Nebo (2021): BEST Handwriting-Converting App for the iPad

PROS

  • Best handwriting-converting app
  • Supports 66 languages
  • Erases per letter
  • Useful gestures
  • Supports Math & Chemical equations
  • Custom dictionary

CONS

  • Doesn’t support multiple instances
  • You can’t drag & drop images
  • No recycle bin

9/10

Rating: 9 out of 10.

In 2021, Nebo is still the best handwriting-converting note-taking app on the market, even with Scribble around. Most note-taking apps with handwriting recognition technology (Notability, GoodNotes, etc.) use MyScript’s technology. However, Nebo is the only app using Interactive Ink (an advanced cutting edge version of MyScript technology). Where most applications offer handwriting recognition merely as a feature, Nebo is dedicated to converting your handwritten notes to text. Over the past year, the app is evolving beyond that, though.

Supported Operating Systems

It is available on Windows for $9.99, iPadOS for free (with in-app purchases), Android for $11.99 and ChromeOS. Nebo is on almost any operating system you pick up and it now has Nebo viewer For the iPhone, which lets you view your notes.

Compatibility

  • iPadOS 13.0 or later
  • iOS 13.0 or later for Nebo viewer.
  • Android 6.0 and up
  • Windows 10 version 16299.0 or higher, Xbox One

Buying Nebo

On the iPad, Nebo is free with in-app purchases in its Nebo Store. It has single packs you can purchase for Essentials, Connect and PDF. This setup lets you purchase only the features you need. This review focuses on the fully paid version of the app. Here is the price list for Nebo:

EssentialsConnectPDF
– Create unlimited notebooks & collections.
– Search your library & handwriting.
– Dictionary
– Sync your notes with iCloud, Dropbox or Google Drive.
– Share notes via web link, with full access control.
-Export notes in Word, PDF or HTML formats.
– Open and export PDF documents
– Mark up PDFs and export or share annotated documents
Types of packs in the Nebo shop

Supported Languages For OCR

Nebo supports a total of 66 languages for your handwriting recognition and they keep adding more. 

Afrikaans, Albanian, Armenian, Azeri, Basque, Belarusian, Bosnian, Bulgarian, Catalan, Cebuano (Philippines), Chinese Simplified, Chinese Traditional (Hong Kong), Chinese Traditional (Taiwan), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English (Canada), English (Philippines), English (South Africa), English (United Kingdom), English (United States), Estonian, Filipino (Philippines), Finnish, Flemish, French (Canada), French (France), Gaelic, Galician, Georgian, German (Austria), German (Germany), Greek, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Kazakh, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Macedonian, Malagasy (Madagascar), Malay, Mongolian, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazil), Portuguese (Portugal), Romanian, Russian, Serbian (Cyrillic), Serbian (Latin), Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish (Colombia), Spanish (Mexico), Spanish (Spain), Swahili (Tanzania), Swedish, Tatar, Turkish, Ukrainian, Vietnamese.

The app’s user interface is available in the following languages: English, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Russian, Japanese, German, Korean, French, Italian.

Creating Digital Notes

Creating a new notebook in Nebo is a two-step process. Tap the Plus icon (top right or on the blank page labelled Add), then choose to add New page, New freeform page or Import as PDF. These represent the three main note-taking styles supported in Nebo.

 New Page

A New page creates a handwriting-converting notebook. You can tap the top of your notes labelled ‘No name‘ to rename it. By default, this notebook has a lined paper template (that you can’t change). You can, however, adjust its line spacing to make it narrow or wide ruled. Under the same setting, you can customise the font size for your converted text. This page template is how Nebo started and it remains Nebo’s primary note-taking style, even as they add more features to the app.

Nebo can combine handwriting and text in one word, sentence or paragraph. No other note-taking app does this; write when it’s convenient and type when it tickles your fancy.
The app now supports both active and passive styluses. You can now use your fingers to write in the app. It helps to increase the line spacing to write within the lines on the page. You can quickly switch to using your finger when you turn off the option to Use active pen. Even when your Apple Pencil (or other active stylus) runs out of battery, you can continue writing in Nebo.

