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this week i am // Tuesday Review – Notes Plus: Absolutely Stupendous

This entry is part of the series twia: iPad Handwriting Apps

Reviewing Notes Plus this early in the week has put me in a little bit of predicament: I don’t want to continue with the schedule of apps that I already have laid out because Notes Plus is so incredibly perfect. This app has beat my expectations in every way for what an iPad handwriting app should be, and I have very little motivation to review the other apps I have lined up for this week i am. We’ll see how this goes, and I’ll post any changed to the schedule if I feel that it is necessary.

When I originally set the lineup for the apps that I planned to review this week, I avoided looking at other writers’ reviews because I did not want them to bias my own reviews. Now that I think about it, I should have definitely read other reviews because then I would have known that Notes Plus is an early winner. I tallied up the score, and although this app did fall short in a few areas that I set out in my criteria, it garnered enough bonus points to come in with a score of 501/505 or a 99.2% A+. Honestly, the criteria I originally set was so strict that I thought no app would get above an A-. Notes Plus has proven me wrong. Let’s break down what’s awesome about this app below.

speed

This app is incredibly fast, and it was actually difficult to test according to my original criteria because it has features that I was not expecting. The app takes about a second to turn on earning it a 9/10 for that criterion, but I had some trouble judging the others. The speed it took to load a notebook was impossible to judge because there is no main screen to the app. When you turn it on for the first time, it drops you into a Getting Started guide, and you go from there. If you want to choose a different notebook, you click on the icon to load the library, choose another notebook, and it loads it up in the main area of the app nearly instantly. The time is takes to return to the main screen is also impossible to judge since this app doesn’t have a main screen.

Because Notes Plus is lacking this two features that seem pretty important, I wasn’t sure how to judge it. Technically, I think that the scores should just be eliminated and not count toward the total, but that would be unfair to this app for one main reason: this nonstandard way of managing the navigation between notebooks is much better than any sort of typically main screen system. This is actually an improvement on what I was expecting, so I’ll make the score for both of these criteria a 10 out of 10.

navigation and organization

The navigational and organizational structure of Notes Plus is really exactly what I was hoping for. The app includes a folder structure that can easily nest notebooks by semester, subject, etc. From the library menu, you can create a new notebook, or a new folder that will help you to keep everything organized. Even once you are inside of a folder, you can create another folder for even more levels of organization. Because Notes Plus allows this folder-in-a-folder organizational structure, if I decide to use this app this upcoming semester, I will surely organize my notebooks by Semester Folder > Class Folder > Notebooks. This should make it easy to keep lecture notes, homework, and assignments organized neatly, and it earns the app 5/5 points.

When you choose a notebook from the library menu, Notes Plus automatically opens the notebook to the last page viewed. This is extremely helpful when you are in a hurry and you want to quickly find a today’s lecture notes or last night’s homework problems. 5/5 points.

Visual page selection actually met all of the requirements that I had set out and earned the app one bonus point. If you click on an arrow beside a notebook in the library menu, you are taken to a list of all of the pages in the notebook. On this listing, not only are you able to see a thumbnail preview of the notebook page, but you are also able to see the title of that page. This is certainly not a feature that I was expecting. In Notes Plus, it’s possible to name each page individually by clicking a small arrow near the page number and entering a name into the text box that appears. This can make it very, very easy to find a page by topic, date, or any other classification you can think of. For the visual page selection criterion, Notes Plus has earned 6 out of 5 points. Yes, you read that right, I threw in a bonus point because I was so impressed with this feature.

One of the few areas that this app falls short is visual notebook selection. It is not possible to see a thumbnail preview of what is in a notebook before you open it. Obviously, you could just read the title to figure that out, but I have a very visual memory, and it would be easier to pick what notebook I want quickly if I saw a picture of what is inside. The app does allow you to choice one of maybe 10 icons for the notebook icon, but that doesn’t help me too much, so I’ll give it just 3/5 points.

