Noteshelf – Handwriting on the iPad

Minutes from a recent meeting

I really like the iPad.  But I don’t like typing on it.

Sure, for some things, you just need a laptop and keyboard.  There’s simply no substitute.  But on the whole, I much prefer to take notes on a pad of paper.  Plus certain types of note-taking (sketches, math equations, diagrams, charts & graphs–not to mention those little doodles you do when you’re bored in a meeting) are simply not suited to a laptop/keyboard scenario.

Also, I don’t like being that guy who goes CLICKITY CLACKITY on his laptop, way too loud, irritating the unlucky few sitting nearby. So that’s why I like paper. Nonetheless, it’s nice to have a digital version of your document so that you can share it with others and you don’t have to worry about losing your notebook, or leaving it at home on the day you most needed to bring it with you. Living in the 21st century, it seems like I should be able to get the best of both worlds.

It turns out I can.

I’ve been using an iPad app called “Noteshelf” for several months now. I take an iPad with Noteshelf to every meeting now to take notes in my own handwriting.  At the end of the meeting, tap tap tap and I’ve added it to my Evernote account.  Another few taps of my finger on the screen and I can email the notes to anyone else who might want a copy. I like it so much that I can’t even remember the last time I used a pad of paper to take notes in a meeting or in a class.

Handout for a workshop about Noteshelf

First and foremost, Noteshelf is for WRITING. You can use your finger, but I find it much easier to write with a stylus.  (Check out the review of different styluses we posted a while back here.)  Noteshelf comes with quite a few different types of “paper” you can write on–from plain ruled paper, graph paper, music staff notation paper, day planner pages, to-do lists, and more. You can also design your own paper for free in a program like Photoshop, or purchase more from the built-in store.
Noteshelf also has a built-in wrist-protection option, which allows you to adjustably designate the lower portion of the screen as a wrist-rest so that you don’t accidentally add stray pen marks with your hand when your wrist or palm touches the screen.

Zooming in for better handwriting

How to use Zoom mode.

You can simply start writing on the paper, but what I’ve found to be much more useful is to use the split-screen Zoom feature (see screenshot), which allows you write bigger-than-life in the magnified close-up portion of the screen, and then when you return to normal view, your handwriting looks much cleaner and neater than if you’d simply written on the normal-sized page to begin with.

Additionally, when you’re in the magnified view, Noteshelf knows when you’ve reached the edge of the writing area, and automatically moves the zoomed-in area to the right so that you can continue writing without running out of space.  A beneficial side effect of this feature is that because it forces me to write in the bottom-most portion of the screen, it also prevents issues with accidentally writing in the document when you’re resting my wrist on the screen.  Simply put, at least for me, the Zoom feature is the single most important feature in the entire app.  Without it, I doubt I’d use Noteshelf much at all.

In the most recent update for Noteshelf (version 5.0), they’ve given the ability to add typewritten text (and edit it later on), add tags to your documents, and to search pages for specific tags or text.  Another feature I’ve grown to appreciate is the ability to add a password to a notebook so that I’m the only one who can see or edit what’s inside, while leaving other notebooks open for all to peruse.  I can also turn on the “read only” mode so that I don’t accidentally mark up my documents.You can write in a variety of colors and pen-thicknesses.  In addition, you have at your disposal an eraser, highlighter, a huge number of emoji/icons, the ability to copy/cut and paste, and the option of adding/embedding images of photographs taken from your camera or iPad photo albums (which you can then mark up with Noteshelf’s pens and icons).  It’s not an app made for making art, but you can tell from my drawing that nothing’s stopping you from trying.  :)

Noteshelf integrates well with Evernote (my personal favorite), Dropbox, iTunes, and email, allowing you to export your notes to one of those platforms quickly and easily, which makes it easy to share or just to back-up your notes. You can also save your notes as a PDF or image file.  It’s important to note that Noteshelf does NOT do handwriting recognition, so you won’t be able to copy and paste the text into an email or word document to be edited further.  But if you write neatly enough, Evernote will often be able to recognize the text so that you can search them later.

Be sure to take a look through the included user guide, which will go a long way in making sure you get the most out of the program.  And feel free to stop by the Vitale Digital Media Lab in the Weigle Information Commons, and try it out in person on our iPads.

Noteshelf: $5.99 for iPad (currently on sale for only $0.99!!!!)

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  1. Which stylus are you using in your screenshots? They are very clear and I would love to be able to have similar results.

  2. How can back up your note shelf data, and then restore it?

  3. Christie cornetta says:

    My ipad went down and I lost all my apps. How can I resort the notes I took with Noteshelf?

  4. I have used noteshelf for over a year or so and its been great especially after the retina update. The ink engine is fast and smooth. The organisation of notebooks with customization covers is nice.

    However I recently went back to explore other notepad apps to see what had changed since I reviewed them from way back.

    I can now say that Goodnotes has improved a lot. It used to feel very laggy but they have improved things there and now the engine is very similar to noteshelf.

    One thing that has now swayed me to Goodnotes is the ‘page’. Noteshelf feels to me now to be a small sized notebook in that I have only 24 lines to write on. Goodnotes has way more lines and looks like an A4 page. I have always written physical notes on A4 size pages so Goodnotes offers an exact replica of this. With Noteshelf it always felt like I had limited space to write notes and made it feel like an A5 paper in terms of a physical counterpart.

    I like the pages overview in Goodnotes, the one in Noteshelf just doesn’t feel right with my brain- and I feel some lag in my brain as it tries to get a quick overview. I think this maybe because Noteshelf displays it all in one column, from top to bottom which requires scrolling down. Goodnotes does it over three columns, left to right, very much like laying out a book. My brain gets this straightaway.

    The other thing I like about Goodnotes is the pdf backup sync. I know I can now access pdf replica’s of my notes on any computer. With Noteshelf I had to sync/send one page at a time. Its such a boring task I haven’t bothered to do any synching/backup.

    So I am now in the process in rewriting my notes from Noteshelf and I will be removing it once I am done.

    Hope this helps people. At the end of the day you need to try them out if you have the funds and see what suits you and what functions you will need. I think the inking engines have come a long way since a year ago. I’m excited to see what the future will bring -especially as new ipads come out!

  5. How do you link Noteshelf to Evernote? I am going around in circles in Noteshelf trying…! Thank you for this v useful article, just came across it today.

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