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Old 03-04-2012, 11:59 AM   #1
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Handwriting on the iPad

Hi All,

As you may remember from previous posts, I discovered after buying my iPad about 6 months ago that one of the my favorite uses for it was... handwriting! Which was pretty unexpected, but it turns out that taking handwritten notes helps me to organize and fix my thoughts, plus it's quicker and easier than typing on the virtual keyboard. So I went on a search for handwritten notes apps. I won't pretend I tried them all, there are dozens of them, but I did try a few, and I'll try to give a summary of my experience here.

Obviously, these opinions are very subjective and subject to change at any time. They are also slanted toward the uses I have made of these apps, so maybe I should say a few words about that first, to alert you about my biases and blind spots.

I use these apps for two things: the first is taking notes as I would on a paper notebook. Things to remember, books I have heard of, to-do lists (though I tend to use dedicated apps for this), ideas and questions, plans for the far or near future... The second use is planning my exhibitions as an artist, which involves a lot of the above, plus using photos of my paintings and moving them around to decide on how to hang them and what to call them, or prepare the price list with the relevant info (title, dimensions, price). So basically I do two things: unstructured handwritten text that doesn't get edited much, and structured lists with images and text that can get edited and moved around.

OK, now on to my three favorite apps of the moment.


Noteshelf

Although very limited functionally, I love its simple and elegant interface, and it's very stable. Plus, it was the first app I tried, and I remain, maybe foolishly, attached to it.

Handwriting: very smooth, in fact the smoothing might be a tad too much, but it remains readable and is always very nice-looking.

Other elements:
The latest update added typed text, which is nice. Text remains editable and movable.
You can also add images from the library or the iPad's camera. Unfortunately they are not selectable or modifiable in any way after you place them. You do get to resize them and move them when you paste them, but after you confirm the placement that's that, you can only draw on them or erase them (anything written on them is erased also).
You can't add geometric shapes, but there is a cute collection of smileys, which I never use.

Editing: very poor functionalities here. You can select a rectangular area to move, delete or copy it. No lasso selection. The eraser is an ordinary round eraser, not very practical when you want to remove one word in a text without touching the others. As mentioned, you cannot move or resize an image after confirming its placement.

Design: as I said, I like the look and feel of the app. You can choose between different cover designs for your note books, all very good looking. Plus, the fact that my handwriting always looks good with this app is probably a part of its appeal.
The interface is simple and easy to figure out, even my mother managed it (well, with some help from me at the start).

Stability: perfect. I don't remember ever having any problem with unexpected behavior, much less a crash.


UPAD

I discovered this only recently, and am currently using the free version, but I'll probably upgrade to the paid one soon. It's the current challenger trying to take Noteshelf's place as my main note taking app.

Handwriting: not as smooth as Noteshelf, which is not good for my vanity. My handwriting doesn't look as elegant, but maybe closer to what it is IRL. Readability is very good.

Other elements: you can add typed text and images, and they remain editable. You can also add geometric shapes (line, circle, rectangle) but you need two hands to do it, and they are not editable afterward.

Editing: as mentioned, you can resize and move photos at any time. Same for text. Handwriting / freehand drawing cannot be selected to move or delete it, which is a shame. You can write on pictures, but since handwriting, images and type are managed on different layers, if you move your image, whatever you wrote on it will not be moved with it.
The eraser is pretty smart, basically any line you cross is deleted. I like it.

Design: not as good looking at Noteshelf, but nice to look at and to use. There are three modes: freehand, type and images, and you have to switch mode to edit each type of content. Switching is a bit slow with a big warning message appearing, but at least you always know where you are. Undo only seems to work in freehand mode.

Stability: too early to tell, but may not be as reliable as Noteshelf. Something strange happened while I was testing for this review, the text I was typing disappeared and reappeared on another page.


Notes Plus

On paper (no pun intended), it's the best. Unfortunately, the actual experience is extremely frustrating. The app is slow, confusing and unreliable. It's still in my top three selection because some of the features are really neat, but it needs some serious work. It's getting better though, and the development team seems very dedicated and responsive from what I could gather.

