Penbook is the first app I looked at, and if I never look at another note app for the iPad, I think I could be exceedingly pleased with this one.
Penbook uses the “shelf” metaphor to create and organize your notebooks. This is also how reMarkable worked, although it doesn’t see that Penbook allows for the creation of folders for further organization. I can, however, add tags to a notebook, which could be just as good since one notebook could occupy several tags.
If you like customizing the hell out of your digital notebook, this looks like the app for you.
The first step is to choose a paper type. Depending on the need, this might be overkill, or it might be not-enough-kill. For me, a good note taking app offers standard lined paper (check), grid paper (check), and if I’m getting greedy, a calendar (check). This app offers many more such as music, scientific, and artistic options as well. Each stationary choice is a category, so there’s a sub-set of paper types based on the category that’s choosen.
But wait! There’s more! After selecting the paper, I can change the font, the color of the paper accents (in the image above, this means the margin line), how many pages I want to start with (I can always add more as I need them), and whether or not I want portrait or landscape modes. The “Show Page Options” allows me to adjust the density of the lines as well as the location of the margin — if I want it in the middle of the page, I can!
If I were the kind of person who really cared about the skeuomorphic flavor of my digital notebooks, I could choose from branded recreations of popular stationary brands. These feature a themed cover and specific page styles.
The properties and cover image can be changed by selecting an existing style from one provided. It doesn’t seem that the app allows for the uploading of a custom image, which is a conspicuous oversight.
There are several inking options including wide-tipped marker, fine-tipped marker, highlighter, and colored pencil. Each of these, however, are just copies of one another with different settings. There are four different tips (three writing, one highlighter), and the colors and stroke can be customized. In between the inking and utility options there’s an icon which allows for the creation of new variations, allowing for specific ink types to be made available without having to modify existing options.
The second set of tools includes an eraser (by object or by pixel), a selection lasso tool, a ruler (which does allow for inking along the edge, a cool feature), and a set of tweezers which allow for the re-arranging of non-drawn elements on the page.
The bottom-right controls allow for the opening of a side-panel which has options for the insertion of meta-objects like camera photos or images, stickers, washi tap, typed text Post-It style notes, maps (I guess?), and a scratchpad. I am not entirely sure about the why’s and wherefores of this feature, but it’s there if you want ’em. This mini-toolbar can also be used to open the “minimap” which provides access to page bookmarks and the options to re-arrange pages.
I haven’t rolled through all of the templates, but I did see that a single notebook can contain a different template per page, which means that I could have a notebook with lined paper on one page, and a calendar view on the next.
Speaking of calendar, if you do want to create a planner-style notebook, Penbook integrates with your device’s calendar, so when you add a calendar page to a notebook, you will see any appointments you have scheduled. At this point, you can only hand-write new content on the calendar, and as a result, it does not translate back to your device’s calendar.
Surprisingly, there is also a Windows Store version of Penbook, which can be had for $9.99USD as of the time of this post. Unforunately, there doesn’t seem to be traffic between the iOS and Windows version, which is a massive disappointment. Considering I don’t ink on the desktop this is more an academic let-down than a functional let-down, but it would be nice if I could at least see my notes on the desktop for reference. At least the app allows for notebooks to be exported as PDFs, and PDFs can be imported to use as notebooks, which I suppose means that I could draw all over a PDF.
For those who are looking for such a feature, there doesn’t seem to be any handwriting recognition or conversion features in this app.
Basic free functionality seems to allow for one notebook. Premium can be had for $14.99 annually (not a bad deal), or $50 in perpetuity for those who like to buy their software outright.
I hate to say it, but my limited spin through Penbook has probably poisoned my opinion of apps I haven’t even opened yet. Right out of the gate this does everything I want in a note taking app, and some things I probably wouldn’t use but might mess around with at some point. The customization options are vast for a “note taking app”, with a lot of interesting page templates that can probably satisfy almost anyone. Calendar integration is a nice touch, though I would occasionally use this for work, so I don’t need to mix work events with my own personal appointments or notifications. Although it doesn’t offer folders for organization, tags should do the trick just fine. I wish the iOS and Windows apps would play nice together or allow for the export of a native data file to a common location like Google Drive, OneDrive, or Dropbox.