Penultimate on the iPad Pro

In my continuing effort to explore the iPad Pro for it’s functionality with a pencil, I went back and started working with a few apps I’d had from previous days.

Penultimate – which is one of the Evernote stable of apps – is one I tried again. I’m a little uncertain of how much to recommend Penultimate due to Evernote’s recent announcement of cancelling Skitch, which is also an excellent little app. Evernote has apparently incorporated the core functionality of Skitch into their main app, although I haven’t tried to use it for the workflow that I use Skitch for (taking picture or screenshot and quickly annotating it with “dummy level” instructions). Penultimate has a lot of overlapping functionality with Evernote, so I wonder if it will also get cut.

As I said, it’s clearly the same drawing engine (with the pencil) as the mainline Evernote application, but Penultimate is nice for a couple of additional adds. First, it gives you the options of different kinds of paper. Like those custom Moleskins with storyboard, graph paper, ruled paper, grids, etc – the same kinds of options are available for Penultimate (no additional “in-app” purchases needed). Second, the UX is really optimized to use the application just like you’d use a writing notebook – pen selection is quick and simple at the top, the screen is optimized to give you all the space for writing or drawing as you see fit, and at the very bottom there’s a small bar that let’s you tap in the corner and get another page to continue. The second pages just continue downward, like an infinite notebook.

The fact that this whole thing sync’s into your Evernote notebooks is a lovely bonus if you happen to use Evernote (which I do – I have a premium account) so the cross-storage from Skitch, Evernote, and now Penultimate is really quite nice. Those multiple pages show up as a single Evernote document – as images in Evernote. They may do some handwriting recognition magic on it, but I honestly wasn’t sure, and searching for the text in my handwritten notes isn’t what I was going for. Just the action of long-hand writing (or printing, in my case) is what I wanted. It reinforces thoughts and sometimes it’s just a matter of getting thoughts on to paper so that I can stop obsessing about them. I can quite often type out those thoughts, but the habit of a notebook – where I can switch to a silly diagram, or free-form mind map, or whatever, is just so much more flexible (and fulfilling for me) than being constrained to words and sentences.

There isn’t a pencil mode, and the creative expression that you can get with Paper, Concepts, or Procreate isn’t there – from what I can see, isn’t even intended to be. But a pen and ink notebook, yeah – pretty much. A recent update added pressure support for the apple pencil. The pens feel much more like a technical pen to me than an expressive fountain pen, but it’s a nice add. The responsiveness on the page is exceptional – almost no lag behind where the tip of the pen is, and fast, hasty actions result in the kinds of hashing you would expect, even to including my sloppiness in raising the tip when I’m hashing causing little up strokes.

What I didn’t find was any way to get the images (easily) out of penultimate. You can see them and copy them in Evernote, but taking a sample, or even a clipped portion, from the application itself to paste into an email (or WordPress post) wasn’t the in the cards. From the top-level gallery, you can export – either copy the link, or export a PDF – so there’s some mechanisms, but you won’t be using this for quick sketches and export to other programs.

While I like the structure and pattern of Penultimate, I may be sticking with Paper for my “moleskin” equivalents in writing and personal journaling. The fountain pen and brush as just wonderful to have handy, and the export capabilities in Paper are a lot nicer – it’s less “locked in” feeling to me. I do find the gallery navigation easier with Penultimate – less “artsy” – which is handy when you have dozens (or more) of small writing journal entries, and I will admit that I find it really nice that by default Penultimate sets the title to the date and time you started writing. I do that in my journaling as well, usually by hand, so it just matched with how I work.

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