Notetaking Apps for the iPad

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With the advent of the Apple Pen, notetaking apps become even more versatile and provide even more potential. I’ve been using them for a while, but sparingly because they’re somewhat cumbersome with a stylus and, to be honest, I’m not in the position to take notes in that way much anymore.

I’m at a coaching conference, however, where I am taking notes in that way (with the Apple Pen; amazing) and so I thought I’d revisit notetaking apps.

Here are the ones I (re)looked at (and I didn’t include pretty standard ones like Evernote, (Apple’s) Notes, and OneNote):

What I was looking for was something that would let me integrate images and text / notes. I have a handout for the conference workshops that I wanted to include, reference, and annotate in my notes.

I’ll start with Concepts and, to be fair, it is not strictly speaking a notetaking app. It is more a drawing / design app. With that said, its interface is complex, one that I suspect would be more familiar to a designer but complex enough that I couldn’t figure out how to change the color to one that I wanted.

SuperNote seems to have potential. It is along the lines of Noteshelf. But it was difficult to integrate the image; it added it as an attachment rather than having it be part of the note itself.

Noteshelf had changed its icon so when I opened it I realized that I had used it before. Noteshelf’s strength is creating notebooks of similarly formatted notes. I remembered that I used its photo feature to take a picture of a scrabble score card so I could keep score on the iPad and repeat its use (without having to worry about running out of scorecards). 

Similarly, I’m trying to find a good app to take notes during a game. I had thought about how I would design a template and then transfer it somewhere, and I’m thinking that I will use Noteshelf to keep those game notes, i.e. I will create the template, import it into Noteshelf, and keep my game notes there.

But for versatility and functionaliy and simplicity of use, really Notability is hard to beat. It has just the right number of and flexibility with tools, it can integrate images well (I’ve used it plenty for home improvement projects where I photograph something and then use Notability to add the dimensions / measurements), and it exports to a .pdf.

So in the end, Notability is my recommendation for a notetaking app, though Noteshelf is a close second for a different kind of taking and organizing notes.

Can’t Say Enough About the ApplePen and the Smart Connector

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I recently posted about accessorizing the iPadPro and how I rolled the dice with the smart connector when choosing a keyboard, and how pleased I was with that decision. That decision has been further confirmed.

I’m at a soccer coaches conference. They provide the handout with drills and notes-spaces as a .pdf, and I’ve always taken notes digitally. In previous years, that was on an iPad Mini with a stylus; the notes were predictably messy. With the Apple Pen, however, the notes are clear, tighter, and easier both to produce and consume.

The smart connector, however, lets me swap out the keyboard effortlessly. I can’t really use the keyboard to take notes; much of the time I’m standing (ok, because I’m on the short side and have to see over people; don’t worry: I sit at the back so I don’t block anyone by standing), so, with the iPad in my hand, the pen is ideal. My hand can rest on the screen and I can write naturally. It is no different in my mind from writing on paper. 

When I sit, however, and want to type (like I’m doing right now), the keyboard is a simple snap on and go proposition, and I can’t emphasize how much easier that makes life, that I can just effortlessly swap between laptop-mode and tablet-mode with no difficulty and, really, no time.

So, kudos again to Apple for both the pen and the smart connector. They both distinguish the Pro from its iPad brethren in a way that is impossible to replicate.

Here are what notes look like on the Pro:


Compare to what they look like on the mini:

Experimenting with AppleTV

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We had talked about it for weeks (months?) but I finally got the AppleTV installed last week. There were concerns (and there still are) about network issues (I officially am not yet allowed to possess the remote because of its access to Settings; they give me a lot more technical credit than I deserve…). And it’s in the conference room rather than a classroom proper, largely because of how it affects non-AppleTV connectivity to the projector. Thankfully, of course, my Classical Lit class meets in the conference room, which is why it was installed there.

In any case, I’ve not had a chance to do much with it (remember when I said they wouldn’t let me have the remote?) but the connectivity alone makes it worthwhile. Just sitting opposite the screen and with one click being able to project my computer makes life a lot more efficient and flexible. It’d be nice of course if the students were on the same network and we could project their computers as easily but, well, baby steps.

MB is pushing for AppleTVs for next year for the whole department and I am all for it. From what I’ve seen thus far (admittedly little), they make life a whole lot easier and more efficient, and that’s a good first step (even one of our techno-phobic, i.e. projects hardly ever, colleagues seemed intrigued).

