Best Note-taking Apps for iPad with Apple Pencil Handwriting & Cross-Platform Note-Taking Support
The Apple Pencil by Apple Inc. is a versatile tool for iPad owners, and with the right notetaking app can become an intellectual power device! If you'd rather scribble with a stylus and take handwritten notes than tap away at your iPad screen keyboard, there are plenty of great apps that support drawing and writing with a stylus. In 2023 the iPad app store has a huge amount of apps, many all claiming to be the best note-taking app for iPad focused on digital note-taking. In this article we'll review a few note-taking software apps, and naturally since the iPhone does not (yet) have Apple Pencil support we focus solely on software apps that run on the iPad tablet computer and which are also seen as the best cross-platform note-taking apps. Of course, we can't cover all the apps available but we hope this helps to highlight a few.
The Apple Pencil has become widely used, especially in the areas of Drawing, Design, Graphic Design, even for Writing and Sketching. It is increasingly being used in Business as an alternative to using a mouse and making the ability to take notes easy with the Apple Pencil. Most current models of the iPad Pro support the Apple Pencil.
To help navigate the choices we rated apps based on 5 criteria:
Interface (simple, complex)
Ink Support (using pen)
Cross-Platform Note-Taking App Support (use on different platforms)
Note Organization Features (folders, tags etc.)
Price (one-time, subscription pricing etc.)
Best Note-taking apps for iPad and iPad Pro: Winner(s): OneNote and NoteDex
Based on our analysis, there are two best notetaking apps for iPad in 2023 with handwriting support are OneNote and NoteDex. Of these two, only NoteDex provides cross platform ink support for handwritten notes and note organization to help you manage your project ideas, notes and information.
Microsoft OneNote - a Great Note-Taking App
OneNote is one of the most downloaded notetaking apps on iPad. Not only does it allow for individual notetaking, but it also allows users to collaborate together across devices and platforms with sync. It has drawing support and allows you to use apple pencil to take both a quick note or long notes, with rich text support. OneNote also allows you to insert audio recordings, import PDFs, annotate PDFs, and also export your notes back to say OneDrive, Dropbox or Google Drive. OneNote also has impressive equation support, and its legendary multi-color highlighter! And the best thing about OneNote is that, since it's backed by Microsoft, it's free!
NoteDex - Like Writing on Paper Index Cards
NoteDex is a new note-taking tool that that provides a unique 'index card' style note-taking interface, which can support text, pictures and ink on all platforms allowing you to take impressive handwritten notes with the iPad Apple Pencil. This makes it one of the very few apps that supports ink on all devices even on the web which is why we rank it in the best iPad app category. This makes for a unique note-taking experience. You can add photos and it has a drawing mode so you can make use of your digital pen to sketch diagrams or write mathematics equations for handwritten flashcards. There is also extensive rich text support for typing and editing text to use as a writing app. NoteDex is great for both students and professionals. There is a free version which you can use the app for 7 days (free to use), and discounted pricing for students in education.
Example of NoteCard with Digital Ink on NoteDex
Unlike other apps in the Apple App Store, you can work on your notes on any device and share to anyone on any device - unlike Apple Notes etc. It is well formatted for iPads and also Mac, and the cross-platform cloud sync allows you to share to Windows and Web users, as well as Android by using a hyperlink - super simple publishing of cards to the web!
NoteDex also has a powerful card organizer function so you can view cards like in a storyboard or swim lane view - great for writers, planners and project managers needing a lightweight planning tool. The Kanban organizational features are powerful and not found on any other app we review here. NoteDex provides for Stack/Group/Tag (think folders and subfolders to help you organize notes) and a variety of pen styles in the ink function that lets you create ink notes. Unlike many others, it is not a new note-taking app but rather has been built on the success of the original app called Index Cards that was originally created for the Windows Surface Pro. You can think of NoteDex like the next generation of the popular, but limited, Sticky Notes app on Windows or Mac. The app offers both a cross-platform app experience with apps for Android and iOS support, as well as a web app, giving it the award of being one of the best cross-platform note taking apps.
Other Cross Platform Note-Taking Apps
We focus a lot on Cross-Platform. But why? Well, if you are in the Apple eco-system you might be wondering why, since your note app might be running just fine on your iPad and Mac.
However, as you begin to expand your technical inventory, and also as you start sharing more with others, they may be on a different device, like Windows, Linux or Android. So, to make it easy for you to access your notes and your colleagues to see your notes you want to have an app that can handle cross-platform. Not all apps can do this as you will see from the reviews below, but ones like OneNote, NoteDex and Evernote can - they have been designed from the ground up accessible on any device connected to the internet, including not just a web browser, but your Mac and iOS devices. Is Markdown Support important? Markdown is the 'html' view of your text, and used by many writers in note apps. Why? Well, since there are many webpage blogs written, writers like to write they story and then copy that to be pasted into the website. This is the advantage of Markdown support. Not all apps support this but many new entrants are adopting it, such as simplenote or standard notes. All the apps on this list are great apps both for simple note-taking and more advanced. You might decide to go with an old-time productivity app like Evernote or something new to create notes, organize your notes and share the notes on the web like NoteDex.
