Taking notes—whether handwritten or typed—while listening to a lecture or talk, conducting an interview, or participating in a discussion can be a difficult task. Most people miss something of importance in these situations, and are later befuddled when trying to recall just what the badly-typed “Important! Jilr key!” was all about.
SoundNote for the iPad succeeds in helping to recover such lost moments. The $5 app from David Estes consists of two basic elements—a document editor with simple text-editing and drawing tools and an audio recorder. You press the Record button, which resides at the top of the screen, at the start of your note-taking session.
You can forget about the audio at that point and take notes using an external keyboard or the iPad’s virtual keyboard; you can also use your finger to sketch with the freehand drawing tool. You can alternate between the tools easily, and drawings and text are saved on the same page.
At the end of your session, you press the Stop button. And this is where the magic, as it were, begins. That “Important! Jilr key!” notation? Tap on it and the recording plays back starting shortly before you typed your note. That’s when you can figure out that the lecturer said “jokes are a crucial aspect of public speaking,” and you can go back and correct your typed note.
The system works very well—notes and audio sync consistently. There are three ways to export your notes and/or audio. You can e-mail the document text with an attached PDF that includes your text notes (each paragraph is time stamped) and drawings. You can upload the PDF document and sound file (in M4A format) to Dropbox, or download your documents directly via Wi-Fi to your Mac or PC. SoundNote supplies the URL from which you can access your documents.
SoundNote has several shortcomings. The audio is very faint, although serviceable if you turn up the volume on your iPad to the maximum level. The text editor is so bare bones that there’s only one font, and you can’t change the font’s style or size; you can’t format paragraphs, either. And the drawing tool is, in essence, a No. 2 pencil: black with one (thin) stroke size.
While note taking is different from creating a polished document, a few more options, like the ability to emphasize text or draw in different colors, would be helpful. When taking notes, it’s nice to have the ability to emphasize some words and to color-code, as well.
Despite these limitations, SoundNote is a very good note-taking app that would be an excellent addition to any student’s digital toolkit; it would also be helpful for recording meetings and interviews.
[Jeff Merron is a freelance writer and editor living in North Carolina.]