Make Your iPad A True Writing Tool With These Notebook Apps

Bakari Chavanu 13-07-2011

<firstimage=”//”>notebook app for ipadFor me, the iPad is the ultimate device for paperless reading, writing, and photo viewing. The comfortable viewing size of the iPad makes it a perfect electronic notebook for reading ebooks, PDFs, typing short emails, and viewing lots of photos. There are also some very good apps that actually allow you to use the iPad like a notepad.


Steve Jobs and Apple probably didn’t envision the iPad being used this way, but the smooth glass service of the device makes it a pretty handy tool for jotting notes, grocery lists, brainstorming and outlining ideas, mind mapping, and drawing simple designs. Let’s check the best free option for handwriting notebook apps, and then examine a few low-priced alternatives.

Bamboo Paper

If you want to test out how it feels to hand write on your iPad, the makers of Wacom tablets have produced Bamboo Paper, specifically designed for the iPad.

notebook app for ipad

The best way to hand write on the iPad is using what is called a Stylus pen, but I don’t recommend going and buying one until you get a feel for using a handwriting notebook app. In the above screenshot, I quickly wrote using my index finger. Stylus pens help with a little more precise handwriting, but finger writing works just fine when you don’t have a pen nearby.

Bamboo is beautifully designed and functionally easy to use. When you launch the app, it has the look of one of those Moleskin notebooks.


ipad notebook app

Before tapping on the cover of the Bamboo notebook, notice that you can tap the menu gear at the bottom, which brings up a small collection of colored inks and three types of paper (not captured in the screenshot)—blank, lined, and graph papers.

ipad notebook app

The essential feature for these type of apps includes an undo, redo, and full erase tools. Bamboo Paper has all three. There’s even a button to clear the entire “sheet of paper”. In the app’s toolbar, you can also change the color of the ink and export your notes to your iPad’s Photo Library, email it, or print it. On the front cover of the app you can select to export the entire notebook of pages.


Bamboo Paper makes for a fine introduction to handwriting on the iPad. However, it does have a few missing features that regular users of the app will want. Though you can bookmark pages in Bamboo, it allows for only one notebook. Also, it doesn’t export pages to popular services like Dropbox. So if you get hooked on Bamboo, you might consider one of the few low-priced alternatives below.


One of the handwriting apps I’ve been using for quite some time is Penultimate ($1.99). It contains all the features of Bamboo Paper, but much, much more.

ipad notebook app

You can create as many notebooks as you like. In addition to the three types of papers, you can order for .99 cents packets of other types of papers for writing, planners, blank music sheets, graphic designing and games like Hangman.


ipad notebook application

Penultimate has what is called a Wrist Protection feature which, when enabled, stops the palm of your hand making marks on a sheet of paper as you write.

ipad notebook application

You can also easily navigate through pages of your notebook using the thumbnail view of the app. Like Bamboo, Penultimate allows you to export pages and full notebooks in PDF format via email, your Photo Library, iTunes, as well as printing. However, Penultimate also doesn’t have Dropbox integration.


Noteshelf [No Longer Available]

For a few dollars more, Noteshelf ($4.99) probably provides the fullest features out of all the notebooks reviewed.

notebook app for ipad

Noteshelf contains everything found in Bamboo and Penultimate, with additional features allowing you to export pages and notebooks to Dropbox and Evernote. Noteshelf also allows you to import and re-size photos in your notebook pages.

Which notebook app you choose for your iPad will largely be based on how much you prefer handwriting on your iPad as opposed to typing. You might start off with the free Bamboo app and if you see yourself using it a lot step up to one of the commercial paid apps. Also, you will need to shop around for a Stylus Pen. They costs between a few dollars and upwards to $35. Start with the low priced ones that you can find on Amazon.

Let us know what you think of these writing tools. If you have other suggestions, please share them in the comments below.

Related topics: Note-Taking Apps, Notepad, Writing Tips.

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  1. Charleswesley1945
    September 25, 2011 at 4:44 am

    Dear Bakari Chavanu,
    Great man!!! So many apps you think all these are working with iPad. Not ipad2.
    Then I will try with the free app, and see. I am very much interested in writing the notes. Some problems.pen point is very big not like pen, so not able to write.
    When I write I want mystifying to come typing style with the spelling check.
    Can you post some easy steps for that purpose.thank you

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 29, 2011 at 4:17 pm

      Yeah, Charles, the stylus pen does make it difficult to write on the iPad. I'm not sure if Apple could do something different to make it easier or not. I'm not sure if these apps work with the iPad 2, because I wasn't using 2 when I wrote this article. I'm sure the have been updated for the latest version of the iPad. Thanks for the feedback.

  2. Pepper3939
    August 10, 2011 at 12:44 am

    I'm a fan of notes plus too and the developer is very responsive to user requests

  3. Aichem
    August 4, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    UPAD is a great app. It takes the good of Penultimate and makes it's better. The idea of using handwriting gets truly implemented by using a magnifying input window that auto scrolls. While UPAD does not have all the fancy stuff as Noteshelf, it adds functional capability to a fantastic 'hand write' app. I bought all the above, plus PhatPad, Notesplus (this is the worst! Don't even waste download time even if it's given for free), Note Taker HD.. For handwriting with the essential added functionality - go for UPAD. Try the free version....

  4. Lt
    July 22, 2011 at 3:38 pm

    Notetaker HD is my favorite.  It has a wristguard, so you can rest your hand on the screen.

  5. Penny Deegan
    July 14, 2011 at 5:09 pm

    Looks great - just need an ipad now!

    • Bakari
      July 16, 2011 at 9:05 pm

      Penny, though the iPad is expensive, I think it’s worth the investment. I choose my iPad over my television any day. It’s an excellent device for consuming media and jotting notes.

  6. Tony
    July 14, 2011 at 2:46 pm

    Are there any iPad apps which convert the handwritten notes to typed text?

    • chuck
      July 15, 2011 at 12:47 am

      Notes Plus is by far the best note taking app that i have used (have purchased over half a dozen of them) and although it does not handwriting to text in the current version, it will have it in Version 3.0 that will be released in a week or two. If you need this feature now, WritePad is the app for you.

    • Bakari
      July 16, 2011 at 9:03 pm

      WritePad also does this. It’s a paid app, but works pretty well.

  7. Anonymous
    July 14, 2011 at 2:18 pm

    Thanks for this post! I'm getting an iPad at work and need to find great apps like these.

    • Bakari
      July 16, 2011 at 9:02 pm

      Contrats on getting your iPad. You’re going find it very useful.

  8. Donald
    July 13, 2011 at 9:25 pm

    Actually, it is almost a certainty that Apple did think about it! They simply chose to avoid comparisons to the ill-fated Newton MessagePad, which provided handwriting recognition as well. If they failed to provide a fool-proof handwriting recognition experience, the iPad would have been dismissed outright. And if they included a free-hand note-taking app that did not include handwriting recognition, the comparisons would resurrect the Newton, against which the feature would receive an unfavorable rating!

    • Bakari
      July 16, 2011 at 9:01 pm

      Great analysis, Donald. I didn’t know anything about Newton MessagePad. Will have to read up on it.