As any efficient, organised, and focused person knows, finding the right note-taking app is crucial to getting the most out of your iPad. It is a "tablet" after all. Our favourite iPad note-taking apps are the ones that make use of Apple's spacious screen to let you write, draw, or scribble with nothing more than a finger or stylus.
Note-taking apps are a dime a dozen, but they don't all offer equal functionality. Some let you sketch and draw directly, while others force you to stick to typing. Most let you record and save voice memos, photos, and web clips, but not all of them let you draw on top of images to further annotate them. The best note-taking apps focus not only on making notes, but on finding and sorting them later as well.
The price range for note-taking apps on the iPad is quite a large one, and the most expensive ones are not necessarily the best. A few of the apps we’ve highlighted here are free, and the rest range from a couple of quid up to the best part of a tenner. At any rate, you’ve got plenty of options when it comes to quality note-taking software…
Evernote lacks the drawing input ability of Note Taker HD, Penultimate, and Notability, but it's an outstanding app for creating notes and keeping them organised. The Evernote iPad app lets you take text notes, audio recordings, photos, and web clips and arrange them into neatly organised notebooks. Leveraging that power for the cloud, you can sync content across all of Evernote's many supported platforms. This is, quite simply, our favourite note-taking app of all time, and it comes in a free version, or a premium app with extra features (for £35 per year).
Notability is one of the more full-featured note-taking programs for the iPad. It supports text, images, and audio recordings, and contains a sketch pad that lets you not only draw new images, but also mark up images, web clips, and clip art that you import. For writers, Notability includes dozens of fonts, text point sizes, colours, and a solid number of formatting presets (such as bullet points, indents, and so forth). Notability is a dream to use if you need all these features, although it could be a waste of a couple of quid if you don't.
Apple's iPad unexpectedly changed the way many people, from students to office workers to the self-employed, get work done. Note-taking in particular was revolutionised with the advent of the little tablet with a virtual keyboard for typing, a touchscreen for drawing or writing by hand, and a mic for recording spoken memos. The iPad note-taking app Notes Plus turns all these possibilities into reality, but at a slightly higher cost than the competition. And while Notes Plus does provide all the features you could want in a note-taking app, a few of them could use a little more refinement in terms of usability. This is still a quality offering, though, make no mistake.
Note Taker HD brings flexible, feature-rich note-taking to the iPad in the form of a £3 app. Packing a wide array of note-taking options, such as variable line thickness, colour, typeface, point size, finger-drawing input, plus the ability to import PDFs and insert and crop photos, Note Taker HD is certainly one of the best note-taking apps. But the numerous options may intimidate those accustomed to simpler fare, like our other iPad pen and finger-input favourite, Penultimate (see below).
The iPad app PaperPort Notes (by Nuance Communications) extends your ability to take notes by including speech-to-text dictation software. Speak it, and the app will write it! PaperPort Notes' signature feature adds a lot of new possibilities for how you might make use of a simple note-taking app, and if you're already comfortable using dictation software, it's a breeze to use. Other high quality features, like support for cloud services such as Dropbox, leave me wondering how PaperPort could possibly be free. Moreover, it doesn't contain a single advertisement. It's not quite picture-perfect, with a few interface idiosyncrasies, but among free note-taking apps, it's one of the best.
Penultimate is fast, friendly, flexible, and free to boot. If you've ever doodled in a notebook, using this app should be second nature. When it comes time to share, you can email a sketch or an entire notebook without leaving the app, or pipe your pad through a projector for group collaboration. The app's touch-based sophistication will no doubt impress consumers, but when paired with a decent touch stylus, Penultimate can scale to the professional demands of engineers, architects, and industrial designers.
While you're here, you might also want to take a look at our roundup of the best iPad business and productivity apps.