As some of you may know if you have read my articles before (thanks Mum!), I love productivity apps and the app which constantly does the business for me is Notability. Ginger Labs, the creators of Notability have designed their app in such a way that it appeals to power users and beginners alike. The school I work in has a lot of iPad users of varying experience, but Notability is a favourite amongst many of them. It is with this staunch Notability love that I review Notes Plus.
This review was originally going to be a comparison of handwriting recognition apps on the iPad (that article may come later), but as soon as I started using Notes Plus, I thought it justified a full review because it is so feature rich and I think it may be useful for power users who want to ‘graduate’ from Notability.
Once you open the app you can create folders and various themed notebooks which contain notes. It’s a bit like a folder and file structure system, although slightly more graphically pleasing. Waiting for you within the app is an in-depth tutorial note which you can skim through. Slightly confusingly, there is no ‘settings’ option in the main files page of the app. The settings options appear once your have opened and are inside a note. The minimal settings you can change in the first screen are backup and import options. You can import from a variety of cloud storage places, and you can also setup auto backup to DropBox. As a Google Drive junkie, I’m disappointed to see auto backup to my Drive missing, and I hope the devs can add this option later.
Creating a new note presents you with an outstanding range of templates for your note taking, and I really like the way they have been arranged into different categories. ‘Productivity’, for example has templates for meeting minutes and calendars, and ‘Graphs’ has several different types of graph paper (surprise surprise!). There are also the standard varieties of lined paper, as well as options to adjust the paper size.
Once you begin working on a note, you have a dizzying array of options to customise the experience to your heart’s content. The developers have tried to make the options bar as un-intrusive as possible by putting everything in a small space at the bottom, and utilising long presses on icons to pull up more icons. Notes Plus probably has a slight edge over Notability with regards to screen real estate although there is very little in it. The options bar is completely customisable in that you can add and replace your most used options to adapt your notes experience as you see fit.
Once you get note taking, there are more avenues than Spaghetti Junction to go down. Firstly, text notes, as you would expect, have various fonts, styles, sizes and also the ability to save favourite styles so you can switch between them quickly and easily with the touch of button. This is a nice touch and a boon to productivity. There are also options for highlighting, audio recording and an inbuilt web browser which enables you to drag and drop images and capture screenshots into your notes for annotation purposes. This feature in particular works in a very fluid and elegant manner.
Pen input was one of the things I was most interested in now that the iPad has some extremely capable active styluses. You can pick the pen icon in Notes Plus, and much like the keyboard note taking you have a variety of options to choose from to customise your handwritten note taking. You can also dip into the settings (as mentioned above, they can be found in the actual document you are working on) to change various facets of the writing experience, such as the size of nib detection and also writing style. This is great for southpaws like me as I can choose the slightly insane looking upside down left-handers mode. There is the wrist guard and also the vital zoom mode for handwriting which can be activated by a long press where you want to start writing. The writing experience itself is extremely good and at least on a par with Notability, and I think I prefer the Notes Plus zoom mode which has got an excellent auto scroll feature (as has Notability).
One of the things which attracted me to Notes Plus was the handwriting recognition. I haven’t used handwriting recognition before on the iPad and I was really impressed by the engine in Notes Plus, which was created by MyScript who have a variety of excellent apps in the App Store. To get the app to recognise handwriting you need to draw around the area you want to convert to text, an option will then appear allowing you to do it. My writing is pretty rubbish but the conversion process worked well. I am a realist in that I did write fairly neatly (for me anyway) and if I used my normal writing it would struggle, but that is the nature of the technology until we get software which learns your handwriting style.
I think that overall, Notes Plus is an app that you could graduate to from Notability. It is on the pricey side, but very feature rich and I like the array of customisation options that you can apply to your note taking. This is important because note taking is quite a personalised thing. For me, the only major thing missing is auto backup to different cloud services other than DropBox. If Notes Plus had this I think I would be tempted to fully, rather than partially migrate from Notability. Notes Plus is a seriously competitive and well designed notes app, and very worthy of your attention if you do any sort of regular note taking on your iPad.
Notes Plus is available on the App Store here and is priced at $9.99. Handwriting recognition is available as an in app purchase for $2.99.
Disclosure: The developers send me a promo code for this app, but I purchased the handwriting recognition module with my own hard earned cash.