Apple's iPad gives you numerous ways to take notes, from typing on the virtual keyboard to writing on the touchscreen with a stylus or your finger. The note-taking app Penultimate (99 cents), recently purchased by the note-syncing and storage app company Evernote, is one of the best iPad note-taking apps around. It's fast, friendly, flexible, and at less than a buck, a bargain, all reasons it's an Editors' Choice. Using the app is second nature because it's nearly the same as doodling in a paper notebook. While the app's touch-based sophistication will no doubt impress consumers, when paired with a touch stylus like the Kensington Virtuoso ($24.99), Penultimate can scale to the professional demands of engineers, architects, and industrial designers. Not to mention that the app is optimized for the new iPad's high-resolution retina display.
The Penultimate iPad app doesn't have a keyboard, so it's not useful for typing notes. And it isn't quite as feature-rich as our other Editors' Choice Note Taker HD ($4.99, 4.5 stars)?although the latter costs five times as much. (For more recommendations, see "Note-Taking Apps for the iPad.")
Penultimate's interface looks familiar, though if there's any uncertainty, an interactive walkthrough takes just a couple of minutes to complete. You write in a virtual notebook, filled with blank, grid, or lined pages. The tools, a pen?fine, medium, or broad tipped, in ten shades?and eraser follow your finger or stylus across the page. New pages appear when you flip forward by touching the top corner of a page. Flipping between pages is nearly as smooth as thumbing the pages of a physical book, a testament to the app's speed.
Also worth mentioning are two controls through which you can improve usage. From the settings,you can move the toolbar?buttons for clearing a page, writing, and erasing?from the bottom of a page to the top. There's also a clever feature called Wrist Protection, which, automatically disregards stray marks from a resting wrist. Sometimes, especially when doodling, Wrist Protection can be overly protective, ignoring quick swipes, but when it comes to writing, it's a must.
Penultimate organizes your work in terms of "Notebooks." Accessing different notebooks is as easy as returning to "My Notebooks" and swiping through the covers. Inside a notebook, you can create as many pages as you like. Unlike a notebook that comes in one style?blank, lined, or grid?with Penultimate, you can alternate between the three paper background styles. An in-app connection to The Paper Shop allows you to buy additional paper styles, such as sheet music paper, should you choose. A few are free, but most cost about a dollar.
If you make mistakes, as you will at first while getting used to writing with your finger or a new stylus, you can use either an eraser or an "undo" button. Multiple undos are supported, thankfully, and a redo button lets you toggle back if you undo too many actions.
The Penultimate iPad app doesn't have handwriting-to-text OCR, as the app Notes Plus ($7.99) does. So if you write by hand, the text stays in your handwriting, for better or worse. The iPad display doesn't tent to make handwriting look any worse than it already is, and if anything, smooths it slightly. Penultimate is fine for quick notes, and amazing for sketching or mind-mapping, but we wouldn't recommend it for heavy writing.
Whether you're sharing in real time through a projector, distributing sketches as PDFs, or backing up files in iTunes, Penultimate is a capable companion. If you're looking to collaborate with colleagues, you can connect your pad to a projector via the Apple iPad VGA Adapter ($29). You can also share sketches via email. From inside a notebook, you can select either page or a full notebook to be attached as either a standard PDF or the proprietary .pen format.
Exported PDFs look great. There's even an option to include the paper background image, or convert it to flat white. You can import image files into your notebooks and mark them up with notes or just place them on a page and resize them however you want. Penultimate integrates well with Dropbox, Evernote (Penultimate is now owned by the company Evernote), and iTunes.
Your Last Pen
Penultimate for iPad, a PCMag Editors' Choice, is an excellent and ridiculously inexpensive note-taking app that is especially handy for those who have to sketch diagrams and images in their notes. Typists will lament the lack of a keyboard and should stick to Note Taker HD, our other Editors' Choice, instead. Tight integration with Dropbox and Evernote, two big players in the cloud syncing space, given Penultimate a little more utility than it would otherwise have on its own. Now that the product has been picked up by Evernote, we're excited to see what's in store next for this capable and already impressive app.
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