I love yellow legal pads. They impart an air of professionalism, involvement, and importance. When I was a teacher, I took legal pads to every meeting. I took copious notes and would often refer back to them to help aid my decaying memory. My low-tech system worked fine—unless I misplaced the legal pad.
When I got my iPad, I started looking for an app to replace my legal pad. Not only would I have it with me whenever I needed it, but it would provide me with a way to permanently store my notes and never fear losing them again. The built-in Notes app on the iPad provided limited input and formatting options. I needed more flexibility for my note-taking endeavors.
To decide which of the apps I've reviewed in this article is best for your needs, you have to consider how you'll be using the app. Will you use your finger or an external keyboard to enter text? Do you need additional features such as the ability to record audio or insert graphics? Where will you be using it and for what purpose? You might end up with more than one app in your note-taking arsenal. Fortunately, all of them are priced under $6.00, and a couple of them are free. (Note: With two exceptions, these apps are for the iPad only.)
Replacing cocktail napkins
Say you're in a restaurant having a business lunch, and you need jot down some quick notes or explore an idea with a client. In the old days, you'd scratch out your ideas on a cocktail napkin, stuff it in your pocket, and inevitably lose it. In this digital age, that's a thing of the past.
Originally developed for the iPhone, this app was ported to the iPad and works well on the larger device. It doesn't have an extensive feature set, but if you're looking for something simple to take quick notes, draw pictures, or make diagrams, this one's for you.
Input is by finger or third-party stylus only; keyboard input is not available. You can organize your notes into individual "notebooks" and switch between them easily. You can also add tags to your notebooks, which allows you to group your notebooks and find related ones quickly. Adding pages to each notebook is easy, and the app allows you to select the line thickness and color of your pen. In addition, you can import photos and resize, rotate, and place them on the page exactly where you want them. Once placed, however, you can't move or resize them. You have the choice of plain, lined, or grid paper. Once created, the notebooks are automatically saved to your iPad. You can tweet the current page or e-mail it as a PNG, JPG, or PDF file. In addition, you can mail all the pages in a notebook as a PDF. You can use the app with the Apple VGA connector to display your note on a second monitor or projector. Simplicity is the best feature of this app—you'll be up and running within seconds.
Taking notes in college
Note-taking will always be a part of the college experience, but cramped hands and lost information are no longer a prerequisite. The next app makes it easier to write and organize your notes; it even lets you record lectures.
SoundNote (formerly SoundPaper) lets you take notes and record the audio of lectures at the same time. The app syncs the audio recording with the written notes you're taking; simply tap on a particular word in your written notes and the app plays what was being said at the time you wrote down that word. This is a great solution for college students, especially for those times when you can't understand the notes you've written down. When recording, you'll want to sit close to the speaker to make sure you get every word.
The interface is simple and intuitive, and there's not much of a learning curve. That's fortunate because there's not much documentation either. You can use the drawing function to enter handwritten notes but only one line color and thickness is available for this. You can also enter text with the iPad's keyboard, and when you do the text sits on neat lines. One drawback is that there are very few text-formatting options available in the app. For example, underlining, bolding or bulleting are not supported.
You can enter both text and drawings in a note. Double tap a drawing and you can edit, delete, or move it. When you're finished with a note, you can e-mail it to others from within the app. Each e-mailed note arrives as two files: one is the document and the other is the audio file.
I very much wish I had an iPad and this app when I was in college.
If you're doing research these days, the Internet is definitely the destination of choice. If you do a lot of online research, there are a couple of great apps to make the process easier.
Sling Note makes it easy to take notes while you browse the Web. When opened, the app displays a split screen with a full-featured Web browser on the left and an open note on the right. When you find text, pictures, or videos in the browser that you want to save to the note, simply press the "Capture" button and draw a ring around the desired information with your finger. The clipped section will appear to pull away from the Web page. When it does, use your finger to drag it over to the note section. Once placed in the note, you can press and hold on a clip and a "fan" menu appears with options that include Cut, Copy, and Open the Web page that the clip was taken from. Double tap on the clip to flip it over and reveal the Web address it comes from. Sling Note also lets you to import pictures that are saved on your device.
You can add text to a note by placing text boxes in it. You can adjust the size and shapes of the text boxes and the font size of the text. You can type text into the box using the keyboard or cut and paste it from other apps. Finally, you can annotate photos and text with pen and highlighters.
Both the browser and the note are shown side by side in landscape viewing mode; in portrait mode, only one window is shown at a time. I used portrait mode more because everything is larger and easier to see, and it's still easy to switch back and forth between the browser and the note. With a three-finger swipe you can customize the split-screen mode to display a note and browser, a note and calculator, or two browsers.
This app does take a bit of getting used to. But it does the job, whether you are searching the Internet for a paper on quantum physics or just collecting new recipes for dinner.
Noterize lets you import PDF or PowerPoint documents and annotate them using its pen function and highlighter tools. In addition, you can add typed text, "post-it" type notes, and Web clips to the documents.
The real strength of this app is in its note-taking ability. You can write or type your notes using a variety of colors and fonts. You have the choice of several styles of paper to use. You can record audio notes that are automatically linked to the document page you're working on.
The app includes DropBox and Box.net integration. In addition, you can e-mail individual pages or the entire document from within the app as well as forward them to Facebook, Twitter, or Google Docs. The shared pages, which include your annotations, are sent in PDF format, and sensitive documents can be password protected. The app also allows you to print pages wirelessly on AirPrint-enabled printers.