You have to use the pointer icon to navigate your pages, though. The two-finger gesture works too. Gestures are much faster than selecting and deselecting icons.

Pen Tool

Your pen tool has six fixed sizes. You can test the pen thickness before closing the customisation window, to see if you like it. This is a thoughtful feature from our developers. Please note, the thickness of your pen does not affect your converted text. It is just there to improve your handwriting experience in the app.

Highlighter

The highlighter in Nebo has also six fixed sizes. It goes behind your ink, therefore, making information stand out. It is a ‘smart highlighter’, in that it snaps into a perfect highlighter, no matter how crooked your draw it (like your shapes tool in other note-taking apps).

You can’t layer your highlighters in the app. Highlighting over an already existing highlighter removes it; a useful gesture for erasing highlighters. It is quick and simple.

In Nebo, you can’t write using your highlighter, though. It can only highlight. Most note-taking apps let you handwrite with your highlighter, but Nebo keeps your highlighter strictly for highlighting. It is the smartest highlighting engine we have encountered in any note-taking app so far.

The Eraser

The eraser erases per letter (labelled Stroke) and per pixel (Precise). Cursive combines many letters into a single pen stroke. When most note-taking apps erase per stroke, all the letters in a single pen stroke disappear, not Nebo. Even if you write ten letters in one stroke, the app can pick up individual letters from it, which is very impressive.

When you need to fix just one letter, from an incorrect conversion, you can. That is such an important feature in a handwriting-converting app. You don’t want to erase a complete word to correct one small conversion error. Your eraser has six fixed sizes and it works on both handwriting and text.

Lasso Tool

You can select sections of your notes to Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete, make it Bold, Highlight, Indent or List. When indenting your paragraph, you can choose to either Decrease or Increase the indentation. For your List, you can create a numbered, unnumbered or check list. You can also change the colour of your notes with your lasso tool.

Next to it, you can add as many custom colours as you like (using the Plus icon at the end of the colour palette). The wheel is not the most accurate way to pick colours. Let’s hope they can add a Hex code system or colour picker for better accuracy. Tap the Bin icon to remove a colour you don’t want. If you want to slightly change an existing colour, you can duplicate and adjust its Saturation and Brightness.

Handwriting Experience

The handwriting experience in Nebo is one of the best on the market. Writing feels smooth; there is no lag and in Nebo 3.2 it got better! They improved their inking engine, handwriting in the app has never been more pleasant! The app perfectly captures how your handwriting looks on paper. But even more impressive, it recognises the most illegible of handwritings.

Directly above your notes, Nebo can preview your handwriting conversion in real-time. That way, you can correct errors as soon as you spot them. For some, this might be annoying so you can turn it off in your Settings.

To convert a section, simply double-tap it. Double-tap it again to ‘unlock’ editing the notes. When using a stylus, you can only edit big text (with paper lines on it); small text (with a plain background) is not editable. For your keyboard, though, it doesn’t matter. It can edit any text when you tap on it.

Nebo has a lot of gestures that make note-taking fun and add to your amazing user experience in the app. 

The Dictionary

You can add custom words for better handwriting recognition with technical terms (for subjects like medicine, pharmacy and engineering). You can only add one word at a time, which is time-consuming. Let’s hope, in the future, we will be able to add multiple words all at once.  

Items You Can Add To Your Notes

Apart from writing notes, you can add lists, photos, sketches, diagrams, equations and freeform notes in Nebo. The app doesn’t convert sketches, photo annotations and freeform sections, but it does convert diagrams (if you want).

Multi-level Lists

You can create multi-level lists in Nebo, simply write the next hierarchy a little further inline and the app automatically creates an indentation. When you convert your lists, both numbered and unnumbered, Nebo seems to support one type of numbering/bullet points. However, this is not the case because Nebo supports a lot of different types of bullet points and numbering options, you just have to write them yourself.
In Nebo, you can actually mix your un/numbered lists in one list. The fact that you can write them in yourself means you can mix both. However, it also means the app doesn’t automatically variate your numbering/bullet points as you add hierarchies to your lists. If they can allow us both, that would be awesome!

