Review: Noteshelf—A Crossplatform Note-Taking Solution for All Situations

Review: Noteshelf—A Crossplatform Note-Taking Solution for All Situations

Noteshelf

Daniel W. Rasmus

Features
Design
Value

Summary

Noteshelf offers a premier note-taking experience on the iPad and Mac, with almost every feature a digital-first student or business person could ask for. $9.99.

4.7

Noteshelf is also available on Apple’s Mac App Store ($7.99) and Android’s Google Play ($4.99)

What I like

Noteshelf’s clean user interface revolves around notebooks. The flexible product offers a confusion-free note-taking environment. Instruments at the top make functions clear. A wealth of features hides below icons like the gear and the plus-sign, grouped logically and designed for easy understanding.

The most important thing about Noteshelf: it empowers digital note-taking in any environment. For those with an iPad and Apple Pencil, there should be no excuse for ever writing something down on paper. And that applies to students passing notes in class via built-in sharing. There is a lot more fidelity on a Noteshelf page than on a typical text—and these notes can be much more subtly passed.

And that digital note-taking hinges on the crucial issue of writing fluidity. For iPad Pro owners with an Apple Pencil, Noteshelf delivers a second-to-none writing experience. Optional pressure sensitivity makes Noteshelf 2 as good for sketching as for note-taking. A good eraser and a solid lasso round out the capture experience.

Noteshelf drawing by the author.

In the business world, passing notes to colleagues is known as collaboration. In addition to personal note sharing, Noteshelf can become a whiteboard with results easily shared after the team session. That feature works much better when people can pick up the stylus and draw something, but it remains a strong feature for thinking visually even when working from home.

The strong organization system for notebooks, accessible from the top of the app or from within a notebook, keeps notebooks well organized. As with any organization system, however, remembering where you stashed something, or indeed, putting it in the right folder in the first place, remains a human responsibility. But like many apps and operating systems, Noteshelf includes an all view. Further, search crosses the entirety of the store, so if you do misplace something, it likely won’t remain lost.

Noteshelf scenario planning sketch

Noteshelf fuels content organization through its visual table of contents. Quickly scroll through notebooks, or PDFs, with thumbnails. Want to really keep track of a page? Bookmark it with a tab and text label.

Noteshelf also offers a variety of templates from UX design to event planning via a free sign-up. Their store also offers a variety of covers to bring pizzazz and differentiation to a notebook shelf.

For a deeper dive into Noteshelf’s features, I offer this consolidated and precise list of the key features included in the product.

Key Noteshelf features include:

  • Natural handwriting capture. Includes virtual pens, pencils, and highlighters in a wide range of colors.
  • Handwriting to text in the UI and behind the scenes provides handwriting to text and search for handwritten text.
  • Markup for documents and images, including imported PDFs and Microsoft Office documents (on iOS, not Mac).
  • Formatting options for checklists, bullets, and numbered lists.
  • Record audio notes while taking notes.
  • Multitasking on iPadOS with side-by-side notebooks.
  • Audio capture integrates directly from Apple Watch.
  • Bookmarks with labels for easy search.
  • Customizable UI keeps unused features out of the way.
  • Auto-publish to Evernote.
  • Auto-backup to Dropbox, Google Drive & OneDrive.
  • Shape recognizer for drawing squares, circles or triangles.
  • Multiple options for sharing notebooks and pages.
  • Face ID, Touch ID and passcodes for notebook security.
  • Siri support: create a new notebook, search for an existing notebook, or open a notebook.
  • Notebook groups and categories for improved organization.

The value proposition for Noteshelf extends across phones, tablets, and computers. I find the iPad and Apple Pencil the most compelling of the offers, and the one I use most frequently. I have found the new Mac version useful when transforming ideas into final products, like a blog post or a more detailed drawing. The immersive 12.9-inch iPad Pro screen is great, but it can’t compete with an expansive 34-inch monitor. As companions, the Mac and iPad versions complement each other well.