Handwriting: when I bought the app, I thought there wasn't enough smoothing. Since the latest big update, there's too much of it. If I write too fast, some letters become a horizontal line. The dots on the i's and the periods disappear (or at least become near invisible) almost every time, the accents and commas about 50% of the time.
One feature that no other similar app that I've tried has is the Convert to text function, which is a paid optional extra. It works relatively well on my handwriting, but very careful re-reading is required, and the converter keeps all the line breaks instead of concatenating the text. I wish that was an option, as it is in the stand-alone app that uses the same engine (Myscript Memo). Also, converting to text deletes the original handwriting and cannot be undone.

Other elements: you can add typed text and images. You can also draw geometric shapes which will be automatically converted to lines, rectangles, triangles or circles, and can then be edited. There is also a menu to add shapes.

Editing: this is where Notes Plus shines, when it works. Everything on the page remains editable, although it is sometimes a struggle to select it. You can select a portion of handwritten text or a drawing by drawing a line around it, and then move it, copy it, or change the pen's color or width. This (selecting something by drawing around it) also works on text boxes and images. You can also delete text by drawing a line over it.

Design: awful. The interface is not particularly good looking, and utterly confusing. There are so many features that are called up by a delicate combination of a certain context and a certain type of gesture that it's almost impossible to predict what the app will do, or what you need to do to call up the function you need. I keep writing little dots or lines on the sheet where I meant to select something, or start typing a text, or scroll the page. I'm sure it gets better with practice. Lots of practice.

Stability: despite improvements brought by the January update, the app remains extremely slow and buggy. Though it's hard sometimes to distinguish between bugs and obscure features triggered by making the wrong gesture at the wrong time. Anyway, the end result is that the app is completely unpredictable. Better have some time on your hand and nerves of steel if you want to learn how to use it!


====

ETA: Other apps were reviewed later in this thread, below are links to some of the reviews:

WritePad (read the discussion afterward too)
CaptureNotes 2
Penultimate
NoteLedge

====

Last edited by FlorenceArt; 09-03-2012 at 08:14 AM. Reason: Add links to later reviews
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Old 03-04-2012, 04:15 PM   #2
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Have you tried Notabilty. I'm trying it out at the moment and apart from type just overwriting handwriting if you try to use both of them close together, I think it's really quite good.
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Old 03-04-2012, 04:40 PM   #3
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Have you tried Notabilty. I'm trying it out at the moment and apart from type just overwriting handwriting if you try to use both of them close together, I think it's really quite good.
Yes, I tried it, and it didn't make the list because the way it handles images is just awful. Unless i missed something, the only thing you have some control on is where the image will be placed, but once it's there you can't move it or resize it. That stopped me, so I don't know how good the rest of the features are.
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Old 03-04-2012, 05:24 PM   #4
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Had another look at Notability: it does seem quite good for basic handwriting, if you don't try to add other objects such as photos or text boxes. And I like the purple background, it looks great with a white pen
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Old 03-05-2012, 12:02 AM   #5
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My favourite was Penultimate, followed closely by mental note and writepad.
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Old 03-07-2012, 12:54 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FlorenceArt View Post
Yes, I tried it, and it didn't make the list because the way it handles images is just awful. Unless i missed something, the only thing you have some control on is where the image will be placed, but once it's there you can't move it or resize it. That stopped me, so I don't know how good the rest of the features are.
I note that there is just now an update to Notability that says that you can now "tap & hold to move media". It doesn't mention resize though. I can't test it as my iPad flatlined, and I'm waiting for the iPad 3.

Cheers,
Marc
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Old 03-07-2012, 04:50 AM   #7
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I note that there is just now an update to Notability that says that you can now "tap & hold to move media". It doesn't mention resize though. I can't test it as my iPad flatlined, and I'm waiting for the iPad 3.

Cheers,
Marc
Thanks I'll have a look, but if they want to keep me they will also have to remember my settings for the pen's with and color, it keeps reverting back to thick and black.