You’d think that such a basic feature like page number navigation would be included in a powerful app like this and… well… it is. If you want to go to a specific page in a notebook, you just need to tap the current page number in the top left corner of the app and type in a number when the text “Jump to page…” appears. Coincidentally, this is the area where you name a page; the left-pointing arrow beside the box is the arrow that you have to click to be able to name a page. For the inclusion of such an obvious feature, I’ll give it a 5 out of 5.

One interesting feature that I want to note is an additional way to advance to the next page: if you swipe your finger up from the bottom until about half way up the page, the notebook will automatically advance to the next page. This isn’t really a spectacular feature, but it is just something interesting to note.

notebook manipulation

Manipulating the pages in a notebook is pretty important to me, so I’m glad that Notes Plus makes it easy. Automatic page addition is certainly included in this powerful app; if you are at the end of a notebook, hitting the button that advances you to the next page will automatically create a new one. Once again, and obvious feature, so it gets 10/10 easy points.

Page deletion is included, but it’s not the easiest thing to use. After opening the library menu, you have to go to the list of pages in a notebook (the library menu shows the notebook as a whole by default), then swipe a page to delete it. This takes a few more steps than I would like, so I’ll give that a 9/10.

The complement to page deletion, page addition, is pretty easy to take advantage of in Notes Plus. When you have a notebook open and you are on the editor screen, there are two options present for page addition in the tools menu, marked “Add page before” and “Add page after.” Choosing one of these will, you guessed it, add a page before or after your current one, which you can then navigate to using any of the navigation methods mentioned previously. There is also another way to add pages to a notebook, one that can be used for editing large notebooks more rapidly. In the library menu, at the visual page selection screen, you can simply choose a page, then hit the add page button in the top right. That should give you a prompt that will allow you to add a page before or after the current one. It’s as easy as that, so I’ll give the app 10 out of 10 points.

I have not found a way to easily clear a page, so I’ll have to dock the app some points, but it turns out that using Notes Plus’s eraser to erase a whole page isn’t that hard. 2/5 points for missing a feature, but making up for it with other easy-to-use features.

in and out

This app links to Dropbox! I’m in love with it already. It seems pretty easy to set up a link with a Dropbox account, which then automatically backs up all notebooks to the cloud in the native format! Automatically! The only real problem that I had with this was in a long pane that had a dozen other apps options, so it was a bit tricky to find. Otherwise, 8/8 points for the Dropbox integration, and 2/2 points for the Dropbox integration saving native file formats. It doesn’t support automatically backing up PDF files to Dropbox, but I realized that I botched that criterion in my uPad review, so I will give Notes Plus 5/5 points in that area as well. Just like uPad, Notes Plus allows you to send PDF files to Dropbox, but it doesn’t back them up automatically, unfortunately.

Notes Plus also supports the ability to export PDF files by email, which is great for when everybody starts asking to borrow my notes. The great thing about this is that it’s a one-step process: pick the export to email option and the app will automatically convert the notebook to a PDF and open it in the iPad’s default mail client. That right there is worth two bonus points, so Notes Plus’s score for email export is 12/10 points.

PDF conversion is also a feature that’s available in this app. It’s pretty easy to use, too. Just tap the PDF export button, choose the app that you want to open the PDF in, and Notes Plus will automatically convert your notebook to a PDF and send it to the right place. I could use this to send an annotated paper to Mendeley, save something to Evernote, etc., so the app has earned 5/5 points.

Considering all of the PDF features that are packed into this app, it’s no wonder that Notes Plus also includes the ability to import PDFs and manipulate them as if they were native notebooks. This feature has one very odd quirk, however: you can’t open a PDF in the app from inside the app. You have to go to whatever app is hosting a PDF, then choose “Open in Notes Plus” from there. This is similar to other apps, but it doesn’t save PDF files for you to reuse; in uPad, if I want to open some sort of template PDF, I know that I can open a fresh copy from the “Add” menu down below. In any case, the app has earned 12 out of 15 points for PDF import features and 25 out of 25 points for PDF manipulation features.

handwriting

The handwriting features of Notes Plus have impressed me most of all. There are many pen sizes ranging from very thin to very thick, with a slider that allows you to choose any size in between (10/10 points), and there is a color palette containing 14 different variations of common colors (10/10 points). The app has no custom color chooser whatsoever, so that’s 0/5 points right there.

