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  • Writer's picturePrem Sundaram

Best Note Taking Apps for Microsoft Surface Pro, Apple iPad and Android tablets with Handwriting Pen

Updated: Jun 5

microsoft surface with pen
Microsoft Surface - Image courtesy Microsoft

Congratulations on owning a device with a digital pen - whether it's a Microsoft Surface Pro with the Pen, an Apple iPad with Apple Pencil, or an Android Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 with S-Pen - they are truly an amazing range of devices as you know. We ourselves have a range of pioneering Surface devices - we've gone from owning the original Surface Pro to now making daily use out of a Surface Laptop Studio with the new surface slim pen (which we love BTW). And of course, numerous iPads and Galaxy tablets with pens! Microsoft really kicked off the pen-stylus trend back in February 2013, and that was when we got that first device (we still have it for posterity). Since then Apple introduced the iPad with Stylus a few years later, but Samsung have had the S-Pen also for a long time too on the note-taking app for Android device side, especially on the Samsung Note phone. So as you can see there is a big market today of devices with stylus, and the market continues to grow - Lenovo also has a great range and there are many e-ink devices also but we won't go into those just yet.

As you can imagine we test our app on all these devices and love ink type apps. We wanted to create this article to give you some tips on some of the apps - ours and others - that you can be using to get the most out of your device - which apps allow you to take handwritten notes and which are good for quick annotations on any platform. Even if you don't have a stylus the note apps we showcase here also allow you to scribble a note with your finger :)

Selecting a digital note-taking app is a very personal choice and it also depends on what you need to do, so we are not looking to recommend any one app but allow you to see some of the choices available today. Writing on a tablet device like an Apple iPad with an Apple Pencil is a great experience, enabling creativity for your writing or idea generation, just like using a paper notebook, but this time with digital paper. Likewise with the Surface Pro, you can do handwritten note taking directly on the screen with the surface slim pen for instance. You can also get 3rd party pen styluses and even screen covers - we will try to cover this topic in another article later - some can help to make more of a paper-like feel, others are just cheaper (the Apple Pencil is not cheap, right?!).

This means that as power note-takers you don't have to sketch or take notes on paper, which is important for many reasons. Today we'll go over how to take handwritten notes with a Microsoft Surface / Apple iPad Pro / Samsung Galaxy Tab series, highlighting some great apps to make the most of your device, and show you some useful tricks for taking better notes using a tablet computer and which will help supercharge your inspiration. Our selection of Apps is not the whole universe of apps that exist for each platform, but rather the ones that are cross-platform and enable you to use the app on any device you may have, or be confident in sharing your notes to anyone - regardless of whether they use Mac, Windows etc. We'll review the following apps:

  • NoteDex

  • Microsoft OneNote

  • Microsoft Whiteboard

  • Samsung Notes

Best Handwriting Notecard Note-Taking App to Capture Thoughts and Ideas: NoteDex

Sometimes you want to capture those great ideas your clients are telling you - but you don't want to be looking down at your keyboard but keeping eye contact with clients instead. This is where the power of our very own NoteDex app comes in - create unique notecards for each idea with a client, nicely organized like a row of index cards - and use your ink pen to take down with handwriting the note, and not be distracted by the keyboard.

Fun fact: this was the #1 reason why NoteDex was developed - to be the best handwritten meeting notecard app where you can take notes during a meeting with a digital pen to allow the user to focus fully on the meeting, lecture, person and not be thinking about the app. NoteDex features a 'notecard' style interface, and simulates a virtual index card. While you can capture a lot of information on a notecard it also makes it great for capturing idea after idea on separate cards. Fluidly capture your ideas as you draw on the screen and unleash your creativity.

Take Short Form Handwritten Notes on Surface Pro using NoteDex

The best thing about NoteDex is that it is one of the few apps that can sync your notecards to all your devices - even between Mac and Windows - something even Apple Notes cannot do. It's cross platform capabilities mean you can take digital ink notes on your Surface Pro and further edit the ink on your Mac - and then share to someone who uses Android, or even as a web page.

You can use a stylus - but if you forget it (or lose it heaven forbid!) you can also ink using your finger! And NoteDex has a nice feature that when you click the pen icon to switch into ink mode, the ink pallet shows 3 customizable pens and 1 highlighter - so it's like you have a packet of pens in your pocket ready to switch between. You can create color notecards - just like the real thing.

If you look carefully at the ink note apps you will notice that there are varying 'quality' of ink - some have more calligraphy capabilities / pressure sensitivity, others don't. NoteDex uses a very powerful ink engine behind the scenes and the ink flows beautifully and you can use heavy or light pressure to get different ink stroke thickness as you write your notes on the surface of the screen.

NoteDex allows you to share your ink cards as a web shared stack, via email or even print as a PDF document.

