Detailed Review for Note Taking Apps with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

My Apps

Why I Do This Review?

Although I am a software architect, I prefer handwriting to typing while taking notes, planning, drafting flow chart and mind map, and doing research. For this reason, many devices I have bought support stylus such as Samsung Note II and SONY VAIO DUO 13.

Now I have an iPad Pro and an Apple Pencil, then the immediate question is, which note taking app is the best one. I have read several reviews and watched certain Youtube videos, but I still could not decide. Eventually, I tested almost dozens of note taking apps and concluded that there is not abest one because different apps have different pros and cons. What I can do is to review these apps from certain features and mark them, then I will give each feature a weight according to my own needs, and therefore, choosing the app with the highest score by multiplying the weight by the mark. This app is the most suitable one for me.

If you are also trying to find a perfect note taking app, here is what you need.

Features

This review mainly focuses on following features: unique selling point, handwriting, text note, recording, annotation, copy/paste, organization, sync, Safari share extension, stability, update history.

The Candidates

Notability, Noteshelf, GoodNotes, NotesPlus, UPAD, OneNote

Unique Selling Point

If an APP has an useful feature which others do not have, I believe that this feature is the unique selling point (USP) of the APP.

Notability:

Recording: It provides powerful navigation which means that during playback, tap any word or object will jump to that point in the recording.

GoodNotes:

Powerful lasso tool which can capture screen.

NoteShelf:

Sync to EverNote.

OneNote:

OneNote’s page is an endless paper. It is very convenient for supplementing notes and planning.

Handwriting

Writing Feeling

Writing on all these Apps is accurate and lag-free. The following test is under a normal writing speed.

NotesPlus:

  1. Occasionally, there is one stroke that cannot register.
  2. NotesPlus will shorten strokes. For example, if I write a 1cm stroke, the final stroke may become 0.9 cm.
  3. Sometimes the stroke will flash while writing and strokes appear slowly, which makes me feel uncomfortable.

NoteShelf:

It seems that NoteShelf adjusts strokes too much and will extend strokes. For example, if I write a 1cm stroke, the final stroke may become 1.1 cm, which makes a little bit difficult for me to control my writing.

Score

GoodNotes: 5

Notability: 5

UPAD: 5

OneNote: 5

NoteShelf: 3

NotesPlus: 1

BTW:

Although iPad Air2 adopted new screen technology which makes many note taking apps perform bad, NoteShelf has almost the same handwriting experience on iPad Air2 and iPad Pro. UPAD has the most beautiful ink on iPad Air2 with a regular stylus.

Ink Effect

NotesPlus:

Has the most beautiful ink effect.

NoteShelf:

Like the real ink pen writing on real paper.

Notability, OneNote, GoodNotes and UPAD:

Although both of them fully support Apple Pencil pressure sensitivity, they have different line smoothing. Personally, I prefer GoodNotes and UPAD to Notability and OneNote.

Illustration

Real pen and paper

GoodNotes

UPAD

Notes Plus

Notability

Noteshelf

OneNote

Score

NotesPlus: 5

NoteShelf: 4

GoodNotes: 3

UPAD: 3

Notability: 2

OneNote: 1

Efficiency

In my opinion, the ability of vertically scrolling a page and quickly changing pen color is the major factor for highly efficient drafting and planning.

OneNote:

  1. With its endless paper, OneNote is perfect for draft and planning.
  2. There are five pen colors on the toolbar which makes changing color very quick.

Notability:

  1. One finger scrolls vertically while using Apple Pencil.
  2. Click twice for color changing.

NotesPlus:

  1. Two finger scroll or one finger scroll on the right edge.
  2. Has a favorite pen panel which makes easy for changing pen and color.

NoteShelf:

  1. Do not support vertically scrolling.
  2. There a draw pen and a highlight pen on the toolbar, but these two pen buttons can be customized, which means that I can set one is a draw pen with blue color, and another is a draw pen with red color.

GoodNotes and UPAD:

  1. Do not support vertically scrolling.
  2. Click twice for color changing.

Score

OneNote: 5

Notability: 4

NotesPlus: 4

NoteShelf: 3

GoodNotes: 2

UPAD: 2

Text Note

Paste Short Text

GoodNotes, NotesPlus:

Long touch screen with fingers and select paste. The text is pasted into a text box.

Notability, Noteshelf, UPAD and Onenote:

  1. Switch to text mode
  2. Select paste. The text is pasted as a usual text.

Noteshelf does not have text box.

Score

GoodNotes: 5

NotesPlus: 5

Onenote: 3

Notability: 2

Noteshelf: 1

UPAD: 1

Paste Long Text

Paste long text (more than one page):

Notability:

Automatically add pages to display the full text.

GoodNotes, Noteshelf, UPAD:

Paste all text into a text box which is larger than the page, so only can display part of the text. And hard to adjust the size of the text box.

NotesPlus:

Paste all text into a small text box which can be easily change the size.

OneNote:

Perfect holds the long text because of its’ endless page.

