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Best Note-Taking Apps for iPad and Apple Pencil in 2021

Note-Taking Apps

I am aware that there are options like Evernote, Bear, Notion, OneNote and so. But those are not what we are looking for today. Although Evernote and OneNote offer Apple Pencil writing support, it is not as well implemented as in the apps I gonna show you here.

After I started using and reviewing note-taking apps 3 years ago and even wrote an ebook about it called “Paperless Note-Taking like a Pro”, I realized one thing.

There is not THE best note-taking app for EVERYONE. But certainly, there is a note-taking app that suits YOUR specific needs.

So instead of recommending you the one and only note-taking app that I like to use,

I’m certain, that in this post, you will learn all you need to know to find the right note-taking app for your iPad.

Of course, this course will be free for my Inner Circle Members (if you want to join, then you can sign up here).

My favorite 4 note-taking apps 2021 are

The functions of note-taking apps can be split into different feature categories that make it easier for us to compare those apps with each other.


Handwriting recognition and Global Search

All six apps provide handwriting recognition. In fact, the engine behind this is provided by MyScript, the developers of Nebo.
And when it comes to handwriting recognition then Nebo provides the best experience in my opinion.

Nebo provides a long list of supported languages that can be recognized, while other apps just provide a few. I guess, this is due to licensing costs, so developers implementing the handwriting engine focus and most needed languages first.

But I like the handwriting experience in Nebo especially because it is the only one that allows you to see on the fly the transcription of your handwriting.

This means while you are writing in Nebo, above it, you will see what the app actually recognized. This way you can correct wrong words while writing. Even better, you can simply tap on the recommendations to see a list of other suggestions. Nebo also allows striking through words or letters in order to delete them.

Looking at the other 5 apps, only Notes Plus offers this functionality too.

Over the last years, all the major note-taking apps added handwriting recognition, which is a breakthrough when it comes to efficiency using a digital journal.

Because as I showed you in more detail in my other video, using a digital notebook brings a lot of advantages this way. Using a handwriting note-taking app feels very natural when you are used to paper notebooks. But it also makes your notes searchable! This will allow you to find notes much quicker and also to write down some codes you can use as tags. Have a look at the video if you want to learn more.

In order to find things very fast in any of your notebooks, it is important to have a global search. This simply means that you can search through all your notebooks at the same time instead of opening each and then search. Luckily all note-taking apps mentioned in this video provide global search now. In my opinion, GoodNotes 5 made the best job implementing it.

I especially prefer it, if the searched word is highlighted in the results when the result page opens.

Pen Styles

Looking at pen styles, then we see big differences between those six apps. While Nebo, Notability, and GoodNotes5 provide only a basic set of pen styles, apps like Notes Plus and ZoomNotes provide a vast variety of options that rather become overwhelming. In my opinion, Noteshelf really hits the sweet spot here. It has all you need to make proper and artful notes but in an eye-pleasing way. I also like the option to have a favorites toolbar where I have quick access to my preferred pens styles and colors. If I want to draw something more complex using brushes than I rather would go to Procreate, create it in there and then import it via drag and drop back into my note.

Highlighting text

You might don’t think so, but highlighting text is a very important topic when it comes to note-taking apps. For a long time, Notability was covering written text behind the highlight. Which decreased readability. Luckily, like all the other apps, Notability changed the highlighter functionality too and puts the written text now in front of the highlighting.


You might don’t think about this at first, but the eraser tool in a note-taking app is a pretty important part. Especially when you highlighted some handwritten text, then it is good to have a selective eraser that allows you to delete the highlights only. This is functionality is supported by Noteshelf, GoodNotes, and ZoomNotes. Whereas ZoomNotes even provides the option to select certain pen styles that you can erase selectively. Although Notability doesn’t support selective erasing, it gives you the option to select the highlighting and delete it this way. All the mentioned apps support whole stroke or partial eraser options. Notes Plus and Nebo provide just a simple eraser.

PDF Import and Digital Journal support

If you want to use a Digital Journal or Planner, then it is important that your note-taking app can import PDFs including the embedded hyperlinks.

For example, if we have a look at the journal that you can get from my website, it varies heavily from app to app how it looks and functions.

If you are planning to use this type of journal I really recommend using Noteshelf. It offers the best navigation experience compared to others, which is why I optimized my journal for Noteshelf.

In Noteshelf I can simply tap with my pencil on the buttons and it will jump to the expected pages, then I can start writing.

ZoomNotes also does a good job here. It even provides a little pulsating light on the buttons pressed giving some visual feedback. However, this is delays the jump to the selected page a little bit which is why I still prefer Noteshelf for my journal.

In Notability, once you tap, you will be provided with a preview of the linked page and then you have to tap again.

GoodNotes makes this worse in my opinion. Here you cannot tap any buttons until you switch the tool. After switching, you have to switch the tool again to start writing. Too many steps to be efficient.

Notes Plus lets you import PDFs but all the hyperlinks will be broken and the journal is no longer functional.



Want to learn all about paperless note-taking?

Then you must check out my eBook “Paperless Note-Taking Like a Pro”!




Scrolling options

I know that half of my community prefers horizontal and the other half vertical page scrolling. This is why I want to point out what the different apps provide here. Notability, Nebo and Notes Plus have vertical scrolling while Noteshelf and ZoomNotes have horizontal scrolling. There are 3 apps that allow you to choose between vertical and horizontal scrolling–Good Notes 5, Noteshelf, and Notability. Which I think is a great option to have.

General Considerations

If you are working a lot with PDF annotation or signing contracts, then I would rather use PDF Expert instead of a note-taking app. Also, if you do literature research and want to create mind maps out of PDF content, then you might want to check out Margin Notes or Liquid Text which are perfect apps to do this kind of work. I didn’t include those apps on my list here, as I think they are not directly comparable. However, I will go in more detail about those sorts of apps in my online course.

Also if you are into mind mapping and card style note-taking, then you should have a look at Cardflows+, which also supports handwriting with a stylus.

With this comparison, you should get a good idea of what note-taking app suits you well.

Of course, there are many more features to be compared and I will go into much more detail in my online course “How to find the best note-taking app for your iPad”. In there I will go on comparing those 6 apps with each other and look at additional functionalities like Audio Recording, Split Screen, Quick Access options, Bookmarks, presentation mode, and many more! We also will check their functionality on iPhone and macOS and as well as cloud synchronization and availability on other platforms such as Android. You will also learn more about app-specific features, like the Apple Watch compilation or the Evernote synchronization options in Noteshelf.

Last but not least I will go into more detail about other options like Margin Note, Liquid Text, and PDF Expert and I will show you when it makes sense to use OneNote or Apple Notes as your main note-taking app.

There is no need to be a member in order to watch this course. However, if you ARE an Inner Circle member then you will have FREE access!

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