Mac pen input options

Those with Wacom Tablets can leverage the Mac for less-mobile drawing experiences. The Sidecar feature allows for supports directly from an attached iPad.

Despite several notes about bug fixes and freeze repairs, I find Noteshelf a well crafted and stable platform. I would not trust my pages and pages of notes to an app if I worried about it eating my homework.

Updates during Covid pandemic—so far

Cloud services and apps stores deliver consistent proof of value to buyers through bug fixes updated features. Regular, incremental updates, however, prove the scourge of reviewers. New updates invalidate complaints and sometimes introduce new concerns. User interface changes age screenshots. Enhancements and new features challenge previous value proposition arguments.

For a company like Fluid Touch Pte. Ltd., with Noteshelf, the difficulty for reviewers results in goodness for consumers. Even if we can’t keep our reviews current, you can rest assured that the Noteself team is keeping the app as bug-free and feature-rich as possible. Responsiveness keeps the value coming.

Here is a look Noteshelf’s version history since the COVID lockdown started in March. I have removed bug fixes listed without detail and eliminated the feature buzz and encouragement, but the results remain impressive. When considering an app, if you don’t see this kind of dedication to feature improvement and quality, question the investment.

8.0
Aug 2, 2020

  • Vertical scrolling. Change the page scrolling direction from horizontal to vertical for faster navigation between pages.
  • Minimized the lag between Apple Pencil and writing. 

7.1.8
Jul 29, 2020 

  • Fixed these bugs: 
    • highlighter strokes not being shown clearly in dark paper templates 
    • color mismatch on converting handwriting to text 
    • screenshots taken with lasso tool turns black upon zooming 

7.1.7 
Jul 12, 2020 

  • Introduced ‘Paste from Clipboard’: Copy-paste pages between notebooks easily.
  • Works with images and PDFs from the Photos app, and the Files app
  • Fixed an issue with the Zoom Box. You can now expand it to the full width of the screen. 
  • Fixed an issue with taking screenshots using the Selection tool. 
  • UX enhancements to the Pages view inside Notebook. 

7.1.6 
Jun 29, 2020 

  • Fixed an issue with the 3-finger-swipe gesture for undo/redo. 
  • Fixed an issue where page navigation slows down for heavy PDFs. 
  • Introduced an animation for notebook closing. 

7.1.5 
Jun 19, 2020 

  • Fixed an issue with pinch zoom. 

7.1.4 
Jun 16, 2020 

  • Added a ‘Go To Page’ feature in the Notebook Options Menu. Go ahead, try it out! 

7.1.3 
Jun 7, 2020 

  • Swipe and hold on the last page to add a new page.  
  • New Advanced Setting prevent auto-locking of an iPad when a notebook is open under. 
  • Fixed a crash while creating groups in the ‘All Notes’ category. 

7.1.2 
May 27, 2020 

  • Hyperlinks within textboxes now automatically become tappable. 
  • Quick Page Navigation: Glide through large notebooks with ease. Tap with 2 fingers on the page to invoke the feature. 
  • Home Screen Shortcuts: Perform quick actions from the home screen. Just long-press on the Noteshelf icon. 

7.1.1 
May 16, 2020 

  • Fixed a bug with imported PDFs 

7.1 
May 14, 2020 

  • Google Drive: Backup your notebooks to Google Drive. 
  • Rotate page: Fix the orientation of imported documents using the new rotate page function. 

7.0.7 
Apr 29, 2020 

  • Introduced a category, ‘All Notes’ to display notebooks across categories. 
  • PDF annotations from other PDF editors are now visible when imported into Noteshelf 

7.0.6 
Apr 22, 2020 

  • Fixed an unexpected launch-time crash reported by few users on iOS12.  

7.0.5 
Apr 20, 2020 

  • undo/redo history maintained across pages until a notebook is closed. 
  • Perform bulk operations on your notebooks with ease using the ‘Select mode’ on the shelf. 

