Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Goodbye Pen and Paper!

I used to go through dozens of ballpoint pens and paper notebook pads each year for taking notes while working.  If I were at an on-site meeting, I wouldn’t want to drag a laptop into the meeting to type notes and have that “barrier” (and distraction) between me and the other meeting participants.   When taking notes on a phone call, I’ve also found it always too hard to concentrate on typing while I’m also trying to listen to (or participate in) the conversation.   So, unobtrusive, quick and easy handwritten note-taking was the solution I always relied on.

When Windows Tablet PCs first came out, I had thought that would be my answer to kissing my paper notepads goodbye—but the interface was clunky and slow (as it tried to transcribe my writing rather than just accept it “as is”).

So, my next solution was a Scansnap scanner and Evernote—here, I could quickly scan in my handwritten note pages, tag the PDFs and upload them into my “cloud-based” Evernote account for later lookup and reference. That was better, but still not quite ideal.  

Enter Apple iPad, Penultimate, and a capacitive stylus!


When I first got my iPad, I purchased nearly every handwritten note-taking app in the App Store.  Some had tons of bells and whistles (i.e. insert pictures, typed text, voice recordings, web pages), but few could do what I was looking for—a “fast as paper” solution with smooth ink, multi-page multiple notebooks, various levels of undo and eraser support, various pen sizes/colors, an “ignore wrist rests” feature to prevent unwanted pen marks when your wrist touches the screen, and finally, an easy way to export either one page or a whole notebook as PDF files for easy sending to my Evernote account.

One app met all those needs—Penultimate.  It’s now the most popular note-taking app in the app store with good reason—it’s effortless to use! (very elegant looking as well).  With just 1 click, I can start a new notebook and start writing a note.  When I fill up the page with and need a new page, a simple tap starts the next page.  Amazing how cumbersome other app developers designed their apps to accomplish these 2 basic steps—all software developers and product designers could learn a thing or two from the Penultimate team.


While you can write with your finger pretty well on an iPad, a capacitive stylus (one with a soft rubber tip that won’t scratch the iPad’s glass screen) allows you to write faster and with better precision.  I’ve been using a Pogo Sketch stylus, but recently broke the plastic clip on it, so have now just ordered a stylus by Boxwave which I hope will be more durable. 


  1. Just an update from the post-- the new Boxwave stylus is wonderful! So much smoother to write with than the Pogo. Very nicely made as well and comes with a little tether that you can plug into the iPad's headphone socket so that your pen can easily be kept with your iPad. Only downside, is like the Pogo, Boxwave also tries to size their stylus to be used for iPhone or iPad use, and consequently, the stylus is a bit on the short side (i.e. no longer than the length of the iPhone). But still, with it being fatter and heavier than the Pogo, it feels more comfortable to hold. I highly recommend Boxwave!

  2. Hi Lynne: just wanted to drop you a line to say "hello" and to let you know that I really enjoy your blog. It really resonates with me on several levels: dogs (love 'em ... had a wonderful yellow lab years ago, and now have a whack-job dalmation mix and a chihuahua (the kids pick 'em, I pay for them)), technology (I'm an IT guy), and camping (we have a small camper that we love ... and if I can ever leave my job, I would love to travel more widely). Great photos, tech articles (I've been an Apple user at home for many years (work is all Windows and UNIX)), dog stories, and camping destinations. If your Skinny Winnie is heading to the great southwest sometime, let me know! - Bob (

  3. Thanks Bob. I absolutely love the southwest and hope to get back there someday soon. I did the Route 66 trip in 2007 with my T@B trailer and had a great, but way too short, time -- . So, I'll certainly give you guys a shout out next time I get out there!


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