Last time I looked at apps, I looked at PDF readers/annotators. In this post, I’ll look at note-taking apps. There really aren’t any note-taking apps for lawyers per se, so I’m going to take a look at some of the more popular note-taking apps from a lawyer’s perspective.
Can you use a note-taking app to replace your paper notes and notebook? Although I haven’t done so completely – at least not yet – I think the answer is “yes.” The advantage of doing so is that you can take all your notes with you wherever you are, because if you own an iPad you almost always have it nearby. And of course you don’t have to buy and store paper. Some apps also allow tagging so that you can index your notes. The iPad novelty has worn off by now, so no one pays much attention any more if you use one for notes.
For all apps of the handwritten note type, I recommend using some sort of stylus. Doing so allows you to write notes as if you were, well, sort of using a pen. Otherwise, you’re stuck drawing with your finger, which is definitely not equivalent to using a real pen. Note, though, that a capacitive stylus is also not quite as good as a real pen on paper. It’s not as precise (the tip is larger than the average pen), and there is more resistance. The cosmonaut is a good choice, but there are others.
Also, for all apps of the handwritten note type, you’ll probably want one that has what I’ll call a “zoom box” feature – i.e., the ability to write in a separate section of the screen that effectively magnifies the area of the virtual paper on which you are writing. This makes it much easier to write notes given the inherent limitations of a capacitive stylus (or indeed of a finger, if that’s what you use).
When looking at a note-taking app, I think there are three things you want to consider:
- Ease of use
- Security (are my notes backed up somehow?)
- Ease of exportability (can I easily get my notes into other formats and applications? Can I print them out and save them as old-fashioned paper notes?)
With those primary factors in mind, here’s a quick look at five note-taking apps.
- Notability (on sale right now for $0.99 – 80% off). This is my favorite of the apps mentioned here. It has a clean and easy-to-use interface, and a decent filing system for notes. Its handwriting “engine” seems particularly smooth, especially when used with a stylus. It has some nice pen and highlighting tools and a choice of background papers. It lets you backup to your Dropbox account (if you have one), iDisk (soon to be discontinued by Apple), or a WebDAV service. (Automatic syncing to Dropbox is a nice, secure feature.) It also lets you e-mail notes and has a left-handed mode for lefties.
- Noteshelf ($5.99). My second favorite app. It has a very nice looking user interface and a nice offering of standard types of notebooks and papers from which to choose. (There is also an in-app store where you can buy additional types of “papers” and notebooks.) It also offers the ability to “tag” notes, and has a number of pens and highlighters from which to choose. Noteshelf also lets you type text (as if you were using a typewriter) and offers a number of stamps which you can use to “stamp” your documents. Noteshelf enables export of notes to various applications, including email, Dropbox, Evernote, and iTunes.
- Penultimate ($0.99). One of the first note-taking apps, and still a best seller. I like the somewhat minimalist interface – this app does not get in the way of taking notes. There are the usual pen and highlighter tools, as well as a “leftie” mode. The app lets you sync to Dropbox and Evernote, and you can e-mail pages or entire notebooks. Penultimate also has an in-app “Paper Shop” where you can buy additional “paper” formats. No “zoom box” feature, though, which is one reason I rated it #3.
- Note Taker HD ($4.99). This is a very powerful note taking app that is chock-full of features, including tags, flags, the ability to reorder and duplicate notes, and a powerful file organizing system. There are so many customizable features (zoom box size, paper type, pen “memory,” ink smoothing, etc.) that I find it a bit overwhelming, which is why I rated it #4. If you were to take the time and truly learn how it works, however, I could see that it would be a powerful application.
- Elements ($4.99). Finally, I throw in Elements as the last choice here. Unlike the first four apps, Elements is not a handwriting app. Instead, it is a text note or document app. It lets you type plain text via the on-screen typewriter. It is essentially a minimalist word processor that is easier and quicker to use than, say, Pages. Of course it doesn’t offer all the text formatting features Pages offers. But if you need to type out a quick letter (or indeed a quick blog post), Elements does a very nice job. It syncs with Dropbox.