To shine in the classroom, you need to take outstanding notes. Although it won’t necessarily guarantee you an “A+” in every class, the iPad might be just the note-taking tool you want, due to its easy portability along with its combination of touch and keyboard support.
Software developers have released literally dozens of note-taking apps for Apple’s iOS (although not all of these are that well geared to classroom use). Here, we’ll examine the pros and cons of a few of the apps that you might want to take to school (or a seminar at work) with you. As we’ll see, though, none of the apps are that much alike.
When it comes to note-taking, the traditional paper and pen are limited in what they let you do — you can’t grab audio or video on paper. If a study partner isn’t sitting right next to you, it can be hard to share your written notes.
Taking notes on a computer generally makes more sense these days. You can save your notes either on your device or in the cloud, meaning no more worries about a lost sheet of paper. Plus, with a growing number of teachers and other instructors providing lecture materials as PDFs, it’s great to be able to mark up those docs digitally.
For many note-taking situations, though, a notebook computer isn’t flexible or convenient enough.
The iPad is easier to tuck into a backpack, It’s outfitted with a great touchscreen, and it also supports text input through either its soft keypad or a Bluetooth-enabled hard keyboard.
You might even be able to use a fingertip with the touchscreen, but there are plenty of styli available. The finer-tipped styluses for the iPad cost a bit more, but you may find that they give you a more precise input experience.
In this roundup, we’ll look at seven classroom-oriented note-taking apps for the iPad: Bamboo Paper; Cloud Notes; Evernote; MyScript Notes Mobile; Notepad+ for iPad; Note Taker HD; and SuperNote. Some are free, and none cost more than $10.00.
No app is the same as any other. For instance, modes that might (or might not) be supported in an app include handwriting, keyboard, and drawing. If you type with ten fingers, as opposed to two thumbs, an app with keyboard support might work best for you. If you’re taking an architecture (or a medical anatomy) class, then you’ll need to draw diagrams on your tablet.
Other features that might (or might not) be present in a particular app include the ability to capture audio, insert pictures, annotate and edit documents, convert your handwriting to text characters, and share your notes through Dropbox, email, social media, etc.
All note-taking apps take some time to master, so be prepared to practice using an app before you start to rely on it in class.
Bamboo Paper lets you create multi-page “notebooks” which you can organize into tabbed sections. On a given page, you can write, sketch, and insert photos. The app is limited to use with a stylus, though. It does not support keyboard input. While you can use any iPad-oriented stylus, the software developer — Wacom — recommends the use of one of its own.
The app gives you a modest toolbar of commands: Home, Share, Photos, Undo/Redo, Stylus and “Brush” configuration, Erase, Clear Page, and Bookmark.
From the Home screen, you can email or print a notebook, or share it through Dropbox, Facebook Twitter, or Evernote.
Yet Bamboo Paper is far from perfect. Its “unique zoom feature” lets you enlarge a picture, but there’s no way that you can resize it smaller.
Inserting a photo either from the Camera Roll or directly from the camera is simple, but it would be nice if you could increase the size of the Camera Roll view to make it easier to select a picture.
The color palette is very limited for either stylus line or brushstroke.
Bamboo Paper works in portrait mode only. There is no smudge palm-protection, so the app isn’t that well suited to left-handers.
Like Bamboo Paper, Cloud Notes supports file sharing through Dropbox. But Cloud Notes is a quite different animal. Cloud Notes won’t address aspects of class note-taking like diagrams, web clipping, audio, video, or handwritten comments. Instead, it is a simple, no-frills typed-text file creation/sharing/editing app.
With Cloud Notes, you can create files and folders and type text in anything from short shopping or to-do lists, to lecture and study notes, to Your Great North American Novel.
The text then goes to Dropbox within seconds (assuming that your iPad has connectivity where you are).
The “open in” command will let you see/edit the file from another app on your iPad (although you may lose some content/formatting if it has to convert the file format).
Cloud Notes will create a folder named Cloud Notess in your Dropbox. The app will only have access to this folder.
The virtual keyboard includes Undo, Redo, text format via MarkDown, and “full support for TextExpander,” a $4.99 iOS app that is supposed to automatically expand abbreviations into longer snippets. (I haven’t tried TextExpander yet, so I can’t vouch for it.)
You can type in both portrait and landscape modes.
Other features include offline editing, text formatting (using the Markdown simple markup language), AirPrint support, and the ability to email your notes as PDF attachments.
Evernote has a reputation for being a Swiss Army Knife for creating, saving and organizing stuff on your computer and mobile devices. You can do everything from taking notes and making to-do lists to producing and saving voice/audio memos, photos and more. People who have taken the time to master Evernote find it invaluable-to-essential.
