I’ve been doing most of my work on an iPad for a couple of months now, and have finally come up with a workflow that fits how I do things. I had initially been typing notes directly into Evernote, which is awesome and extremely useful, but the flow of notes felt entirely too linear. I tend to wander a bit, and come back to things later. Typing notes into a document felt too constraining.

So, I went hunting for apps that would replace my traditional moleskine notebooks. I’ve got a stack of notebooks at home, and have been extremely happy with how I work with them. Except they’re not searchable, and I can’t carry them all around with me, so I don’t have access to everything but the most recent set of notes in the current notebook.

How to have the best parts of freeform note-taking, while being able to easily search, index, and share content? I wound up buying a lot of notebook apps, trying to find the one that works best for me.

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I was sure Penultimate would do the trick, but it didn’t feel right. Then, I nearly settled on Note Taker HD, but the way the ink worked didn’t feel natural. The scrawl-to-text feature was interesting, but was a bit of a pain to actually use. I was really hoping Onenote would work out, but it’s text-only, with no sketching or ink. WTF? That’s the strongest part of it, on the Windows side of things…

Then, talking with a prof, and she recommended Noteshelf. Great. Another app to buy. So, of course, I did. And it’s really, really nice. This isn’t a review of the app. Google “noteshelf iPad” to find a bunch of those. But the app totally feels right. It feels like a digital version of a trusty moleskine notebook. Except it’s searchable, and tagable, and can send pages to Evernote. Very cool stuff.

I had a bit of a holy crap moment the other day, in a vendor demo. I was taking notes, and wanted to capture a diagram that was on the screen. So I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a quick photo of the screen. I waited maybe 5 seconds, and then clicked the “insert image” icon in noteshelf. I went to my iCloud photostream, and there was the photo I had just taken on my phone. I selected it, and it was in my notes. Holy crap. Couldn’t do THAT with my old notebooks… (I’m using an iPad mark one, so don’t have a camera built in – the fancy new godpads with cameras let you insert a photo without needing to go through iCloud etc…)

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Yes. I know my chicken scrawl is illegible. But I can read it, and it feels better than typing…

I had picked up a cheap Pogo Sketch stylus to use. It felt like writing with a crayon, though. I did some quick googling and found the Wacom Bamboo stylus. $30 for a metal pen to use on an iPad? I thought that was insane, but I bought one anyway. Wow. Feels like writing with a good pen. Totally worth the money.

So, now I have a really good notebook app, integrated with Evernote so I can access my notes anywhere, and a decent pen to make the whole process just feel right. Nice. Now, if only I hadn’t had to waste so much money buying the other notebook apps until I found Noteshelf…

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