NoteDex is not free, it is created by an independent software developer, but you can use it for 7 days to capture great handwritten meeting notes (Hey - they're not Microsoft - yet!)

Best Handwriting Note Taking App to Capture Long Meeting and Lecture Notes: OneNote

OneNote is a great notetaking app for taking long meeting notes with a Surface pen, or Apple Pencil, or Samsung S-Pen! OneNote even have a range of lovely pen styles! OneNote, Like NoteDex, is available on every device so you can use it anywhere to make your meeting or class notes with bullet points, ink, images and even add audio/video.

OneNote is a free notetaking app. It's also a great tool to import and edit pdf files and it has a nice range of paper styles. NoteDex really is a great app and we too use it regularly to take long form notes (if we are not using our e-ink note device).

Take Long Form Handwritten Notes using OneNote

Best App for Team Brainstorming: Microsoft Whiteboard

Microsoft Whiteboard is an excellent interpretation of the classic Whiteboard. It allows you to use pen in a virtual canvas that fills the whole screen - great for conducting a virtual brainstorming collaboration session with clients. You can also insert text and image and they have some templates also for helping to kick start your creative sessions.

The nice thing about Microsoft Whiteboard is that it has gone through a large number of revisions and the current version is well optimized and refined - and it works on all devices - Windows, iPad, iPhone (iOS), MacOS (Web) and Android.

Quality of Handwriting Input

One thing to consider with apps is the quality of the handwriting and methods of input. I have all the devices mentioned in this article and it's actually a case of personal preference. If I was to choose, I would actually say that the Samsung Galaxy Tab S8 has the most natural pen feel, closely followed by the Surface Pro. I've always loved the Surface Pro for writing with stylus, but the Samsung device does a really great job. I'm not a fan of the 'hard' glassy feel of writing with the Apple Pencil, but I will also admit the feeling grows on you and there is something about the pen center of gravity which feels nice. So, I guess what I'm saying is that they are all good but if you do go between devices you will notice differences but you will be happy with any!

The quality of handwriting is also affected by the stylus - you can get the ones that came with the device or others. For instance, Wacom have a nice stylus that is compatible with various devices. They have good balance, ink tips feel and good pricing. A different pen can make you get that 'in to paper feel'.

Best Note Taking App for Surface Pro with Slim Pen

If we focus specifically on the Microsoft Surface Pro (version 9 as of time of writing) you will likely focus on the two note app product choices in this article. Microsoft OneNote is heavily promoted by Microsoft and they have introduced new inking features in the last few months (perhaps they got inspired by us!).

Together with NoteDex, these two apps will be good apps notes - especially for your work when taking notes using a Surface Pro pen. OneNote is typically already installed and here is the link to download the Windows version of NoteDex.

Microsoft Surface Pro 9 with Stylus Pen

Best Note Taking App for Android with Stylus

If we focus specifically on Android devices you will likely focus on both Samsung Notes and NoteDex as a preferred Android app. Samsung notes is great to take quick handwritten notes, in the full screen on, say, the Samsung Tab S9.

Samsung S9 series of Android Note Taking Tablets

However, Samsung notes is not available for non-Samsung devices such as the Lenovo range of Tab, e.g. P12 tablet with stylus. This is where NoteDex might be a better choice, since NoteDex is available as application software for any and all devices using Android (operating system), plus available on all other platforms, including as a web application. Here is the link to download the Android version of NoteDex from our website. Do note that since NoteDex is a full featured web application, Linux users can also use it.

Companies like Lenovo, Huawei and others do often provide their own 'note taking app' with their tablets that support pen stylus, so do also look for those.

List of Android Apps for Note taking with Stylus

If you are interested in researching for alternative note takings apps that support pen stylus on Android you should check out the following:

Samsung Notes - a full screen note taking app with PDF support (Free for Samsung users)

OneNote - from Microsoft, compatible across all devices

Goodnotes - like Samsung Notes - a nice note taking app but not good cross platform syncing (Android, Windows and iOS apps don't work nicely)

Noteshelf - a nice note taking product but only for Android

A Final Word

Notetaking apps like we show above are great for the professional, consultant, freelancer, student... you name it really. Ideal for learning and productivity. They are complimentary to the other apps that you might be using, like a text based note or word processing app, project management software, content management software, CRM database, creative tool, writing database and so on, even other more limited apps like Apple Notes, Google Keep and others to write notes quickly. The opportunity also for ink to text handwriting recognition is also available - now that the companies have adopted and embraced pen stylus input, they have built the ability to recognize and digitize your handwriting into the operating system itself - this is called Apple scribble, Google handwriting input, Windows ink recognition. So whichever app you use on your device you have the handwriting to text capability now!

We hope you take advantage of the power of the pen with all these amazing pen enabled apps for these amazing ink enabled devices!

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