Note this

One of the iPad questions I’m often asked is what I use for note taking. I touched on this briefly in my second post on using the iPad, back in December last year, but there are a few worthy contenders out there all deserving of consideration depending on your needs.


Yeah, I know: properly, they’re styli. But, don’t we have enough Latin in our lives already?

First up, I should say I don’t think the iPad is ideally suited to writing notes like we would on a paper pad. It’s a digital simulation of something that works fine with pen and paper, so on the iPad we get the drawbacks of the real thing, plus the limitations of the iPad.

If you fit a screen protector to the iPad, the increased friction really makes it hard work for writing on the screen surface. As a result, over time, the soft rubber-type styluses tear. I went through three before I figured out it wasn’t due to some sort of defect in the styluses or a problem with the way I was using them.

And the screen doesn’t always acknowledge the touch of a capacitive stylus — it can take a surprising amount of pressure to register.

But, it allows me to hold my iPad with one hand, and write with the other; jot things down; draw as well as write (can’t do that easily with a typing app); and means I can back up my notes, export them to PDF for filing and archiving, and carry my notes for a long time with no extra bulk.

I haven’t found any bricks-and-mortar stores in Melbourne that stock styluses — although I’m told Office Works have some now.

I’ve bought mine from:

There’s also a new Australian site I found as I wrote this post, selling the Dagi stylus.

I’ve used the PogoSketch, but didn’t like it much. It has a spongy tip, and tends to distort with pressure on it while writing.

I’ve also used the BoxWave, and tend to use that the most. It writes well, but the broad tip takes some getting used to. And the rubbery end can drag a bit at times.

The most recent one I bought is the Jot (which is similar to the Dagi). It has a fine nib that fits into a clear plastic disc on the end to provide enough ‘touch’ for the screen to recognise it. It makes fine writing and drawing a cinch. The only downside is it requires more writing pressure than the others, and I found it left very fine scratches on my screen with constant use.

Styluses: Pogo Sketch, BoxWave, Jot

There’s also a few chunky-style styluses: the AluPen and the Cosmonaut. I haven’t used either, but they sound promising.

If you want to buy only one, I reckon the BoxWave — or similar styles — is the way to go. It’s useful for general use of the iPad, especially with gloves, as well as writing. The Jot is excellent for note taking but not so good for general purpose stuff.

You might find these couple of reviews helpful too: this one on iMedicalApps, and this one on iPhoneJD.

Note taking apps

There are heaps of note takings apps, but these are the best that I’m aware of.

Paper Desk Lite

The first is Paper Desk Lite. It’s free, so you lose nothing by trying it.

You can type in it, and handwrite, and it allows for PDF export to other apps. This is a must-have for me, because I export my notes and archive them with my scanned briefs.

The lite version only allows for a couple of pages. If you want more, you need to buy the full version.


Noteshelf is a really nice app, with a well thought out user interface (UI). It’s a pleasure to look at and use. Selecting pen colours and sizes is quick and easy, and it offers heaps of customisation. (Right now, it’s 80% off for Thanksgiving in the USA.)

It has the option of a zoom box — fairly common in note taking apps — with a window at the bottom of the page showing a magnified view of the main page. Anything you write in there is mirrored on the page. It allows for smaller and neater writing, and solves the problem of your writing looking like you used a crayon.

If this had an export to PDF function in other apps such as GoodReader, I’d use this.


Penultimate is another great note taking app, similar many ways to Noteshelf. It doesn’t have quite the range of pen colours and thicknesses, and it too doesn’t allow for export to PDF.

NoteTaker hd

NoteTaker HD is the app I use. It was one of the first available in the app store, and it did PDF export, so that’s why I chose it.

In my view, the UI has become busier and less intuitive over time, but it has a lot of features and can do more than most other note taking apps.

I can write directly on a page or in a zoom box, and re-order individual pages in each note. It also allows for marking up of imported PDFs. I used that with an excel spreadsheet converted to PDF for my car logbook: I just wrote start and finish times and distances in the columns, and there was my logbook, always with me and always backed up. This feature alone can be a big benefit for lawyers, because you can import all sorts of pro-formas that need filling in, and then export the completed document, either in to another app or email.

Handwriting recognition

I hadn’t really considered this until a couple of weeks ago when I was presenting about the iPad and was asked about handwriting recognition. If you want typed text I reckon the best way to do it is to type it or, perhaps, dictate it. But not everyone is skilled in the art of ten-fingered-typing or hunt-and-peck-tapping, so there’s definitely a need for this.

I found two applications that I reckon are serious contenders for handwriting recognition.


WritePad for iPad (watch out you do buy the iPad version as they maker also has iPhone versions)

The handwriting recognition is not bad, and improved when I took the time to delve into the settings and select the forms of letters closest to my handwriting. It’s still not perfect, and I found the recognition wait too slow and tedious, and had difficulty figuring out how to continue writing when I filled the zoom box.

It also allows for handwriting and typing, and has a heap of export options in the ‘share’ menu: printing, exporting to PDF, emailing, sending to Google Docs, twitter, facebook and sharing on WiFi.

For me, the handwriting recognition is too slow and not accurate enough for me to use this regularly.

7notes HD Premium

7notes HD Premium (the ‘premium’ version is the one with handwriting recognition) works surprisingly well.

It allows for handwriting, handwriting recognition and typing, and uses a zoom box with an auto-advance. I found the handwriting a bit clunky, but the handwriting recognition was really good.

It also has really good sharing options, and exports to PDF. The handwriting recognition is too slow for my liking, though it’s pretty accurate, and so too is the typing with the predictive text function. I’d rather just use a quick text editor like PlainText or Quickoffice Pro HD or Documents To go Premium if I want something more sophisticated and akin to a wordprocesor.

But if you need all options in one app, this is the one I’d go for.

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