Review: Note Taker HD for iPad

1 Sep 2012

Ever since getting a new iPad last July I’ve been exploring various note taking apps to determine whether I could successfully make the transition from paper and pen to a purely digital note taking workflow. After purchasing, installing, and spending some time in (Penultimate, Note Taker HD, Notes Plus, and Notability I’ve decided to make Note Taker HD my go to digital note taking system.

Note Taker HD ($4.99 in the iOS App Store) was created by Dan Bricklin who, if you’re as old as Internet dirt like me, you may recognize as one of the PC pioneers who gave the world Visicalc in 1979. In some ways the Note Taker HD interface is decidedly unApple-like. There are many small buttons to tap, but those buttons provide direct access to a host of powerful features. I’d call the interface elegant, but it’s elegant in way that Unix utilities are elegant. That’s not a bad thing, but I can imagine Note Taker HD would have stronger appeal among a slightly geekier set of users. (Hey, that’s me.)

If you look at the screenshot above you’ll notice that my handwriting is rendered at a much smaller size than you’d expect if you were using your finger or a stylus to draw directly on the iPad screen. Note Taker HD (and many of the other note taking iOS apps) has a feature which allows you to write in a zoomed text box at the bottom of the screen and have your writing scaled to a much smaller size in the note itself. The result is a set of digital notes that approaches the information density of handwritten ones. I can’t imagine myself using a notetaking app that doesn’t include this feature.

A note about styli: I purchased the Maglus stylus for my note taking. It’s got just the right amount of heft for me, and it sticks magnetically to the edge of the iPad or top of the Smart Cover I use. I haven’t testing others, but I can recommend the Maglus.

The app isn’t limited to handwritten notes. You can also add typed text, predefined shapes, and images from the camera roll or directly from the iPad camera. The predefined shapes include various boxes, arrows, pointers, and flowcharting tools as well as various types of axes for mathematical plots, musical staffs, architectural diagrams, and timestamps to attach the current date and time to your document.

Until last week I used a single-page paper form to prepare for and take notes during my weekly one-on-one meetings with my staff. Note Taker HD can take a PDF document and import it as a template. Now when I create a new document I have “One-on-one Form” as a one-tap option. The PDF template functions like a background image that I can write, type, or draw on during my meeting.

You want document tags? Note Taker HD’s got ’em. You can define your own list of tags and apply any number of them to a document in one step. This is especially useful in another paperless workflow I’ll be posting about soon.

Your Note Taker HD notes are easily exported as PDFs via email or opened in any other PDF-capable app on your iPad such as Apple’s own iBooks or the Swiss Army knife viewer GoodReader. You can also print your notes if you have access to an AirPrint-capable printer or have AirPrint Activator installed on your computer.

There’s an excellent 10-minute video on the Note Take HD web site. If you think you might be interested in the app, I would recommend watching the video to get a good sense of the features and interface. The built-in help is extensive too, and I’ve never failed to find what I needed there.

The iPad note taking app marketplace is crowded. Lots of apps share a relatively standard set of features with significantly different implementations. Note Taker HD works the best for me, and I’m recommending it to the instructional coaches, principals, and others at work who are interested in using their iPads to go paperless.

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