iPhone and iPad Productivity

Enhance Your Note-Taking With the Apple Pencil and iPad Pro

Brent Dirks 29-08-2017

While the Apple Pencil is a game-changing way for artists to create on any iPad Pro, the stylus can also be used for much more — including taking handwritten notes.


Everything from lecture notes to a quick to-do list can be jotted down quickly and easily on the iPad Pro with Apple’s stylus. That capability definitely makes the tablet line a great choice for anyone looking to replace their laptop Can the iPad Pro Replace Your Laptop? The iPad Pro can do a lot, but can it do enough to completely replace the humble laptop? That depends. Read More for daily work and whatever else imaginable.

Whether you’ve just purchased an Apple Pencil and an iPad Pro or are an expert in the ecosystem, we’ll be offering some tips on how to use the stylus to take notes and some great apps you should definitely be using.
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Made for the iPad Pro

apple pencil taking notes

Using a stylus to draw or takes notes on an iPad isn’t a new idea. Ever since the first iPad model hit the market in 2010, a number of companies have provided a take on the best way to turn a tablet screen and stylus into a modern version of the classic pen and paper.

In practice, the combination of stylus and iPad has mostly been a niche market. While we’ve seen a stylus in every form imaginable, for the most part, there was never truly a must-have option.


On the low end, many options were uncomfortable to hold and quickly wore out, usually finding a way to a desk drawer or the trash can. Some more expensive models offered a reasonably good experience but were many times only usable on specific apps.

A stylus truly for handwriting and taking notes on the iPad screen was rare. But Apple made its way into the market in late 2015 with the introduction of the original 12.9-inch iPad Pro and Apple Pencil iPad Pro, Smart Keyboard & Apple Pencil Review The iPad Pro isn't just a larger and faster tablet — it represents an entirely new way of using iOS. The real question is: does it work, and more importantly — do you really need one? Read More .

A Winning Combination

The $99 Apple Pencil works with all the members of the iPad Pro lineup, including the new 10.5-inch model iPad Pro 10.5 Review: Is the Best iPad Good Enough? The 9.7 inch iPad Pro was the shortest lived tablet in Apple's history, surviving only 15 months before being succeeded by the new 10.5 inch model. So does 0.8 inches do enough to close the... Read More . Living up to its name with a pencil-like design, the stylus is extremely simple to use.

You’ll find the tip on the bottom of the stylus, and on top is a magnetic cap that protects a built-in Lightning connector. There are no buttons or other parts of the stylus to learn or manage.


When you’re ready to use the Apple Pencil, there’s no difficult pairing process to worry about. Just remove the cap and place the plug in the Lightning port of the iPad Pro. Remove the plug and it’s time to start writing.

The built-in battery on the Apple Pencil can provide up to 12 hours of use before needing to be recharged. In a pinch, 15 seconds of charging can provide up to 30 minutes of use. Along with recharging the stylus by plugging it into any iPad Pro, you can also use any Lightning cable and an included adapter.

Thanks to pressure sensors, the Pencil can determine exactly how hard you’re pressing down on the tablet’s screen and will adjust the thickness of the lines accordingly. A pair of tilt sensors are able to calculate the angle of your hand so you can create different line shades.

And the second part of the equation — the iPad Pro — also sports a few tricks up its sleeve. Special palm rejection technology makes it easy to rest a hand on the screen while writing and not have to worry about errant marks appearing.


Both the newest 10.5-inch and 12.9-inch iPad Pro on the market also offer special ProMotion technology that can refresh the screen up to 120 times per second. That cuts the latency, or the delay between drawing something with the stylus and it appearing on the screen, to a near non-existent 20 milliseconds. That makes it even better than the well-regarded Surface Pen from Microsoft Apple Pencil vs. Surface Pen: Stylus Over Substance? The lowly stylus has grown up, but should you pick Apple or Microsoft? Read More .

In practice, especially when using the Pencil for handwriting, there is no noticeable delay.

All of that technology leads to a great experience taking while taking notes or using any of the apps designed for the Apple Pencil. Here are three you should definitely be using.

Apple Notes (Free)

apple notes apple pencil


There’s no need to look very far to find a great handwriting app. Apple’s own Notes app Should You Be Using Apple's Notes for iOS and OS X? For the first time since its release, Apple Notes for both OS X and iOS may be worth considering. Read More , built into iOS and available on every iPad Pro, should be your first stop when looking to start taking notes with an Apple Pencil.

