Joplin Review | PCMag

Joplin is a free and open-source competitor to Evernote, and it’s among the best note-taking apps you’ll find. In the note-taking app category, Evernote set a high bar for features and functionality, and Microsoft OneNote is the only other app that comes close to offering as much, making them our Editors’ Choice picks. If you’re willing to bring your own storage and lose a few features—including collaboration—Joplin is an outstanding alternative. It has a fantastic interface that’s not wildly different from Evernote’s, as well as apps for all the major platforms except web. What’s missing from Joplin, in addition to collaboration support, are optical character recognition (OCR) on images and PDFs, sketching and handwriting, email forwarding, mobile scanning, among other features. If you’re willing to deal with a less feature-packed app than Evernote or OneNote, Joplin is your next-best choice.

How Much Does Joplin Cost?

Joplin is a totally free and open-source app. You don’t have to pay for anything. The developer accepts donations via Patreon, PayPal, and GitHub.

Storage is not included, however, and neither is syncing. Joplin makes it easy to use Dropbox and OneDrive for storage and syncing, which are likely the most familiar services. You can also store and sync your notes with Nextcloud, WebDAV, or your own file system (for example with a network directory). An Amazon Web Services option is in beta.

Keep in mind that if you use a third-party storage service, you may end up having to pay more for it, depending on what you put into Joplin. With OneDrive, you get 1TB of space for $69.99 per year with a Microsoft 365 Personal plan, and that also includes a few Office apps and extra features for Skype. It’s a lot of bang for your buck. Dropbox costs $99 per year for 1TB of space.

Joplin import options

How Do Joplin’s Prices Compare?

Joplin isn’t the only free note-taking app on the market, of course. OneNote is free with any Microsoft account, and you get 5GB of storage for free, too. Evernote has a free tier of service, too, but it’s too restrictive to be of much use. OneNote gives you nearly everything for free except a whopping amount of storage space. In business environments, you can do a lot more with OneNote when you have other Microsoft Office apps because they’re all built to interact with one another.

Evernote Premium costs $69.99 per year and Evernote Business costs $14.99 per person per month (about $180 per year). Both of those account types give you all of Evernote’s features, including collaboration and sharing, plus account support. Joplin doesn’t have a formal support channel, but it does have an active community forum.

Notion, another note-taking app that blends note-taking with task management, costs anywhere from $5 to $25 per person per month. There is a limited free plan as well. While Notion shows a lot of promise, it’s not as mature and polished in usability as one might like given the price.

Getting Started With Joplin

To get started with Joplin, swing over to to download the desktop app for macOS, Windows, or Linux; or download the app for Android or Apple mobile devices. You can also install it as a terminal application.

Because the desktop apps don’t come from the official Windows or macOS app stores, updating them is a minor inconvenience. From time to time, you have to check for updates manually, download new versions when available, and install them to replace the old version.

You don’t need to create an account with Joplin because it doesn’t have anything to do with where you store your notes or how you sync them. That’s all up to you. In the settings options, look for Synchronization, choose your service, and follow any instructions or prompts.

For each app that you install, Joplin gives you some sample notes containing a few pointers to help you get started. I tested using Dropbox. To authenticate a device, Joplin generated a link where I logged into Dropbox and received a code, which I then entered into the app.

One excellent feature is that Joplin lets you access your note version history, a feature you don’t get in the free Evernote account but that is extremely helpful to have. When you first set up Joplin, it’s worth looking at the version history options. By default, Joplin saves 90 days’ of history. That’s not an especially long time. You can bump it up considerably, but the cap is 750 days. 

Joplin editor layout

Syncing With Joplin

Joplin saves your changes every few seconds as you make them. It downloads files to sync them to your devices less frequently, however, with the shortest time interval being five minutes. You can manually force a sync on any device at any time, however, a feature that many find reassuring.

As with any note-taking and syncing service, there’s a risk of creating a conflict when you edit the same note differently in two different apps before a full sync takes place. It’s more likely to happen if you work offline and forget to reconnect and sync before opening Joplin on another device. Joplin handles conflicts by creating a Conflict notebook and saving various copies of files there for you to review.

Layouts and Views

Anyone familiar with Evernote will find Joplin’s interface and layout familiar and easy to manage, although you get many more options for customizing your views in Joplin. The default view puts notebooks and tags at left. You can group notebooks together and label those groups, which Evernote calls Notebook Stacks, and just like with Evernote, you can collapse and expand them. The next column shows the contents of any selected notebook. The leftmost window or windows—you can have one or two, and I’ll explain it in a moment—is where you view and edit a selected note.