Illustration

Notability

Notes Plus

GoodNotes

Noteshelf

Score

Onenote: 5

Notability: 5

NotesPlus: 2

GoodNotes: 1

Noteshelf: 1

UPAD: 1

Recording

The recording is the unique selling point of Notability. It provides powerful navigation. During playback, tap any word or object will jump to that point in the recording

Recording feature of Noteshelf and Notesplus is reasonable and decent.

OneNote does not support background recording.

GoodNotes and UPAD do not support recording.

Score

Notability: 5

NotesShelf: 3

NotesPlus: 3

OneNote: 1

GoodNotes: 0

UPAD: 0

Annotation

All these apps have decent PDF and Picture annotation ability. Some of them have specific functions:

OneNote:

OneNote’s page is an endless paper, so I can annotate as many contents as I want.

GoodNotes:

Its lasso tool can capture an area of the note, which is extremely useful when I want to excerpt certain content from a PDF or a Picture.

Its copy function also is very powerful. For example, I insert a picture and annotate something on it, and then if I want to copy both the picture and the annotation to other Apps, only the GoodNotes can easily fulfil this requirement. NoteShelf can also allow I to do so, but firstly, I should ‘Flatten’ the picture to copy both the picture and handwriting. And after then, the picture will become a part of the background and cannot be edited again.

UPAD cannot paste the copied picture to another apps.

Score

GoodNotes: 5

OneNote: 4

NoteShelf: 4

Notability: 3

NotesPlus: 3

Upad: 1

Copy/Paste

GoodNote and NoteShelf can copy part of a note and paste to other Apps as a picture.

Notability, NotesPlus, UPAD and OneNote do not support pasting to other Apps.

Score

GoodNote: 5

NoteShelf: 5

Notability: 0

NotesPlus: 0

UPAD: 0

OneNote: 0

Organization

Import

Office Documents

Using a PPT for import testing:

Notability

Noteshelf

GoodNotes

Notability, Noteshelf:

Import office documents without losing format and elements such as SmartArt.

GoodNotes:

Missing some elements after import such as picture.

NotesPlus, UPad:

Do not have share extension.

Score

Notability: 5

Noteshelf: 5

Onenote: 5

GoodNotes: 3

NotesPlus: 0

UPad: 0

PDF Form with filled boxes

Notability, GoodNotes, Noteshelf, UPAD:

Both of them will lose the information which filled by other pdf software such as Adobe.

Notesplus:

It can keep the filled information.

OneNote:

PDF is inserted into OneNote as attachment or printout, so OneNote can also keep the filled information.

Score

OneNote: 5

NotesPlus: 5

Notability: 3

GoodNotes: 3

Noteshelf: 3

UPAD: 3

Search

Notability:

Search text.

Filter annotated PDF pages.

NoteShelf:

Search text.

Support page tags.

GoodNotes:

Handwriting search.

Convert handwriting to text.

Bookmarks and PDF outlines support.

NotesPlus:

Handwriting search.

Convert handwriting to text.

OneNote:

Handwriting search.

Convert handwriting to text.

Tag support.

UPAD:

Search notebook title.

Score

OneNote: 5

GoodNotes: 4

NotesPlus: 3

NoteShelf: 3

Notability: 3

UPAD: 1

Sync

All Apps have the Automatic Backup or Sync feature.

Safari Share Extension

Only Notability and OneNote have the share extension in Safari. So if you want to convert a web page to PDF/Picture and send to the note app, these two are the best choice.

Sometimes if OneNote takes too long to retrieve the web page, it will create a note contains the web page link instead of web page snapshot.

Score

Notability: 5

OneNote: 4

GoodNotes: 3

NoteShelf: 3

NotesPlus:2

UPAD: 2

Stability

During my months of using, Notability, NoteShelf and GoodNotes have never crashed.

OneNote crashed one time.

UPAD3 crashed occasionally.

NotesPlus crashed more often: using the browser, noting while recording, copy/paste picture.

Score

Notability: 5

NoteShelf: 5

GoodNotes: 5

OneNote: 4

Upad3: 3

NotesPlus: 1

Update History

2016 Version History (Today is June 18.) , Compare with their update frequency and update content.

Notability:

Jan 13, Feb 17, Mar 17, Apr 11

GoodNotes:

Feb 15, Mar 2, May 9, May 12

Upad:

Jan 12, Jan 13, Jan 22 (same update description), Feb 4, Feb 18, Mar 8, Mar 10, Mar 19

Notes Plus:

Apr 19, May 23, May 26

NoteShelf:

Apr 14, Apr 21.

OneNote:

Jan 21, Feb 4, Feb 24, Mar 18, Mar 29, Apr 7, Apr 19, May 3, May 7, Jun 13

Score

OneNote: 5

Notability: 5

GoodNotes: 5

Upad: 3

Notes Plus: 2

NoteShelf: 2

Conclusion

In order to choose which one is my favourite app, I need to give each feature a weight (the sum of all weights should equal 100%). The higher weight means the more important feature. The following table shows that the ‘Writing Feeling’ and ‘Ink Effect’ are my main concerns about a note taking app. GoodNotes has the highest score and actually, I use it on a daily basis.

My Final Result

To choose which one is suitable for you, just determine your weight for each feature and calculate the final score.


3 thoughts on “Detailed Review for Note Taking Apps with iPad Pro and Apple Pencil

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