To insert information from the Web, create a text box in your document and select "Image" from the pop-up menu. At this point, you can add an image from your photo library or a Web Snapshot. Select the Web Snapshot option, and the screen flips and becomes a Web browser. Navigate to the desired Web page and tap on the "WebSnap" button at the bottom of the page. Highlight the portion of the page you want copied and tap on the "Capture Selection" option. The screen flips again and you're back to the note you created with the new information added. You can add text, pictures or both from Web pages with this method. At this point, you can annotate the imported material. This is a great feature, especially if you want to insert images or detailed diagrams from the Web. Noterize has little documentation and has a bit of a learning curve. However, the time you spend learning the ins and outs of the app is well worth it. It has the potential of becoming your go-to note-taking app.
Business meetings can help clarify assignments and coordinate activities. They can also be long and tiring. You no longer have to worry about your mind drifting off during important but boring meetings. You can use your iPad not only to take typed or handwritten notes, but also to record audio of the entire meeting.
$5.99 (iPad only), app2.me/3198
This app has so many features that it is hard to mention them all. The easy-to-use interface makes it simple to type or handwrite your notes. If you select the handwriting mode, a large input window opens up, allowing you to write in larger script. To conserve space in the note, the app reduces the size of your writing and inserts it into your note. In addition, a "smoothing algorithm" improves the appearance of the handwriting. When you get to the end of the line in the input window, a gray area appears at the beginning of the line. You simply move your finger or stylus to this area and begin writing again. The previously written text disappears and you have more space to continue writing. This is an extremely handy feature, allowing you to continuously write without having to stop and manually move to the next writing area. This feature is found in some other note-taking apps, but it functions smoother and without delays in Notes Plus.
Notes Plus includes a "Palm Pad" feature that, once activated, opens an adjustable gray area at the bottom of the display. The gray area is unresponsive to touch, allowing you to rest your palm on it, providing much needed relief for your arm.
Drawing with this app is an amazing experience. You can insert freehand drawings, but you also have the ability to insert perfect basic shapes. For example, when you draw a freehand rectangle, the app recognizes the shape and coverts it into a perfectly drawn rectangle that can be resized and moved anywhere on the screen. When you hand draw a circle, you're offered two options: create the geometric shape or delete what's contained within the circle.
To audio record your meetings, simply press the microphone icon at the top of the page. The audio recordings are associated with a particular note, but unlike SoundNote, they are not synced to a particular section of text you've entered. The developer has indicated that this will be a feature in a future update.
The app lists all of your notes on the left side of the screen in landscape view. Simply tap on one of them to bring up thumbnails of all the pages included in that note; tap on the desired thumbnail to bring up the full page. This arrangement makes it easy to go to a specific note and page very quickly.
You can make important notes read-only, and sharing your notes with others is easy. You can e-mail them as a PDF or image file, export them to your photo album, or move them to your desktop computer using iTunes. Finally, you can upload your notes to Google Docs.
The app's Quick Start guide, written using the app itself, shows you how to use the myriad of features in the app. However, the app's UI is very intuitive and you won't need the guide much after a day or two of use. (Note that the developer is very responsive when contacting him with comments or questions.)
This app truly shows what a smart developer can do with a great idea and an iPad.
If you need a note-taker that has it all, check out WhiteNote. This app lets you create multiple notebooks with multiple subjects and pages. Pages can be rearranged and moved between subjects. You can even import PDF files into notebooks and annotate them.
WhiteNote has more types of papers and fonts than any other note-taking app I've seen. Text can be inserted either with the keyboard or through pen input. The text can be formatted in many colors, and can be moved to any place on the page. The app even lets you create various types of bulleted lists. The app has a particularly helpful search feature that lets you find your way back to any place in a note. Images can be inserted into a note and scaled, rotated, and cropped. The app links to your contact list for quick insertion of names. There are also buttons that add time and date stamps in various formats. This app even supports right-to-left writing for Hebrew or Arabic.
Web pages and sections of pages can be inserted into your note document. However, the Web browser built into the app lacks the search and bookmark features. You can overcome this limitation by multitasking between WhiteNote and Safari.
One of the most useful features of the app is its ability to link up with other WhiteNote users via Bluetooth. This allows real-time collaboration between the users on the app's whiteboard interface. What one person writes is immediately shown on the other iPads. This is a great way to share and develop ideas; this feature alone makes the app well worth its price.
As with some of the other apps, WhiteNote has the ability to e-mail pages as PDFs or text. In addition, you can export pages as PDFs to DropBox, GoogleDocs, or Box.net. WhiteNote is the powerhouse of note-taking apps. It does take some time to learn its feature set, but the app's extensive documentation helps you with this. Once you're up and running, you have pretty much everything you will ever need to take, organize, and share your notes.
Consider getting an external keyboard
I have trouble touch-typing on the iPad's built-in keyboard and end up with far too many errors. In addition, using your finger to handwrite notes has its limitations. On some apps there is a slight lag between when your finger moves across the screen and the time the line shows up. If you make extensive use of one of these apps, you're probably better off using an external keyboard. Apple offers two of these: the iPad Keyboard Dock (shown here: $69) and the Apple Wireless Keyboard ($69). Both are available from Apple's online store (store.apple.com).
The iPad 2, with the addition of its cameras, opens up new possibilities for note-taking apps. You'll be able to take pictures of charts, chalkboards or other media to include in your notes. Do I still miss the pencil and paper? To some degree, I do. However, these apps have so many benefits that they far outweigh the simplicity of a legal pad. These apps make note-taking a breeze.