iPads: Note Taking and Documents

Walking around and having a look at how students are taking notes on iPads it is interesting to see the different ways that it is being done. The options for note taking and working on documents on an iPad are exciting. This page will review a whole lot of options with recommendations.

Note Taking Options:

– notes app
– apps for word style edits
– apps with offline access and synchronisation
– notes with handwriting text

Apps Reviewed:

Pages, Google Docs, CloudOn, QuickOffice, Evernote, Notability
Reviews by Rolfe Kolbe 24 May 2014 @rolfek

Notes App (built in to iDevices):

The inbuilt notes app on iDevices is the simplest option and is realistically used by most users for quick note taking. Notes synchronise across other devices on the same appleID and they are CAN be accessible via icloud.com as well if you use iCloud email.
Verdict: Hmmm! Convenient and a good start but very limited.

“Word” Type Apps:

Many users use word or pages on computers and the ability to have this flexibility is pretty cool on an iPad.

Pages App review:

Pages is the front runner for this functionality especially now that it has most of the capabilities of word processor on a computer along with so many templates (pretty powerful stuff). The touch interface of an iPad amplifies many usability features and takes a bit of retraining but it is worthwhile. Pages also manages images really nicely (especially ones with transparent background: try it!)
The Pages app also synchronises across devices on the same AppleID via iCloud and files are also accessible at icloud.com to work on in the browser or to collaborate and share.
hmmm! Pretty powerful stuff! The collaboration side of things is not really working on iDevices yet though. “open in” another app allows documents to be added to cloud storage areas or submitted to Learning Management Systems and the like as a .pdf, .page or .doc

 Google Docs App review:

Google Docs app is now a standalone app. It has great basic editing of Google documents but it’s sharing genuine live collaboration makes it stand out from the crowd! At this stage it has a long way to go and is disappointing that it still does not allow adding of images or editing tables. It would also be nice to also have “Open in Another app” functionality.
NOTES: You CAN add images and edit tables on an iPad by going to your drive in Safari (not Chrome!) open the doc and then use the “desktop” version at the bottom of the site. Give it a nudge!
To see your folders you still need to use the Google Drive app.
Verdict: This is great for good simple edits that are accessible across all devices and the web. It also allows easy sharing and genuine live collaboration. Did I mention collaboration?!

CloudOn App review:

CloudOn allows organising, editing, creating and saving of documents including word, excel and powerpoint directly in place in cloud storage. The app is pretty cumbersome though and quite limited as well, for instance you cannot insert an image. It has further “pro” feature sets that are available for $5 a month!
Verdict: if you really need to edit documents in place in cloud storage then this can do it but it is very clunky and not an enjoyable experience.

QuickOffice App review:

QuickOffice is free and allows organising, editing, creating and saving of word documents directly in place in Google Drive (Unfortunately QuickOffice only connects with Drive now that it is owned by Google.) The app opens google docs in the native Google Docs app. It is pretty cumbersome editing word documents though and quite limited, for instance, you cannot insert an image. QuickOffice does have tracking changes and some other features when editing a word document. It is better than CloudOn for editing BUT only connects to Google Drive for storage.
Verdict: This is a pretty clunky editing but if you need to edit office documents then this is a better option that CloudOn but it only connects to Drive.

Microsoft Word App: review to come but it requires a Microsoft subscription to be able to use it.

Apps with offline access and synchronising:

Interestingly in April 2014 when these reviews were first being done, offline syncing was a feature that set Evernote apart as a powerful option. This has since been eroded since Google Docs app was launched with offline edits that synchronise on reconnection. Pages also has offline edits that synchronise via iCloud when you go back online.

Evernote App review:

Evernote is a much loved app and it led with the ability to edit offline and synchronise when back online. It has a desktop app and web service as well which is great.
Editing in Evernote is easy and there are a number of nice features like recognition of handwriting from photos for searching and tick boxes. Photos can’t actually be embedded in the notes though they are instead attached and added “inline”. A strength of Evernote is it’s web clipping feature in the desktop version but this is not a feature of the app. Evernote notes can be shared with others and there are extra features if you go Pro. Evernote is also coupled with “skitch” app for drawings but this is also quite limiting. (see handwritten notes section below) Unfortunately files cannot be shared or “opened in another app” as a pdf or other file which is disappointing.
PS. check our FUN video review of Evernote from a while ago.
Verdict: Evernote was the app for offline work and syncing on return but I feel it has been trumped by both Pages and Google Docs. The inability to share as pdf unfortunately limits it’s use for submission of work.

Handwritten Notes:

This is the fun section as there has been so much progress here. Handwritten notes on iPads are very powerful and you can do them better that you could in a physical notebook (stick with me here!) A LARGE number of apps were tested here and Notability triumphed head and shoulders above the rest.

Notability App Review:

This app is crazily good and getting better all the time! Notability allows you to create a digital notebook with “dividers” , “subjects” and “notes”. These notes can be annotations of an existing documents when they are “opened in” Notability or they can be created from scratch. Your notes can be  emailed or linked with Dropbox, Google Drive, Box or WebDAV and a synchronised backup made as .pdfs, or as “notes”. Your notes also syncronise over iCloud so you can have access to view or continue editing on your other iDevices! Word documents, pdfs, spreadsheets, powerpoints can all be opened into notability and annotated which means it also trumps a whole lot of other apps that just do this.

Please check out our Notability Page for:
– the features of Notability
– a review and tutorial for notability
– ideas for how Notability can be used for learning and teaching!

Great notes can now be easily taken on iPads including diagrams, typed text, images and web clips.

Verdict: this has to be done. Gold!
Check check our Handwritten notes  with Notability Page to see why!

25 May 2014 refining + Added Google Docs app , added to Evernote.
28 May 2014 edited notes app sync with icloud.com