Best handwriting notes app for iPad: Noteshelf review

Best app for taking handwritten notes with your iPad: Noteshelf

"Whether you're a student or teacher, an intern or executive, if you have an iPad and you take notes, get Noteshelf."

Noteshelf is currently the best way to take and share handwritten notes on the iPad. Why would you want to do that? Well, we live in a digital world and it's become much, much easier to carry a single, multifunctional iPad around than a heavy stack of books, grocery lists, calendars, journals, notebooks, scrap papers, sketchbooks, and stickies. Sure, the iPad comes with a keyboard based Notes app built in, but there's still something to said about writing by hand. Call it therapeutic. Call it efficient. Call it necessary. There are simply more things to take note of than are currently possible with a keyboard alone.

For example, asking a math instructor to quickly type out an equation on her iPad and mail it to a student is absurd. Asking an executive to rapidly brain storm a new workflow and share it with the team is cumbersome. But sketching them out with Noteshelf? Now that's not only quick and easy, it's enjoyable.

Noteshelf is a note-taking app for your iPad –- or shall I say: a beautiful note-taking app for your iPad -- that's based on freeform handwriting. You can write with your finger or, better still, a pen-like device called a stylus. It comes with 17 digital inks, 20 note templates, 15 covers, and much, much more.

If you're new to the idea of a free-form notes app, it's really simple to get started. Just treat your iPad like a blank piece of paper and start writing, drawing, and charting. Almost anything you can jot down with a piece of note paper, you can jot down with Noteshelf.

Simplicity does not necessarily imply feature-lacking, however; Noteshelf is jam-packed with an assortment of features that makes note taking not only easy, but exciting!

Best app for taking handwritten notes with your iPad: Noteshelf

Color addicts rejoice! Noteshelf includes 17 different pen colors with 21 thickness choices, and 8 highlighter colors with 41 different sizes. The combinations are nearly limitless and allow you to really customize your notes to fit your purpose and style.

Best app for taking handwritten notes with your iPad: Noteshelf

You can also annotate pictures. Noteshelf lets you import photos from your iPad's library, or if you have an iPad 2, you can quickly snap a photo with its built-in camera to send directly into your notes.

If you love Emoji -- the Japanese pictograms and emoticons -- you'll be happy to hear that Noteshelf is equipped with a button that lets you quickly add Emoji symbols to your notes. Unfortunately, the symbols are not sizable.

Best app for taking handwritten notes with your iPad: Noteshelf

One of the big challenges of handwriting apps is proper detection. While the iPad has a lot of multitouch sensors to handle finger input for regular apps, they were never designed for the precision needed for a really fine stylus line. To get around this, Noteshelf implements a zoom feature. This allows you to zoom into a specific area of your page and write on a new magnified section of the app. Since it's magnified, you can write largely and comfortably, and it translates it to small writing on the on page. Because of the hardware limitations of the iPad, this is the only way to get down those fine details in your notes.

Now, the first time I saw this feature, I though it would be annoying to have to constantly move the rectangle to the area of page I wanted to write, but Noteshelf has implemented some smart, automatic actions into this feature. When you reach the far right side of the magnified area, the rectangle will automatically jump to the right so that you all you need to do is start from the beginning of the rectangle to continue your writing. When you reach the edge of the page, it will automatically skip to the next line for you.

I typically use Noteshelf to write solutions to math problems for my students and thus normally want to head down the page while zoomed in, not across. Instead of relying on Noteshelf to automatically move the rectangle, I just hit the tab/enter button that pushes it down for me. There are also arrow buttons for those who may want to manually move the magnified area, say, after finishing a sentence.

Noteshelf also offeres a "Wrist Protection" feature that allows you to rest your hand on the iPad without your wrist polluting your notes with a bunch of unwanted marks. You can specify which area of the screen needs to remain mark-free and Noteshelf will automatically adjust this location as you move down the screen.

Notes can be exported as images or PDFs directly to email, iTunes, Dropbox, Evernote, ot iPad albums, as well as shared to Facebook or Twitter. You have the option of exporting individual pages or entire notebooks.

Best app for taking handwritten notes with your iPad: Noteshelf

Your notes are displayed as notebooks on a wooden shelf and can be arranged to your liking. You can also stack the notebooks on top of each other other to create folders -- or more accurately, sub-bookshelves. You can also edit the title, paper type, and book cover for each notebook from this screen.

