For the last 5 years, I've been using a fork of Notation Velocity called nvALT 2. Truly a fantastic app.

Some of the benefits:

  • plain text/markdown. So I can sync the data folder via dropbox and have access to all my data on iOS or another computer. Plaintext also allows me to use TaksPaper for task management.

  • Sparse and performant interace. Even though I have more than a thousand notes, search is extremely fast. Creating new notes is easy.

What's becoming apparent though, is with that with such a relatively large amount of notes navigating and search is an issue. If I'm looking for a common word I get tons of hits. nvALT 2 supports rudimentary tagging but it's very basic (can't search or navigate by tags).

What I'm looking for is an app that's similar to nvALT in spirit but supports:

  • hierarchical folders
  • tags

I've considered the following:

  • Evernote, the elephant in the room. However evernote uses a proprietary format and is slow.
  • Quiver looks almost exactly like a dream note taker, but it uses a custom (though "open source") file format. It will make interop with other apps difficult.
  • Microsoft OneNote. Not plaintext.
  • SimpleNote a more basic version of nvALT with the same problems.
  • Apple Notes, not plain text although it would obviously sync nicely across mac and ios.

Are there any other plain text note takers with solid organization that I'm missing?

  • .txt files with Finder tags? Aug 12, 2016 at 13:50
  • @JaimeSantaCruz are there any iOS apps that understand this metadata? The only way I know to search for finder tags is via Spotlight and it's not that speedy. Aug 15, 2016 at 4:05
  • Not sure if other apps can work with it. Aug 15, 2016 at 12:54
  • iOS 11, which was released in September 2017, changes the game somewhat since you can now use tags and hierarchical folders (two requirements mentioned in the question) in the iOS Files app, and other iOS apps may take advantage of this. See also my answer below.
    – Big Mac
    Oct 6, 2017 at 14:50

3 Answers 3


Try DEVONthink to Go for iOS, paired with one of the DEVONthink family of apps for macOS. It meets all of your criteria: it supports creating and organizing (with tags and hierarchical folders) notes in plain text, markdown, and other formats, as well as PDFs, images, and URL bookmarks. It also has a unique semantic artificial intelligence engine and other features.

  • iOS 11, which was released in September 2017 (six months after I wrote this answer), changes the game somewhat since you can now use tags and hierarchical folders (two requirements mentioned in the question) in the iOS Files app, and other iOS apps may take advantage of this.
    – Big Mac
    Oct 6, 2017 at 14:49

I've just ditched Evernote, 5 years too late. It's been a tough decision, since even the simplest of exported notes is buried under piles of formatting and metadata.

nvAlt does the job for me. It has all the advantages you mentioned and tagging is not problem for me. I just include the #tags anywhere inside the note's text. When searching nvAlt, you can filter results by words and tags; it will only show you the notes that contain all of them.

As with evernote, a good tagging system (and discipline) lets me do away with folders.

  • The person who asked is already using nvALT, and is looking for an alternative to nvALT, not for tips on how to use nvALT.
    – Big Mac
    Oct 6, 2017 at 14:43

The native Notes iOS app now supports tags for iOS 15+, see the support page Use Tags and Smart Folders in Notes on your iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch

The tagged notes roll up like seen in this screenshot below folders and note tags UI

There appears to be a caveat however with reverse compatibility. Once you make a note tagged however you are prevented from viewing it in older versions of the Notes app it would seem. ios notice about reverse reverse compatibility limitations tagged notes visibility on older note app releases

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