avatarby Tab TimesDecember 10, 20110 comments

You can do more than just touch keys on an iPad—you can write on it too.

Handwriting productivity apps are plentiful in the App Store, ranging in price, features and usability. TabTimes spent numerous hours with the nine most popular apps in an attempt to quantify their potential usefulness in work environments. We tested the apps by drawing flowcharts, creating documents, handwriting short notes, and a few other tasks.

Other features and functions we considered as we reviewed this batch of handwriting apps were:

● Ability to sync with Google Docs and/or Dropbox
● PDF export capability
● Integration of audio notes
● Typed text integration
● Ability to import and annotate pictures and PDFs
● Ability to zoom in order to squeeze in text

Enough intro. Let's get on with the round-up.



While this is a handy note-taking app, it will likely be too basic for many business owners. Penultimate's overall user interface is simple and uncluttered, though it does offer limited options for script size and color.
The app provides the ability to insert a picture for annotation, but you cannot insert another document, PDF or even mix and match with typed text. Options for outputting the notebook are limited to sending your notes via email or saving as a photo (.png format).

TabTimes Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: Easy to use and get started
Cons: Missing business features, such as syncing and PDF document export


This app offers the ability to mix typed text with handwriting. The app also provides export capability to Google Docs as a PDF. Paperdesk provides lots of color and pen size choices from the slider bar at the top of the screen (and 4 quick choices as well). Unfortunately, in limited testing, the undo function didn't always seem to work as expected for unknown reasons.
Paperdesk also includes audio recording functionality, though the implementation is not quite as seamless as it could be. Instead of simply being embedded into a given page, recordings are available for any page, making accessing these notes more cumbersome than say, Evernote. That said, the recording playback system does have a neat feature that links an audio recording to handwritten notes. Doing this will take you to the point in the recording when the tapped word was written.

Paperdesk Lite differs from the fully paid version of the app by limiting users to only 3 notebooks with 3 pages each.

TabTimes Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Text input and Google Docs sync
Cons: Disconnected audio

Notes Plus

Notes Plus enables a mix of handwriting and typed text with lots of options for customization. This app also has a handy shape detection feature that will make your squares and circles look better. You can also use shapes to move text (handwritten or otherwise) by simply drawing a circle around the text and then dragging and dropping. Integrated per-page audio recording is also key feature of this app, though there doesn't appear to be an easy way to export the audio.
From a handwriting perspective, there is a zoom view which is useful (it's hard to squeeze as much into the width of an iPad screen full size as you would on a piece of paper). The only problem is that the zoom mode is a little clunky in that it doesn't automatically scroll along a horizontal or vertical line.
TabTimes Rating: 4 out of 5 
Pros: Google Docs and Dropbox sync. Audio recording integrated with pages. Shape recognition. Easy to move text.
Cons: Zoom mode scrolling is challenging


DocAS has a more confusing interface than other apps in this category. It does, however, offer some additional power-user features, including the ability to import a document from markup from multiple sources including iTunes, Google Docs, Dropbox or even just a URL link.
Audio recording capability is present, though it's not integrated with specific pages and does not provide an easy way to keep track of multiple recordings.
TabTimes Rating 3 out of 5
Pros: Document import and text input are better than most apps
Cons: Audio file handling isn't intuitive

Note Taker HD

This app had the busiest interface of any of the handwriting apps in this roundup. The icons don't look or feel like iPad icons and the app interface is somewhat clunky to navigate around in.
On the plus side, Note Taker HD has excellent PDF import/export capabilities, making this a useful tool for annotating or signing PDF documents. The zoom feature does have an auto advance that works, for those who want to squeeze as much as they can onto the screen.
TabTimes Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: PDF annotation, auto scroll zoom
Cons: clunky interface difficult to navigate.


Noteshelf is a solid app with export options for Evernote, PDF and Dropbox. It also has an easily identifiable highlighter tool that makes this a great choice for annotating text.

A zoom box allows you to squeeze in more handwritten text, but it's a bit clunky in terms of interface size. The zoom box does however auto-scroll, which we consider a must-have feature.

TabTimes Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Good export options, text highlighter
Cons: No text input

Bamboo Paper

Bambo Paper is developed by drawing tablet vendor Wacom. (You do not need a Wacom tablet or stylus to run the app, however).

This is a decent, though basic app that simply lets you put your handwriting on a page. Stylus size options are limited to three sizes and there is no type text capability. Export options are pretty limited, and include the ability to save notes as an image.
TabTimes Rating: 2 out of 5
Pros: It's free and works
Cons: No typed text, limited export options


UPAD has an easy-to-use interface and offers the ability to mix handwritten and typed text.

There are lots of ink width options and there is an easy-to-use icon for highlighting items. Zoom input mode is present, although the auto-scoller isn't intuitive; you write until you reach the end of the line in the zoom box and then are bounced back to the left, even though the actual text on-screen continues to the right.

The difference between the free Lite version and full versions seems to be export options, which include export to PDF and Twitter and Facebook sharing options.
TabTimes Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Mixed typed and handwritten text, note templates and organizational features
Cons: Clunky auto-scroll


Writepad is the most expensive app in our handwriting apps roundup, and it's also the most unique. This is a handwriting recognition app, and as such offers the promise of being able to take your handwriting and convert it into text. Unfortunately, unless you wite like a machine, you're going to have to spend a considerable  amount of time training the program. In our limited testing, handwriting recognition was initially erratic, with little improvement over a few hours' time.
Writepad syncs with Google Docs and also provides sharing on Twitter and Facebook.
TabTimes Rating: 3 out of 5
Pros: Handwriting recognition
Cons: Handwriting recognition takes time to work properly until it 'learns'

Winner: Notes Plus

While there are a lot of interesting apps in this category, Notes Plus is our winner for having the most robust feature set, while maintaining the ease of use that professional tablet users demand. Integration of shape detection, audio, typed text and good syncing options make it a good choice for business and consumer users alike.
This said, none of the apps we tried were perfect, which means there is still room for improvement. We'll continue to check in on this category.