My app of choice: hand-written notes and the iPad

As promised in my recent post outlining my favourite stylus to capture hand-written notes on the iPad, here’s my iOS app of choice for capturing those notes.

I’ll cut to the chase: I only use the iOS app Notability. I like it for a number of reasons. Most important for hand-writing notes (in my opinion) is the writing “zoom” feature, visible in the screen capture below in the bottom third of the screen:

Notability zoomed area

Due to the imprecision of the stylus tip, it’s normally a pain to hand-write notes the same size as you would with a pen on paper (e.g. with the writing being the same size as a line on ruled paper). To do so with any precision means taking a long amount of time to write words. With zoom enabled, you’re able to write “big” in the zoom area and it appears “normal size” on the paper. This means you can write larger (as the stylus demands) and at the same speed as you would expect, but still capture smaller hand-written notes.

Yes, you could just choose to “write big” without using this zoom feature but the end product loses the impression of a pen or pencil writing on lined paper. Beyond aesthetics, it takes a whole bunch more pages to capture the same amount of text. When you’re in zoom mode and write into that green area, the “white box” visible on the normal sized paper auto-advances. In short, this means you can continue writing like normal in the zoomed-in area without having to manually advance the writing box. It makes it feel like you’re writing on a never-ending sheet of paper. This auto-advance isn’t unique to Notability, but they’ve implemented it best.

Alternative note-taking apps include GoodNotes or Penultimate. A quick note about Penultimate—its part of a suite of apps owned by Evernote, so if you’re interested in having access to your notes in Evernote, it’s probably the most straight-forward way to do that (but Notability PDFs can be automatically imported into Evernote with a little bit of work).

Some unique feature of Notability (versus the two apps mentioned above): you can record audio (helpful for lectures or conference talks) and have the audio synced to the notes you were taking at the time (meaning you can hear what the speaker was saying as you were writing a particular point); import images (e.g. photograph of a meeting whiteboard); and type notes (via on-screen keyboard). Not unique to Notability (but important features none the less) are: cloud syncing; automatic back-up to the cloud (i.e. Dropbox); and annotating PDFs.


My stylus of choice: hand-written notes and the iPad

In April of this year, I will have been taking hand-written notes on my iPad for two years; I started doing this as a way to further my push myself towards embracing a paperless, fully searchable utopia. Now twenty-two months into this experience and with others often asking me what it’s like to go down this route, I’ll be self-indulgent enough to assume that my reflections might be be appreciated others interested in writing notes on the iPad.

In this post, I’ll outline what stylus I chose and what to you might want to consider when choosing a stylus. In future posts I’ll share my note-taking app of choice and I might close the series out with a post on how I incorporate these hand-written notes into my paperless system (and perhaps when I decide to take *real* hand-written notes).

Before I divulge my secrets, it is worth stating this from the outset: hand-writing notes on an iPad is not the same experience as hand-writing notes on with a pen on a piece of paper. So, if you’re looking for the same experience of pen-on-paper, switching to a stylus on iPad will leave you unsatisfied. There are technological limitations of the iPad’s input that has a cascading effect on the whole feeling you get when writing. Not that (for me at least) that it is so unnerving that you can’t get used to it, but it’s fair warning: it takes some getting used to.