Hi friend! Have you heard about Obsidian – the hot new note-taking app that‘s gaining popularity for knowledge management? If you‘re wondering whether Obsidian is free to use or if you need to pay, you‘ve come to the right place.
In this detailed guide, I‘ll give you a simple answer upfront: Yes, the core Obsidian app is 100% free! You can use it for personal or educational purposes without spending a dime.
I‘ll walk you through what‘s included for free, what premium extras you can pay for, how Obsidian compares to apps like Roam Research and Notion, and whether it‘s ultimately worth paying to upgrade. Let‘s dive in!
Obsidian‘s Free Features Are Robust for Personal Use
Obsidian was founded on the belief that robust personal knowledge bases should be free and open to everyone.
So right from the start, the Obsidian team has been generous about what‘s included for free:
No account required – You don‘t need to create any login or account to start using Obsidian. Just download and start taking notes!
Works across all major platforms – Available on Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android systems.
Powerful editor – Full set of knowledge management features like backlinks, graph view, local graph, etc.
Mobile apps – Free apps for iOS and Android that can sync using third-party tools.
Privacy focused – Notes are only stored locally on your device. Not uploaded to any external company servers.
Community plugin ecosystem – 100+ free plugins developed by the community add extra functionality.
For personal note taking, Obsidian really goes above and beyond on delivering an incredibly capable free package. The lack of official syncing or collaboration features may limit team use cases. But as a second brain for your own thinking and writing, Obsidian has all the key ingredients without a price tag.
Let‘s explore a few of the standout features that make Obsidian such a compelling (and free!) option compared to other popular note apps.
Non-Linear Note Linking
Obsidian uses a concept called bidirectional linking between notes to allow you to structure information like a spider web rather than a rigid hierarchy.
This means any note can freely link to any other note in your knowledge base. When you click a link, Obsidian shows you backlinks to see all the connections tying notes together.
This non-linear flexibility allows notes to be arranged spatially based on thought process rather than categories. Your brain doesn‘t think in strict hierarchies, so why should your note-taking app?
All Obsidian notes are stored as local Markdown files on your devices. There are no servers or databases standing between you and your own knowledge.
This gives you full ownership over your ideas, writing, and research. No worrying about losing access if an app shuts down or your internet goes out.
And because nothing is stored in the cloud, Obsidian offers end-to-end encryption without uploading private data to any company. Peace of mind if you manage any sensitive notes or materials.
Graph View for Visual Thinking
Obsidian‘s unique graph view visualizes the web of connections across all your notes. This lets you explore your knowledge spatially and visually to uncover insights.
Seeing all the links between notes laid out in a graph can reveal hidden thematic clusters you may not have noticed before. It‘s like being able to see your mental model externally.
This graph functionality comes fully built-in for free. You don‘t need to pay extra or install any add-ons to start mapping your knowledge.
Community Plugins Expand Free Features
While Obsidian‘s core free feature set is very capable, the vibrant plugin community expands possibilities even further.
There are over 100 free plugins offering useful enhancements:
- Advanced search – Search across tag names, file content, links, etc.
- Templates – Insert note templates with predefined headers, layouts, etc.
- Enhanced editing – Additional formatting, shortcuts, writing stats, etc.
- Multimedia – Audio recordings, YouTube embeds, diagrams, etc.
- Dataview – Pull in dynamic data views for notes.
- Alternative views – Timelines, charts, kanban boards, and more.
These free plugins let you tailor Obsidian‘s flexible toolkit even more to your personal workflow. No need to upgrade to paid tiers to get addons like templates or advanced search.
Optional Paid Extras Offer More Convenience
Obsidian‘s core free version is fully-functional for most personal needs. But there are some paid extras you may want to consider:
- Obsidian Sync – Encrypted sync and backups for $8/month.
- Obsidian Publish – Publish knowledge bases as websites starting at $10/month.
- Catalyst License – One-time purchase to support Obsidian‘s development.
