Noteshelf is a note-taking and planning app available on iPadOS, iOS, macOS and Android. It costs $9.99 for your iPad and iPhone, $7.99 for your macOS and $4.92 on Android. All these are one-time purchases, not subscriptions. We paid for the second version of the app but all updates for version 2 have been free.
Taking Digital Notes
On the homepage, using the plus icon you can create a:
- Quick note
- New Notebook
- Audio note
- Import from Apple Watch, Files (Import Document) or Photos
- Scanned document
Quick Create saves you time by letting you avoid customising a new notebook every time you need to take notes. You can set a default cover and page template for your quick notebook. Once that’s set, creating a quick note becomes one easy tap.
When you have a bit of time on your hands you can create a new notebook. Noteshelf has a lot of cover and page templates. All of them are free, but you need to be signed into the Noteshelf Club to access some of them. Signing up is free, so you’re not losing anything. You can choose to auto backup the new notebook or publish it to Evernote. These settings become your default settings for all the notebooks you create in the application. You can set a password for your notebook and use Face ID to avoid entering it every time you open the notebook. Your notebook is ready for creating notes.
Noteshelf has three pen tools and one pencil tool. It has what looks like a ballpoint, calligraphy and another ballpoint pen? Noteshelf doesn’t name its pen tools so they leave us guessing what they are. The ballpoint pen in Noteshelf is one of the best we’ve encountered in any note-taking app. I usually find ballpoint pen tools unusable, but the one is Noteshelf isn’t. All these pen tools are great, especially with pressure sensitivity turned on.
The handwriting experience in Noteshelf has slightly changed. It still has the best handwriting experience you will get on the iPad if you don’t experience the lag that plagues the app. The handwriting representation in Noteshelf has become more accurate. The app has had the most inaccurate handwriting representation for years. It always modified the way my handwriting looked but I was pleasantly surprised that has improved. This might mean the app is starting to lose its handwriting improvement capabilities.
Noteshelf has (for a long time) had a bug that persistently plagues the app since their first version. The bug causes a visible lag for some users when writing in the app, making it unusable. This lag has certainly decreased in their second version of the app. However, there are still sightings of it from time to time.
The app has a pencil tool. It’s a brilliant idea to draw diagrams in pencil when taking notes, even digital ones. Each writing tool has eight fixed sizes and many colours. You can edit the colours or add more to these. You can also save your favourite writing tools.
The zoom tool in Noteshelf looks like a stamp. I always confuse it for a stamping icon. It’s not the most intuitive looking zoom tool icon. You can customise how your zoom window looks. You can switch your left and right icons. You can adjust the margin position, turn on auto-advance and adjust your line spacing. You also get your pen tools, highlighter, eraser and shapes tool on the zoom toolbar. Auto-advance in Noteshelf is brilliant. It is easy to follow where the tool has advanced to on your page. It gives you a pleasant user experience.
You have two types of highlighters. Both go in behind your ink. Layering your highlighter doesn’t dim your notes. The highlighter has six fixed sizes and many colours. You can also save some as favourites for easier access to the highlighters you use often.
Your eraser can Erase Highlighter Only. It can erase per pixel or the entire stroke. It can auto-select the previous tool, i.e. it goes back to the tool you were using before selecting the eraser (when you lift your Apple Pencil off the screen). You can clear the page. The eraser has three fixed sizes and an auto one that varies its size as you use it.
You can add text to your notes. Noteshelf supports custom fonts. Learn how to add custom fonts to your iPad. Noteshelf has a lot of font options. You can make your text Bold, Italic or Underline it. The app gives you a preview of your changes to see what your text looks like before exiting the editing window. You can also select a colour for your text and save Favourite text formats. You can save the changes as default settings for your text for this one notebook or all your future notebooks.
Your preset styles for your headings and favourites are readily available on the toolbar. You can’t customise them. You can only rename or delete them. The best way around this is by creating your favourites if you’re unhappy with these heading settings. Then delete the ones you don’t like.
The indentation tools are handy for creating numbered and unnumbered lists. Noteshelf doesn’t have a lot of numbering or bullet point options but just has two recurring types for both. More bullet point and number types could be useful.
You can add interactive checklists to your notes. The checkboxes have a low contrast against some backgrounds, making them difficult to see. When you complete a task the app checks it off. No strikeout or moving the completed task to the bottom of the list. Let’s hope that is something we will see in the future.
You can put your text on a sticky note to make your interactive lists pop out more because of the sticky notes’ bright and intense colours. The app gives you ten colours but you can’t customise them in any way. We hope we’ll be able to rotate these in the future. Lastly, on the keyboard toolbar, you can select the alignment of your text.
