Apple Pencil and visual notetaking

This is not a thread about using the Apple Pencil with Scrivener. It’s a thread about using the Pencil for notetaking that involves non-text elements: diagrams, math, chemical formulas, etc.

The names that come up the most often in reviews are Notability – which I’ve rejected because it’s a subscription – GoodNotes, and Nebo. They both seem to use the MyScript handwriting recognition engine (only in the paid version of GoodNotes), so it’s down to general flexibility and ease of use.

Has anyone used either or both? Love it? Hate it? Meh?


FWIW, it now looks like Apple is moving into this domain with their upcoming Freeform app.


p.s. The barrier to this for me is app-independent — i) handwriting notes on glass is not really a nice experience, and ii) my (11 inch) ipad pro never feels like it has enough screen real estate to make doing it uncrampy.

There are screen protectors that claim to give a more paper-like texture.

I’m not willing to carry a paper notebook that would be any larger than my iPad.

So I’m considering options. But not sold yet.

GoodNotes user here. Love it. Options are quite extensive. « Draw & hold » (which transforms drawings into perfect shapes) and « Fill color » make it super easy to draw clean diagrams. Handwriting recognition also works really well even with my scriblings. I wasn’t convinced before trying it, but Paperlike is indeed really nice to write on.

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It seems to be slightly easier to get material out of GoodNotes into other programs/onto other devices. What’s your experience in that regard?

Not sure what other apps offer in terms of exporting, but GoodNotes is limited to PDF or JPG (plus GoodNotes format which is useless in other apps). That’s plenty for my needs. It has the option of including background and/or annotations or not, and PDF retains text recognition.
You can also just select whatever you want on any page with the lasso, and copy-paste that into another app as an image.
One minor limitation I find is that the Outline you can create (basically bookmarking pages of your choosing to create an Outline that acts as a Table of contents of sorts) doesn’t get exported with the PDF.
As far as syncing to other devices, I haven’t used GN on mac yet so I can’t really comment on that. I know there is iCloud sync but I don’t use it. I store all my notebooks on Dropbox as PDFs (they call that Backup), so I can access them (read-only obviously) on any device through Dropbox. It does offer the option to Backup as both GN & PDF, but I don’t think that is meant to be used as a syncing method…

Nebo will export as plain text – which obviously only works for text content – and Word as well as PDF. They can backup and share via a private cloud, but they don’t have a native Mac version.

MyScript – the creator of Nebo – wrote the recognition tool that both Nebo and GoodNotes use. Nebo kind of feels like a barebones demo platform to show what their algorithm can do. It’s pretty minimalist relative to GoodNotes, but minimalism has a certain charm.

+1 on Good Notes. Following is my James Joyce Stream of Consciousness response to your post, be forewarned.

I use it extensively. Very flexible. It’s an awesome Apple Pencil experience. Export options are great. Being able to convert handwriting and images to text is quite useful. The notebook metaphor is something that makes the user interface easily graspable. The tool has great feature to allow you to use it for presentations. There are something that I don’t love about it. Even though your data can be extracted easily enough, it still feels siloed to me. The way it handles PDF outlines, could be better. The iPhone app is nice to have, but you can’t do much with it other than read your already written notes. Taking notes is not really possible, but you may not care about that anyway if your goal is just to use the Apple Pencil.

One thing I like is that if I import a PDF, I can take notes directly on the pdf. The PDF pages are just pages in the notebook. Contrast that with Apple Notes, where the PDF is just embedded. You have to mark-up the PDF with Preview or another PDF tool. Also, you have to open the PDF if you want to see its contents.

The question I keep bumping up against with visual notes is whether i want a notebook with fixed-size pages or one that’s an open canvas like Apple Notes. The open canvas seems great for just brainstorming — very low friction — but the notes are useless outside of Apple Notes. Tough to export a note that goes on forever with no discernible page breaks.

*** End James Joyce Stream of Consciousness ramblings ***


I haven’t been able to get into regularly writing on the iPad with my Apple Pencil—it definitely takes some practice to get used to and adjust your handwriting—but when I do, I use Goodnotes. It’s very popular so there are a lot of different templates that people have made to use with it, it’s easy to import to/export from, the features are simple but pretty comprehensive.

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