No iPad? Eek!!!! Sorry about that, and do let us know about the iPad 3

Another app that I tried some time ago and forgot about is Wacom's Bamboo Notes. It's very very very basic, just handwriting, a basic eraser, and that's all. No selection tool, no integration of images. The only thing innovative about this app is the palm protection, which works seamlessly and, in my experience, very well, provided multi-touch gestures are disabled on iOS5 (this is true with the palm protection features of other apps too, by the way). And the writing itself is very agreeable and looks good.

Bamboo Notes has a free version with only one notebook, and a paid version where you can create up to 20 notebooks. This paid version is cheaper than other handwriting apps, so if you're looking for something very basic it may be worth it, but I still prefer Noteshelf myself.
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Old 03-07-2012, 03:52 PM   #8
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I just tried the new version of Notability, and it does now allow selecting of inserted objects (images or other kinds, there are several possibilities such as web clip and figure) to move or resize them. You can also give them a caption, which is a good IDE, I haven't seen this elsewhere. They also have a new ink that changes width according to the speed of the writing, it looks good.

So I guess Notability has moved up a few positions in my list with this version. I'll keep an eye on this app.
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Old 05-27-2012, 06:32 PM   #9
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The latest version of Noteshelf allows you to insert pictures. You can resize them and move them around on the page, but once the picture is inserted, there's no way to edit it further.
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Old 05-29-2012, 08:00 AM   #10
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My favourites are Notability and 7NotesHD. I've tried quite a few different options, but these are definitely top of the list for my needs.
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Old 05-29-2012, 02:53 PM   #11
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ajmrgt votes Plus

Quote:
ajmrgt votes
Plus. It seems okay,
but there's more of
a learning curve than
with Notahelf. The
convert handwriting
to text Can add-on
model) is nice, but
I.m still learning
to take fee advantage
of it. This post was
written on it.

Translation (I think it did pretty good, considering how sloppy my handwriting is):

I just got Notes Plus. It seems okay, but there's more of a learning curve than with Noteshelf. The convert handwriting to text (an add-on module) is nice, but I'm still learning to take full advantage of it. This post was written on it.





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Old 05-29-2012, 03:01 PM   #12
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Nice! FYI, I think there is an option to ignore line breaks in the conversion, that's very useful.

My handwriting was easier to convert I think, but after a few tries I decided that if I wanted something typed, it was safer and quicker to type it myself than to use the conversion. Plus, I find Notes Plus clumsy and unreliable, and I still prefer Noteshelf over any other handwriting app I've tried, despite its limitations.
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Old 05-29-2012, 03:12 PM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FlorenceArt View Post
Nice! FYI, I think there is an option to ignore line breaks in the conversion, that's very useful.

My handwriting was easier to convert I think, but after a few tries I decided that if I wanted something typed, it was safer and quicker to type it myself than to use the conversion. Plus, I find Notes Plus clumsy and unreliable, and I still prefer Noteshelf over any other handwriting app I've tried, despite its limitations.
So far, I agree. The only thing I miss in Noteshelf is the handwriting conversion, but for ease of use it's great. In addition, the Bamboo stylus I bought yesterday seems to produce prettier lines and track better with Noteshelf, and the palm guard works better because it automatically jumps down when you begin the next line, whereas for Notes Plus you have to pull it down yourself.

I sent the Noteshelf folks a "feature request" email letting them know I'd gladly pay extra for a handwriting recognition module add-on.
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Old 05-29-2012, 03:22 PM   #14
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...FYI, I think there is an option to ignore line breaks in the conversion, that's very useful....
Found it! It works great. Thanks for the tip. Karma coming your way. Turning off the "Retain line breaks in HWR" produces text that looks more natural, but I can see where having it on (which seems to be the default) would be useful if you're using the app to write poetry.
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Old 05-29-2012, 03:28 PM   #15
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In addition, the Bamboo stylus I bought yesterday seems to produce prettier lines and track better with Noteshelf, and the palm guard works better because it automatically jumps down when you begin the next line, whereas for Notes Plus you have to pull it down yourself.
Exactly. It's also very easy to start a new page in Noteshelf. The bottom line is that nothing hinders the flow of writing, and I like that.

The thing I miss in Noteshelf is a better way to handle and edit images. I should write to the developers about this too I guess.
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