A few years ago, we had a few handwriting note-taking apps to choose from. It was usually a choice between Notability and GoodNotes. Then Notability went subscription and lost its competitive advantage against GoodNotes. Surprisingly, and for the most ridiculous of reasons, GoodNotes followed suit in 2023 by introducing GoodNotes 6 (their worst upgrade to date). This caused a shift in the digital note-taking community, with one-time purchase apps gaining more popularity and new apps launching. What are the top paid handwriting note-taking apps for the iPad in 2023?
What’s important to you?
Each of us has different objectives and goals for why we choose to go digital. Some love the ease of accessing all their notes on multiple devices; others do it because they care about the environment. But when it comes to digital note-taking itself, you learn about yourself and the type of digital note-taker you are, and that usually points you in the right direction. By answering a few questions, you can determine which apps will best suit your goals and personality.
Fortunately, in 2023, most features are now considered an industry standard as more developers come onto the scene and old ones continue to develop their apps to stay competitive. There is almost something that makes each app outstanding (good and bad), and paying attention to that can help you decide whether or not an app will be a match for you.
It’s important to note that in 2023, all handwriting note-taking apps that we recommend will have perfect palm rejection and a great handwriting experience on the iPad. Most apps are also free to try out, and we recommend taking them for a spin before making a commitment. Our list is in no particular order, and we will continue to update it as new players come onto the scene and as we try more apps.
Noteful: Editor’s choice
Noteful is our team’s go-to handwriting note-taking app for individual and private notes. If we’re not collaborating on a document and you’ll probably never want to share it, then that goes into Noteful. It is the app that replaced Notability for our team, and we have never looked back. Noteful is the youngest and cheapest app on this list. At just $4.99, a one-time purchase, it gives you value for money if you’re on a budget. It has the best handwriting experience of all the apps on this list, thanks to its updated pen tool that gives you more pen options to personalise your pens in the app. The app has tags, page layers, and nested outlines for organising your digital notes. We especially love the page layers in the app because of their versatility, they have so many exciting possibilities. Your audio recordings are synced handwritten notes, but not your text, though.
The biggest drawback of Noteful is that it can’t convert your handwriting to text, nor can you search through it. It also does not have a macOS version of the app. So, you can only access it on the M-series Macs. We have a comprehensive user guide for Noteful, and a free YouTube course for it that can help you get started with the app.
Nebo: best handwriting-converting app
Nebo is still the best real-time, handwriting-converting note-taking app on the market if you prefer typed final notes. It has accurate handwriting recognition technology that works for diagrams and even math equations. You can access the app on most operating systems: Windows, Android, iPadOS, and ChromeOS. So, you are not limited to the Apple ecosystem, although you’ll have to purchase the app on all the devices you want to use it on. On the iPad, Nebo costs $8.99, with options to unlock only the features you need if you’re on a budget. The app supports 66 languages and dialects for your handwriting conversion, excluding Arabic. It has an infinite canvas that you can take notes on, which continues to expand in all directions. It is the first note-taking app working towards generative AI that can actually improve a note-taker’s life, and we love it.
Nebo sucks at multi-tasking, though. The app does not support multiple instances, and even when you split view with other apps, you can’t drag and drop items. Everything you delete can’t be recovered because the app does not have a recycle bin. So, you have to think carefully before deleting anything. Nebo is also not a traditional handwriting note like most apps on this list; it mostly specialises in handwriting conversion, and that comes with several limitations.
GoodNotes: best collaboration platform
Even though we’re still waiting for audio recording and the app still creates the biggest documents of any app on this list, there’s plenty to celebrate in GoodNotes. Especially worth noting are the app’s robust collaboration capabilities—the kind we have not seen in any other handwriting note-taking app. Not only can you collaborate on your notes, but you can also comment to start conversations right within your notebooks. We hope to see this collaboration in other apps this year.
Another reason to be excited about GoodNotes is its Windows app, which will be available this year. We don’t know exactly when, but you can join their beta testing already. If this app can sync across devices, then GoodNotes will become a favourite for many. In terms of features, though, GoodNotes has been slow to roll out anything outstanding in the last couple of years. However, collaboration is such an important feature for productivity apps in 2023.
Noteshelf is one of the two apps on this list that’s also available on Android. The free version of Evernote only syncs your notes on two devices at a time. When you have more than that, syncing across all your devices will cost you at least the personal package from Evernote, starting at $4.00/month. That would be the least of your worries. Syncing is not automated and is especially a massive headache on the Android version. For now, it’s safe to say that Noteshelf still doesn’t sync across platforms.
Over the years, with new note-taking apps popping up and the old ones adding more and more features, Noteshelf has morphed into a basic note-taking app. It doesn’t have any distinguishing features anymore, except that it has the most supported OCR languages for your handwriting-to-text conversion (only second to Nebo). For basic note-taking, Noteshelf is an excellent choice for 2023, and it has plenty of page templates and free planners.
Once you get over the Windows 95 look in ZoomNotes (God knows we’re trying), and the fact that it still does not support multiple instances; there’s plenty to be excited about. Because…
If you can think it, ZoomNotes probably does it!– Paperless X
It’s a brilliant concept until you start using the app for actual work or notes. The app’s many great features include separate workspaces, custom toolbars, an infinite canvas, and layers for your pages. Making sense of everything takes a long time.
ZoomNotes is simply not for everyone, but if it’s the perfect app for you then nothing else will ever be good enough. Besides, its $7.99 one-time purchase gives you the best value for your money. ZoomNotes is the most updated app on our list. It just doesn’t get frequent bug fixes, but rather new valuable features that further complicate (and improve) the app.
ZoomNotes is worth looking into if you have a lot of free time and patience to learn all its many features. It is also the only app on this list that integrates with Apple Calendar and Apple Reminders, which is great for planning.
How the mighty have fallen! In 2023, Notability is but a shell of its former glory. The controversial subscription model they adopted did a number on the company’s reputation. Most of us simply lost faith in Ginger Labs. For the few who kept faith, Notability hasn’t delivered anything meaningful for the subscription they are charging. With all the other apps on this list, it simply makes no sense to get Notability for 2023.
However, for those that don’t mind the subscription, the app is still a note-taking beast. It supports GIFs, math and chemical equation conversion, text alignment to native template line spacing, and it creates the tiniest documents of all the apps on this list. But most of these are old features. Notability is probably the least updated note-taking app on this list.
Do you agree with our picks? Which app do you feel should have made it on this list?