Apple Notes is a free note-taking app for your iPhone, iPad and Mac. Its web version is terrible and unusable. This review focuses on the iPad version of the app.
Creating a new note is simple. Apple Notes has three basic page templates. Your lined and squared papers each have three line spacing options. We’re still waiting for a narrower option. The first few words you write or type become the notebook title (we’ve grown to appreciate it).
In Apple Notes, you can type or Scribble your body text. Body text goes directly on the page and does not mix with any other items in your notes. You can structure it with titles, headings and subheadings. Apple Notes supports one font only, which you can monospace.
On the iPad, you don’t have a lot of options for your body text font. You can’t change its colour, type or size. However, you can format it to make it bold, italic, underlined or strikeout. You can also add numbered and unnumbered lists. An effective list varies the bullets and numbering when you add levels to your lists. Sadly, in Apple Notes, only your unnumbered lists have that.
Interactive checklists in Apple Notes are very simple. They still don’t strike out your completed list items; we’re tired of complaining about it. Not many note-taking apps support tables. It’s one of the reasons to consider using Apple Notes. This feature hasn’t developed much over the years. Adding new rows and columns still feels like too much work.
You can also handwrite your notes in Apple Notes using a pen or pencil tool. The app now has several pen types; another ballpoint and a calligraphy pen. You also get a watercolour brush, which is awesome. All these tools have five fixed thicknesses, and you can adjust their opacity. They are all raster ink, which pixelates when you zoom in. In 2023, that is simply unacceptable.
Using custom colours is still a pain in Apple Notes because we can’t replace the five default colours on the toolbar. The handwriting experience in the app is amazing, with accurate handwriting representation, no lag and perfect palm rejection.
The highlighter in Apple Notes goes behind your ink, so it doesn’t dim your notes at 100% opacity or when layered. It has five fixed sizes and uses the same colour palette as the pen tool.
The eraser tool can erase per pixel or stroke. Your pixel eraser now has five fixed sizes and no longer adjusts its size when you tilt the Apple Pencil tip. We would love the ability to erase just the highlighter only.
Adding items to your notes
Apple Notes still does not support irregular shapes. We are now tired of using the ruler tool to draw them. Our regular shapes are also still limited, but at least now we can:
- adjust, resize and rotate them
- pick a border colour
- change the border thickness
- add a fill colour
- adjust the opacity of the shape, its border and fill.
Photos, scans and videos
You can take a photo with your iPad camera or add one from the Photos library. We can finally mix our photos with handwriting, and the app now supports PNG images. You can resize and rotate your photos, which is awesome. We’re now waiting for the cropping feature.
Your videos and scans remain blocked, though. You still can’t mix them with handwriting. For videos, you have playback options to slow down or speed up the video. Live Text works on the videos as well, so you can easily copy text out of them. Picture in Picture is not supported yet for video playback, and we look forward to it.
Text boxes can mix with your handwriting, have more formatting options than body text and support custom fonts. You can change the font size, colour, and text alignment. You can also rotate them.
The lasso tool in Apple Notes can now pick up everything on the page. Let’s take a moment to appreciate that. The app still has to work on how it presents the selected sections, though, because it’s a bit confusing. You can also pick up items separately; handwritten notes, images or text boxes.
For your handwriting, you can straighten it out. It’s been a hit-and-miss every time we tried it. Inserting space between items is very easy, in Apple Notes. Now that we can select everything on our pages, let’s hope we’ll be able to resize the selections in the future.
Apple Notes’ unique approach to OCR does not convert your handwriting to text. It instead does the following:
- searches through your handwriting
- create titles from handwritten notes and scans
- pastes your handwritten notes as text in other apps
- searches through the text in your images
- scans text to add to your body text
- translates handwritten and text notes.
Data detection recognises addresses, phone numbers, dates and emails so you can take action on them. It works on text, photos and handwritten notes alike. For example, you can add to-dos to Apple Reminders and events to Apple Calendar without leaving Apple Notes.
- Apple Notes supports true dark mode, which automatically switches all your app colours when you use dark mode.
- Multiple instances helps you multitask in the app.
- Customise the toolbar, though it’s currently limited to just four icons.
Apple Notes searches through your handwriting and text. We are happy to see that the app now highlights handwritten results too. It can get glitchy, though, sometimes.
The best way to share your notes with others in Apple Notes is to collaborate on them. You can collaborate on notebooks or folders, and you control the permissions for your collaborators. Exporting your notes from any note-taking app is not a good idea. Moreso for Apple Notes, the app:
- uses raster ink which looks blurry and pixelates when zoomed.
- cuts off your pages at the most inconvenient places.
Universal search searches through all the folders in your app. You can also filter your search to focus on notes with certain characteristics.
The minimalist UI makes switching between different notes easy and quick. You can pin notes that you often use at the top of a folder. The app also lets you lock important documents, but there are too many limitations on the notebooks we can lock. It kind of makes the feature useless.
Apple Notes supports five levels of folders-within-folders. It’s enough for most note-taking needs. Tags also help organise your notes as well. Using a number of filters, you can create smart folders that automatically organise your notes according to the criteria you set.
Our Noteful challenge for Apple Notes proved that Apple Notes is now a serious note-taking app. It is free, yet packs almost everything a note-taker would need. There’s room for improvement, but we would seriously consider Apple Notes before purchasing a third-party note-taking app.
- add videos
- smart folders
- data detection
- universal tags
- quick Notes from anywhere
- limited to Apple devices
- raster ink
- no page size options
- poor exporting options
- no auto backup
- no support for irregular shapes
4 thoughts on “Apple Notes in iPadOS 16 (2023)”
It does have handwriting conversion as it’s not hard to copy select and paste a converted copy of the text within the note. The only issue is you then have to erase the handwritten text.
That is indeed true, it’s similar to the sort of thing you get in GoodNotes. I’ve just never thought of using it that way and I have never been a fan of how GoodNotes does it.
“The app does not export PDFs, only images. PDF is the golden standard for exporting digital notes.”
This is wrong. You can export Notes as PDFs quite easily. Tap in the circle with three dots (upper right corner of your iDevice screen), scroll down the menu list, and select “Print”. You will get thumbnails for each A4 (or whatever Paper Size you choose in the menu, with a blue circle tick on each one; you can tap on the blue circle tick to ‘remove’ that particular page from the ‘print’ range so it won’t be printed. Then, do a two-finger open pinch on any page to enlarge it to full screen, hit the “share” button at the bottom of your screen, and choose a destination for the document, which will automatically be saved as a PDF — and it will be sharp, not blurry. All you have to do is to direct where it will be saved. I usually save mine in the “Files” App. You can also print the PDF to a wireless printer, email it, uploaded it elsewhere, mark it up on an iDevice or a Mac, (or prevent markup, if you so wish), protect it with a password, etc.
You’re quite correct, but that is a workaround. Other apps do that in single taps. That is why we made that conclusion. Workarounds are a compromise, they’re not always ideal.