October 17, 2010

Note Taker HD

I wanted to try an experiment to see how well I could write a blog entry on my iPad. I've been looking for ways to blog more, since I rarely have my laptop, but using the built-in notepad just doesn't seem right. I've been looking over all the writing apps for iPad (well, salivating is more likely, or obsessing) and haven't been able to pull the trigger on anything really. For now, I'm playing with the free app PlainText. Why? Um, because it's free. If I can write a full post with this easily, maybe I'll blow some $$ on a real text editing app.

What did I want to blog about? I know I need to post an update to my planning software saga. Sam reminded me of that a while ago, and that will probably be my next post if this experiment goes well (spoiler alert, I've switched to OmniFocus). What I wanted to mention first, though, is that I seem to have found a really great solution for my OCD about writing (and making a mess) on clean sheets of paper.

To recap, I hate soiling clean paper with notes, scribbles, or basically anything it's supposed to be used for. Just writing on a clean sheet of paper (or postits, or a notebook) fills me with dread about making mistakes and having to make corrections. The solution is to find something on which I can infinitely erase. I've found that something on my iPad. It's an app called Note Taker HD.

There are a couple of really great features for this app, but the main one is that I can write in my own handwriting AND get more than 5 or 6 lines on a page (unlike something like Penultimate). How does it accomplish this feat? There's this ingenious mode (called Edit2) where you write in a separate box in a slightly larger size that's quite comfortable for a tablet and it scales it down to "normal" size automatically. It also auto-advances so you can write like normal and it "just works". You can also write in "real" size, directly on the screen, but I rarely do that.

Why is this so great for me? I can erase to my heart's content and the pages never get messed up. It's such a simple thing. I know, I'm crazy.

Another great feature of Note Taker HD is that you can import PDFs and use them as page backgrounds to write on instead of the built-in lined or graph paper backgrounds. I do this for my Japanese workbook pages, which I've scanned. I can write directly on the page and if I mess up horribly (as I tend to do writing Kanji), I can just erase it and do it again. It also allows me to keep the original workbook clean so I can redo assignments later without the answers being there forever. The background and my annotations can then be exported as a new PDF and saved off for my records.

Having multiple virtual workbooks also soothes my OCD of interleaving unrelated work notes within the same paper notebook. Pretty much any note taking app can do this, but this functionality alone is liberating.

For this to be so effective, it needs to be in my own handwriting. Yet this is an iPad. How does that work? Actually quite well. I purchased a "pen" by BoxWave which had a special capacitive nub at the end. I can write on the pad as if it's a sheet of paper and the magic happens. The BoxWave stylus is really nice. The tip of the Pogo stylus isn't quite as solid. I love the feel of the BoxWave. Yes, it's a bit annoying if I don't have my special pen near me and I need to write something down, but I can still use my finger in a pinch. Believe it or not, that ends up looking more than my real handwriting than I ever would have imagined.

If you are look for a note taking app for iPad, look no further than Note Taker HD. Its user interface isn't perfect (it's clearly designed by an engineer, the guy who wrote VisiCalc -- I'm not making this up) but the Edit2 mode is nothing short of revolutionary for writing. Finally, it appears my experiment us successful: I've "penned" a blog post without wanting to shoot myself. PlainText is a winner, even if free, and with DropBox integration, who needs much more?

Posted by pinkerton at October 17, 2010 11:38 AM | TrackBack