So you’ve decided to take the $500 dive and purchase an iPad; now what? As educators, one of the most obvious uses for the iPad might be note taking, and based on my conversations with students, those who have a tablet enjoy using it for this in class because it’s so convenient. Over the past few weeks we’ve been testing a number of different note taking apps and Styli for the iPad. We’ve found that Apple’s tag line, “There’s an App for that” holds true for note taking apps as well; there are literally hundreds of choices depending on your specific need and style of note taking. Below are just a couple of our favorites that are great if you’re looking for a couple of note taking options.
Paper is an excellent note taking app for those used to carrying around a leather-bound Moleskine. In 2009 when Microsoft’s cancelled plans for their tablet called the Courier, the original developers left the company and decided to continue their work, which reached it’s fulfillment in this app. You organize your notes by adding new books and pages, and can share your work as an image file via email, Facebook, or other social media. To make a new note, simply press the “+” to add a new page, and use your finger to sketch, outline, or even watercolor your works of art. This is a great app if you tend to think visually since handwriting notes is more difficult. For starters, Paper only works in landscape mode (horizontally), and does not allow you to move your brush/color palette to a vertical side. Second, you cannot rest your hand on the screen while writing or drawing. This is one limitation that is annoying and takes some getting used to. Finally, unless you buy the fine-tipped pen, your hand-written notes will be a little “bulky” when using your finger (Remember what your handwriting looked like in grade school?). However, as you’ll find in the next section, using a stylus really helps with this a lot and makes visual note taking a lot of fun.
Paper is a free app, and allows you to purchase additional pens and markers for $1.99 each.
Penultimate improves on the limitations of Paper by allowing you to take notes in landscape or portrait mode and also allows you to rest your hand on the screen while writing at the same time. It also allows you to add pictures that you’ve taken with the iPad, then annotate on top of them in any page. Penultimate also allows you to pinch-to-zoom into the page in order to write in a specific area of the page, which is a really nice feature. There are not as many pen and marker options as the Paper app, still if handwriting is your main mode of note taking, this is probably the best app for you.
Penultimate is available in the app store for $.99.
We tested two different styli: one that seems to work well for drawing and the other which is better for handwriting. If you’re looking for additional options, we would recommend taking a look at the recent review that Hamburger did on the Verge. The first model we tested is called the Cosmonaut, and is made by a small company called Studio Neat. This stylus is constructed from aluminum, and is dipped in a rubber which makes for a soft, comfortable grip. When you look at it, you’d think you were holding a giant black crayon, which actually great because it makes for a very comfortable note taking experience. Those who experience pain after writing with a traditional pen for prolonged periods will really appreciate this stylus.
The other stylus we tested is called the Bamboo, and is made by Wacom. This is another excellent stylus that is much thinner than the Cosmonaut, but offers a finer tip which makes your writing a little cleaner and easy to read later. It also includes a pen clip so you can hook it to a pocket or briefcase, but lacks the weight and rubber coating that comes on the Cosmonaut.
Overall, both of these apps are pretty good for note taking, especially if you are looking for a way to keep notes on your iPad. In fact, I even found these apps helpful for taking notes in class with my students. In COM110, I projected my notebook onto the screen and added notes from our in-class discussion as students were conversing. I get the sense that “seeing” my handwritten notes really helped to invite them into the discussion, plus by utilizing the email feature I was able to email the class notes to every student through Blackboard after we were finished. Additionally, we found that using a styli for note taking was a great experience if you’re looking for something a little more natural than writing with your finger.
In the end, there is one more app that makes “honorable mention” in our review: Evernote. Evernote takes a different approach to note taking by allowing you to organize your notes through tagging, and also requires that you input your notes through a keyboard instead of a stylus. If you would like to learn more about it, check out our summry here.
Something to consider: Do you find your students are using iPads or other tablets for note taking in class? If so, what apps are they using? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below.