Since I recently acquired an iPad 2 (last October-ish), I decided I wanted to use it to take notes in some of my classes, mostly in ECON 110. We graph supply and demand curves 90% of the time in that class. Taking notes on my computer wasn’t practical; I tried making graphs in PowerPoint. I also tried using the pre-installed Grapher app that comes with OS X Lion. Nothing was really working for me. Drawing with a track pad is very tiresome. So I went ahead an bought a stylus on eBay for about $7.00 and started researching apps. The two apps I ended up trying are Notes Plus and Notability.
(If you don’t want to read about my experience, just skip to the Epilogue: General Features & Screenshots)
Notability: An Impulse Purchase
I first purchased Notability because I saw it was “on sale” for a couple days and bought it for ~$1.99. I was very impressed with most of the functionality.
My greatest disappointment was adding figures and drawing. In order to draw with this app you have to insert a figure. In other words…
While all other functionality was more than satisfactory, I felt like I really needed an easier way to draw straight into my notes. So I spoke with a friend of mine who also has an iPad and who I had seen using it to take notes in some of my classes. He recommended Notes Plus.
Notes Plus: Referred by a Friend
So I give my friend a short demo of Notability and then let him try it out for himself. He seemed reasonably impressed and didn’t have anything really bad to say about it. Then he gave me a short demo of Notes Plus. It seemed pretty comparable. They had some different approaches to the same problem but both were well executed. However, what caught my eye most was that with Notes Plus you can draw straight into your notes. No extra, separate figures. AND it has great options for automatically detecting, smoothing and straightening lines and shapes. I bought it and downloaded it within the hour.
My first fuss with Notes Plus was that the drawing/note-taking space wasn’t big enough. I had to keep adding more pages to my economics notebook. However, that was just a dumb move on my part. There is actually an option for making the pages bigger. So I tried that for a while. It worked great.
My biggest beef came down to this: my hand writing is so sloppy even with a stylus that writing out notes on the iPad was messy and inefficient. Even with the gorgeous character smoothing, it just wasn’t enough. I would write and undo and rewrite and erase and…yeah. And as easy as adding textboxes is in Notes Plus, it just isn’t simple enough or hassle-free. It takes a lot of extra time to move the text boxes around and resize them. In the end, I was getting more and more behind in my notes and I never had time to really focus on what the professor was actually lecturing on. I spent all the time people were asking questions just catching up. Eventually, I decided I would just have to resort to the old graph paper notebook.
So it’s a sad story of how I fought the battle of traditional mediums vs. technology. But if tech just doesn’t do the trick, why bother? Why inconvenience yourself? Besides, my wife still uses the apps to draw, and I’ve found they are great for other things like entertaining children at church or visiting nephews. Though, I’ve found better drawing apps for that too…
Something worth noting about both apps is that they can sync your notes to Dropbox.
For all general purpose note-taking (when I don’t need to draw), I use Evernote or Simplenote because they sync to my existing accounts online where I store all my notes. What has been your experience with note-taking on the iPad? What works for you?
Epilogue: General Features & Screenshots
I’ve included the primary features (as described by the developers on the AppStore) for those of you potentially interested in either of these two apps.
1. CLOSE-UP HANDWRITING
Hand write comfortably with your big finger, your text will show up as fine as with pen and paper. Auto-advance feature let you write even with your eyes closed. Advanced stroke smoothing algorithm makes your writing look as good as ever; the faster you write, the better it looks.
2. PALM HANDLING
Lay your palm comfortably down with Palm Pad.
3. TYPED TEXT MIXING
Let you insert keyboard text anywhere on the page with many type faces, font sizes, and colors.
4. SHAPE AUTO-DETECT
Let you draw a basic shape (ellipse, rectangle, line, polygon, …) with your finger, auto-detect and insert the perfect vector shape, then let you edit it.
5. VOICE RECORDING
Let you record audio while jotting down the note. Perfect for meetings, classes, or conferences. Recordings are linked with pages to provide easy playback.
6. EASY EDITING
Let you select handwriting text by just circling around it, then erase or re-arrange it. Erasing a writing is as easy as drawing a line over it. No awkward switching between erase tool, selection tool, and draw tool.
7. EASY ORGANIZING
Provide a complete folder structure. Private folders can be password-protected. A folder can have many notebooks; a notebook can have many pages. Pages are listing with thumbnails. Provide ability to move, copy, duplicate and delete notebooks or individual pages.
8. RECOVERING FROM YOUR MISTAKES
Full undo/redo support. Yes, it does have REDO function; touch and hold undo button to reveal the undo/redo action sheet. Also let you recover your deleted notebooks or pages.
9. CUSTOMIZING TO YOUR TASTE
Many options are provided including: stroke color, thickness, transparency; text font, size, color; paper background, etc.
10. (LAST AND MOST IMPORTANT) CLEAN & NATURAL USER INTERFACE
As you can see from the screenshots below, this app stands out for its clean interface. A great effort was put in to hide controls so that it would not cluster the interface. You should be able to start without a tutorial.
The developer encourages you to email him with any questions concerning features since he has only listed his “top 10.” It might be worth your time since he tries to respond to all emails within 24 hours.
** Full-featured Handwriting **
Amazingly smooth ink makes capturing ideas easy and awesome. Notability’s zoom window helps you quickly and clearly draw every detail and the palm rest protects your notes from unwanted marks. Our scissors let you copy, move and even re-style the color and width of any ink. Reordering notes is a joy: drag-and-drop thumbnails, while adding or removing pages as needed. Your notes should be as unique as you are, so choose a paper to fit your style and use a variety of pen colors and widths to create beautiful notes.
** PDF Annotation **
The same tools that help you take beautiful notes in Notability equip you to annotate PDFs: record, type or handwrite on anything. It’s easy to share your annotations with anyone using email or Dropbox and more.
** Advanced Word-Processing **
Notability’s features like styling, outlining, and spell check are the perfect tools to get the job done quickly and accurately. Other tools like bullets, bold, italic, underline, font presets, cursor controls, and more, seamlessly integrate to help you create rich notes.
** Linked Audio Recording **
Audio recordings automatically link to your notes, so go ahead and take notes with confidence. While reviewing your notes, just tap a word to hear what was said at that moment. Our advanced audio processing features create brilliant recordings in any setting. Use the recording feature to capture your own voice for memos, presentations, or speech practice.
** Auto-sync **
Work with confidence: with Notability’s auto-sync, your notes are always backed up in the cloud. Easily collaborate at work or school sharing ideas and notes on the fly.
** Media Insertion **
Enhance your notes by adding pictures from your photo library or from the iPad camera. Insert web clips, figures, and drawings to compliment your notes. Crop, resize, and draw on images to make them perfect. Your text will automatically flow around them.
** Library Organization **
Your ideas and notes are incredibly important to you, so Notability makes it simple to organize, protect and share this information. Drag and drop notes into a subject and use a password to keep notes secure. Auto-sync makes backing up simple: your notes are automatically uploaded to Dropbox, iDisk or WebDAV. Import notes, PDFs, and RTFs from the cloud or web. And share notes via Email, Dropbox, iTunes File Sharing, and AirPrint.