The Best Notetaking Apps for iPad & Apple Pencil

Because handwriting is delightful on the iPad!

Photo by Dhru J on Unsplash

There is something innately satisfying about taking notes by hand, but there could well be a good reason for this. Research has shown that our long-term retention is better when we write things by hand than taking notes by typing on a laptop.

Most of us have taken paper notes at one point in our lives, but the introduction of the iPad opened up a whole new world of opportunities. Yes, you can use the Apple Pencil to handwrite your notes, but you can also add images, weblinks, and custom backgrounds.

The best iPad notetaking apps are creative, versatile, and a joy to use. Here are some of my favorites for taking notes with the Apple Pencil.

1. Goodnotes

Goodnotes often sits at the top of Apple’s chart for the best-selling iPad productivity apps. It can function as a PDF annotation tool, but it shines as a digital notepad.

You can take notes with the keyboard or the Apple Pencil, and it has practical features like a shape recognition tool to turn your wonky quadrilateral into a perfect square. Goodnotes also does an excellent job turning your handwriting into typed text if you need that functionality.

Notebooks organize your notes. You can customize the cover of the notebook and choose from a variety of papers and templates to write on. For those who like to multitask, Goodnotes works well in the iPad’s Split View or Slide Over mode. There is even the ability to present your notes on a projector and mark them up in real-time with your Apple Pencil.

Goodnotes will back up all your notes to iCloud, Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive. It’s available for the Mac, iPad, and iPhone, so you can see and sync your notes on multiple devices. The iPad version costs $7.99.

Learn more at

2. Notability

Notability is perhaps the biggest competition for Goodnotes. It has been around almost as long as the iPad has existed and now boasts a raft of features that few other apps can match.

One of Notability’s biggest strengths is its flexibility. You can combine text, photos, handwritten notes, GIFs, URLs, and audio recordings all in one notebook. In addition, notes are grouped by subject, and if you need further organization, you can add dividers to group your subjects.

One of the best features of Notability is the audio recordings. They are synced to your handwritten notes so that you can replay them and hear exactly what was being said at the time you took that note. This is perfect for students at college or maybe even a job interview.

Notability will also let you back up your notes to the cloud. You can also import PDFs, Word documents, and PowerPoints for markup. There are Notability apps for Mac, iPad, and iPhone. The apps are free, but you will need to pay an annual subscription of $11.99 to unlock all the features.

Learn more at

3. Nebo

Nebo is one of the newer apps on this list, but it’s a powerful app that looks great on the iPad. Nebo is made by MyScript, a company that made its name by converting handwritten notes into typed text. As you might imagine, this is a particular strength of the Nebo iPad app.

However, Nebo does more than convert handwriting into text; it also converts shapes, diagrams, and mathematical formulas into digital formats. Handwriting can be resized the way you resize a text box on a computer. All you need to do is drag the edge of the box to resize it, and your handwriting will adapt accordingly.

Nebo also lets you import PDFs for annotation, and it includes several useful tools to help you do that. Notes that you create can be exported as text, HTML, PDF, or Word documents.

Nebo is available for iPad, Mac, Windows, and Android, but the Nebo Viewer app will let you see (not edit) your notes on the iPhone. The iPad app is free to help you get started, but there is a $7.99 in-app purchase to unlock everything that this app is capable of doing for you.

Learn more at

4. OneNote

Microsoft OneNote is another notetaking app that has been around for a long time. It actually predates the iPad. Nevertheless, it remains a handy option for iPad users, especially those who work on multiple devices.

OneNote doesn’t have many drawing tools, but that simplicity works in its favor. The pen tools have all the colors you could want, including some that you might not expect, like the galaxy pen or the rainbow sparkle unicorn pen!

The shape tool is helpful, as is the shape recognition pen that will automatically match your hand-drawn shape with the geometric shape it best matches. Interestingly, a stylus orientation option lets you choose which way you prefer to hold your Apple Pencil. Picking the one that matches your hand grip will better reject unwanted touches.

