On one hand, the $8 MyScript Notes Mobile from Vision Objects is yet another of the growing number of iOS note taking apps. However, it attempts to separate itself from the pack by focusing on handwriting as its main—well, actually, it’s only—form of input.
As you might guess, notes that you create with MyScript Notes are stored inside notebooks. You can have multiple notebooks, either by starting them from scratch or by importing shared notebooks from iTunes or Dropbox. Every notebook is assigned a default language which is relevant if you choose to convert any of your handwritten text to editable text. (More about this later.) One language is installed with the app by default, but you can easily activate more languages as needed. (You should consult the MyScript Notes Mobile page on the App Store for the languages that are currently supported.)
The app clearly shows its bias toward handwritten input with its spartan set of tools: a pen, an eraser and a selection tool. The pen tool lets you write (or draw) with your finger or stylus using a variety of line styles and colors. (For drawing, having a transparency option would also be nice.) Input is very smooth on a Retina screen, but seems less precise on older tablets. As you might guess, the eraser tool lets you erase what you’ve written or drawn, and you can also use it to clear an entire page if needed. The selection lasso tool works as expected and its visual feedback is very helpful.
For those who like to rest their hands on the screen while writing or drawing, MyScript Notes provides a useful wrist shield that you can drag up from the bottom of the screen. (The app warns you that having the iPad’s multitasking gestures enabled can interfere with the wrist shield, but I haven’t experienced any problems so far.) The shield moves down automatically as you’re writing, which is a nice touch.
You can also add images to your notes pages, either directly from your camera or via your iPad’s photo library. You can move and resize them (as you can also do with items created with the pen tool), and you can even rotate them and resize them proportionally, but there’s no apparent way to crop or group images. Those options would be useful.
New pages can be added to a notebook two ways: You can navigate to the last page and then swipe to a new page, or you can use the Page Navigator, which provides a thumbnail view of your entire notebook and also allows you to move or delete pages. Since it’s easy to create pages accidentally using the former method, it would be nice to have the option of deleting the current page directly.
MyScript Notes lets you work in either portrait or landscape mode. Portrait mode gives you the ability to see an entire page at once, but if you prefer working in landscape mode, you can use two fingers to scroll around the page; however there’s no way to reduce the view to fit the screen.
When it comes to sharing your MyScript Notes data, you’ve got quite a few options from which to choose. Depending on how much data you’re exporting (e.g. a selection, a page or an entire notebook) you can select among the following formats—text, image, PDF or MyScript native format. You can then send the data to any of the following destinations—the clipboard, email, iTunes, Evernote, Dropbox, Twitter or Facebook. (iCloud support is conspicuously missing.)
Since handwriting recognition is MyScript’s claim to fame, exporting written notes as text is perhaps the most interesting of these formats. My handwriting rates somewhere between poor and dreadful, and the app usually converts both my English and German handwriting pretty accurately. But I don’t think it “learns” your handwriting patterns, as it has never picked up on the fact that I occasionally forget to dot the lower-case “i”. Of course, your mileage will vary depending on your penmanship.
If you’re not sure if MyScript Notes is for you, then you should download the free MyScript Memo before letting loose your $8. It provides many of the same features of MyScript Notes; however you’re limited to a single notebook and all handwriting recognition must be performed on the developer’s servers.
MyScript Notes Mobile does a very good job of processing handwritten input, but I can still type much faster than I can write, so I’m still not convinced that a note-taking app that processes only handwritten text is practical in most situations. However, if handwriting is your thing, then MyScript Notes Mobile may be right up your alley.
[Brian Beam is a software designer and partner with web development firm BOLD Internet Solutions, living somewhere near Kansas City.]
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