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.

7 replies on “My app of choice: hand-written notes and the iPad”

Just wondering, does Notability do handwriting recognition? When I was looking for my perfect note-taking app that was important for me – convert to text and paste somewhere else (email for example). Otherwise you’ll miss a part of your “paperless, fully searchable utopia”. Without conversion, handwritten notes aren’t very searchable. :-)
I chose Notes Plus and the combination with a new thin-tip stylus has moved me a long way towards that utopia. Try their free INKredible to get a feel for their app and MyScript Memo (also free) from the people who make the conversion engine.

Hi Dave — nope, Notability doesn’t do handwriting recognition. Part of my workflow is to sync the PDFs that Notability creates via Dropbox into Evernote and let Evernote handle the handwriting recognition there. I am familiar with the iOS app 7notes that offers in-app handwriting recognition. I tried it out and found that I had to write letter. by. letter. in order for it to work; my handwriting seems to be too cursive for handwriting recognition to work in-app or by other means! So in short, no perfect solution yet to the handwriting to text “problem”.

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