Apple Notes App
No review of note-taking apps for the iPad is complete without mentioning Apple Notes. It is one of the most popular note-taking app for iPads.
MacOS and iOS now include the Notes app to quickly take notes on your iPad and it's pretty great actually. It lets you type or take handwritten notes on your device, the app makes it ieasy to use a stylus to take notes and allow you do writing with a pen. The drawing features of the App are solid and make it easy to, for example, sketch out ideas in your writing using the Apple Pencil. It also has good sync to Apple devices but not true cross platform sync. The app features rich text support also. As you would image, Apple manages to make one of the best note-taking apps since it can integrate many iOS features like Quick Note into the app itself. At this time we didn't see the app supporting import of a pdf document. But the app is free! With lots of iPad devices being used at school, that's a good thing and gives people a free initial option. It's a great basic notes app, can sync notes across all your devices (Appe ecosystem only), and is good text notes, audio notes and even handwriting notes. At this time we don't see that it integrates with your apple calendar, but neither to most other note apps. True to form, this Apple app makes it easy!
Notion is a popular app, and though it does not support a drawing mode through Apple Pencil, it is nevertheless an excellent keyboard notetaking app with extensive markdown and rich text support. Notion is more complex as a note app but also offers a lot of functionality and is a favorite note-taking app with many research people.
Google Keep is a good option for Android users as it is one of the few apps that is free and can contain text and ink. Unfortunately it lacks good support from Google, as can be seen if you read the comments section of the app. The primary goal of the app is to a create quick notes and actionable notes, rather than storing anything and everything. It does support inking with an iPad Apple pencil and has some rich text support. Compared to other apps I think you are better off moving on from this one!
Notability is a nice app and has some of the apps strongest features including the ability to convert handwritten into text, multi-note support so you can work on two notes side-by-side on an iPad screen, PDF annotation, rich text support, and you can sketch diagrams, with custom colors and shapes using a digital pen like the iPad Apple Pencil.
As with the other apps here it is compatible with iCloud so you can sync your notes across all your other devices such as an iPad. But it is not true cross platform unlike other like NoteDex or OneNote which have true cross platform cloud storage. You can record audio and Notability makes a good case to be one of the better apps for taking day to day long notes.
Zoho is a good notetaking app for a cross-platform alternative.
There are Zoho Notebook apps also available for Android, Mac, and Windows platforms. It is the great alternative for users who do not reside within the Apple ecosystem and utilizes Zoho cloud storage.
However it does not (appear to) support cross platform inking at this time on an iPad Pro and the pencil but it does have a free plan.
Evernote has been around for a long time, and it is one of those apps that became a bit 'old' in the eye of their users. However, to their credit, they are revamping their product and have added tasks management. But the home page interface still looks a bit messy - compare the homepage of Evernote to the home page of NoteDex for instance. The ink feature of Evernote is also limited in the sense that you can add ink notes but cannot overlay ink over an image - they are separate ink areas - compare this to NoteDex or OneNote where you can scribble ink over an image.
Nebo is made by MyScript and the app can be used on various platforms. At the time of review we could not ink over an image, but ink is supported and also supports ink handwriting recognition. Nebo gets good reviews and is bit like Notability.
Goodnotes 5 is a nice app, but only available on Mac/iOS. It's similar to Nebo and OneNote - and gets very good reviews for ink and note taking. However it does not work on Windows, Web or Android. You can use the built-in Apple iOS scribble capability for converting handwriting to text. Apps like Goodnotes have a nice selection of templates and you can annotate a PDF, like with OneNote and Notability, and maybe one of those apps to download and try.
Choosing the best note-taking apps for your iPad to take notes on can be a complex task, but it helps to know what your needs are. In this article we hope we have helped you to navigate the range of choices and find an app that's what you're looking for. There are of course many other apps we did not cover, e.g. other notepad apps, Microsoft Office, Google Office and others. Do let us know if you think we missed one and what app on our list should be added.
Based on our criteria we recommend you checkout OneNote and NoteDex as true cross-platform note taking apps with ink support that will allow you to create great notes on an iPad Pro using an Apple pencil. NoteDex is a very versatile app, and has great organizational features like tag support for cards. These apps also work well on all form factors - Laptop, Desktop and Mobile - we're not looking at notetaking apps for Apple Watch just yet! OneNote and NoteDex work well together, since OneNote is better designed for 'long form' notes and NoteDex is designed for index card style / atomic notes and allows you to share your notes even online, and you can use different computers. In the end, all these apps will help you take digital notes and break free from pen and paper to support your transition from writing on paper to a digital writing experience, and become a master note taker! After reading this article, we hope you have a better idea for which note-taking app for Apple ecosystem you will choose. All these apps are available via the Apple App Store and on other App stores.
Learn More about NoteDex for Taking Meeting Notes