You can add checklists to your notes by either writing the items and converting them to a checklist, or drawing the checkboxes yourself (if you have plenty of time on your hands). Nebo ticks off completed tasks without dimming or striking them out. Ticking off checkboxes is not enough, especially for long lists.

Sketches

You can add a Sketch for drawing which Nebo does not convert. The lasso tool lets you move your drawings around the sketch box. Resizing and rotating capabilities for the lasso tool would be greatly appreciated. For now, you can only Copy, Cut and Delete your sketch using the three-dots icon. 

Diagrams

If you don’t want to convert your drawings, add them as a diagram. You can set each element in your diagram as a doodle to prevent it from converting, an action you can’t undo. Once converted, you can’t undo that either. It would be better if we could switch back and forth.

All the shapes you don’t mark as a doodle get a translucent blue auto-fill. Whether or not your shape has been converted, to remove the autofill set the diagram as a doodle. They have improved this feature, but it is still not very intuitive.

This diagrams feature recognises most regular shapes (circles, ellipses, triangles, parallelograms, rectangles, squares, trapezoids, rhombuses) and some irregular ones. Irregular shapes are still a hit-and-miss though. Nebo also supports arrows, angled arrows and curved lines. That is all the basic tools you’ll need if you ever think of creating a small mind map in the Nebo.

Equations

You can add math and chemical equations to your notes. Nebo supports some advanced latex language for your math equations, but they are probably not complex enough for Math majors. You can always use the sketch feature for complicated equations (without conversion, there will be no errors). It might add that special something to your notes. You can set the app to solve your Math problems so when you convert it, Nebo it out for you.

Freeform

The freeform section lets you brainstorm ideas for your notes. The app doesn’t convert what you write in the freeform section. This allows you have both your rough sketches and final notes in the same notebook. How decent is that?!

When you finish brainstorming, you can copy and paste your notes from the freeform section. The squared paper in the freeform section’s line spacing automatically adjusts when you adjust the line spacing for handwritten.

Editing Your Notes

All these sections you add to your notes and paragraphs are adjustable. You can resize to put them where you want. If you love deciding how your documents look, you will love arranging the different elements in your notes. You can rearrange your paragraphs too. Let’s hope in the future we can get to rotate these sections too, for funky looking notes.

When you tap a section of your notes (a paragraph for example), the three-dot icon appears on the top right corner of the selection box. You then get options to:

  • Edit or Finish editing (which converts handwriting to text)
  • Copy, Cut or Delete

You can create space between paragraphs of your notes. Ever since Apple Notes and OneNote introduced this feature, most of us want it in every app now, with good reason. Digital note-taking is all about convenience and flexibility. Creating space between notes is as flexible as it gets! You can long-press on a line with one finger to:

  • Paste to paste something you have copied.
  • Add section: adds a freeform section
  • Add object: camera, image, sketch, diagram, math and free form.
  • Adjust space: adds space for new paragraphs between your notes.

Search Tool

You can search both your handwriting and text without any problems. Your search results are easy to follow and find what you’re looking for.

New Freeform Page

The freeform page in Nebo started as an infinite writing canvas for brainstorming ideas. However, as Nebo keeps adding more features to it, it is pushing the app towards becoming a broader handwriting note-taking app. One that can now compete with Notability and GoodNotes.

The Infinite Canvas

The freeform page is infinite in all directions, perfect for anyone who loves infinite pages. You can adjust the line spacing for your squared canvas. The changes are more evident at the 100% zoom percentage. You can zoom in and out between 65-200%. Your zoom percentage displays on the screen, which is helpful for consistency in your handwriting.

Writing Tools

The freeform page has a similar toolset (except for the keyboard) to that of the normal Nebo page. This part of the app is evolving to become an independent note-taking aspect of the application. Though initially introduced for brainstorming, those that prefer taking notes on an infinite canvas will love taking notes in Nebo.

They have introduced the erasing (scribbling) gesture to the freeform pages. Gestures in Nebo are great; they help us work faster with less effort. We look forward to having all the Nebo gestures on the freeform pages. 