Best app for taking handwritten notes with your iPad: Noteshelf

If you're not happy with the paper and cover choices included in Noteshelf, more options are available as in-app purchases for $0.99 each. Personally, I have picked up the designer covers and plan to grab the striped ones next.

The good

  • Lots of colors and pen sizes
  • Zoom feature for smaller, more detailed notes
  • Ability to insert photos
  • Wrist protection works great

The bad

  • Extra paper and covers are in-app purchases and can add up quickly
  • Cannot import PDFs for annotation

The bottom line

Noteshelf is a phenomenal app for those looking to take handwritten notes with their iPad. Believe it or not, Noteshelf actually improves the look of your handwriting by smoothly interpretation of your annotations. Whether you're a student or teacher, intern or executive, if you have an iPad and you take notes, get Noteshelf.

$4.99 - Download Now

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Leanna Lofte

Former app and photography editor at iMore, Leanna has since moved on to other endeavors. Mother, wife, mathamagician, even though she no longer writes for iMore you can still follow her on Twitter @llofte.

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Reader comments

Best handwriting notes app for iPad: Noteshelf review


I love this app! I use this in conjuction with iAnnotate for annotation on pdf files. You can turn anything into a pdf file; powerpoints, word docs, etc.

This app looks Great. Good job with the colorful review. This will come in handy for wine tasting notes with photos. and much more....Thanks @llofte

The only thing about Notability is that it still loses to Bamboo paper and Penultimate when it comes to the beauty and smoothness of the handwriting. Still somewhat unrefined. I have not tried Noteshelf but I always hear that it shows a very beautiful and smooth handwriting - that I think is paramount when it comes to app like this one.

You should try Notability. Has the same features (except the overs) and more. You can import PDFs, you can record audio, you can input pictures and have the text automatically wrap around, even let's you change the paper used. Plus it allows auto syncing with multiple services such as Dropbox which is amazing. And it's only $0.99!!!

I use GoodNotes every day. I can take hand-written notes, annotate PDF's, and export everything to DropBox. It has completely changed the way that I do my job. I currently use a Targus stylus.

I absolutely love this app which is without a doubt the very best (I own virtually all digital handwriting apps) and possibly one of the best designed software that I have come across in recent years. I agree that it doesn't do everything (yet) such as voice and PDF annotations but there are other free or cheap apps for that. Discovering and using Noteshelf actually helped me to finally truly believe that the iPad could be a real productivity/work device.

If all you're looking for in a note taking app is lots of pretty colors and emoji, you're not a note taker, and even NoteShelf is overpriced for you.
Notability gives you the ability to import pdf documents, fill them in, save them, send them, share them (one of the most important things needed in a note taking app). CaptureNotes 2 also offers this. And they both allow you to sync with Dropbox and Evernote.
Notability's latest update allows you to resize a photo once it's been imported, so it's like working with a document on your desktop. You can't ask for more useable features, and when I go into a meeting, I don't need emoji.

I've not found one, including those mentioned here, that work with my left hand writing.

Great review. Noteshelf truly is awesome and I have enjoyed using it for personal use and in my classroom as a teacher. However, it doesn't automatically sync to a cloud service like Notability can (or others), so I use Notability most often. You should list that lack because that's a must for many users. I like the paper option on Noteshelf as well. Basically if it went beyond exporting to cloud to have auto sync, I would use it exclusively.

I used to use Ghostwriter, then bought Notability, but minutes later bought Noteshelf. Noteshelf was really good for stylus notes, but after I got a keyboard, I realized how much better Notability is for typing. It offers great text editing.

For meetings and presentations in a projector with HD 1080i, I use GoodNote App ( ) , it is the best for high resolution, simple and it goes great. I have started using my final year presentation and still using in job.
And, for sharing and backup - Dropbox.

I have been using Noteshelf with my JotPro stylus for a few weeks ago and love it. I have tried other apps, and the best pro for me is the wrist protection. I would love to be able to annotate PDF like others said. I would also like to be able to lock pages individually instead of the entire notebook. I ham glad that iMore came to same conclusion that I did. Noteshelf is the best.

Excellent app, I use it for classes that don't use PowerPoint. I use that zoom feature at the highest zoom and smallest line width, it works excellent. I use the PogoSketch+ and it works really well, even takes some pressure.
Also note: you can resize anything on there (including emoji) by selecting with the select tool, cut, and paste and resize what you paste.

