I’ve been toying with the idea of trying out a stylus for a while now. I had gotten one with a screen cleaning kit a while back, however, and been unimpressed by it. Then, in a recent lecture, I saw a fellow using a far more intriguing–and to my mind, viable–stylus. I immediately rushed over after it was over and asked if I could try it out. The gadget/tech-loving community being what it generally is (friendly and happy to chat about devices and apps with kindred spirits), he graciously let me try it out on my phone and I was much happier with the feel of it.
This sparked a quest for a stylus to call my own. I eventually settled on this little beauty in blue (it had the virtue of being the cheapest one I could find, basically–I still wasn’t altogether committed). I then set about researching and acquiring the two apps that my stylus-using lecturemate recommended. They were both reasonably priced, and each had their advantages and downsides.
See, the thing is, I have a special need when it comes to styluses and touch screens: I’m a lefty. Even when I write on paper, a pen with a wetter ink (or less porus paper) will result in my leaving a smudgy mess in my wake, because my hand curls around and rubs against the lines that I have written as I move down the page (I used to write backwards as a child–mirror writing, essentially, starting at the bottom right of the page–because I found this smudginess such an annoying effect–especially since my fingers also get ink on them. But of course I was the only one who could read it, so I ultimately stopped).
This is a nifty app–no question. It has the beautiful UI that I value so highly, and provides not just the illusion of a print book, but is also pressure sensitive, so my writing has the potential to look far prettier on it (this is important to me. Part of the pleasure of handwriting for me, is basking in creating the nicest penmanship I can) than on apps that don’t feature this bonus. You can also download other papers for it, including various music sheets, if you’re a songwriter and like to jot things down by hand or are on the go and don’t have decent access to Sibelius (weird coincidence–shortly after I typed this, Valse Triste by the other Sibelius just started playing on my ipod–didn’t even know that it was ON this playlist!).
It’s a very good-looking app, and I suspect it works rather well for most right-handed folk. It even has a setting that causes the app to adjust, based on left or right handedness, and wrist position. Basically, this helped to minimize the stray marks that were caused before I changed the setting, by what the touch screen picked up of my other fingers touching the screen. That was great. BUT, what it really really needs as well is some kind of switch that either flips the interface. All the other buttons are at the top of the screen, you see–and so as I started writing, whenever my hand grazed the top of the touchscreen, it would navigate me to whatever location whose button my hand happened to graze–a frustrating effect that made the app basically unusuable for me (because I had to lift my hand to avoid grazing those nav buttons–and this was both uncomfortable and messed up the aesthetic pleasure I get from writing by hand). (**Note to Penultimate creators, should you stumble upon this post–drop me a note if you’ve made updates, or plan to, and I will update this post accordingly. I really do like this app and would likely use it a lot if not for this problem).
However, for those who do not hold their styluses at such vexingly awkward angles, this app has a lot to recommend it–including easy exporting of one’s writings, and dropbox and evernote integration (neither of which I got to the stage of setting up).
Note Taker HD
This was the other recommendation made by my lecture friend, and my subsequent researches seemed to indicate that it was a reasonable writing app to try out.
The interface is far less intuitive, and also less elegant. It seems to have a lot of features, but it took me a while to figure out where to tap to open documents inside folders, what the little icons meant and general navigation. I have only skimmed the surface of all the stuff this app can do (it seems like there are lots and lots of features, and so it is potentially a very powerful app)–and this is in part because I’m “a dig right in rather than read the manual type”. I don’t have time to go through the help files to figure out all the other nifty things I can do with it–and while the icons do have explanatory text (e.g. “duplicate” “tumbnail” etc.), I don’t really know how that plays out.
In all, the visual experience is less satisfying than with penultimate–it feels like one of those endearingly stolid, but slightly clunky, UIs from my PC days, rather than the pretty mac-designed apps and programs. It’s immensely functional, once you know how to use it, but not geared to wow a user with the aesthetics. Same goes for the way that it processes the input (here’s me with penmanship again)–it makes my writing look shakier and less pleasing (to me) than it tends to be in the analogue world, and since that’s a big part of why I like handwriting–because of the aesthetic of it, just for my own enjoyment of the visual–this is a point against. But I also write for other reasons: to access different parts of my brain, to move out of the linear constraints of typing, to diagram, etc. And for that, this program would seem to work reasonably well–with the advantage of having the infinite reproducibility of digital copies of any notes made. The flow is pretty good, once you get used to the mechanics of the app (there’s a zoom where you write an auto-advance mode, and a spot to tap on the adjacent screen to move to the next line).
The big plus, however, is the mechanics of the left-handed mode. This basically puts the zoom area at the top of the screen rather than the bottom. There are no other buttons or navigations there, and so I have had no difficulty writing multiple pages of notes and journals in this program–so for lefties who wish to use styluses on their ipads for taking notes, Note Taker HD wins hands down over the PenUltimate.
Clarifying Note: for diagramming, both of the apps are equally good–or bad–for lefties (or indeed, for anyone whose hand drags on the screen when they write). It’s mainly for the functionality of its left-handed text input mode that Note Taker wins. And let’s face it–I’m not really a big diagramming person, so this is a key point in my case.