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There are PDF annotation apps and drawing apps, then there’s Notes HD. If you’re the type of person who prefers to handwrite your notes, even while using an iPad, then you should really consider Notes HD. Unlike other annotation apps which mainly focus on providing the ability to add notes to PDF documents, Notes HD is an all-in-one tool with annotation functions, as well as sketching, drawing and handwriting. It really is one of the most extensive apps in its class.
At the time of writing, Notes HD is being offered with a 40% discount at just $2.99. It requires iOS 6.0 and higher and is only compatible with the iPad. There’s also a free version, with limited features. We’re giving away 10 copies of Notes HD at the end of this review, so read on to find out what you can do with it.
First and foremost, Notes HD is annotation tool — it allows anyone to easily load PDF documents from Dropbox, Google Drive or directly from Safari. Without overwhelming the user with various bells and whistles, the interface is quite easy to navigate and the buttons are self-explanatory. Before you can access any files stored in Dropbox, you’ll need to provide Notes HD will access. You only have to do this once, right at the beginning. Access may be revoked at any time by visiting Dropbox.com, navigating to your account settings and removing Notes HD located in the tab labelled ‘My Apps’.
Accessing Google Drive is similar — you are required to sign in to Google and allow access to your cloud contents. However, linking your Dropbox account is slightly more handy because Notes HD can then automatically sync all created notes to the cloud. This is particularly useful if you have multiple iPads and would like your notes to be made available on every device.
Files selected from Dropbox or Google Drive will be copied and stored within Notes HD, and you will be able to access them offline. Bear in mind that you’re not actually editing the version stored on Dropbox, but a separate copy.
Reading and Annotation
Once the PDF document has been loaded in Notes HD, you’ll be presented with a viewer along with a drawer of annotation tools which include a pen, pencil, felt-tip pen, fountain pen, highlighter, brush, eraser, text blocks, cutting knife (for cut, copy and paste), ruler and stencils, and a colour palette. Compared to other annotation apps, the Notes HD actually provides a full range of utilities to choose from.
You may navigate the PDF documents using the left and right buttons at the bottom of the screen while in editing mode. Alternatively, tap on the eye icon in the bottom left corner to enable viewing mode and flip through pages as you would in iBooks.
Tap on the button with three parallel lines in the bottom left corner of the screen to activate Notes HD’s impressive page manager. You’ll be shown an overview of the PDF document, just tap on any thumbnail to jump directly to that particular page in the document. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The page manager also allows you to duplicate pages within the PDF, even insert blank pages wherever you choose. This is extremely useful if you run out of space to write and need to add an extra page in the PDF for your notes.
Back to annotation — you’ll find a use for every provided tool. Each has its own unique character. Some are more useful for writing notes, while others should be used for drawing. You can even switch between tools using voice commands — just say “Pen”, “Pencil”, “Brush”, “Fountain Pen” and so on to invoke that particular tool (best to do it when you’re alone though).
Along the top of the drawer, you’ll find a line of dots. Instead of an undo button, Notes HD equips you with an exceptionally handy history slider if you ever need to undo a certain action. By default, the app stores 500 megabytes worth of undo actions, but can be configured to remember more if necessary.
PDF annotation isn’t unique — just search through the App Store and you’d be inundated with hundreds of applications that can add notes in PDF documents. Notes HD shines by providing you with the ability to take handwritten notes and it does it quite elegantly.
Start by creating a new note on the main screen and you’ll be presented by the default blank notebook, which displays graph lines. Tap on the paper icon and select the template that fits your needs. Choose from plain, graph, narrow graph, wide ruled, wide ruled with margin, and other ruled paper. There are also more specific types of “paper” to choose from: tasks (to-do’s, shopping lists, day/weekly planners), design (blueprint, engineering), games, and sports. You’re really spoilt for choice here.
Again, you’ll have access to the full set of tools in the drawer. There is one shortcoming that I should point out, and that’s the inability to change the pen, pencil or brush sizes.
Writing notes on the iPad with your finger is never easy, and can turn the loveliest of penmanship into chicken scratches. You may opt to use a stylus (which I did) but that brings up another issue — palming. If you were to write with the stylus as you would with a regular pen, the iPad will recognise your palm resting on the screen. Although Notes HD includes “Wrist Protection” which detects the user’s palm, it can still interfere with the experience. Disabling multitasking gestures helps but doesn’t alleviate the issue altogether.
It takes a little bit of practice in order to get used to writing notes in Notes HD. There’s a slight delay between writing and what you’ve written appearing on the screen, and can be quite disorienting at first. Once you get used to, it’s a walk in the park.
Admittedly, I was skeptical about how useful this can be — it’s not that easy to write (neatly) using a stylus. Plus, your letters have to be pretty darn big, otherwise the iPad won’t recognise the strokes. Then, I found the Quick Zoom feature and my qualms settled. Quick Zoom is activated by tapping and holding on any part of the screen. It brings up a magnified area where you may write in, legibly.
This is what sets Notes HD apart from the rest. In addition to a classic ruler, you’ll also find a triangular ruler, protractor, shapes and stencils!
These are really fun to use, and mighty handy if you can’t draw straight lines or a box freehand. Just pick the right stencil, use two fingers to position it, select any tool and draw.
The paid version of Notes HD also offers several advanced features such as real-time collaboration over Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, folders, unique covers to identify certain notebooks, exporting, printing, bookmarking and tagging. For more information about those features and more, visit Notes HD’s guide page. The free version, however, offers stencils, rulers, word processing, drawing tools and paper templates as in-app purchases.
How do I win a copy of Notes HD?
You may enter by submitting your name and email address. You’ll receive one entry simply by doing so.
After that, you’ll also be offered various methods to earn additional entries. They range from sharing a link to this giveaway on social networks; to commenting or visiting a specific page. The more you participate, the higher your chances of winning! You will receive 5 additional entries into the giveaway for every successful referral via your shared links.
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This giveaway begins now and ends Friday, December 27. The winners will be selected at random and informed via email.
Submit your apps and software to be reviewed. Contact Jackson Chung for further details.