6 best handwriting apps for the iPad in 2023

All the handwriting apps in this article are paid apps that our team has tested extensively over the past five years. We have graded them from the least to the best, according to different criteria.

6. Notability

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, maths 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.

5. ZoomNotes

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.

4. Noteshelf

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.

3. Nebo

Nebo is still the best real-time, handwriting-converting note-taking app on the market for anyone who prefers 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. Syncing across devices is very easy, using the MyScript account and a cloud service of your choice. 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.

Nebo also has the most languages and dialects for your OCR, a whopping 66 in total. Its developers have consistently continued to work on the app, introducing new features. In their latest update, you can now convert your handwriting on the Note pages, which makes taking notes more flexible. If the Document pages aren’t working for you, you might enjoy taking digital notes on an infinite canvas where you can easily mix your handwriting with text.

Note: Nebo does not support multiple instances, though, and it has no recycle bin.

2. Noteful

Noteful can’t convert your handwriting to text, nor can you search for it. The app also doesn’t support web links, and it doesn’t have a native macOS app. However, Noteful is the new kid on the block and the cheapest app on this list. At just $4.99, a one-time purchase, it has successfully replaced Notability in my workflow. It is the only other app on this list with audio recording synced to handwritten notes. Though the app still has a long way to go before it can match Notability’s audio recording tool, you can at least take handwritten notes that are synced to your recordings. For most, that is enough.

Noteful has also improved the tags in Noteshelf. It lets you organise your notes in folders or tag them. You can use both systems too. Unlike the tags in Noteshelf, your tags in Noteful are universal, so you can use the same tags across all your notebooks and pages in the app.

Layers didn’t make sense in a note-taking app until Noteful. In ZoomNotes, they mostly felt like another complex feature that you’ll probably struggle to figure out. And if you have been longing for nested outlines in GoodNotes, Noteful has them. You can create an infinite number of levels for your outlines.

We love how Noteful is bringing all the features we care about at such an affordable price. We’ve requested most of these features from established apps for years, and they’ve never done anything about it.

1. GoodNotes

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.

Do you agree with our picks? Which app do you feel should have made it on this list?

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