The selection tool in Noteshelf is fluid and smooth. It is a solid line when you are selecting your notes; this lasso tool is the most comfortable selection tool you’ll ever use. Your lasso tool lets you:
- Take a screenshot for exporting to other apps.
- Change the colour
- Convert to Text
You can stop using your Apple Pencil to enable read-only mode and use it for scrolling through your pages.
The shapes tool in Noteshelf is the simplest we have in a note-taking app in 2020. It recognises your shapes, both regular and irregular ones, but it misses some shapes occasionally. That’s it. You can’t edit your shapes after you’ve drawn them. You can’t auto-fill them either and it makes this the most boring shapes tool you can use in a note-taking app this year.
Adding Items To Your Notes
You can add photos from your camera or photo library. In Noteshelf you can add multiple photos at once. Noteshelf supports PNG photos (they don’t have a background).
You can rotate your images and the app shows you the angle of rotation (at the top of the photo). When you edit your photos you are taken to a new window for cropping (rectangular or freehand) and erasing parts of your image. You can lock them to prevent any editing and unlock them whenever you want.
You can access basic editing tools using the lasso tool. You can then take a screenshot, copy, delete and resize your image. You can drag & drop photos into, but not out of the app. This makes it a poor PDF reading app.
Royalty Free Clipart
You can search for and add royalty-free clipart from Pixabay directly within the app.
You can add audio recordings to your notes. For a minimalist look, you can minimise the audio recording toolbar. You can still use the app while recording, take notes and annotate PDFs. A small microphone icon on your page indicates an audio recording on that page. Noteshelf doesn’t transcribe your recordings.
The audio is not synced to your notes though like in Notability. You can adjust the audio playback speed to 0.7x, 1.5x and 2x. You can export the audio recording or delete it. On the homepage, Noteshelf doesn’t show when your notebook has a recording unless you create an audio note.
You can import a document into your notes from Files, after your currently opened page. You can scan documents into Noteshelf. The app uses basic scanning features in iPadOS. Auto-scan in Noteshelf is as good as the one in Scanner Pro, a dedicated scanning app. You can search through your scanned documents and as well as imported scans.
You can also add emojis to your notes! This is my favourite features in Noteshelf. Why wouldn’t you want emojis in your notes? Noteshelf supports horizontal scrolling only. Having both scrolling directions has sort of becoming a standard now.
You can add a new page with a similar page template or a different one. Noteshelf supports different page templates in one notebook. Your new page can be a photo, scan or imported document.
Bookmarks & Tags
You can bookmark or tag your pages and pick a colour for your bookmark for an extra level of organisation. Your red bookmarks could be all questions, blue ones – sections you have to review. Not many note-taking apps offer different colours for your bookmarks.
Noteshelf lists your used tags below the text field in case you want to use them again. Tags are available per notebook; each has its own set of tags, which complicates the use of tags in the app.
You can convert your handwriting to text in one tap. Your text has the same colour as your ink. Noteshelf supports 65 languages for OCR. You can edit your text in the conversion window then copy it to the clipboard or convert to a text box. Noteshelf replaces the text as default (to look like your saved default text) or Fit to Selection (to retain the size of your handwriting).
You can search through your notes. Noteshelf will search through your text and handwriting. You can then filter your search results to show:
- All the pages in your notes
- Bookmarked pages with your searched terms
- Tagged pages
- PDF table of contents
Independent of searching, these options are available for navigating your notes and documents in Noteshelf.
You can edit your pages. Noteshelf can select multiple pages so you can:
- Tag them
- Insert Page above/below
- Rotate the page
- Move to a different notebook
Normally, we can move notebooks across folders, which you can do in Noteshelf without a fuss. But to move pages across notebooks; that is some next-level flexibility!
Noteshelf supports multiple instances, as is to be expected of any app in iPadOS 13. You can open the app and the same notebook twice in split view and each window is a separate fully functional app window. You can open more notebooks in slide over.
Noteshelf, like most of our top note-taking apps, doesn’t support true dark mode. It only switches the colours in your user interface. For a true dark mode experience, you have to rely on dark paper templates.
Most note-taking apps are decent PDF readers, Noteshelf is no exception. It doesn’t take much for a note-taking app to annotate PDFs because they already have great annotation tools. Noteshelf recognises contents pages in PDFs. This is a must-have for a PDF reader to ease your navigation through massive documents. You can view your bookmarked and tagged pages. It would be useful if we could see our annotated pages in Noteshelf.
Noteshelf supports hyperlinks that you can deactivate to avoid triggering them when you’re annotating your PDFs. It would be better if you could access the hyperlink deactivating settings from within the app’s workspace. At the moment there are just too many steps to access them.
