libraries.

Nebo: The BEST Handwriting Recognition App For Your iPad

converting handwriting to text on the iPad pro

PROS

  • Best handwriting recognition engine
  • Supports 66 languages
  • Erases per letter
  • Useful gestures
  • Supports Math & Chemical equations
  • Add technical terms to your custom dictionary

CONS

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

Nebo is a note-taking app powered by Interactive Ink, which is MyScript’s handwriting recognition technology. To showcase what interactive ink can do, MyScript created Nebo. The best handwriting recognition note-taking app on the market. 

Most apps with handwriting recognition technology (Notability, GoodNotes, etc.) use MyScript’s technology. Nebo is the only note-taking app using Interactive Ink (an advanced cutting edge version of MyScript technology). No wonder their handwriting recognition is the best on the market.

Supported Operating Systems

Nebo is available on Windows, iPadOS, Android and ChromeOS. It is available on almost any operating system you pick up. This review focuses on the iPadOS version of the app. 

Buying Nebo

Nebo is a free handwriting recognition app available on iPadOS, macOS, Windows and Android that comes with in-app purchases on their Nebo Store under your Settings. The Nebo Store has single packs you can purchase for Essentials, Connect and PDF. You can purchase the features that matter to you and ignore the ones that don’t. 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.

Creating Digital Notes

To create a new notebook, tap on the plus icon on the right side of the top toolbar or the blank page with a massive plus icon on it. Either option will prompt you to add New page, New freeform page or Import PDF.

 New Page

When you choose to open a new page, the app opens your new notebook. You can rename it by tapping the top middle part of the top toolbar written No name. Nebo seamlessly integrates handwriting and text. No other note-taking app does this. Write when it’s convenient and type when it tickles your fancy. You can have both text and handwriting in the same word or sentence. The new page allows you to create notes that get converted to text when you export them.

Pen Tool

For a very long time, Nebo has only supported specific active styluses, which limited a lot of users from using their app. They have changed that; Nebo now supports both active and passive styluses. That means you can now write in the app with your fingers. Your writing tools behave the same regardless of which stylus you are using.

Your pen tool has six fixed sizes. You can test the pen thickness below the thickness options before closing the popup window. The test window lets you try out your pen so you don’t have to go back and forth. It is important to note that the thickness of your pen does not affect your text during conversion.

The Eraser

The eraser erases per letter for both your handwriting and text and that is very impressive. Cursive combines letters in one pen stroke and most apps delete per stroke or pixel. Nebo erases per letter, even if you write ten letters in one stroke. This is a very impressive feature in Nebo.

Lasso Tool

You can select sections of your notes (both handwriting and text simultaneously) using the lasso tool. You can Cut, Copy, Paste, Delete, make it Bold, Indent or List. When indenting your paragraph, you can choose to either Decrease or Increase the indentation. The app will selectively change only the parts of your paragraph that need changing. For your List, you can choose to create an unnumbered list or a numbered one.

You can change the colour of your notes. Next to your lasso tool, you can add as many custom colours as you like using the plus icon at the end of the colour palette. To remove a colour, tap on it and tap the bin. The wheel is not the most accurate way to pick colours. Let’s hope they can add a Hex code system and colour picker tool for more accurate colour selection.

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 3.0 it is even better! They have improved their inking engine and handwriting in the app has never been more pleasant! The app perfectly captures how your handwriting looks on paper.

Even though Nebo supports passive styluses, the best writing experience you will get is from an active stylus. That’s because an Apple Pencil, for example, lets you write on your iPad the exact same way you would on a piece of paper. It is more natural and thus lets you work faster. A passive stylus will work, but it requires bigger line-spacing that convert unevenly and that just gives you more work.

While writing, the app shows you a preview of your handwriting conversion in real-time. This shows up directly above your text and 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 your Apple Pencil, you can only edit big text with paper lines on it. Small text with a plain background is not editable. However, your keyboard doesn’t have those limitations. It can edit any text when you tap where you want to edit.

Nebo has a lot of gestures that make note-taking fun

The Dictionary

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

Items You Can Add To Your Notes

Apart from creating notes, you can add lists, photos, sketches, diagrams, equations and freeform to your notes. Nebo doesn’t convert sketches, photo annotations and freeform, but it can convert diagrams if you want.

Multi-level Lists

You can create multi-level lists in Nebo. Simply write the next hierarchy in your list a little further inline and Nebo automatically creates your indentation. When you convert your lists, both for numbered and unnumbered lists Nebo seems to support one type of numbering and bullet point types. However, this is not the case because Nebo supports a lot of different types of bullet points and numbering options. The cool thing about Nebo is that you can actually mix your unnumbered and numbered bullet types in one list.

