Back on April 19th, I was pretty happy with Penultimate, a digital notepad for iPad. I mentioned in my review that I'd like to be able to type into the notebooks instead of just writing handwritten notes, but I was happy with the ability to have different notebooks. All in all, Penultimate seemed to be a pretty good notetaking app.
That was before I found PaperDesk for iPad from WebSpinner, LLC in the App Store. The app comes in a free Lite version or a $1.99 full edition, the only difference between the two being that in the Lite version, each of your notebooks is limited to a maximum of 3 pages. I started by downloading and installing the Lite version, and quickly found myself spending the two bucks to upgrade to the full edition.
PaperDesk can be a bit surprising the first time you launch it. Instead of seeing a notebook or a sheet of paper, there's a blank wooden desk. Fortunately, there's a fairly obvious "new document" icon (the ubiquitous plus sign) in the upper right corner of the desk, and a tap on that brings up a dialog for creating a new notebook. Read on for additional details and screenshots of PaperDesk in action.
Each notebook can have a unique title, and the cover can be one of five different colors. There are actually two types of notebooks -- a traditional notebook and a whiteboard. I'll tell you a little secret about the whiteboard a bit later in this review, but let's just say that it's going to be a very useful feature for anyone who teaches classes or needs to display notes to a group while taking them.
Once a notebook has been created, an icon in the appropriate color shows up on the desk. The name of the notebook is highlighted, and the creation date and last page edited are displayed. To open a notebook and start taking notes, you tap on the cover.
When a notebook is opened, you can immediately start taking notes either in freehand text or by typing. It's possible to change the name of the notebook while you're in it, or change the type of paper that you're writing on. The default paper is traditional white ruled paper with blue lines and a red margin line, but you can also pull up yellow legal, graph, or blank paper.
Along the top margin of the notepad are a set of buttons and icons. The Bookmarks button allows you to create a time and date stamped bookmark for your notes. That's handy if you want to jump to a particular page in a notebook that contains meeting minutes from a certain day and time. The next icon shows a small microphone. Yes, you can create audio recordings while you're taking notes.
A rainbow icon is used to pick pens for freehand note taking. There's a complete spectrum of colors, and sliders for brightness, opacity, and size of the pen. In addition, there are four "Quick Pens" at the bottom of the Pen Options; black, blue, and red fine point pens, and a yellow highlighter. A pen preview window shows what your pen tip will look like before you switch back to the notepad.
Of course, if you're taking freehand notes or making drawings, it's very possible that you're going to make a mistake. The next icon on the upper margin toolbar is an eraser, which does exactly what you would assume it does. The next two icons are a pen, which lets you start taking your handwritten notes, and a large T icon, which brings up the standard iPad virtual keyboard when tapped.
The last icon is a bit of a mistake on the part of WebSpinner in my opinion. Most applications currently use a "Share" icon to indicate when something can be emailed or otherwise transmitted to someone else. In PaperDesk, the icon for emailing a page of a notebook is the same icon that is used in other apps to indicate creation of a new document -- a small "pen on paper" icon. This is a little thing, but should be rectified in future versions of PaperDesk to avoid confusion. When you tap this icon, the page you're working on is captured as a PDF file and attached to a blank email.
The recording feature works fairly well, capturing the sound of a lecture or meeting while you're typing or writing in your notes. Unfortunately, there does not appear to be a way to email your recordings to another person.
Now, about that little whiteboard secret. With the latest update of PaperDesk for iPad, the whiteboard now has VGA-out capabilities. It's possible to pop up a whiteboard, connect your iPad to a projector with the Dock Connector to VGA cable, and start scribbling or typing away. That's a great way to take collaborative notes or work on a project together.
I like the fact that I can create separate notebooks for different projects or clients, and I'm very happy with the recording feature. The ability to have different types of paper is useful, and the editable pens are great. And, unlike Penultimate, if I want to type in notes, I can. I'd like to see PaperDesk emulate Microsoft OneNote a bit more in one respect -- it would be great to be able to tap any line of text or handwritten notes and have any recordings made at that point begin to play automatically.
WebSpinner is planning on adding online note syncing to a future version of PaperDesk through a site called myPaperDesk.com. All future versions of the software are free, although the sync service may not be.