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The Best Note-Taking Apps for the iPad

note-taking ipad apps
Hey, student! Did you like our list of the best PDF-reading iPad apps last week? We know that you can't get through your classes with just a handful of essays loaded onto your 'Pad, though, so we've come up with a list of note-taking apps that will help you ditch the spiral notebook and go entirely digital.

We're not masters at typing on the iPad's touchscreen just yet, and we find those Bluetooth and USB-connected keyboards a bit cumbersome to lug to lectures, so we tried out the Pogo Sketch stylus on some of the drawing-enabled apps we have listed below. Is it worth it? For $15, it's no miracle device (in fact, just a piece of aluminum with a specially fitted tip), but we found that it did improve our writing ability on the iPad. (Not impressed? You could always get one of those Korean sausage styluses, and feed yourself when the ramen doesn't cut it.) Still, read on to see which apps will best fit your educational needs, doodad in hand or not.

'Simplenote'

simplenote
Next to the native app provided by Apple, 'Simplenote' is one of the most basic note-taking apps we've seen. It requires a free account to get started, which you can use to to share your notes either as a text-based e-mail or dedicated Web page. Sadly, you can only use the keyboard to input text, and it has no audio-recording feature like some of the other apps we tested. The interface is clean and easy, with a pop-up sidebar that allows you to access your notes either in chronological order or by tag. One big draw, however, is that it remembers every version of a given note, allowing you to go back to see earlier edits or accidentally deleted text.

Verdict: Shows note version history. Limited sharing options. Requires account.
Price: Free

'SoundNote'

soundnote
Say you're not a perfect note-taker, and prefer to just record your lectures for later transcription. 'SoundNote' (formerly 'SoundPaper') captures audio and lets you scribble or type at the same time. You could be drawing your diagrams of propane molecules while your ancient professor natters on about whatever, and you don't even have to pay attention! But let's hope that your auditorium has a decent sound system and acoustics, as the iPad's built-in mic isn't professional quality. Still, if you manage to get a decent recording, you can PDF your diagrams, e-mail them with your audio files to use on other devices, or share them with truant roommates. You can also connect to your computer via Wi-Fi, and drop the files directly onto your hard drive.

Verdict: Good sharing options for audio and notes.
Price: $4.99

'Evernote'

evernote
'Evernote' is one of the more popular note-taking apps around, probably due to the fact that it's free and available on a variety of platforms (Mac, PC, iPad, iPhone, Android, Blackberry, etc.). Like 'SoundNote' and 'Notepad Pro,' it allows you to take notes while recording audio (but only for a maximum of 20 minutes). It doesn't give you the option to write or draw with your finger or stylus, but it does sport one of the prettiest and most accessible interfaces of those we've seen. Sharing is limited to e-mail, but the app syncs all of your notes with your 'Evernote' account, so that you can access them from any computer or Web-enabled mobile device. The price is perfect for typing-oriented note-takers, although we would love to have the option to draw.

Verdict: Syncs with Web account. Accessible on a variety of devices. Limited audio recording time. No drawing feature.
Price: Free

'Notepad Pro'

notepad pro
Much like 'SoundNote,' 'Notepad Pro' lets you record audio while typing or drawing. Although it doesn't connect directly to your computer, it does save your notes as PDFs, which can then be e-mailed along with the audio files. The drawing feature also sports more options, such as variations in color and pen size. A handful of semi-needless backgrounds (like white or yellow graph and line paper formats) are included for note-taking aesthetes. But its biggest draw over 'SoundNote' is that it's cheaper: only $3. And, if you're devoted to using a stylus, 'Notepad Pro' customers apparently get 15-percent off a new Pogo to boot.

Verdict: Nearly the same features as SoundNote, with a couple more options and less cost.
Price: $2.99

'Notetaker HD'

notetaker hd
'Notetaker HD,' a simple note-making app that sports an organized, if initially confusing, interface. Thumbnails allow you to quickly view all of your notes on a pop-up sidebar, although the navigation through the app's variety of options can be labyrinthine. The prime feature of 'Notetaker HD' is that it allows you to write with your finger or stylus in a large box at the bottom of your document for better accuracy. The text is then added to the rest of your notes, giving your page the look of actual handwriting (as opposed to the large child-like scrawl you get in other apps). It also features a "wrist guard" feature, which prevents you from accidentally making strokes with the side of your hand as you rest it on the screen (one of the bigger drawbacks of the other apps above). While you have the option of e-mailing your notes as PDFs or JPEGs, and you can set up background templates for frequently used documents, we found the auto-advancing feature for regular writing to be somewhat clunky. For $5, we didn't love the fact that we had to continually gesture back and forth to get the line of text to move. Still, the app might be worth it for imprecise writers looking to have more legibility in their notes.

Verdict: Imbalanced interface. Clunky auto-advancing for writing notes. Better writing simulation.
Price: $4.99

'Writepad'

writepad
What if you can't even read your own chicken scratch? 'Writepad,' while a tad on the expensive side, could be a solution with its handwriting-recognition software. While the interface is confusing at first (and ugly as sin), we quickly figured out how to "teach" 'Writepad' our awful handwriting so that it could be transcribed to text. (You can even build your own shorthand gestures for commonly used words or phrases.) If the program fails to recognize certain words, you can always go back with either your finger/stylus or the keyboard to fix them. Although you can't save your notes as PDFs, you can sync them with your Dropbox account, e-mail them, or even tweet them (as long as they're under the standard 140 characters). It comes pre-loaded with a handful of incredibly cheesy styles (Papyrus font on lilac background, for example), but we're just fine with an app that can read our handwriting, and send it to our computer as a plain text file. At $10, it's not for the spendthrift, but it does its job well.

Verdict: Decent handwriting-to-text transcription with a variety of sharing features.
Price: $9.99

Tags: evernote, features, handwriting, HandwritingRecognition, ipad, notepad pro, NotepadPro, notetaker hd, NotetakerHd, NoteTaking, NoteTakingApp, pogo sketch, Pogo Stylus, PogoSketch, PogoStylus, simplenote, soundnote, stylus, top, writepad

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