What's In A Journal?

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For years I have journaled off and on...probably more 'off' than 'on'.  I have tried handwritten journals. I've tried voice dictated journals.  And I have tried electronic journals, because I can typically type faster than I can write by hand.

At the beginning of this year I started experimenting with handwriting apps for my iPad.  I had several thoughts in doing this:

  1. SCANNING - Since starting my document management (paperless) system, I have been scanning every one of my handwritten notes into Evernote from the pads and scraps of paper I use to handwrite these notes.  I was also using bound notebooks for notes and journaling.  I wanted to added these scribblings to my electronic filing system so I could review them and access them in the future.  I found it difficult to scan bound notebooks.
  2. EFFICIENCY - If I was bound and determined to add my handwritten notes to my electronic filing system, I wanted to do it in one step rather than the 3 or 4 it took to handwrite the note, put it the scanner, scan it to Evernote, and file it in Evernote. 
  3. SEARCHING - Since I was putting these notes into electronic notes on Evernote, I wanted to be able to search the contents of the notes.  e.g. I had some notes from a meeting last year regarding the kitchen remodel at The Shepherd's House.  I tried to search all of my notes for "kitchen equipment" and for the life of me I could not find the note I was looking for.  Bottomline, Evernote had a hard time recognizing my handwriting.

Digital Handwriting

Enter digital handwriting apps for the iPad.

Since I am big fan of Evernote, I started playing with their handwriting recognition application, Penultimate.  It worked really well initially AND the price was right...FREE.  Anything handwritten in Penultimate was automatically added to Evernote AND it was searchable.  Penultimate seemed to solve all 3 of my concerns.

But, then I started to run into some problems with Penultimate.  I found it difficult to extract the note from Evernote, digitally or printing.  I could not turn the note into a PDF file and move it to my computer.  When I printed the note directly from Evernote, it just didn't fit on the page correctly.

So I began searching the Apple App Store and different websites for handwriting apps. I found that I needed to begin to understand a lot of the nomenclature and features of handwriting apps.

  • Stylus vs Finger mode
  • Notebooks and pages
  • Pens, brushes, erasers
  • Highlighting
  • Deletion gestures
  • Full page Editing
  • Objects, shapes, images
  • Close-up writing mode
  • Palm rejection
  • Auto advance
  • Handwriting recognition

I came up with 4 options: Noteshelf, Notability, GoodNotes, and Notes Plus.

NOTESHELF ($5.99) - Noteshelf is a great app with a ton of features, PLUS it integrates with Evernote.  The handwriting experience is very good. Noteshelf is probably the most feature rich when it comes to writing styles, embedding notes in notes, and other features. The two items that caused me to look beyond Noteshelf were handwriting recognition and Noteshelf Help.  When learning the app, I found it difficult to find good instruction for using the app.  Plus Noteshelf does not include handwriting recognition (turning handwritten notes into digital text).

NOTABILITY ($2.99) - I never downloaded or tried Notability.  I discovered that it did not seamlessly integrate with Evernote, nor did it have handwriting recognition.  It kind of lived within its own system of note storage and filing.  I wanted a system that would integrate with Evernote and had the potential for handwriting recognition.

GOODNOTES ($6.99) - Again, I never downloaded GoodNotes, because after researching it I found it didn't sync with Evernote (a big negative for me).  It has good handwriting recognition. But another negative for me was the size of the program (107 mb).  The other three apps were less than 50 mb each.

NOTES PLUS ($9.99) - Notes Plus is the most expensive of the four apps.  In order to try the handwriting before paying the $9.99, I downloaded their free handwriting app INKredible. I was very impressed. The handwriting experience was... "incredible." It was very easy to write with and it made me feel like I was writing on a very smooth piece of paper effortlessly.  Actual handwriting to text recognition is an add-on of $2.99.  Notes Plus easily exports to Evernote AND it is able to print beautiful notes.  One of the features I really appreciate is the integrated browser.  I can have a web page or a PDF loaded in the browser, cut text or an image out of the browser page and paste it right into my handwritten note.  Also, the integrated user manual is very thorough, extremely helpful and easy to read.

Once I got use to the navigation and features of Notes Plus, it easily became my favorite.  The only gripe I have is the dropping off of my pen stroke near the right margin of the page.  The close-up writing feature is so seamless though that with a little practice I typically avoid "the dead space."  (Maybe one of these days they will fix this glitch of the program).

Putting it to Use

So what how do I use Notes Plus?

Well, I try to use it instead of a pen and paper....for everything.  I am actually writing pages that I would typically type.  I really like how it feels.  I like seeing my handwriting and I like working on writing better and being more creative with it.  Here's why I am using Notes Plus:

  1. I like the way handwriting feels vs typing, even though I am a pretty fast typer.
  2. I feel more creative when I am handwriting.
  3. The tension in my shoulders from typing seem to go away with handwriting on an iPad.
  4. It seems more effortless to me than writing on a piece of paper.
  5. Knowing that I can easily erase, move or delete anything I write (without getting out a white or pink eraser) is very freeing.
  6. I can instantly change from a ballpoint pen to a fountain pen to calligraphy to a wet brush.
  7. I can write in multiple colors.
  8. I can add graphics and objects.  My squiggly circle can be turned into a perfect circle with the tap of the stylus.
  9. I can highlight PDF documents
  10. Anything I write can be saved, searched, and even turned into text if I want.
  11. Journalling and note taking is kind of fun again.
  12. Notes Plus can easily send handwriting notes to Evernote.

So, if you an avid writer, doodler, note-taker, or just want a different digital experience, I suggest you try handwriting on an iPad.