Notes Plus does offer many options for backgrounds with 11 total (10/10 points). Although there aren’t as many offered as an app like uPad, I found no use for many of uPad’s backgrounds. Notes Plus’s backgrounds all appeared to be something I could make use of. This app does offer a line chooser, but it only allows you to change the spacing of ruled lines, not graph lines or any other type, and you are unable to change the color, so I will give it 8 points out of 10. Another cool feature that I found in this app is ability to customize everything about a page; page margins, line space, page width, and page height are all completely customizable, which is something that I think is unique to Notes Plus.

The palm rest of this app is perfect; it’s a smooth slide-out from the bottom, and there are no limits of where it can go. For some odd reason, you can even drag it all the way up to the top of the screen so that it even covers the menus at the top. I suspect that the palm rest has such a large range of coverage because it is possible to make the writing area of a notebook display fullscreen, so it’s actually possible to write in the area where the top menus are. The palm rest doesn’t automatically close at the bottom, so it has certainly earned a full 20 out of 20 points.

The magnifier window (20/20 points)is something that I never expected to have so many features. Although it took me awhile to figure out how to launch it (just long press anywhere in the writing area), once I had it going I was seriously impressed by the functionality offered. Not only can you change the area magnified simply by moving a zoom scroll wheel that allows you to zoom as far or as close as you want, but you can also control how many lines are actually shown in the zoom window. I obviously wanted the actual zoomed area to be resizeable (5/5 points), but I never thought that the window you write in could be resizeable as well.

As far as the autoscrolling system (5/5 points) goes, Notes Plus has something very unique. When you get near the end of the window that you are writing in, a gray box appears to the left side of the magnification window, that contains what you are currently writing as well as some blank space. When you get to the far right side of the zoom box, you just start writing in the far left gray area to resume where you left off. This system is much more intuitive than what I have seen on other apps; a lot of them automatically move the zoom window once you get to a certain point, while this one doesn’t advance until you consciously acknowledge that you are moving on to the next line. And of course, you can move (5/5 points) the zoom box to anywhere on your current page and start writing in detail.

Handwriting, yes, even my chicken scratch, comes out very smooth with the ink system implement in Notes Plus. The smoothing system will automatically round sharp corners and smooth out jitters in your writing that are a common occurrence on the iPad. The system is even adjustable, allowing you to control the degree of smoothness that the app produces, so you can fine-tune it to your particular handwriting style. This has certainly earned Notes Plus 20 points out of 20 in the smooth handwriting category.

Notes Plus not only produces smooth handwriting, but accurate handwriting as well with major help from the zoom window, earning it 20 out of 20 points in this category. However, you don’t even need to use the zoom window to produce accurate writing and drawings; Notes Plus has so many little options that you can tweak to fit your handwriting style that it’s sure to produce perfectly formed letters after a little bit of work.

typing

This one is a quickie: Notes Plus has great, full-featured typing capabilities with lots of options like fonts, colors, sizes, and placement, earning it a score of 20/20 in the typing category and 10/10 in the typing features category.

geometry

The geometry features of Notes Plus have truly impressed me. Not only does it offer full support for a wide range of shapes, but it can automatically interpret shapes that you draw freehand. Draw a square and it will automatically straighten out the side and fix the lengths to make it perfect. Draw a circle and half a second later, you will have a perfect circle automatically generated by the software. This will be immensely helpful to me, as I often have to draw geometric diagrams for technical classes. This app has certainly earned 10 out of 10 points as well as 2 bonus points for the awesome auto shape features.

