Note taking with the iPad Pro

I mentioned Penultimate, one of the Evernote stable of applications – it was fun and nice to use, but I wanted to keep looking. I’m glad I did. For the past several days I’ve been using Notability – another app that’s been out for a while on the iPhone and iPad, and is quite a star on the iPad Pro.

What I love it about it is it really makes for a great journaling tool. I’ve been hand-writing notes (well, hand-printing – if you’ve ever seen my “writing”, you’d know why) in it, and it works like a champ and feels great. The pen selection is simple – much like Penultimate or Evernote – but I wasn’t looking for anything complex. It has basic pressure sensitivity on the iPad Pro with the apple Pencil, but what I love about it really goes to the user experience with it.

If you look at Gingerlab’s twitter stream, it’s pretty clear they’re super thrilled about it’s use for kids in schools. Don’t let that stop you from trying it out – this app works great beyond kids in elementary school.

First, there’s the “papers” that you can use – several paper-y textures and a variety of ruling, both for defaults for editable for each note. And yes there’s grid ruling. Since I was a kid I was hoarding “graph paper” and took all my notes on it from high school through my engineering degrees in college. I still have a small stash, and being able to choose a graph paper in here and write on it- well, it totally hits that same desire.

Paper themes aside (and they seem to be building more theming into it), it’s the minimal interface that gets to showing you a piece of paper you can draw on as quickly as possible that really excels. It’s also where it goes beyond – you can take a picture and dump it into page, or grab a web clip and do the same. There’s not a lot of tremendous editing you can do once you bring it in, but you end up with the rough equivalent of a digital scrapbook in a way that Evernote or Penultimate doesn’t quite get at. Evernote, in fact, sucks at combining multiple media into single notes – keeping them instead as separate notes. Toss in the concept of an iPython notebook (now Jupyter) (or Xcode Playground), and I’d be in pig’s heaven!


Seriously, it’s not been great for sketching – the pens are oriented very much for note-taking, and the mixture of text, handwriting, and pictures is still a bit clunky at times (you can’t “move the text” around – it’s not like a text-box you can place and move around in page layout or presentation applications), but it works. I haven’t been taking notes with typing (still don’t have a keyboard for the iPad Pro) – but I’ve just put it onto my iPad that I use with work so I’ll be trying that part out shortly. For the sketching, stick with Paper, Procreate, or even Sketchbook, but for journaling and note taking, Notability is pretty damn good.

There’s other features in there I’m not even addressing. You can record audio with a note, it sync’s to iCloud, you can back up or export the content (to share) with a variety of cloud-based storage services (webdav,, dropbox, etc). In fact, it’s far easier to share out of this application than anything has been. Getting some writing done in each of Evernote and Penultimate was quite a pain, but ultimately I was able to load in the earlier experiments in journaling as images.

No – there’s no automatic handwriting recognition, which I think Evernote asserts it has. I’ve not used it, and wasn’t looking for it – but since I’m talking about a digital moleskin kind of concept, I’m sure that’s on someone’s mind for a question.

So – I’m liking it – it won’t replace Evernote as my “dumping ground of research” tool of choice, but I like it MUCH better as a replacement for my desire to hand-write notes and sketch down thoughts and diagrams.


Published by heckj

Developer, author, and life-long student. Writes online at

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