There’s something about scribbling in an old-fashioned notepad that feels magical. Sure, you mostly use it for writing, which is something you can do on your phone just as easily (or maybe even more easily) but scratching out your thoughts on a piece of paper is still different because sketching is just as easy as writing, which means you can easily illustrate your ideas. Many apps tried capturing that ease, most famously Paper for iOS, and today I’m here with InNote, a free Android app that lets you create multiple sketch notepads, draw with various tools, and convey your ideas visually.
Creating a New Notepad
In UI design, skeumorphism is when an app tries to look like a physical object. iOS apps do this all the time (leather-bound calendars and so forth), but it’s not as common on Android. InNote is one of the few exceptions:
With InNote, you put your sketches in “notepads”. Each notepad has a title, a Moleskine-like cover, and even a paper type. Once you set up your first notepad, you’re confronted with the perennial blank page:
This is it — your space to sketch, write, and annotate photos. At first you have just a single page, but you can easily add as many pages as you want.
Basic Drawing and Zooming
InNote’s default pencil tool makes it easy to jot down a quick idea, especially for something as basic as a table:
If you want to add a bit more detail, you can zoom in by pinching. That’s very important, especially when drawing with your finger and not a stylus:
InNote includes five drawing tools: A pencil, a brush, a felt-tip marker, a highlighter, and a quill. You can control the size of each tool, and pick out a color for it:
Sizes are relative: A “big” highlighter is much, much bigger than a big pencil, for example.
Entering and Sketching Text
Sketching is at the heart of InNote, but there’s also a marginally useful text tools:
I say “marginally useful” mainly because it doesn’t support rotation. You would expect the “190cm” note to be slightly askew in the image above, conforming to the dimension line. Alas, InNote doesn’t let you do that. I ended up doing this instead:
For the other dimension line, I just zoomed in, tilted my phone (you can’t rotate the image, just the device you’re holding — like a real piece of paper), and sketched in the dimension. This ends up looking a bit more natural (if looks are a concern), but more importantly, it is actually clearer because the text is in the right orientation. I’ve also used the highlighter tool to shade the top surface of the table, just because.
If you use a stylus like the one shipping with the Galaxy Note II, you may want to do quite a bit of handwriting — more than just a quick one-word scribble. Zoomed in, this can quickly become tiresome: You have to write a word, pan with two fingers to reveal more of the paper, write another word, and so on. Not exactly an “organic” writing experience. InNote tries to help by offering an “automatic scrolling line” (my term, not theirs):
As your writing crosses the line, the screen automatically scrolls to the right, revealing more space to write on. You can adjust the location of the line to your liking — above you see it’s near the middle of the screen, which is actually not very convenient. By moving the line more to the right, you will be able to fit more text onto the screen before automatically scrolling.
Audio and Images
One of the nicest features InNote offers has nothing to do with sketching or writing: It lets you record audio to accompany any page in your notepad. Let’s say I have this rudimentary drawing of a table that looks like the work of a mildly talented four year-old, but it’s actually meant to be an intricate desk with many other details. I can easily tap the Record button and dictate the full breadth of my vision for this spectacular piece of furniture, without having to draw the details in:
When viewing your notes, any page with attached audio gets a funky little microphone button which is quite visible:
Drawing is useful not only for creating notes from scratch, but also for annotating existing images. InNote lets you easily import a photo from your device’s album, capture a new image, and interestingly enough, annotate a map:
When annotating a map, you can toggle between a schematic map view and satellite imagery, and decide whether or not you want to have street labels:
Once the map is in your note, you can draw on it using any of the tools. The result may not be pretty, but it’s certainly clear:
The same goes for annotating photos: This is something you can do with Skitch for Android, but Skitch is aggressively tied into Evernote these days, forcing you to download the Evernote client for any serious work. InNote lets you just highlight your photos and be done with it:
InNote is free, and I’ve encountered no ads during my use of the app. That’s impressive for an app as comprehensive and capable: This isn’t a minimalistic utility (something I’m quite fond of), but it tries to offer everything you’re going to need for sketching out your thoughts. It’s fun to use, and is simple to get started with. If you’re a visual thinker and haven’t settled on a notepad-like app for your phone, InNote is one you should try.