undo/redo

You would think that undo and redo would be really, really hard to mess up, especially in an app as robust as Notes Plus, but you’d be wrong. The app only earned 4 points out of 5 in this category because although a redo button in prominently displayed in the top right corner, if I want to redo an action, I have to long press the undo button undo a prompt appears.

handwriting recognition

The handwriting recognition features of Notes Plus have earned it a whopping 12 bonus points. Not only is the feature easy to use (write something, draw a circle around it, click “Convert to Text”), but it is insanely accurate. I have never met a handwriting recognition engine that’s able to read my awful handwriting, but this one is. It even properly interpreted letters that I had connected together, like all of the letters in the word “the.” The crazy thing is that it interpreted my handwriting perfectly. Now, if I wanted, I could easily convert the notebook to a PDF, send it off to Dropbox, pull the file up on my computer, and slap the notes into Microsoft Word or LaTeX.

It was strangely difficult to find and purchase this feature. Most of the time, apps scream in your face about all of their in-app purchases, but this one took me a good 15 minutes to find. All you have to do to buy/use it is draw a circle around any handwritten text, choose the context menu that is now available, and press the “Convert to Text” button. Simple as that.

overall

As you may have already figured out from reading the above review, I really like this app. Now, here are my overall impressions of it.

Notes Plus is certainly very snappy. There are certainly some times when it could have been faster, but considering the massive amount of features packed in to this single app, I’d say it was reasonable fast. Menus were easy to navigated, notebooks loaded quickly, and I didn’t get much lag when I was writing or typing. The quick start guide notes that the app can get laggy after awhile, but it includes some simple tips to solve that problem, so it shouldn’t be a huge problem for anyone. Because of this, I will give Notes Plus 20 out of 20 points for snappiness.

As for the design of the app, I’m not going to be able to give it a perfect score; 45 points out of 50 feels appropriate. Although the app is pretty well designed, there is a good bit of skeuomorphism going on, the design isn’t as simple as it could be, and it feels like it’s straight out of “Web 2.0.” There are way too many gradients per square inch for my liking. Some simple tweaks could make this an app with a beautifully designed interface, but until those tweaks come, I’m sticking with my score.

This app absolutely had the appropriate number of features; it’s marketed as a full-featured app, and I didn’t find it lacking very much in any areas. 50/50 points.

This app seems like it is updated pretty frequently, which is good because I can imagine that bugs arise quite often. It doesn’t seem like the development team is going to give up on this one anytime soon. 10 points out of 10.

Finally, the developer was very friendly when I originally contacted for a promo code. This shows that the developer is committed to making a great product, so they have earned 10 points out of 10 for friendliness.

conclusion

There are a ton of other cool features in this app that I didn’t have room to cover. This review is already well over 3,000 words, and I just scratched the surface. I do, however, want to mention one feature that really impressed and led me to add 3 bonus points to this app’s score: the ability to select and move text and handwriting. If you just draw a circle around a few elements, you are able to resize them, copy them, or move them wherever you want. This is always a feature that I wish I had with uPad, and I’m surprised that any app actually implemented it.

Overall, this app is terrific. I’m going to rearrange my schedule for the rest of this week’s reviews, because there are some under-powered apps on the list that aren’t even worth reviewing at this point. Notes Plus is clearly an awesome app, and I think it’s worth a look if you are in the market for a new iPad handwritten note app.

Note: this app was provided to me for review purposes free of charge by the app developer. Although that fact did not sway my opinion in either direction, I am still required to disclose this information by the FTC. You can view more information about my disclosure policy here.

Categories: this week i am.

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One Response

  1. And you didn’t even mention the ability to browse the web from within the app. and capture any area you like from any web page to be copied to the notebook page you’re currently working with…

    And, btw, you can delete the whole content of a page (or any part of it) by circling it and choosing ‘delete’ from the resulting menu.

    Mal FunctionAugust 1, 2012 @ 3:36 amReply



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