Evernote lets you organize, tag (text- or geo-) and search your notes. Your Evernotes are stored in the cloud, so you can access notes from one device on another, Evernote can also print or mail a note, and copy a note link so you can mail that link. It lets you set/clear reminder email alerts, and more.
That’s a lot of capability — which in turn means you’ll need to spend some time getting the hang of Evernote, and more time practicing to get good at using it.
A basic Evernote account is free. Evernote Premium ($5/month or $45/annually) gives you additional features, like search within PDFs; more uploads (up to 1GB/month); share edit-access with other users; a PIN lock account on iOS devices, and the ability to save your Evernote notebooks to a mobile device so you can access them offline (when there’s no Internet service)
On the other hand, if you’re accustomed to using Evernote on a desktop-OS machine, you’ll find that on iOS, it’s not quite that straightforward.
In the iOS app, there’s no free “web clip” browser add-on for Safari and none for Firefox — and I was unable to get the one for Google Chrome for iOS to work. (Fortunately, though, there are third-party web clip apps for use with Safari on iPad, like EverWeb Clipper — $3.99 — and EverClip — $2.99 — which can also clip from other apps on your iPad.)
Also, remember that Evernote is a note-capturer. Editing your notes within Evernote may be hard to impossible; for example, once I added a photo, I couldn’t resize or remote it within that note. I was able to resize and crop it within Evernote’s Sketch iPad app — but now I’ve got stuff in two separate places.
MyScript Notes Mobile is a hand-writing/drawing app with quite a few interesting features. In save/share, you can convert your handwriting to text. There is also optional gesture recognition for hand editing of text.
After MyScript Notes Mobile has converted handwriting into digital text, which you can then export the text to Dropbox, Evernote, email, Facebook, Twitter, and email, or paste into any other text application.
However, while handwritten title input gets converted as you go, page content doesn’t get converted unless and until you specify “Export>Text.” This conversion doesn’t show on the document you’re working on, just to what gets exported (although “Search” will match text against handwritten entries).
The app’s menu bar includes a “lasso a region” which you can then copy, cut, delete, even re-size. The app supports portrait and landscape modes, and it offers a “left-handed mode.” Search works within all your notebooks.
Also, stylus entry can be done in a “zoom zone,” helping you fit more text or stuff into a screen.
If you’re curious about MyScript Note Mobile, but you don’t want to bet eight bucks that you’ll like it, you can try the free, one-page MyScript Memo first.
Notepad+ lets you create “notes” organized on to an image of a wooden board.
This app is a mixed bag. On the plus side, it accepts handwriting, but it also lets you open a “text box” for keyboard input.
You can easily resize photos. You can save files as PDFs or images, and save/share them to Dropbox, Evernote, email, printing, Photos or iTunes. (It’s not obvious, though, how you do the actual sharing. You have to tap the “Share” button in the notebook’s Settings.)
Despite some cool features, however, NotePad+ for iPad feels cumbersome.
Note Taker HD is another app that gives you both stylus and keyboard input. It’s popular not just with students but with professionals.
The app lets you handwrite or type text, draw diagrams, and annotate PDF files. There are also lots of tools and options here, everything from font sizing and selecting to shapes (arrows and more).
Note Taker HD lets you annotate PDFs (for example, lecture notes provided ahead of time, or homework delivered as PDF files).
The app also includes a “zoom” zone for stylus input, making it easier to write, and allowing you to squeeze in a lot more information to a single screen/page.
This is useful in particular for exams where you’re allowed to bring one, but only one, printed “crib sheet” page.
You can also use Note Taker HD can to produce presentations, since it offers VGA/HDMI/AirPlay support with zoom, pan, and a moveable pointer.
If you like flexibility and features — and you are prepared to take the time to learn its features — Note Taker HD is a good choice.
Free (up to 4 notes); $2.99 (unlimited notes)
Super Note is a note-taker that lets you type notes and record from the iPad microphone into the document.
You can listen to the audio, and append to it, but there’s only that one single audio attachment.
Other features include alert reminders and some color coding. You can also save/share by emailing or downloading a file to a web browser on another computer on the same WiFi network.
There’s some minimal text editing — the basic iOS tap to get a select/copy/cut/paste pop-up bar.
That’s it, though. If type-and-maybe-voice is all you need, Super Note can be useful. If you need more flexibility, keep looking.
Conclusion: Try a Handful
What’s the best note-taking app for you? That depends on what kind of classes you’ll be taking, what kind of notes you want to take, whether you prefer stylus-writing, typing, or a mix, and what degree of save/share/sync you need.
You can get all the apps in this round-up for less than $25 total. So given the free to low prices, pick three or four that look likely and start testing them for yourself.
Do you have a favorite note-taking app for the iPad? Let us know about it in the TPCR Forums.