The iPad is just a bit smaller than a traditional sheet of looseleaf paper. Sometimes, however, the tablet doesn’t seem quite as useful as pen and paper—especially when you want to jot down some quick notes. Sure, Apple’s stock Notes app works fine, but only if you have the time to tap out your notes on the iPad’s virtual keyboard. When you need to scribble some notes down in a hurry, or when you crave the ability to scrawl down more than just typewritten text, it’s time to take a trip to the App Store.
Ramki’s offering is the $6 Noteshelf. It’s an impressively deep, feature-rich app that aims to simplify the process of jotting down notes.
The first time you launch Noteshelf, you get the option of stepping through a 17-page user guide. (A 17-page manual, of course, is something old-school paper notebooks almost never ship with.) The guide is well-worth flipping through, as it describes much of the app’s tucked-away functionality in detail.
The app’s titular shelf is very reminiscent of the bookshelves in iBooks. You keep different sets of notes in different virtual books; you can create as many books (each with as many pages of notes) as you’d like. Noteshelf offers 15 different attractive notebook covers to choose from, and 20 different page options. Those page designs include traditional lined paper, graph paper, blank paper, music notation sheets, a day planner, and plenty more. And each notebook can contain any permutation of pages, so you can use graph paper for the first page of your Remodel notebook, and then a blank sheet on the next page to sketch out your new kitchen.
Of course, if you use the day planner template, that won’t mesh with the events in your iOS calendar. But if you prefer the scribbled approach of days of yore, yet still want to take advantage of your shiny iPad, Noteshelf’s approach may suit you just fine.
You can add many more options to Noteshelf—oodles of notebook cover options and page templates—through various in-app $1 purchases. You can even spend a buck to get alternative bookshelf options.
So you know you have options for how your multitouch notepad looks. How’s the process of actually making notes within the app?
Not too shabby. You get a few options. My least favorite one is using my finger as a pen. I like my printed handwriting just fine; on the iPad, my finger-writing gets sloppy, oversized, and frustrating. That’s not a fault of Noteshelf per se, but it does make the app one of the few with which I prefer using a stylus.
You get plenty of pen options: You choose among 17 pen colors, using a slider to select your thickness. To make writing even easier, Noteshelf includes a cleverly-implemented zoom mode, which repurposes the bottom half of the screen for a close-up of a subset of your page. Writing in the zoomed-in section is perhaps the easiest way to handwrite within a note, and the zoomed-in section advances cleverly as you reach the edges. It’s very well done.
An update in January added the option of typing in text as well. You can create text boxes, and then type into them with the on-screen keyboard. You can also add photos, icons, and highlights to your notepads, too.
Importantly, Noteshelf includes unlimited undo/redo. I’m a sucker for unlimited undo, especially when an errant finger could unintentionally scrawl a giant, unwanted line through the middle of the page.
Another clever option in Noteshelf is its Wrist Protection mode. Enable it, and you can rest your wrists on the iPad’s screen as you write (a much more natural writing position) without your wrist marking up the bottom half of the screen. To avail yourself of Wrist Protection mode, however, you need to turn off iOS 5’s multitasking gestures in Settings. I love those gestures, but Wrist Protection mode is excellent. I’ve taken to (temporarily) disabling the gestures when I intend to spend time in Noteshelf.
(Image Caption: Note to Shelf: In Page Finder mode, you can quickly locate the specific page you’re after. You can also rearrange your notes, delete them, or duplicate them.)
The app sports numerous other features that make a good thing great: A Page Finder view shows thumbnails so that you can quickly find, move, delete, or copy a page of your notebook. You can tag pages and then search by those tags. You can share notes via email, export them as PDFs or images, share them with Dropbox or Evernote, and print them.
In short, I’m impressed with Noteshelf. The iPad isn’t the world’s easiest hand-held note taking machine. Sure, hook up an external keyboard, and you can type up all the notes you need. But if you’re sans keyboard and you’d rather avoid going back to the paper and pen of your youth, Noteshelf offers a masterfully crafted alternative.
Lex Friedman is a Macworld staff writer.