Handwriting Apps For iPad
Apps that allow users to handwrite on their iPads using a finger or stylus have become increasingly popular, which suggests that the iOS keyboard is not always the best tool for a job, and that typing may not have fully eroded the need for decent handwriting. Since the iPad wasn't designed for use with a stylus or handwriting, developers have had to create work-arounds such as a "palm rest" that prevents the app from registering your palm on the page as you write. Many of these "innovations," while clever, have not been completely successful, and the resulting apps don't function as expected. Therefore, this AppGuide will advise you of the apps that are most likely to facilitate fast, smooth note-taking with handwriting that looks the same as it would on paper.
Notability - Take Notes & Annotate PDFs with Dropbox & Google Drive Sync
Notability - Notability's combination of numerous features, an intelligently-designed interface, a fluid, readable handwriting experience, and value is enough to make it unbeatable. Notability has virtually every feature available in other notetaking apps (aside from text conversion) and they are virtually all implemented in a highly intuitive, user-friendly manner: pencil, highlighter, a palm rest that works, a zoom mode that advances the text as you type, a typing mode with extra keys on the keyboard and the ability to type in the body of the note, a voice recording function that syncs recordings to the text typed at the same time, import from and autosync to Dropbox, any WebDAV server, or iDisk, an outline format, the option to turn and use any page in a notebook in Landscape or Portrait mode, pdf annotation, a left handed writing mode, and even the elimination of the need to turn the page by automatically adding a new page at the bottom of the last one. The one hiccup is that it hasn't been updated for the new iPad yet, but the developers have announced that an update is imminent.
Smart Writing Tool - 7notes HD Premium
Smart Writing Tool- 7Notes HD Premium is the essential app for those wanting to use their iPads to handwrite notes and then convert them to text. The app makes this often tedious act as easy as possible through a thoughtfully-designed, flexible interface. Users can choose whether to convert the writing into text as they write, or use the app as a traditional handwriting app and convert the writing at a later date. The flexibility extends to the recognition engine, as it allows users to select a suggested word or delete the writing and try again, which is a very useful feature. More impressively, 7 Notes HD Premium actually learns your handwriting and gives you more accurate results the more you use it. Handwriting with 7Notes HD Premium is smooth and responsive, but it's not the app to choose unless you want to convert handwriting into text, as you can only write in a zoomed area and not full-screen.
Paper by FiftyThree
Paper is not technically a note-taking app, but its free version features a fountain pen that offers one of the smoothest handwriting experiences available. Your words may never have looked more beautiful with less effort, as the pen turns your letters into calligraphy. More, Paper is the only app that truly translates some of the little nuances of ink into the digital realm. For example, leaving your "pen" in one place for an extended period makes more ink come out and "bleed" onto the page. Fair warning: Paper could prove to be very expensive, because the other tools are in-app purchases that you may find difficult to resist.
Noteshelf has a very smooth, responsive writing engine with little to no lag. More, Noteshelf works so effortlessly that users don't have to exert extra effort or alter their style to create notes that are readable and look like their "normal" handwriting on paper. The interface is cleverly designed and focused on the user's experience; every feature is in the logical position for its use and is implemented in an intelligent fashion (e.g., the palm rest function automatically scrolls down as you write). Noteshelf missed out on top marks by a slim margin, mainly because its handwriting is comparable to Noability, it has fewer features, and it costs more. However, if you need an app with built-in templates for paper types or the ability to use a different template for each page, Noteshelf is the one to get.
Penultimate is a pure handwriting app. It links with Dropbox and Evernote and has multiple paper styles, line thickness, and color options. The writing engine is smooth, but the palm recognition is only adequate. However, Penultimate doesn't have some features standard in other apps on the list, specifically the options to enter text via a keyboard or handwrite in a zoomed entry box.
Remarks - Write notes and Annotate PDFs
Handwriting with Remarks is smooth, responsive, and almost entirely without lag. The app also annotates and edits PDFs, saves all documents as PDFs, has multiple organizational options, and links to DropBox and GoogleDocs. Unfortunately, Remarks' user interface is not very responsive or simple to use, which makes using the app frustrating. In addition, the app occasionally failed to register some pen strokes for no apparent reason, which makes it less reliable then some other apps.