Add Photos

You can add photos from your iPad’s Camera or the Photos library, then resize and move them around. Let’s hope in the future we’ll be able to rotate them too.

Search Tool

You can also search your notes and easily navigate through the results. Nebo highlights your results so they are easy to spot on your page.

How To Use Freeform Pages

When you’re done brainstorming, you can copy your notes as TextSketchMath or Diagram to paste in other apps or the normal Nebo pages. This is a brilliant feature but it requires support for multiple instances, which Nebo doesn’t support yet. Copying notes and exiting the freeform page to look for a Nebo page to paste them to, is simply too much work. It makes this feature difficult to use.

For an efficient workflow, Nebo needs to support multiple instances and drag & drop so we can open two documents side-by-side, then drag & drop sections between two pages.

For those that prefer writing on an infinite canvas, Nebo is a great option. The fact that the canvas is infinite in all directions, means you’ll never run out of ‘page real estate’ for your complex notes.

Import PDF

Most of us were hoping Nebo would convert our handwritten annotations to text. That was probably the reason why this was one of the most requested features on our wish list for 2020. Unfortunately, it hasn’t turned out that way.

You can only use your pen tool, highlighter and eraser to annotate your PDFs. Most PDFs don’t come with extra space around the edges for annotating on. That is the first challenge you will face annotating PDFs in Nebo. Unless your PDF already has plenty of room for you to write on, Nebo’s not the app you want to use for PDF annotation.

The highlighter for your PDF annotation goes in front of your text, which dims it. For digital notes, it’s better when the highlighter goes behind the text. This PDF annotation feature is still too basic; you can’t even use any Nebo gestures. A lot is still missing for a full PDF annotation experience.

Three-dots Icon

For Nebo Pages

The three-dots icon on your Nebo Pages, lets you:

  • Convert all to text
  • Clear all
  • Export
  • Publish
  • Use active pen

Convert & Clear All

Convert all will convert everything on your page to text; except your sketches, photo annotations and freeform sections. Clear all deletes everything on the page.

Export Text

You can export text if you want to share plain text. The export file will ignore anything else that is not plain text; diagrams, sketches, photos.

Export PDF

You can export your handwritten notes when sharing them as PDFs. Nebo does not convert them to text anymore and your handwriting remains searchable in apps you export to: LiquidText, Noteshelf, Notability, MarginNote, PDF Expert, GoodNotes, etc. Nebo can now compete with other handwriting note-taking apps. Let’s hope they can now let us decide our page sizes. Fixed page sizes are important for exporting handwritten notes. 

Export Word

When you choose to export to Word, you can export everything in your notes. The exported notes remain editable, say in Microsoft Word, for example. Sometimes errors occur and your notes will end up looking a bit different than they do in Nebo.

Export Nebo format

The Nebo format lets you share your notes with Nebo users. The notes can only open in Nebo and they remain editable. This is also the format that allows you to backup your notes in an editable format. We look forward to having auto backup in Nebo. It feels like this new exporting format is a promise for auto backup in the app. Effectively, syncing and backing up are very different; every note-taking app needs both.

Publish

You can Publish your notes to share with people that don’t use Nebo. This Publish feature uses the HTML format and also creates a sharable link so multiple people can view your document. You can make your notes public or private. When private, only the people you invite (via email) can see the notes when they sign-in to the link you send them. When set to public, anyone with a link can view your notes.

For public posts, people can:

  • Copy link
  • Download word (.docx) or .nebo document.

Please note, when your document is private, anyone invited must create a MyScript account to be able to sign in to see your document. That extra step might be a bit unpleasant for some people and it doesn’t come with any extra abilities, which sort of makes it pointless. Why would you want people to sign up for Nebo when they don’t already use the app? Sharing a link is a quick, more user-friendly way to publish your Nebo notes.

Use Active Pen

You can turn on Use active pen to use an active stylus. In this mode, you write your notes with your Apple Pencil, for example. Your fingers then let you scroll and interact with your pages. When you turn this off, you do everything with your fingers. Don’t forget to scroll with two fingers instead of one or use the scrolling mode on the toolbar to use one finger.