The author is certainly entitled to her opinion but in this case I think she's putting too much on aesthetics. How pretty the book covers are or how many colors the app gives you is irrelevant. It's about taking notes. Not art.
Notability is the better app here.

I hate to say that I think you are wrong, but Noteshelf is superior in almost every way to any other writing app on the iPad, and I have used most of them. The only thing it lacks is PDF annotation, and there are lots of other free apps that can do that for you. And frankly, it's not a huge issue anyway, because there's a workaround... just use the bezel button+power button shortcut to snap a screen shot of a PDF, and then import it into Noteshelf, and annotate to your heart's content. As for the commenter who liked auto-syncing to the cloud, I preferred Noteshelf's ability to selectively sync pages you select to the cloud via DropBox, OR via email, or as an image in the gallery.
I only wish Noteshelf were available for the Android -- I am considering buying a Samsung Galaxy 2 10.1 or 7.0, and the big thing that is holding me back is the lack of Noteshelf for Android. Although I have heard that PenSupremacy for Android and FreeNote are good possible alternatives for the Android tablets.

Noteshelf's pen feel is nice, and I like the export options. However, it lacks the ability to import pdf forms that can be written on. In my work I take notes from interviews with clients, and then need to record responses on forms that I use for evaluations. UPAD lets me import pdf versions of my forms from DropBox and them opens them as files on which I can write in the responses. It also then lets me send my completed forms and interview notes back to DropBox so that I can archive them on my iMac. The primary downside to UPAD is that the pen feel isn't quite as nice as Noteshelf's.

I really like Noteshelf, but for note taking during a lecture I think that an app like Scribable ( is superior. It allows to write continuous notes without needing to changes pages.

It looks like note shelf has dropped in price now you can get great graphics and an awesome user interface for .99 cents. I have been reading And studying about different notes apps and have made my decision based on this video. I like the developers of apps that continually improve it and update the app, and I don't mind paying an extra dollar inside the app for new content. I do think that certain app features or improvements should always be free updates so that's another reason that I picked Noteshelf. I think that it is great that they can make extra money on new content like the types of paper and designer notebooks, cause its fun and what a great idea. If I ever coach basketball I will use the notepad with the basketball court to draw out plays.

I've been using NoteShelf now for a couple of months and like it. I create a new note for each day in order to have a daily record of events. HOWEVER, the thing that's driving me nuts is not being able to search pages quickly. You can tag pages and search WITHIN the document, but you don't seem to be able to SEARCH ALL DOCUMENTS using tags...or am I missing something???

iTakeNotes has been released on the appstore recently, it is a business oriented application: the idea is to formalize notes during a meeting and get a meeting report as soon as the meeting is over in pdf and in .txt if you want to review the format. They provide audio recording and camera so as not to lose any data during the meeting. The app exists in english and french and a spanish version is on its way, it is a very productive tool for those who spent desperate time formalizing their meeting notes.

Agree, I like a lot the idea of structuring the report while you are taking notes. The audio rec is a also a cool feature since you can listen to the conversation once the meeting is over and refine your notes. This app has a LOT of potential!

Thanks for this article.
Do you know Beesy ? I use it since few months now and i love it.
I advice for any professional who want save time at work.
Seriously try it !!

Hi everyone,

I would like to suggest taking a look at MathSense - the first ever true math and science note taking app. It doesn't require any knowledge in LaTex, and features a state-of-the-art user interface optimized for touchscreen devices for editing text, and mathematical formulas. It is going to be launched in October this year and will be completely free to use, also it will offer some very neat premium features like seamless integration with Wolfram|Alpha to enable you to get better and faster results while solving math and science problems. It produces fully editable math documents, which can be directly saved to Evernote or any other cloud storage service. Please check it out here:

All comments and suggestions are most welcome

Best Regards,
The MathSense team

Hey guys,

We've actually made some updates to Noteshelf. We now have the Evernote Auto-Publish which allows you to automatically publish contents of your selected notebooks to your Evernote account. You can now also import and annotate Microsoft Office files and convert them into PDF form. Make sure though that you have a Google Drive to import those files. On that note, we also support Google Drive and Pencil by FiftyThree, a nifty, award winning writing tool that has an eraser tip.

We have a new feature also called Air Transfer that saves you more file space by allowing you to backup and archive your database. You can also easily share your notebooks using Air Transfer.

About the covers and papers, you can just customise your own then if you don't want to pay it! We'll be featuring that later on as well.

Anyway, we hope you'll find this info helpful, thanks again for feature and have a great day everyone! :)