Ghostwriter Notes - Handwriting - Sophisticated | PDF annotation |
Ghostwriter was recently updated to support the new iPad, and the app *would* be great if it were less frustrating to use. Although writing in Ghostwriter is fluid and responsive, the app is too structured and does not allow users to customize it to fit their needs. For example, the pencil tool can only be used in the full screen mode, and the ink tool can only be used in the zoomed writing mode. If Ghostwriter allowed a bit more tweaking, its many features (e.g., Dropbox and Evernote linking, table of contents in documents) might move it up the list.
Notes Plus is a great app that, unfortunately, does not work well on the new iPad. In fact, the app flickers so badly and the rendering of your handwriting is so visible that it is very difficult to use on the retina display. However, Notes Plus is worth reconsidering when it updates, as the app boasts an integrated web browser, a full-screen mode, automatic backup to Dropbox, audio recording, text entering, an auto-advancing zoom mode, a left-handed mode, and multiple color options.
GoodNotes - Notes & PDF
GoodNotes has been steadily improving, so much so that it can now compete with the bigger names in the category for the top spot. The most recent update improved the app's rendering speed and overall responsiveness. Handwriting looks smooth and fluid, although perhaps not quite as excellent as the top apps. Although GoodNotes' interface is a bit too minimal, it is still relatively simple to access the app's many features, including a close-up writing mode, a functioning palm rest, text via a movable box, and custom templates. GoodNotes also supports PDF reading and annotating, many organization options, and links to the Dropbox and Box online services.
Neu.Notes+ is a solid, simple app for handwriting notes. Neu.Notes+ offers all of the essential features (i.e., palm rest, zoom writing mode, text entry) in a polished, well-executed manner. In addition, the app includes stamps you can insert into your notes, allows you to customize the page size, and links to Dropbox.
Note Taker HD
Note Taker HD is a polished, professional app that took a leap forward with a recent update supporting the new iPad's retina display. The app is a great option for anyone wanting to take notes on the iPad without a zoom function (which the app does have), as it has an impressive palm guard that works well and even auto-advances as you type. Note Taker HD's only issues are minor, namely that it can be distracting when the app visibly smooths your writing, and the auto-advance feature in the zoomed mode isn't very intuitive.
Touchwriter HD is a decent app with a significant flaw: it only allows you to write in a small zoomed box in the bottom of the page and not on the whole page. While this input mechanism works well, the inability to ever use the whole page makes Touchwriter HD far more limited than the other apps in this list.
Capture Notes 2 could be higher on the list if the next update focused on improving the writing experience and less on the other features. Currently, handwriting looks pixellated and jagged, which admittedly could be due to the fact that the app hasn't updated for retina display iPad 3 yet, but is still not up to the level of the Essential apps. In terms of features, Capture Notes 2 records audio, includes options for different types of notebooks or paper (e.g., a to-do list), links to Evernote and Dropbox, text entry, a zoom mode, and even tape flags to put on the side of your paper.
NoteLedge for iPad
Even though Noteledge is closer to a multi-purpose notetaking app than a pure handwriting one, its many innovative features make it impossible to ignore. These features include the ability to record audio and video, the option to add, edit, or take pictures in a note, and the use or creation of templates for a note's paper style (i.e., a planner, wide ruled). Noteshelf's handwriting function, however, isn't as polished as the app's interface, as there is a bit of a lag when writing and it seems more geared for sketching than notetaking.
WritePad for iPad
Writepad for iPad is narrowly focused on converting handwriting into text, and as such does not offer a standalone handwriting mode. However, Writepad does include some other unique and, if we're honest, somewhat odd features, such as the ability to make a phone call from the app by clicking on a phone number, a built-in calculator, an admittedly well-designed shorthand mode, and the ability to load URLs. These extras would be great if Writepad were better at its primary purpose, notetaking. The handwriting conversion process is slow and thus makes writing awkward in full screen mode. The zoomed mode only supports one line of text and forces you to choose one of the app's suggested conversions even if none are correct. In addition, one of the app's features, "detect shapes" doesn't work properly; instead of improving drawn circles and squares, Writepad thought many of my letters were shapes and tried to correct them, which made it nearly impossible to write effectively.
Jotter (Handwriting Notepad)
Jotter is a barebones app that does little more than let you take handwritten notes. While the handwriting works well, the lack of connections to online services and clunky user interface make it difficult to recommend Jotter over the other options in this Guide.
UPad is so quick to respond to a user's handwriting that it's almost like writing on real paper. Although UPad makes your handwriting look smooth and fluid, it sometimes fails to register some lines or strokes, especially with the palm rest activated. This seemingly minor issue makes UPad difficult to use, as users must check to ensure their touches were registered.