Settings For Your Workspace
You have some settings for your notebook within your workspace. You can:
- Change the Page Template. It changes only your current page. In Noteshelf, you can have different page templates in one notebook.
- Rotate your pages.
- Skip to a specific page. The app tells you how many pages your document has and you just skip right to the page.
- Disable your stylus or pick a different one (Adonit or Wacom). You can turn on pressure sensitivity to improve your writing in the app.
- Customise the double tap on the Apple Pencil 2 to show your
- favourite tools
- colour palette
- Create Siri Shortcuts.
- Lock it.
- Back it up.
- Get information on the notebook:
- Date (created and modified)
- Category (that is, its organisation in the app)
- Get information on the page you’re currently opening:
- Page number
- Date (created and modified).
Information about your page is awesome, but it is more useful to know how big our files are.
GoodNotes named it Presentation Mode, but Noteshelf has always had it. They just called it Whiteboard Mode. It hides your user interface when doing presentations for a distraction-free screen. Your audience will love you for it.
Although Noteshelf pioneered this feature, it’s still missing a lot of features to make it as functional as the one in GoodNotes and Notability. However, the missing laser pointer doesn’t make this feature unusable. At the end of the day, if you can hide your user interface from your audience, that should suffice for a decent presentation.
You can export the:
- current page
- all pages
- selected pages
You can export your notes as a PNG, PDF or Noteshelf format. Exporting PNGs is best for individual pages unless you don’t mind dealing with zipped files. HD images are three times larger than lower resolution ones. PDF is the best format to export your notes, especially if they contain both handwriting and text. The .noteshelf format is for sharing with other Noteshelfers and only opens in Noteshelf.
You can export active hyperlinks out of the app. If your PDF has hyperlinks and a contents page, Noteshelf can export them (without a dedicated icon). When exporting your PDFs you can:
- Edit the file name
- Hide the page template
- Include the title and page number on all your pages.
Noteshelf revamped their homepage in their version 7 update. They added a sidebar to the left for easier navigation. You can toggle to see your Categories, Pinned and Recent documents. Categories contain folders and those folders contain grouped notebooks. Noteshelf thus gives you a two-level organisation system. You can:
- Pin your favourite documents to the sidebar.
- Drag & drop notebooks to move them between folders.
- Hide the sidebar.
- Access the sidebar from within the app’s workspace to switch between documents (so you don’t keep going back to the homepage).
Long pressing a notebook popups a menu to:
- Open the notebook
- Open in New window (new instance)
- Show Enclosing Folder
- Pin Notebook to the sidebar
- Change the cover
- Move to trash
For your grouped notebooks you can only open or rename the group. You can select multiple documents to:
- Change cover
Noteshelf can change the cover on many notebooks at once. You can also rename your notebooks with the same title and the app will create versions of that title.
Universal search searches through all your documents (handwritten and scanned ones too) in the app. Noteshelf takes long to search and display search results.
Search results display all the pages of each document containing the searched term in alphabetic order (starting with numbers). The pages display as thumbnails. However, scrolling through the results is inconvenient and wastes a lot of time.
Noteshelf needs to let us toggle unwanted results or show document titles only (then display the relevant pages when we tap a title to explore it). Going through search results is too ‘manual’ for a digital workflow. It’s not efficient when you have a lot of documents in the app.
Under settings you can customise the:
- Appearance of the application
- Cloud and Backup
- Apple Schoolwork
Under Appearance you can:
- Choose the colour for your user interface.
- Decide to show dates on your notes on the shelf.
Under handwriting you can select:
- Stylus position (from six possibilities).
- Preferred language for handwriting recognition. You can disable handwriting recognition.
You can turn on iCloud syncing and auto backup. You can backup to Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive. Not many options available yet, let’s hope they will keep adding more Cloud services to this list.
You can activate Apple Schoolwork to create assignments for your students if you’re a teacher (and your school is signed up to Apple School).
Under Advanced Settings you can turn on and off different things:
- Whiteboard Mode
- Quick Access Gesture
- Thumbnail gesture
- Disable hyperlinks when writing
- Lock notebook in the background if the app has been inactive for two minutes.
- Disable iPad Auto-Lock will drain your iPad battery if you forget to turn off your iPad screen.
Noteshelf is a great note-taking app, especially because it is the only app in its category trying to go beyond the Apple ecosystem. While apps like GoodNotes and Notability have completely ignored other operating systems, Noteshelf is embracing them. They, of course, still have a long way to go but are headed in the right direction. We ought to applaud them for that! If you want an app for taking notes, as well as a cheap option for digital planning, consider getting Noteshelf.