Sketches

You can add a sketch for drawing and Nebo does not convert it to text. The lasso tool lets you move your drawings around the sketch box. Resizing and rotating capabilities for the lasso tool would be greatly appreciated. You can Copy, Cut and Delete the 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 lock it from converting and you can’t undo this action. You can’t undo the conversion of your shapes either.

All the shapes you don’t mark as a doodle have a translucent blue auto-fill colour. 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 shapes. Irregular shapes are hit-and-miss at this point. It 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 probably complex enough for Math majors. You can always use the stretch feature to not convert your complicated equations which you know the app handles. MyScript recently shared this technology with Notability; thought we should just mention that. You can set the app to solve your Math problems in your settings. When you convert your equation, the app works it out and displays your answer.

Freeform

They renamed draft to freeform. This section allows you to brainstorm ideas when writing your notes. The app doesn’t convert what you write in the freeform section, even when you export your notes out of the app.

The idea is that you write your notes in the freeform section to copy and paste them in your notes. They have deliberately limited the capabilities of this feature to promote using Freeform pages. That is not a very good idea because this freeform section was generally more user friendly than the freeform pages.

The squared paper in the freeform section’s line spacing is adjusted when you adjust the line spacing for writing your notes in Nebo. Generally, Nebo uses line paper only for converting your handwriting and squared or blank paper for sections you can’t convert.

Editing Your Notes

All these sections you add to your notes and your paragraphs are adjustable. You can resize them and put them where you want on the page if you love deciding how your documents look. 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 any writing to text)
  • Copy, Cut or Delete

You can create space between paragraphs of your notes. To do that, long-press on a line with two fingers. 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 and creating new space between notes is as flexible as it gets!

You can long-press on a line with one finger and get the option to:

  • Paste
  • Add section: adds a freeform section
  • Add object: camera, image, sketch, diagram, math and free form.

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 is an infinite writing canvas for brainstorming ideas, it is an enlarged freeform section. Freeform pages push Nebo towards becoming a broader handwriting note-taking app. One that will potentially compete with Notability and GoodNotes in the future.

The Infinite Canvas

The freeform page is infinite in any direction you write, perfect for anyone who loves infinite pages. You can adjust the line spacing of your squared canvas at the 100% zoom percentage. You can zoom in and out between 33-200%. Your zoom percentage displays on the screen when you’re zooming your page. For consistency in handwriting, it is necessary users know how zoomed in they as they take notes.

Writing Tools

The freeform page has the same toolset (except for the keyboard) you get for the normal Nebo page. This part of the app is supposed to help you brainstorm ideas before writing your final notes. Brainstorming is a crucial part of writing.

Add Photos

You can add photos from your iPad’s Camera or the Photos library. You can 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

The idea is when you’re done brainstorming you can copy your notes as TextSketchMath or Diagram to paste in other apps or the normal Nebo page. This is a brilliant feature, but one that requires support for multiple instances, which Nebo doesn’t support yet. So copying some 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 allows us to open two documents side-by-side for dragging & dropping sections of our notes between freeform and Nebo pages. Had they not limited the capabilities of the freeform feature it would have been more useful for brainstorming. As it stands with freeform pages and freeform sections, we are caught between a rock and a hard surface.

Import PDF

We get that most people love the idea of having everything in one app and at the same time, we disapprove of it. I am sure most of you guys were probably hoping to convert your annotations to text when you requested this feature from Nebo last year, but that’s not quite how it works.

Nebo 3.0’s biggest update is PDF importing so you can annotate your PDFs within the app. 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 and that is the first challenge you will face annotating PDFs in Nebo. So 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.

Your highlighter goes in front of your text, which dims it and for digital notes it’s better when the highlighter goes behind the text. You can’t use any Nebo gestures as well. This PDF annotation feature is still too basic. Let us know if this is enough for your needs; we’re curious to know.

Three-dots Icon

For Nebo Pages

The three-dots icon for 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 PDF

You can export your notes as a PDF (this option is available on iOS and Android only). Even if you haven’t converted your handwriting, the app automatically converts everything on exporting. Due to the lack of distinct pages in Nebo pages, exporting out of the app as PDF is a bit of a challenge. Nebo will cut your document in the most inconvenient places and there’s not much you can do about it.

Export Text

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

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 HTML

HTML keeps your notes looking exactly the way they look in Nebo. It doesn’t convert your handwriting to text either. The only tricky part is that HTML files open in your browser and a few other apps that support the HTML format. Even when you manage to open them, there’s not much you can do about it.  

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 Nebo pages lets you: 

  • Duplicate
  • Rename
  • Delete
  • Export as text, HTML, PDF or Word.

For your freeform pages you can:

  • Duplicate
  • Rename
  • Delete
  • Export as PNG, PDF or SVG.

For your PDFs you can: 

  • Duplicate
  • Rename
  • Delete
  • Export as PDF. 

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

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

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!