The iPad has proven to be an excellent mobile computing device for its ability to substitute most traditional computer tasks in a more mobile form. In addition, the iPad is now an excellent note taking device that works very well as your ultimate digital notebook.
Here’s a thought: instead of carrying around multiple notebooks that could get full or be lost when needed, what about carrying one digital device that holds and organizes all your notebooks? For me, this is what the iPad has become.
I no longer take notebooks with me; not to classes (I’m a university lecturer), meetings, personal planning sessions, or foreign language lessons. The iPad could also be your journal, your class/work multi-notebook, and your versatile quick note taking instrument.
Being of a perfect size, you no longer need to compromize by carrying a smaller device (a la Samsung Galaxy Note), nor carrying a heavier device (a la MS Surface Go/Pro). The iPad Pro (starting 2017) is the first mobile device to have a refresh rate of 120 Hz (“ProMotion” feature), which provides you with an unmatched hand writing experience that feels natural and virtually lag-free.
In addition to being an excellent note-taking device, you could also benefit from the iPad being an iPad; with the ability to do word processing, document viewing/annotating, organizing, presenting, emailing, etc. No notebook could ever do that!
# Application options
Now, what are the best app alternatives available for the ultimate note-taking experience on the iPad?
Initially, and as stated in the article of tailor-making your iPad, it is recommended to start with the built in Apple Notes app. This would provide basic training for using the Apple Pencil on the iPad as your main note-taking approach. The app is good and provides a better integration with iOS than the alternatives. One outstanding feature it provides is the ability to take a quick note by tapping anywhere on the lockscreen with the Pencil. This will take you to a new page in the Apple Notes app so that you could quickly jot down that important idea!
After getting the hang of using the Apple Pencil with Apple Notes, and if you feel that it is not enough for your more advanced needs, you may venture into a more capable application. In my view, the best three options out there are GoodNotes, Notability, and Microsoft OneNote.
Microsoft OneNote would probably be your first option if you are already invested in the Microsoft ecosystem and/or if you are actively using MS OneNote on your PC/Mac with OneDrive integration. In this case, you are already familiar with the basic functionality and would benefit greatly by having the notes taken on your iPad get automatically synchronized with your PC/Mac via OneDrive.
Notability, on the other hand, seems to be a popular choice for many people. I remember that upon getting my first iPad Pro with the Apple Pencil, I had filtered down my options of a good note-taking app to either Notability or GoodNotes. Looking at the feature set, I felt that Notability is better for illustrations/drawing, while GoodNotes is better for hand-written notes and for using custom templates. I then decided to go with GoodNotes, which I’ll talk more about below. Notability, though, could still be a good option for you and you might want to check it out before committing to any one option.
GoodNotes is my top used app on the iPad and is among my top recommended apps for you. In essence, it is your own magical notebook that could take any shape and size you want and empowers you to just write without worrying about typos and other organizing/designing issues.
I could joyfully take a deep dive into its specific uses and features, but that is not what this article is about! Instead, I will highlight the core experience of using GoodNotes as a showcasing of the iPad’s great note-taking abilities.
In terms of hand writing, you could customize the inking to your liking; thickness and color. The eraser works wonderfully (in different sizes) and could be set to automatically revert back to inking mode. The lasso feature is so useful in that you could re-order your hand written notes, copy-paste a certain phrase, re-color it, or re-size it. The app could even convert any passage you hand write into typed characters! The cherry on the cake here is GoodNotes’s ability to search all your hand written notes for that important quote you forgot where you kept! These two last features are even possible with not-so-perfect handwritings like mine 🙂
In GoodNotes, your notebooks could be set to have any paper style; Blank or lined (with varied distances), different background colors, different paper sizes, and in portrait or landscape. You could use custom stylings that you depend on, like the Cornell Notes system or the bullet-journal style. I have even created my own custom meeting notes template based on the Cornell Notes system.
(You could sign up here to get free GoodNotes templates)
For organizing your notebooks, you could have custom folders and sub-folders according to different areas of your life, subjects, or courses. Each notebook would have its own customized cover, which enables you to set similar covers to notebooks of similar topics. All of your notebooks could then be accessed on your iPhone (for quick reference on the go), or on your Mac via the GoodNotes OSX app. You could also drag certain notebooks or specific pages of a notebook on your iPad to the Files app in split-screen mode. The Notebook would automatically convert to PDF format upon dropping it in Files.
In addition to the above, it is not only about using GoodNotes as your notebooks holder/organizer; you could also use it as your class whiteboard or any other form of presentation. When the iPad is hooked to a projector, GoodNotes automatically provides you with some cool projection features (like hiding the user interface and using a laser beamer)!
I could go on and on talking about GoodNotes, but I have to remin myself that this is not meant as a full review or a guide for using GoodNotes. The purpose of the article is to give you an idea of the capabilities of an iPad as a handwritten note-taking device. GoodNotes is a prime example, but you could use other capable apps that would help you to do virtually any handwritten task you need. The bonus is that you would be saving the earth by going more and more paperless!
So, that was an overview of using the iPad as your ultimate digital notebook. As explained previously on the blog, it is best if you take the above ideas and then do your own experimentations. With patience and practice, you will design your own powerful (and evolving) note-taking workflow.