Handwritten notes app for iPad

I never really got much use out of the Apple Pencil, to the point that when it slid out of an unzipped backpack pocket never to be seen again I opted not to replace it. However, the new pencil intrigues me enough that I ordered it along with my new iPad Pro. I’m hoping that the ability to attach it to the iPad and actually keep the thing charged up and ready to go will make me more likely to use it.

Right now I take all of my meeting notes in analog format (in a Field Notes Steno Book) but I’d like to try taking handwritten notes on the iPad using the pencil. I’m looking at different note taking apps and trying to decide which one to try. Right now I’m considering the Apple Notes app, GoodNotes, and Notability.

I’d really like an app with the ability to do handwriting recognition so I can search my notes, which would be a real improvement over taking notes on paper. That may be a tall order with my awful handwriting though.

Any opinions as to which of these three apps I should go with? Any other apps I should consider?

I use Nebo to take handwritten notes in meetings and lectures. It displays the text conversion in real time. I can store the handwritten notes in Nebo and they are searchable. I also convert the handwriting to text and forward to Notes, where they are still editable. Nebo also allows for Convert to Text, Word and PDF.
I started using the Nebo Script app keyboard but now take all hand-written notes in the app.
Hope this helps


I really like Goodnotes and the features it had is great and way to use.


Hi Chris - I have tried the native Notes app, Notability and GoodNotes, and for me, GoodNotes was the best fit. I really like the user interface in GoodNotes - it seems to get out the way better than the other apps. The writing also feels more natural for some reason, though I’m using the original iPad Pro so that may have been rectified in the other apps with better technology.

GoodNotes uses a Notebook metaphor to store your written notes. I have about a dozen notebooks spanning different subjects in my world. The home screen for the these notebooks is nicely arranged and you can have multiple notebooks open at once using tabs. You can pick what kind of paper you want for each notebook - I tend to stick with graph paper, but there are many choices, including the ability to import template pages for specific kind of note taking. GoodNotes has an “auto shape” feature that turns my poorly drawn circles and rectangles into perfect shapes. Love that feature.

I find I leave my notes inside these notebooks vs. exporting to Notes or storing as PDFs because it’s easy to navigate the pages here and I like the idea of an ever-expanding notebook that never runs out of pages. I haven’t used the search function a lot, but I did test it and it was able to decipher my scrawl which is saying something.

I use GoodNotes mostly in the idea stage of new projects. I think better with a pen in my hand and I like the ability to write or draw something on the page and then easily move it somewhere else or resize it to fit more on the page. I’ll often go back to note pages and continue to fill in ideas or make corrections. GoodNotes has a Mac App which I like for to sole purpose of pulling up my notes on the big iMac screen and getting to work on a PowerPoint presentation or what have you. The notebooks sync through iCloud and it works well.

Like you, I can’t wait to make better use of note taking with the new iPad Pro and Pencil.


I have used Apple Notes, Notability, and Goodnotes. They are all good. However, I have reverted back to using Apple Notes because it works, does have handwriting recognition, and is one less application for me to deal with. I’m working on being more minimal. :grin:


I have tried Apple Notes, Notability, Goodnotes and Noteshelf, now available as Noteshelf 2. I like Noteshelf because it has italic nib options. Version 2 can use iCloud, Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Evernote and OneDrive as cloud storage. Noteshelf creates notebooks with customizable covers which are arranged on a shelf. Notability has a list approach. Goodnotes has plain brown notebook covers.

It is capable of recognizing handwriting, but I have always wondered whether notetaking apps do this on device or by sending the text to a cloud service. I suppose we can test this by changing to airplane mode and then trying text recognition.

My main annoyance with all these apps is that there is no standard for how you navigate or create pages - they all use different methods.

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Pencil is not just for writing and drawing. Here’s iPhonedo using it like a boss for UI tasks. This happens to be Garageband, but could be any other creative app. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oDFopDPLw2s


I also use Goodnotes. One feature that has not yet been mentioned is that you can also customize both the front cover and inside pages with PDFs of your own design. I found this useful for my meeting notes, it provides a bit more structure than just a blank sheet of paper.

Still need to create something for front covers as the built-in ones are not all that nice imo. Just a minor thing that has nothing to do with the usefulness of the app.


For those of you who use GoodNotes, it says that it can also work like a Whiteboard. How does this work?

I would love to have a decent App for sharing parts of my iPad screen up on a big screen and just jot-down and draw stuff. Is this what it does?

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i use Nrbo too. Some reviewer claimed it had excellent handwriting recognition.

Main purpose was to get enough time on task to figure out if tne pen is useful. So far, I’m not convinced.

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There is a setting where you can “hide inteface” when using TV out (via HDMI adapter) or Airplay. Using a landscape template would probably give you the most screen real-estate to project to others. Had not thought about this option, but will give it a try!

UPDATE: I can confirm that this works perfectly using AirPlay to my TV. As the aspect ratio of the iPad and 16:9 TV screen differ, the TV will display slightly more than is visible on the iPad.

This will be perfect for Pictionary! :+1:


Nebo MyScript is the best tool. I used all other tools you mentioned, Nd only MyScript was able to:

  1. Handwriting recognition live, you will know if the app was able to recognize the word you just wrote or not.
  2. It can export to HTML, or PDF in digital format.
  3. Pencil gestures to apply formatting or delete words. You won’t be moving back and forth between writing and looking for tools to apply formatting.

GoodNotes is wonderful for taking notes at meetings. You can easily insert PDF pages from the meeting program (with speaker infos etc) and write notes right on the pdf or on a page below. And GoodNotes also has a decent MacOS counterpart which I mainly use to search for the literature that I wrote down at the meeting.

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Notability’s handwriting recognition and search is pretty good. I like GoodNotes also, but tend to stick with Notability because it syncs very quickly and accurately with Notability on the Mac and both versions support searching handwritten notes. GoodNotes also has a desktop app but I think Notability has a cosmetic edge on the GoodNotes apps.

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I like Notability for actual notes, including annotating PDFs, etc. However if I’m drawing a diagram I tend to use GoodNotes for the shape recognition which makes the diagram much prettier :wink:


I’ve tried using the Pencil with both GoodNotes and Notability, but neither feels comfortable to me. I much prefer the drag and pen style of Notes Plus. Handwriting recognition and conversion to text is up there with GoodNotes and, I’d suggest, is easier to access. It’s hard to recommend any handwriting-based note taking app though, as the use experience is so subjective.


I am using OneNote. I like it.

I like the concept of Notebook, Sections, and then Pages.

It does a good job searching for handwritten notes. I always hand print the notes. Then if I want to add a table, not a problem. Want to add a PDF, not a problem. If I want to to a simple flowchart, not a problem.

But I did learn from this thread, you can search in NOTES. I do use both ONENOTE and NOTES.

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GoodNotes works very well for me, and I use it just about every day in my law practice. The app is regularly updated, and now takes advantage of the second-generation Apple Pencil. It automatically does an OCR of your notes so you an search for a word throughout all of your notes.


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GoodNotes is the best I have found.

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I too have been using all of the above. In my view, GoodNotes has the best ink engine and shine with the Pencil 2 (as a fountain pen and Rhodia paper lover). But I use Notability as the concept of individual pages works better for my professional workflow than the notebook centric GoodNotes. I’ve also been impressed by the OCR search results as I also have a challenging handwriting!

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