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Top 5: Notebook apps for your iPad

There are notebook apps in abundance on the iOS app store, but which ones work well and which ones aren't bothering with? Here's our guide to five of the best...

Thinkbook in action

When a search for the word ‘note’ in the iOS App Store bring sup over 700 apps for the iPad and nearly double that for the iPhone, you know you’re looking at a bloated market. Notebook apps are certainly in vogue with developers and iOS users alike and everyone’s got different opinions on what makes a great one, but how do you go about sorting the wheat from the chaff? That’s simple, read this blog and we’ll do it for you! Here’s our guide to the top 5 note-taking apps for your iPad.

Noteshelf Icon
1. Noteshelf (£2.99/$4.99, App Store)
Opening Noteshelf presents you with an incredibly iBooks-like shelf system for storing, accessing and organising all of your notebooks. Each notebook can be configured to have different covers for easy identification, and similar notebooks can be grouped together (iOS – style) on a shelf. The organisational UI is where Noteshelf’s developers have seriously excelled themselves, and it’s why this app has earnt its place in our top 5. There’s a few things that stop Noteshelf from being perfect in our eyes, such as the inability to change paper type on individual notes within a notebook (okay, so you can’t do that in real life either, but as this is virtual we think you should be able to mess around), and the menu bar within notes being a little clunky, but overall this app is great, and we haven’t even got onto the export settings.

Once your happy with how your note is looking, and you want to share it or sync it, you simply tap the binoculars in the menu bar to view all notes in that notebook, then tap export. From here, you can select individual or groups of pages to export and then choose your export options…and options you do have. As well as being able to choose between image and PDF file types for exporting your notes, you can also choose to send it via email, add it to your iPad’s photo albums, transfer it to your Mac via iTunes or even back it up using Evernote or Dropbox. This definitely just about covers everyone’s export needs. We’re impressed.

2. Thinkbook (£2.99/$4.99, App Store)
Thinkbook appears to have established itself as the Swiss Army Knife of notebook apps, allowing you to create a myriad of note types including projects, questions, to-do lists, and much more. Add to that the ability to export your notes as text files or back up and sync them using Dropbox, and you’ve got yourself an app that seems to cover a lot of bases.

Thinkbook in action
Thinkbook in action

There’s only two negatives to Thinkbook; the learning curve and the lack of freeform drawing support. Thinkbook’s system focuses around the slider on the right of every note, copying and pasting information involves dragging lines of your notes on to the slider, and then clicking on it elsewhere to paste. The slider also performs a lot of other functions within Thinkbook so you may have to take a good read of its manual before you can really get started. That said, it is pretty easy once and even quite intuitive once you’ve got your head round it, just be prepared to take a little time to learn. Secondly, this app seems to be geared towards a text-based note-taker as opposed to anyone who likes to do anything a little more creative. It’s more of a wishlist on our part as opposed to a criticism, but we’d love to see the opportunity for freeform drawing made available in a later update or release.

Notebooks Icon
3. Notebooks (£5.99/$8.99, App Store)
Notebooks argues that if Hemingway were alive, he’d be using this app right now, and it certainly does look the part. Pinstripe backgrounds and soft cream notebooks make for an aesthetically pleasing app, and it performs well too. Aside from having a very clear, and easy to navigate structure, Notebooks allows you to do all the things we’ve already come to expect from a notebook app, including the coveted freeform drawing ability.

Freeform drawing in Notebooks isn’t as smooth as what’s on offer by some of the other apps, there’s no smoothing of lines or huge range of colours to choose from, but it does work, and it works well if you’re just looking to sketch out a quick idea for later reference. One of the highlights of this app is the passcode lock feature. When you create a notebook or note, you can choose whether or not to protect it with a passcode. Once the app is launched, passcode protected notes and notebooks wont show up until you’ve entered that all-important four-digit PIN.

Bamboo Paper
Bamboo Paper

4. Bamboo Paper (Free, App Store)
We had high hopes for Wacom’s Bamboo Paper. After all, haven’t they been making tablets and writing interfaces for years? Did they live up to the hype? The frustrating answer is….almost. The app, unsurprisingly, focuses on freeform drawing to create notes, and that’s where its strengths lie. Aside from smoothing out your squiggly lines, it’s very intuitive, simple to use, and creates hand-drawn notes that would earn their place underneath the digital fridge magnetic on your digital fridge door.

The only negatives to this app are that although it’s a free download from the App Store, a full version of this app is actually available as an in-app purchase, and without that, it’s a bit limited. It’s still a great app, and in some ways a great way to try it out before you shell out any of your hard-earned cash, but we’d have loved to have seen both a free and paid version on the App Store for the sake of clarity.

5. Notes (Free, It’s already on your iPad!)
As usual we’re cheating a little with our fifth app, not because we’re lazy but because it is still a good options! Apple’s built-in notes app allows you to create individual notes, email them to friends, and sync via Google Mail, example. It might not be as full-featured as some of the other apps we’ve discussed, but if you’re looking for simple, free, that just works, then tap that notes icon now.

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