Outfitting an iPad Pro

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Last spring, I was able to pilot the (big) iPad Pro and loved it. The keyboard had a great feel and the size made it practically laptop like. But the key word there is practically. It wasn’t laptop enough to be a laptop and wasn’t iPad enough (largely because of the size) to be an iPad. But it was hard to argue with the functionality of the keyboard and the Apple Pen, whose feel was by far more lifelike (pen-like) than any stylus I had used.

This fall then I wrote two grants, one to the Classical Association of the Atlantic States and the other to the Classical Association of New England, for an iPad Pro, this time the small one, and accessories for it. After maybe six months I think I can offer some sound advice on how to accessorize your iPad Pro. Or at least how I accessorized mine and why it works for me.

My Situation – I use the iPad Pro to…

  • …bring to class
  • …connect to my computer via WiFi
  • …control my computer (via the Doceri app)
  • …annotate the computer while mobile

What that means is I need portability, reliability, and efficiency. (And I get it: don’t we all want that, but if you’re sitting at a desk with a machine all day, you can, say, sacrifice some efficiency for something else.)

The Keyboard

The biggest, and most obvious, choice was the keyboard. I spent a lot of time looking into keyboards and still wasn’t certain when I made my final decision. Ultimately I went with, and rightly so, the Apple Smart Keyboard, but here’s how that process went and the factors that influenced me.

In addition to the Apple Smart Keyboard, I looked at the Logitech CREATE and two keyboards from Zagg: the Rugged Book and the Slim Book. The two Zagg keyboards are similar: both connect via bluetooth, both include integrated clamshell cases, both have professed long-life batteries (two years of use without a charge, according to Zagg). The Logitech has those features (minus the battery life) but includes a holder for the pen which, for me, was the fatal flaw of the Apple Smart Keyboard, that I had to carry the pen: not uncommon to Apple, beautiful in the design category but less than beautiful in the secondary function category, the pen had a detachable cap about the size of a Tic Tac and no flat sides, which means that it rolls freely on a tabletop. Because of my need for portability, the pen factor was a big one. And I was almost ready to pull the trigger on one of the Zagg keyboards (probably the Rugged Book, just because I would be mobile with the iPad so much) but…

The Smart Connector

The innovation of the iPad Pro is of course the smart connector and, in the end, I went with it and I was right. The smart connector makes everything easy (more on that below). With a little research (also more on that below), I realized there were workarounds for the pen factors but not for the smart connector. So, in the end, the smart connector was the selling point of the Apple Smart Connector. (And I had used a Zagg keyboard with my iPad 2 and realized the relative clunkiness of inserting and removing the iPad.)

Making the smart connector the driver then dictated cases as well. I ended up buying (read: overpaying for) the Apple silicone back because it left exposed the smart connector. (I realize of course that it is not the only one but I wanted as seamless a fit as I could get and so sprung for Apple’s.) I also bought the smart cover, somewhat hesitantly because I wasn’t sure why, in effect, I would need two covers (the keyboard being the first). But the smart connector made the two cases both viable and helpful. For every day use, pull the keyboard off and use the smart cover. When I need increased functionality, it’s an easy switch to the keyboard. This was my first introduction to how essential the smart connector is. (And the keyboard is small enough, unlike the others I considered, that it’s easy to carry it with the iPad even when I’m not using it.)

Charging

I also endorsed the smart connector by buying Logitech’s BASE Charging Stand. Again, I wasn’t convinced I would love it, but it seemed too convenient to pass up. If it didn’t have the smart connector, it might have been more trouble than it’s worth but, again, the smart connector makes it: the case pulls off and the iPad snaps right in to charge, while remaining upright and visible. As with the keyboard and the smart cover, there is a seamless transition between use and charging.

Managing the Pen

By going with the Smart Keyboard, and eschewing the Logitech keyboard with the pen holder, I needed some pen accessories, which, and I shouldn’t have been surprised by this, were available in abundance. I bought two cases for the pen: a simple case from MoKu and Amazon for $8 with room for accessories.

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And an Insignia sling holder that goes over the smart case and/or keyboard.

I thought I would use the sling holder more, but the case is my everyday carrier because I can bring the pen and the adapter to class easily. On a field trip, however, when I’m not bringing the adapter, the sling is perfect. I went to the Harvard Art Museum with a class and was going to use the pen to annotate some digital handouts. The sling was the perfect way to transport the pen on the road.

And finally, the Insignia cap holder. So simple but so necessary.

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Conclusion

So that’s about it. I’m happy with all of my purchases because they enable me to use the iPad Pro exactly how I want to; they enhance the experience rather than inhibiting the experience. Your experience might be different, and so you should make decisions based on your situation, but this is mine and what led me to make the choices I made. Hope it was helpful.