For Freeform Pages & PDFs

Both your PDFs and freeform pages have similar options for the three-dots icon except for convert all because they don’t convert your annotations and notes, respectively, to text.

Syncing

You can sync your notes in Nebo via iCloud (if you’re in the Apple ecosystem), Dropbox or Google Drive (if you use multiple platforms). You still need a MyScript account to sync your notes. Nebo uses both your cloud storage & MyScript account.

Backup

You can manually backup your notes to a location of your choice; locally on your device or to a Cloud service. Manually backing up notes is not ideal; auto backup is much better because you don’t have to worry about forgetting to back up your notes.

Learn about syncing and backing up your digital notes.

The Homepage

Organisation

The app has a three-level hierarchy system. It has:

  • Collections: folders containing folders
  • Notebooks: folders containing pages
  • Pages for your topics/notes on the right. 

Your Nebo pages and PDF files are portrait documents while all your freeform pages appear as landscape documents on your homepage. Long-pressing your pages lets you: 

Nebo pagesFreeform pagesPDF
Duplicate
Rename
Delete
Export astext, HTML, PDF or WordPNG, PDF or SVGPDF

For your Notebooks, you can Edit, Export or Delete and for your Collections only Edit or Delete

Exporting Multiple Topics

You can Select pages, to pick multiple topics for exporting out of the app. You can choose to export them as Text, PDF, Word or Nebo formats if you’re exporting Nebo pages (the pages that convert your handwriting to text). When exporting the Freeform pages, you can choose one of these formats: PNG, PDF, SVG and Nebo. Only PDF and Nebo formats are common among these formats, so those are the only two options you get when you choose to export a combination of Nebo and Freeform pages. 

Export FormatNebo pagesFreeform pagesCombination
Text
Word
PDF
Nebo
PNG
SVG
Export options for sharing multiple topics out of Nebo

You can choose to Combine into one file to export all your selected topics as a single document and you can name it. You can also export multiple documents separately and individually at once; separated and unzipped. That is efficient and will surely save us a lot of time. You can Preview your documents before exporting them; a feature we’ve not seen in any note-taking app

Settings

Account

You can manage your MyScript Account from here; sign up if you don’t already have an account and Manage account when you are signed in.

Pen

 You can turn off Use active pen (to write with your finger) and choose your Writing position from six options (for better palm rejection).  

Writing

You can determine your Text display options to adjust your font size (from 12 to 24) and line spacing (1.2-2.0). Nebo gives you a small window to try out your new settings before closing the sidebar, which is very thoughtful. You can also Reset to defaults.

You can set your language preference under Languages. You can install languages you want Nebo to recognise and also edit the ones you’ve already downloaded.

Turn on Conversion preview to see a real-time conversion of your notes as you write in the app. Turn on Show cursor on tap if you type a lot in the app. You can also Restore colours for your colour palette in the app and you lose your customised colours if you do.

Dictionary

You can add custom words to improve their recognition. You can only add one word at time though and it can be time consuming. We are hoping we can be able to add multiple words at once in the near future.

Math

You can turn on Solving for the app to calculate your equation for you. Your Approximation preference can either be Truncated and Rounded and your Angle unitDegree and Radian.

You have some Privacy settings and you can join the Insider program if you want to help make Nebo a better application. 

Conclusions

Nebo remains the best handwriting recognition app on the market in 2021. It solely focuses on OCR where most apps offer it as a feature. If handwriting recognition and conversion is a big part of your note-taking style or if you struggle reading what you’ve written two weeks down the line, consider getting Nebo.

Other articles on Nebo

Check out Nebo’s updates through the years

Comments · 2

  1. I like your reviews on note taking apps. Very precise & comprehensive. My favourite app is notability but agree that it is not very good on the organizational level. With iOS 14 apple notes might become the app I’ll use the most due to handwriting recognition, but it lacks organization ability. OneNote is probably the most comprehensive note taking app, however that is its downfall too. It can be too difficult to use for quick notes

Any thoughts? Do tell, do tell!