Notes Plus: Close Up Look Reveals Full-Featured Productivity on the iPad

Notes Plus is a full-featured note-taking application, complete with improvements on almost everything you can do with a pad of paper and a pen. I do have complaints, but they are utopian. Measured against the competition, Notes Plus seems ideal. Measured against the ideal? Well, as someone once said: a man’s reach should exceed his app, or what’s a version 4 – or words to that effect.
Measured against the real world of note-taking apps on the iPad, Notes Plus is a winner. Its forte is its clean and intuitive interface.
Notes Plus gives you the basics of note-taking: a nice electronic piece of “lined paper,” and faithful and artfully smoothed reproduction of your finger-written notes. It works great, and even gives you a “palm rest,” so you don’t make random shapes and smudges by resting your hand on the pad. But it’s the extras that set Notes Plus apart from other productivity apps.
“Close-up write” mode allows you to write in a zoomed box for better scrolling; you can easily move text or drawings around on the page; the app automatically recognizes shapes and converts them to editable vector objects; and Notes Plus seamlessly integrates typed text with handwritten notes. You can also record as you take notes, and Notes Plus associates the recorded sound with the notes you are taking at the time.
You also have control of colors, fonts, and pens, and the controls are hidden unless you call them up, leaving maximum screen space for the ruled pad. Deleting is quick and intuitive. You just cross out what you want deleted, and Notes Plus makes it go away. If you make a mistake, you can undo – but beware, there is no redo.
Notes Plus is staggeringly popular in the App Store, and for good reason. I have seen one or two features in competitor apps that might be improvements, but nothing that trumps the assortment of features done right in this app. One such area is organization. Notes Plus displays pages in a thumbnail view, but that’s it. There is no sense of the relationship among note files, something I have found in some similar apps.
Otherwise, measured against other note-taking apps out there, I have only good things to say about Notes Plus. Now, let’s be cruel and measure Notes Plus against an ideal.
Remember the iPad’s ill-fated distant ancestor, the Newton, the personal digital assistant you used with a stylus, and learned something like Phoenician to use? At some point, some handwriting recognition has to happen for the note-taking apps. A recognition algorithm – even one that makes the user meets the app halfway – is too natural an evolution to ignore. Text can be manipulated. A picture of text cannot be.
The first developer that can package handwriting recognition in the note-taking genre kills the rest of these apps, period. I hope Viet Tran gets there first, because their attention to every nuance of a useful note application has thus far been stellar.