These affordable paid options unlock more convenience through syncing, publishing, and supporting the app‘s growth. But none are required to access core features.
Below I‘ll take a closer look at whether Obsidian Sync and Publish may be worthwhile upgrades for your workflow.
Obsidian Sync: Seamless Cross-Device Convenience
The lack of built-in syncing is one of the biggest limitations of Obsidian‘s otherwise-excellent free offering.
While DIY sync options like Syncthing work, they require manual setup and have less robust conflict resolution.
Obsidian Sync provides an affordable add-on to enable automatic, seamless sync across all your devices. And as you‘d expect, your data remains fully encrypted locally across the sync.
For $8/month for individuals, the key benefits of upgrading to Obsidian Sync include:
- Automatic background sync – No need to manually trigger syncs between devices. Obsidian handles it in the background.
- Version history – Revert changes and restore lost files easily.
- Merged changes – Automatically resolve sync conflicts from multiple devices.
- Backups – Extra data protection against loss or device failures.
For power users working across multiple devices daily, Obsidian Sync can quickly become a necessity for keeping your notes and ideas in harmony. But sporadic users may be fine sticking with manual third-party sync options to avoid the subscription fee.
Obsidian Publish: Effortless Publishing of Knowledge Bases
Obsidian Publish lets you easily share any part of your personal notes and knowledge bases with the world through a live website.
The $10/month basic plan gets you:
- 1000 published pages – Share up to 1000 pages from your vaults online.
- Fully customizable – Choose which notes get published using tags or manually.
- Built from your vault – Published site updates automatically as your vault changes.
- Editable – Notes remain editable in your vault after publishing.
If you‘ve amassed pages of valuable insights or reference material in Obsidian, Publish makes it trivial to open up access for public benefit.
Rather than leaning a CMS like WordPress, Obsidian handles all the hosting, site generation, and syncing with your vault automatically.
Use cases include:
- Personal wikis and knowledge bases
- Documentation for teams and open source projects
- Sharing Zettelkasten insights with the world
- No-code websites and blogs
For casual bloggers or anyone wanting to share Obsidian insights externally, the $10 monthly fee is very affordable compared to web hosting and development work.
Catalyst License – Support Obsidian‘s Growth
Obsidian is built and maintained by a small passionate team dedicated to making knowledge management accessible for everyone.
The optional Catalyst license is a popular way for power users to provide financial support to Obsidian‘s continued development:
- Personal – One-time $25 payment
- Organization – One-time $50 payment
Benefits include access to Insider builds of new features, plus some aesthetic perks like additional themes and custom icons.
But mainly the Catalyst license is a way to sustain Obsidian‘s ability to keep delivering excellent free features for personal use. For heavy Obsidian users, it‘s a small price to support such a valuable tool.
How Does Obsidian Compare to Top Alternatives?
Obsidian occupies a unique space between free notes apps like Evernote and OneNote, and paid-only alternatives like Roam Research.
Here‘s a quick breakdown of how Obsidian‘s pricing and capabilities compare to some top competitors:
- Pricing – $15/month. No free option.
- Cloud-based – Everything synced through Roam‘s servers.
- Collaboration – Excellence real-time collaborative features.
- Note relationships – More advanced bidirectional links and graphing.
Roam focuses on extremely fluid note linking and collaborative knowledge sharing. Teams are the primary target. For groups, Roam‘s sophistication around community note-sharing may be worth the $15 monthly fee per user.
But for personal use, Obsidian gets you 90% of Roam‘s core benefits completely free. Making it very hard to justify paying $180 per year as an individual Roam user when Obsidian meets most needs.
- Pricing – Free personal plan. Team plans $4-$8 per user/month.
- All-in-one workspace – Docs, wikis, lists, databases, etc in one tool.
- Great collaboration features. – Real-time multi-user editing and comments.
- More structured data – Database views, tables, and formulas.
For teams, Notion‘s stellar collaboration features provide seamless real-time sharing of notes, lists, and data. The structured databases also enable workflows beyond Obsidian‘s graph-of-text approach.