Once just a simple place to type a quick to-do list, the app is now much more and rivals popular subscription services like Evernote. In just a few taps, you can easily create a handwritten note with a virtual pencil, pen, or highlighter in a number of different colors. You can also write notes on other typed notes, images, and other attachments. Along with being able to organize notes in different folders, you can also use Touch ID to protect sensitive information.

It’s also easy to mark up PDF documents and screenshots.

And thanks to iCloud syncing, all of your notes are available on other iOS devices, any Mac, and even on the web at iCloud.com.

Notability ($10)

notability app

One of the best third-party note taking apps available, Notability has been designed for the Apple Pencil and iPad Pro for a responsive and precise writing experience.

Along with palm detection to help provide a more natural writing experience, the special zoom writing feature allows for both smooth and quick handwritten notes. And that’s far from all you can accomplish with the app. One of the best features, especially for note takers is the ability to record audio that will automatically link with the information written down on the iPad screen.

Notes can be shared in pretty much any way imaginable including social networks and cloud storage services like Dropbox and others. Notes are synced between the iPhone and iPad. There’s also a separate version available for the Mac.

Penultimate (Free with in-app purchases)

Anyone using Evernote should definitely take a look at Penultimate to take and organize handwritten notes. You can select from a number of different paper styles and even import an image to create a personalized writing surface. There are also a number of different colors of ink to use as well.

When it’s time to start writing, just zoom in with your fingers and begin. The great Drift feature will move along with you when writing, adjusting to a particular writing speed.

You can then search for specific handwritten text in the app and save and catalog work in specific notebooks. If you are an Evernote subscriber, all notes automatically sync with all devices.

A Bright Future

Starting with iOS 11 What's New in iOS 11? The New Features Coming to Your iPhone Here's everything coming to your iPhone and iPad with the arrival of iOS 11 later in 2017. Read More , which should officially arrive sometime this Fall, the note-taking experience on the iPad Pro will get even better when paired with an Apple Pencil.

The best new feature, at least for note-takers, will be available with a single tap. Placing the Apple Pencil tip near the screen when locked will automatically bring up the Notes app and allow you to start jotting down information. That will make note taking a breeze.

ios 11 searchable handwriting

Anything saved in the Notes app, including handwriting, will be searchable through Spotlight. Also, when making handwritten notes or other drawings inside Notes, any text will automatically move aside.

It will also be much easier to make notes on a PDF or screenshot. With the aptly named Instant Markup feature, just touch the Apple Pencil to the screen and begin to write.

How Do You Take Notes?

Even though the combination of an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil has been a near perfect way for artists and other creative users to draw and sketch, anyone who wants to simply takes notes can also take advantage of Apple’s combination of hardware and software precision as well.

No matter if you take notes daily or just occasionally doodle, the Apple Pencil and iPad Pro combo is nearly as good as using a real pen and piece of paper.

Don’t think the Apple Pencil sounds right for you? Here are the best Apple Pencil alternatives compatible with your iPad and iPhone The 5 Best Apple Pencil Alternatives Compatible With Your iPad and iPhone Looking for an Apple Pencil alternative with iPad and iPhone compatibility? These styluses offer a choice for every budget. Read More .

Related topics: Apple Notes, Apple Pencil, iPad Pro, Note-Taking Apps.

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  1. Chris Staal
    September 3, 2017 at 12:39 am

    I found Good Notes 4 an effective solution for handwritten notes. Particularly having the ability to impart emails, DOCX and PDF's for annotating.

  2. Chris
    August 30, 2017 at 11:29 am

    I use the pro and pencil with notability. It has changed my life. I'm a project manager for a reconstruction company. The biggest part of my job is going to a home and sketching houses' interiors. You can imagine how horrible this can be on paper with erasing and redrawing, become so bad sometimes that I would have to redo it back at my desk. Then comes notability. It has several choices of graph paper. It has undo. It has automatic line snapping. It has add photo. It has colors and thicknesses of lines. It has text boxes for labeling with clean print. I use it with Google drive and share it immediately with others, no more scanning and emailing.
    I also attend frequent Bible education events. The different ruled papers and recording features are incredible. It even has two different line styles for straight edge lettering or a thickness changing style for a little flair and pressure adapting in your writing.
    The ability to divider and subdivide your notes is very useful too for organizing at a glance.
    I love this app, this tablet, and this stylus, it has helped a hectic lifestyle immensely.