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.

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