But for personal use, Notion‘s more rigid databases and reliance on cloud syncing makes Obsidian‘s local-first linking a better fit for private knowledge management. And you can‘t beat Obsidian‘s price of free.
- Pricing – Free tier with sync limits. Paid plans $8-$15 per user/month.
- Totally cloud-based – Synchronized notes across all devices.
- Simpler editor – Formatting options lacking compared to Obsidian.
- Tagging not links – Simpler non-bidirectional relationships between notes.
Evernote popularized cloud-synchronized notes and tag-based organization years before Obsidian arrived. For quick and easy cross-device notetaking, Evernote is smooth and frictionless.
However, for doing serious knowledge management and connection of ideas, Obsidian‘s local-first approach and focus on unconstrained linking provides a more powerful free option compared to Evernote.
- Pricing – Free tier included with Windows. iOS and Android apps free.
- Deep Microsoft integration – Great for Office ecosystem users.
- Audio notes – Record audio notes and meetings.
- Simpler linking – No graph view or zettelkasten-style two-way links.
OneNote offers a free solid streamlined note-taking experience across Microsoft‘s ecosystem. For Office power users, the OneNote integration shines.
However, if deep knowledge management and research notes are needed, Obsidian‘s capabilities for visualizing and manipulating networks of ideas leaves OneNote‘s simple tagging in the dust. And with no account required, Obsidian is less locked into one software universe.
- Pricing – Free for personal use. $4.99 per user/month for teams.
- Cloud-synced – Real-time syncing across iOS, Android, MacOS, and web.
- Powerful editor – Fast native and web-based editor like Obsidian.
- Person-first – Focuses on people more than notes. Shared access controls.
For both personal and team use, Craft offers an excellent alternative note editor to Obsidian with real-time sync built-in. The focus on people rather than notes facilitates seamless sharing and collaboration.
Compared to Obsidian though, Craft lacks graphical network analysis tools. So for interlinked zettelkasten notes, Obsidian currently provides a more complete free package. But Craft‘s settings-first design is great for quick collaboration.
- Pricing – 100% free and open source. Local-first design.
- Next-gen outlining – Outline notes and shift levels with one keypress.
- Graph visualization – Connection graphing like Obsidian.
- BYO sync – Bring your own sync solution like iCloud Drive or GitHub.
Logseq brings powerful outlining and graphs to local-first notes, but with more frictionless editing. As an open source project, it‘s free for both individuals and teams.
Downsides are lack of mobile apps, finicky syncing, and less onboarding and documentation compared to Obsidian. But for those who want open source notes with graphs, Logseq is compelling.
The Verdict: Obsidian Delivers Unmatched Free Value
Obsidian‘s unique approach to local-first, graph-connected notes provides a best-in-class free offering for personal knowledge management and writing.
While power users may want to invest in Obsidian Sync for enhanced cross-device capabilities, the core app remains free forever. No subscription or account required just to benefit from these stellar features:
- 🧠 Non-linear thinking – Web-like note linking instead of rigid hierarchies.
- 🔒 Privacy protection – Zero data leaves your devices.
- 🕸️ Connected insight – See a birds-eye graph view of your knowledge network.
- 📱 Cross-platform access – Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS and Android support.
- ⚡ Blazing fast search – Instantly find what you need in large vaults.
- 🤝 Community plugin ecosystem – 100+ free plugins that expand functionality.
For personal note-taking and knowledge management, no other app comes close to matching Obsidian‘s capabilities available at absolutely zero cost.
Of course no one app is perfect for every user and use case. Make sure to evaluate your specific needs around sharing, portability, multimedia, and collaboration.
But for thinking deeply through writing, Obsidian stands out as an invaluable (and free!) addition to any knowledge worker‘s toolkit.
I hope this guide helps you decide whether the popular Obsidian note-taking app is a good fit your needs. Let me know if you have any other questions!