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Nebo: the best handwriting recognition app for your iPad

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 advance 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 any Operating System you pick up. This review focuses on the iPadOS version of the app. 

Buying Nebo

Nothing is as refreshing as developers that pay attention to their users’ feedback. Most of us have asked developers to let us try out apps before buying them, Nebo is listening. Their 2.5 version will be free (to try out) on App Store with an in-app purchase. This approach makes the app unavailable for Family Sharing since in-app purchases can’t be shared on App Store. Apple doesn’t give developers the option to offer free trials. 

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 in Nebo

To create a new notebook, simply tap on the plus icon on the left column. The app creates a notebook with one tap; you might even miss it. Tap on the notebook added to open it. At the top centre of the page, you can rename your notes, and you’re ready to start writing in the application. 

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.

Pen tool

Your pen tool comes with six sizes. You can test the pen thickness below the thickness options. Ever picked a pen size to only realise it’s not working for you? Then you have to go back to try another different size? The test window lets you try out your pen, so you don’t have to go back and forth. 

The eraser

The eraser erases per letter; very impressive. When writing cursive, we tend to combine letters in a single pen stroke. Most apps just delete per stroke or pixel. Nebo erases per letter. Even if your letters are one stroke, Nebo can delete one letter at a time. You can erase both your handwritten sections and typed ones. 

The lasso tool

MyScript added a lasso tool to select sections of your notes. You can cut, copy, paste, delete or make it bold. It’s cool how it selects both handwriting and text as though they are one format. Nebo is very impressive. The lasso tool is more useful for your diagrams than it is for your handwriting though. It gives you the ability to select sections of your diagram for repositioning them. You can also convert or delete it.

Next to the lasso tool, are your colours. You can add as many custom colours as you like, using the plus icon at the end of the colour palette. 

Handwriting Experience

The handwriting experience in Nebo is one of the best on the market. Writing feels smooth; there is no lag. The app captures how your handwriting would look on paper, which we love. 

One massive drawback with Nebo’s previous versions was that it only supported the Apple Pencil. Now, the application supports a wide range of active styluses for different devices. On their website, they list of devices and their compatible styluses. The developers have assured us this list will keep growing. Pen manufacturers are realising that styluses compatible with the Apple Pencil protocol are the future.

While writing, the app shows you a preview of your handwriting conversion in real-time. It shows directly about your text. You correct errors as soon as you spot them. For some, this might be annoying so that you can turn it off in your settings > writing > conversion preview.

To convert a section, simply double-tap it. Double-tap it again to ‘unlock’ editing the notes. Small text is not editable, but the bigger one is editable, especially if you want to edit with your Apple Pencil. When using your keyboard, you can edit any text.

Nebo has a lot of gestures that make note-taking fun. When you tap a section, the three-dot icon appears on the top right corner of the selection box. You then get options to:

  • finish editing the part (by converting it)
  • copy, cut or delete

The dictionary

Until recently, Nebo had difficulty with technical terms, medications and disease names in my case. I am sure people in other fields experienced this too. To fix that, they have added a dictionary to the app. You can add custom words for better recognition when converting.

You can only add one word at a time; time-consuming. Let’s hope we will be able to add a lot of words all at once. That would be more comfortable.  

You can add lists and bullet points in Nebo. These seem only to support one hierarchy system. You can create multiple hierarchies, but it’s a hit-and-miss most of the time. Even the tabs button on the keyboard, can’t get you a second hierarchy for your lists. They need to improve this.

Things you can add to your notes in Nebo

Apart from creating notes, you can add photos, sketches, diagrams, equations and drafts to your notes. Nebo doesn’t convert sketches, photo annotations and drafts. But it does convert diagrams if you want to; they now have that option.

Sketches

A sketch has a blank space for drawing. The lasso tool now works in the sketch box to rearrange your drawings. Resizing capabilities for the lasso tool would be greatly appreciated. The ability to reposition sections of your stretch is a welcome improvement! You can copy, cut and delete the sketch using the three-dots icon. 

Diagrams

If you don’t want to convert your diagram, you have to set it as a doodle. You can auto-fill shapes. Just tap in the middle of the shape to add a fill colour. I struggled with editing the fill. It seems for now I can’t change the colour. I don’t even know how to remove it. This feature is not intuitive at all! Definitely needs some attention from our developers.

Equations

You can add complicated math and chemical equations. Nebo can show you answers for your calculations if you turn on the option in your settings. 

Drafts

You can now have drafts in your notes. According to the developers at Nebo, this section is for brainstorming ideas. The app doesn’t convert what you write in the draft section, even when you export your notes. Their approach is that you write your notes in draft, then copy them as text, sketch, math or diagram to paste in your notes. That’s how this feature is supposed to work, but I even have a better idea!

I think this is Nebo’s first step towards becoming a complete handwriting note-taking application. Instead of brainstorming, you can just write your notes here and don’t ever convert them. A lot of us have wanted to use Nebo this way. They finally have a feature that lets you write notes without conversion! 

The squared paper in Draft is perfect for me. Hopefully, in the future, we will be able to customise this to have more variety on the paper templates we use. Squared paper doesn’t work well for everyone.

The search tool

You can search both your handwriting and text without any problems. Nebo also has universal search at the homepage for searching all your notes in the app. 

Sharing your notes

When exporting, you can export as a PDF (this option is available on iOS only). Even if you haven’t converted your handwriting, the app automatically converts everything on exporting. You can export text, word and HTML formats. 

You can now share your notes with people that don’t use Nebo using the publishing feature. You can make your notes public or private. When private, only the people you invite can see what you publish. 

The person seeing your notes in the web browser can:

  • export the text out of your notes.
  • download some sections of your notes as a PowerPoint or image. They can even download the whole document.
  • export them as an SVG format.

If notes are published privately, you have to signed-in to view them. 

Syncing

Cloud syncing in Nebo is 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.

Organisation

The app has a three-level hierarchy system. It has collections (which are folders with other folders), notebooks and specific topics/notes on the right. 

Settings

They have improved how their settings look. It is neater, with everything tucked away, giving the app a minimalist look.

You can manage your MyScript account. It is straightforward to sign-up. Under writing, you can set your language preference for the app. It is also where you choose to see a real-time conversion of your notes as you write in the app. You want this option turned on if you type a lot in the app. A cursor is essential when showing you where you are trying to edit. I can’t imagine if it didn’t show.

Under Math, you can turn on calculations for Equations. The app will solve the Math equation for you. You can set your Approximation preference and pick your preferred angle unit.

Next to your Settings, you can access your Notebooks. Tapping on the plus icon (on the top right corner of the sidebar) lets you create a notebook or collection. You can set iCloud to sync over cellular. 

You have some privacy settings, and you can join the insider program if you want to make Nebo a better application. 

Nebo is the best handwriting recognition app on the market. It solely focuses on OCR where most apps offer it as a feature. Nebo is the definition of OCR. It learns your handwriting. The more you use it, the better the conversion because of its AI technology. For handwriting recognition and conversion: no application does better than Nebo. 

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.

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