Search is outstanding in OneNote. You can search from inside any note and get results from all the notebooks you have created. In addition, the OneNote search recognizes both text and handwriting.

OneNote is completely free. You have to use OneDrive to save and sync your notes, but you can access OneNote on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Windows, and Android devices.

Learn more at

5. Apple Notes

Sometimes it is easy to forget that Apple has its own notetaking app. It might not be the best notetaking app for the iPad, but it does come with some unique features. It also integrates seamlessly with the Apple Pencil.

For instance, if you swipe diagonally from the bottom right-hand corner of your iPad, the Quick Note window appears. You can use the floating window to capture your thoughts quickly. You can also tap the lock screen with the Apple Pencil to summon a Quick Note.

Apple’s markup tools have improved year on year to include various pens for taking notes on the iPad. You can also move the tools around the screen or minimize them for more room to write. The ruler can be a handy tool, while handwriting can be turned into text if you need it.

Apple Notes is free and comes on all iPhone, iPad, and Mac computers. Notes sync over iCloud and can be password protected or sorted into folders.

Learn more at

6. Penbook

Customization is the name of the game with Penbook. Each notebook you create can have a custom cover, and on the inside, there are hundreds of papers, colors, layouts, and themes to choose from.

Penbook is an extremely versatile digital notebook that lets you create planners, stationery, ruled paper, and specialist layouts like staff paper, chemistry paper, and practice paper for penmanship.

One of the more creative features of Penbook is the ability to do some digital scrapbooking. It is easy to group pictures and text while adding washi tape to help add some visual flair.

Penbook is available for Mac, iPad, and Windows. The app is free to try and $14.99 a year for Penbook Pro.

Learn more at

7. CollaNote

The curious thing about Collanote is the value that this iPad notetaking app provides. Everything is completely free. What’s more, it was created by a student, with the intention that it be used by students and professionals.

Collanote boasts 4.9/5 stars from over 6,500 reviewers, and it’s easy to see why. It takes the best parts of Notability and Goodnotes and makes them even better.

With Collanote, you can collaborate with others just like you would on a Google Doc. The real-time collaboration feature works with zero delays and with unlimited participants. It’s perfect for homework or shared notetaking sessions.

Collanote can translate your notes into one of sixty different languages and has a great presentation mode with a customizable laser pointer for teaching or presenting. It will record audio while you take notes and highlight the corresponding parts of your notes on playback.

Collanote just got a big update that included a new ink engine to make the Apple Pencil experience even smoother. It works on iPhone, iPad, and Mac.

Learn more at

8. Noteshelf

Noteshelf has some illustrious users. Game designers, CEOs, a Rolls Royce manager, and even an award-winning film director are avid users of this well-designed notetaking app.

Noteshelf doesn’t really do anything unique compared to the other apps in this collection, but the things that it does do, it does very well. The writing experience, for instance, is second to none. In addition, it has a very fluid and responsive stroke when using the Apple Pencil.

Another nice feature is audio notes. If you don’t have time or a spare hand to take the notes you need, you can record an audio note and then take notes when you play it back. The iPad is excellent for recording audio, but you can use the Apple Watch app to record your thoughts and listen to them later if you don’t have it to hand.

Noteshelf is available for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Android devices. The iPad app is $9.99, and there are no in-app purchases or subscriptions.

Learn more at

Which is the Best iPad Notetaking App?

There are no wrong choices here. Some offer more than others, but if those apps have features you are not likely to use, don’t pay for more than you need. They all work well with the Apple Pencil and are easy to learn.

And if you are a fan of notetaking apps, feel free to check out my list of The Best Notetaking Apps for 2022. It has ten additional apps that are not mentioned in this article.

Everything on my list of The Best Notetaking Apps for 2022 also works with the iPad, so if you haven’t found a notetaking app that works for you yet, there are ten more options for you to choose from!

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