7.0.3 
Apr 6, 2020 

  • Optimized for trackpad (and mouse) support. 
  • The new iPad magic keyboard features a trackpad. And the iPadOS 13.4 features new pointer hover effects that enable a satisfying trackpad user experience on the iPad. Noteshelf now fully supports the trackpad (and any magic mouse). You can try this out by connecting your Mac’s Magic Mouse or trackpad to your iPad (requires iPadOS 13.4). 
  • UX improvements: 
    • Use a finger to quickly select images while writing with your Apple Pencil.
    • Swipe from the left edge of the screen to reveal the categories sidebar inside a notebook.
    • Select multiple photos and import them all into Noteshelf. 

7.0.2 
Mar 27, 2020 

  • We have fixed a crash that you might have faced while deleting text boxes. 

7.0.1 
Mar 26, 2020 

  • Support Hyperlinks and Table of Contents in PDF exports. 

7.0 
Mar 12, 2020 

  • Easy-access sidebar
  • Enhanced drag-and-drop
  • New long-press menus

6.1.13 
Feb 21, 2020 

  • Improved eraser 
  • We fixed an issue with the new Digital Diaries.

What can be improved

There is really just one major improvement I would like to see: sticky notes. The Quick Create option creates a new notebook and allows for rapid input. The idea is right, but I would rather see these as note pages, not notebooks, accompanied by the ability to drag and drop them onto existing notebooks, or just leave them as a separate artifact. Loose notes should display the note image so it can be easily read without opening the note (yes, think Post-it® note).

I continue to use Microsoft OneNote over Noteshelf when capturing websites for research. The ability to just click a button in a browser (unfortunately note Safari in the latest updates from Microsoft) and create a copy of the page for offline reading and annotation offers the ultimate convenience. The Noteshelf team should consider similar functionality, either as their own plug-in or part of Apple’s in-app sharing feature.

Noteshelf should also support the standard clipboard and drag-and-drop on the Mac. Paste from the Edit menu rather than the internal Paste from Clipboard action in the app. And I would like to drag a PDF onto the app and have it appear in the currently open category. Drag-and-drop does work in iPad OS in multitasking mode (drag to Noteshelf from another app).

Zoom on PDFs could be improved. On very high-resolution PDFs (or large ones) Noteshelf does not zoom to a level that the content becomes legible, unlike dedicated PDF viewers that enable thousands of zoom levels.

Finally, storage can be an issue on devices with low storage overhead, like 64GB iPads. Given the cloud backup, I would like to see the option of removing a notebook from a device, leaving it in a non-downloaded state. If the notebook isn’t already backed up to the cloud, Noteshelf would prompt that action before removing the notebook (or say this feature isn’t available because notebook backup isn’t turned on).

As noted above, Fluid Touch may have already incorporated these suggestions by the time you read this post. Always check out the Version History and What’s New on the app store for the latest updates.

Noteshelf: The bottom line

I wouldn’t know what to do without Noteshelf. For over a decade, I have dedicated myself to eliminating paper in my work environment. I download but rarely print PDFs. All online receipts and confirmations get saved to PDFs. I scan and recycle any incoming paper. And I endeavor to take all my notes on my iPad, and that happens 100% of the time on Noteshelf (when I am not evaluating another note-taking app—so far none has displaced Noteshelf.

Noteshelf PDF annotation. Courtesy of Noteshelf/Fluid Touch.

And when I markup a PDF, yep, Noteshelf. I still use Acrobat or Preview for signatures or filling out forms, as the import and share needs of Noteshelf take extra time, and the app doesn’t add value in these situations. But as a single app for keeping track of thinking, and facilitating my learning, Noteshelf sits front and center of those experiences.


Noteshelf provided evaluation copies of their software for review.

Some images courtesy of Noteshelf (Fluid Touch).

For more software reviews from Serious Insights click here.

Daniel W. Rasmus

Daniel W. Rasmus, Founder and Principal Analyst of Serious Insights, is an internationally recognized speaker on the future of work and education. He is the author of several books, including Listening to the Future and Management by Design.

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