I have been playing with a number of different handwriting apps on the iPad these past couple of weeks in an effort to write out rough drafts before I type or dictate them to the computer. I started off with Penultimate and then moved onto Bamboo Paper and have finally settled on Noteshelf. My initial […]
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Zoom Mode is a Killer Feature When Writing on an iPad

I have been playing with a number of different handwriting apps on the iPad these past couple of weeks in an effort to write out rough drafts before I type or dictate them to the computer. I started off with Penultimate and then moved onto Bamboo Paper and have finally settled on Noteshelf.

My initial theory was that the smoothness of the inking would be the killer feature of these apps (and in that regard Bamboo Paper has won by a very, very long shot). However, I quickly learned that smooth ink is worth very little if the interface is not intelligently designed with the limitations of the iPad’s capacitive screen in mind. I’ve found that my hand will often be detected as an extra input while I write on the iPad with a finger or stylus, and despite numerous apps with different approaches to “Palm protection”, I still haven’t found a solution that has been intelligent enough to realize that a finger or stylus is the only thing I want to be doing the drawing. I want my chicken scratch handwriting to look like chicken scratch, not chicken scratch plus finger painting.

That said, I have found a way to work around the limitations of the iPad’s screen, and the workaround is Zoom Mode, and I now think of it as the killer feature of any decent handwriting application.

Penultimate does not offer any kind of zoom mode, so as much as I might like its interface, it’s already a bit of a bust for me. Bamboo Paper is a little bit better because it uses multi-touch gestures to help me zoom and pan around the page. I thought these gestures would be adequate until I encountered the latest version of Noteshelf.

Using zoom mode in Noteshelf isn’t perfect, but it is the most natural way I have found to write on the iPad thus far. Once zoom mode is active, all I need to do is write from left to right, wait a moment for the insertion point to move automatically, and then continue writing. I also like how I can actually rest my palm on the edge of the iPad with Noteshelf’s zoom mode, instead of having to write in the middle of the screen.

The major benefit of handwriting apps with zoom capabilities is the fact that you can actually fill a page with text, instead of writing only 50 words before having to turn to a new page. Writing on an iPad seems to necessitate writing a little bit larger than I normally would on paper, so my writing looks bigger and clumsier than it actually is, and writing in apps like PenUltimate really only lets me finish a paragraph or two before I have to turn the page. Using zoom, on the other hand, lets me write as large as I need to without filling the actual page with giant text. The smoothness of the ink and the accuracy limitations of the iPad screen tend to matter a lot less while zoomed in, since everything looks a lot neater when I finally zoom back out.

I think I’ll be quite happy with Noteshelf for a while to come, but should I ever venture to the App Store to look for more handwriting apps, I have learned that a good sense of zoom zoom will be one of the biggest selling points.

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