If you're going to use an iPad for work or school, you need a note-taking app (or two) that meet your needs and that you enjoy using. If you find an app that offers all the bells and whistles you think you need, but you dread launching the darn thing, you won't use it. The iPad app Noteshelf ($5.99) gets more than halfway there on both accounts, but doesn't quite follow through and deliver everything an avid note taker might need, nor deliver it in a package that you'd necessarily want to look at day in and day out.
Noteshelf offers three signature features. First, it organizes notes into visual notebooks, which sit on a shelf that looks stunningly similar to Apple's iBooks app. If you like the idea of seeing your notes in a book, which you can title and design, this feature may help you keep track of your notes. It's really a more of a design trick than anything else, seeing as most note-taking apps give you some kind of mechanism for sorting or organizing notes?it's just that they're not always visual.
Second, Noteshelf supports not only handwriting and sketching, but also typed text, which not all note-taking apps do.
Third, this note-taking app has a well designed zoom tool, which serious note-takers know is a necessity for handwritten and sketched notes on the iPad. Touch-screen writing tends to get sloppy without it.
While these three signature features do create a decent foundation for Noteshelf, none of them are unique. For example, Penultimate uses the same visual notebook method of organization as Noteshelf, but costs one-sixth of the price. Penultimate, however, was specifically designed to handle handwriting and sketching and does not even include a keyboard in the app. Our favorite iPad note-taking app overall has been Note Taker HD? (4.5 stars and an Editors' Choice), and it allows for both typed text and sketching or handwritten text. It also has a zoom mode, and one that's just as good if not better than Noteshelf's. Note Taker HD comes with a few advantages over Noteshelf, too, which I'll explain in a moment.
With its signature features, Noteshelf seems like a capable enough note-taking application, but when I got down to actually using it, I found it to be missing a few critical components.
Like any well-rounded note-taking app, Noteshelf lets you import images, which you can paste into a note and mark up. Unfortunately, once you affix an image to a note, you can't select it to move it or crop it. The app doesn't have a pan tool at all (in the slideshow images, you may notice a hand icon, which is in fact a wrist protection feature and not the panning button it appears to be).
Without a pan tool or selection tool of some kind, it's next to impossible to move anything around the note page. Say you import an image, then mark it up with pen notes and highlighter marks. Now perhaps you'll add a text box to type a label for the image or additional notes about it. The note may start to get cluttered, and if you could only just shift some of the page elements a few inches this way or that, you could probably fit everything you want on the page. But in Noteshelf, you can't easily drag page elements to a new place.
I hinted earlier that Note Taker HD has a few advantages over Noteshelf, and the ability to more easily manipulate (crop, move) PDFs and images that you import is one. Another is support for left-handed people.
While I don't want to have unrealistic expectations for an iPad app, I did notice that Noteshelf flattens your notes immediately?meaning if you import an image, mark it up, and then go to erase one of your marks, you'll also be erasing the image that's beneath the marks. I really wouldn't expect to see layering enabled on a simple mobile note-taking app, and Noteshelf actually does get around this problem by supporting multiple undos. So you can erase or you can hit undo.
Penultimate, you'll remember, does not have any typed text support whatsoever, but one thing it has that Noteshelf doesn't is a "clear page" button. In Noteshelf, if you want o clear a note page entirely, you'll have to select the eraser button and rub the entire screen (or hit undo as many times as it takes).
Which App to Choose?
If your notes will include a mix of typed text and handwritten or sketched notes, I'd recommend Note Taker HD over Noteshelf. It costs a dollar less and has more. If you don't need to include typed notes, I would suggest going with the 99-cent app Penultimate.
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