Handwriting Recognition on the iPad: 3 Way Shootout

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One of my friends has just become a head teacher for the first time and she asked me if there were any decent handwriting recognition apps on the iPad which would enable her to turn her handwriting into text to save typing up notes after her meetings. I thought carefully about this and nothing sprung to mind, certainly nothing which would beat the performance of her Galaxy Note and S-pen. Handwritten note taking is really the one weak link that the iPad has and although styluses have come a long way recently, I wasn’t so sure about handwriting recognition. After a search online, I found three contenders for the iPad crown; Notes Plus, WritePad Pro and MetaMojiNote. Here they are, in order of greatness.

Before the bulk of this round up, I’d like to say that I am not expecting any handwriting engine to be 100% successful in recognising handwriting, as this sort of technology isn’t around yet (especially when it comes to my writing). Also, I’m approaching this from that view that I don’t want to write agonisingly slowly, I don’t do this when note taking. Finally, for this experiment I kept all of the apps vanilla in terms of options (except to turn on left handers mode when present) and I used an iPad Air and the recently reviewed Precision Touch Dart active stylus.

1 – Notes Plus $9.99 plus $2.99 for the handwriting recognition add on

I recently reviewed Notes Plus here and I think that at the moment this provides the best handwriting recognition engine that I have used on the iPad. The developers of Notes Plus have been quite canny in that they haven’t developed their own handwriting recognition engine, but have used one that is already in existence, in this case Vision Objects who make the MyScript apps. The MyScript apps offer very solid recognition and you can download them in advance if you want to test what the recognition engine is like in Notes Plus. The only slight disadvantage is because it is a third party app, you have to buy it as an in-app purchase in Notes Plus.

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My handwriting is rather sloppy, but the app managed to recognise most of my scrawl. Some of the words that it got wrong were perfectly understandable and due to my formation of words, but out of the other three apps it got the highest percentage correct.

To recognise the text, simply write as much as you like, circle the text with your stylus and choose the option for convert to text.

Notes Plus, as said in the review also features lots of other helpful options, such as left hander’s mode, and the option to choose how you normally hold the pen, as well as having a palm rejection pad.

2 – MetaMojiNote $4.99

MetaMojiNote is the recently rebranded 7notes app and they use their own handwriting recognition engine. This works pretty well, the only problem being that as a left hander, there isn’t seem to be a way to put the zoom box at the top of the screen rather than the bottom. This did result in my writing being rather more scruffy and probably less easy for the app to recognise. The wrist guard will move up to the top of the screen, but this leaves you holding your hand in a sort of claw like fashion in order to write in the zoom box.

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The accuracy of the recognition engine seemed less accurate than Notes Plus, but this may be due to the issues with my hand position in the app. I think a right hander would not have these issues, resulting in pretty solid text recognition.

Much like Notes Plus, to recognise the text select lasso mode, draw around your text and select the ‘convert to text’ option. This works well, although you have to come out of the pen option to do this, unlike Notes Plus where you can just circle with the pen tool.

3 – WritePad Pro $9.99

WritePad Pro is an interesting app in that the handwriting recognition engine learns your handwriting style. This is a pretty cool feature which the other two apps don’t have. I haven’t been able to spend enough time with the app to teach it my style of handwriting, but I think if you did the app would do a good job. The issue is that most people who want to be productive on the iPad don’t have the time to use an app which requires too much tinkering, but if you have that time, WritePad Pro might be a decent solution for you as it offers a serious amount of customisation options when it comes to handwriting recognition. 

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This app is probably as close to the Samsung Note solution as the iPad has in that it converts to test on the fly. You don’t have to bother drawing lassos around text, or selecting areas. WritePad Pro just converts as you go which is a really handy, time saving feature.

I did have some serious issues with the app in my testing in that it failed to recognise most of my handwriting, which as stated before, my handwriting isn’t the best, but Notes Plus seemed to be able to handle it. I’m also sorry to bang on about it, but WritePad Pro didn’t have a left handers option, which results in notes being quite tricky to write as the zoom box is at the bottom, rather than the top of the screen. I would be very tempted to come back to this app if this issue is sorted, but as it is, like MetaMojiNote, I couldn’t use it on a daily basis.

Round up

I must give all of these developers credit for implementing handwriting recognition in their apps, and often these apps are extremely personalized in that I might not get on with something that Joe Bloggs next to me might love. However, currently the crown for best handwriting recognition app must go to Notes Plus in my opinion. For me, it’s the option that causes the least drama when taking handwritten notes and converting them to text. None of these apps are perfect, and I don’t expect any of these apps to be, but it’s good to see these three developers give that poisoned chalice of handwriting recognition a go.

Disclosure: All three developers provided me with a promo code for each app, although I bought the handwriting recognition add on in Notes Plus with my own cash.

James Potter

My day job is Director of Technology at one of the UK's leading independent schools. I'm on a daily mission to use, and learn to use technology in the most creative, innovative and transformational ways. The iPad ticks all of these boxes. My geekery also extends to a passion for cricket, amateur astronomy, video gaming and bad guitar playing. You can contact me on Twitter with the link below.

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