A real digital notebook should allow users to do more than collect and store notes, clippings and documents. Academic and project-based notebooks should include a way for users to highlight content, draw and and annotate notes and ideas, and also have control of the placement of text and images on a digital page. That’s what Outline for the iPad ($14.99) and Mac ($39.99) allows you to do.
Outline is especially useful for students, writers, and researchers who are trying to go paperless with their iPad. Outline’s tools and user interface are similar to an actual paper notebook, with multicolored dividers, sections, and pages.
Even better, the Mac version of Outline, though lacking the drawing tools, syncs with the iOS version and allows for more screen real-estate when needed.
Setting Up Notebooks
One of the advantages of using Outline is the ability to create separate notebooks, on both platforms, for different topics and projects. While notebooks can be created in applications like Evernote, Outline notebooks have a less cluttered feel, and the front cover of the notebook can be customized using one of over two dozen different colors or designs. Covers can’t, however, be customized with personal photos or images.
After notebooks are created on one device and synced to a service like Dropbox, they can be imported and synced with other connected devices. This also means that notebooks can be shared with other Outline users, provided they are saved to a shared location in one of the cloud services. Outline does not include iCloud support.
Content Creation Features
Outline works in a similar way to how text boxes and images are added in Apple’s Pages. On the iPad version of Outline, long tap anywhere on a page and a text box will appear ready for typing. Pasted text automatically gets added to a text box. And as you might expect, both versions of Outline include formatting tools for stylizing text, though the app does not provide support for Markdown editing.
Outline includes a user guide that teaches you how to import and move content around, including photos. Unlike Evernote, content in Outline can be moved around and resized, which gives it that real notebook feel.
PDFs and other documents, however, can’t be imported into Outline notebooks, though you can add them as attachments.
The iPad version of Outline includes assorted pen styles and markers for manually writing notes and annotating content. The digital ink for the pens is very smooth and responsive, similar to the pens in the popular art app Paper.
Pen tool content on both versions of the app can also be selected, copied and pasted to other pages, or moved around.
Outline includes a digital eraser, but dedicated undo and redo buttons would be useful as well for quickly correcting unwanted markings.
Outline contains several other handy features including password protection for selected notes, full compatibility with OneNote’s 2010-2013, tags and checkboxes and a search feature that transcends notebooks and sections.
Free Trial Version
Outline is a bit pricey compared to other iPad apps, but you can download a free version with a 30 page limit to see if it fits your needs.
Outline is not an online document storage app like Evernote or Springpad, but it fills some missing features not available in the latter two notebooks. It may be particularly useful for students, researchers, business executives, and project planners. Let us know what you think about Outline and how you might use it.