The note view in Joplin is interesting and likely appealing to people who like to edit in HTML or Markdown. You can make a split view with either one of those options as the editing window and a note view next to it where you can see the final product. Alternatively, you can keep just one view open at a time. There is a rich text editing window, although the feature is not yet finished and therefore a warning appears when you use it at present.

Joplin lets you customize the layout of the app to an even greater degree, as you can move the columns wherever you like. Several color themes that you can apply to the app appear in the Preferences, too.

Joplin customize layout

Notes and To-Dos

Joplin lets you make notes as well as tasks, or to-dos. The difference between a note and a to-do is that a to-do: 1) can have a time and date notification reminder attached and 2) in your list of notes, a to-do gets an interactive checkbox next to it. Additionally, you can create checkbox lists inside any note or to-do.

With both notes and tasks, Joplin supports templates, though it doesn’t offer any to start. The only templates are the ones you make. 

Joplin has a wealth of options for formatting, if you don’t want to type in Markdown language or HTML. These include code blocks, quotations, several kinds of formatted lists, tables, inline images, and attachments of all kinds. You can’t create audio memos using the app but you can upload an audio file that you record with another tool. With its most recent update, Evernote removed the ability to make audio recordings with its app. Only a few note-taking apps offer it at this point, including OneNote and Zoho Notebook.

If you tend to have a lot of math in your notes, you’ll be pleased to know that Joplin supports KaTeX notation for equations.

Joplin’s web clipper for Chrome and Firefox works reasonably well. You install it in your browser, active it in the desktop app, and then click the button in your browser bar any time you want to save a web page to your account. You get options for how much of the page you want to clip and can assign the note to a notebook and even add tags. Evernote’s clipper is just a little bit more advanced in that it does a better job of eliminating the unwanted parts of a page and it shows you a preview of a simplified page before you save it. In testing the web clipper for Joplin, it mostly worked well but didn’t properly import all images and included some advertising images that should have been omitted.

Notes and to-dos work pretty much the same in the mobile apps. With the mobile apps, you can snap a photo and attach the image right from the app, although it doesn’t support document scanning with the phone’s camera.

If what you’re really looking for is an app for managing your to-do items, you should check out our roundup of the best to-do list apps.

Joplin mobile app

Importing From Other Apps

With Joplin, you can import Evernote exports (.enex) files in Markdown or HTML format. You can also import JEX files exported from Joplin, RAW files exported from Joplin, Markdown files, Markdown directories. As for exporting files, you can create JEX Joplin and RAW Joplin files, as well as Markdown (MD), HTML, and PDFs exports.

In writing about services intended to be alternatives to Evernote specifically, I tested Joplin’s capability at importing files from Evernote. The overall takeaway is that it works reasonably well but you have to do a lot of work manually. You can’t connect the two services and pipe everything in the way you can with Zoho Notebook or Notion. Rather, you must export your Evernote notebooks one by one and then import them one by one into Joplin. If you have dozens or hundreds of notebooks, it takes real time. The benefit, however, is that you can test the service with a few notebooks and then look for errors or problems rather than batch importing everything and uncovering potential issues who knows when.

With the batch of files used in testing, very few errors came to light. With one note, the title didn’t transfer. It showed up as Untitled. In the original note, the first line of the note and the title were the same. Tags, images, and attachments came through all right. If you have Stacks in Evernote, you have to recreate them in Joplin manually, as you can’t export at the Stack level.

Note properties, including URLs and creation date, also transfer over, which many people find is important data to preserve. Joplin has the capability to add location information where you created a note if you like as well.

Joplin note properties

The Best Free and Open-Source Note-Taking App

Among note-taking apps, there are surprisingly few that do as much as the two top dogs, Evernote and OneNote. As a result, there’s a lot of room for innovation and competition in this space. Joplin is single handedly the best pick at the moment for a free and open-source note-taking app, making it an Editors’ Choice winner for that category. Unlike some open-source tools, which are incredibly difficult to use if you’re not a developer, Joplin is surprisingly user friendly, even in setting up storage and syncing. It doesn’t have as many features as Evernote or Microsoft OneNote, nor can you use it collaboratively, but it’s an excellent pick for anyone who wants a solo account.

Joplin Specs

Free Storage Bring Your Own
Storage for Price Listed Bring Your Own
Max File Upload None
Web Clipper Yes
Web App No
Mac App Yes
Windows App Yes
Android App Yes
iOS App Yes
OCR File Scanning No
Sketching Supported No
Email Forwarding No
PDF Annotation No

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