The Future of Handwriting: Noteshelf (2/4)

Continuing with our series about handwriting apps, we’re now going to take a look at an app that takes the functionality of the previously reviewed Penultimate even further.

Meet Noteshelf, your digital collection of notebooks of all kinds. Noteshelf has full support for image placement, icon usage, and even zoom, which allows for even greater control of your handwriting.

Read on to transform the way you take notes!

The Basic Principles Behind Noteshelf

First of all – Noteshelf is a handwriting only app. There’s no support for keyboard input, you can use your fingers or a stylus – that’s it! As you will see, this is by no means a shortcoming of the app. 

The name of the app is prominently reflected in the beautiful start screen, which is designed like a shelf where your notebooks are stacked.

View of all your notebooks

Your notebook shelf

As you can see, there are lots of different kinds of notebooks available and this is one of the most amazing features of Noteshelf. The app comes with 17 different styles, ranging from plain paper, through personal style papers for diaries or notes, to business layouts for meetings notes, and even specialized papers for musicians.

Select the type of notebook you'd like to use

Select the type of notebook you'd like to use

I don’t think it’s too much to say that most of you will find something useful there. And, if you happen to change your mind about a layout while already working in a notebook, you can change it immediately. And as often as you want.

Have It Your Way

Where Noteshelf has a definite advantage over the previously reviewed Penultimate, is in its true support for either landscape or portrait orientation. Everything rotates – the controls, the page, and most importantly, the content!

Noteshelf in portrait mode

Select the type of notebook you'd like to use

As you can see below, when you work in the landscape mode there is a textured area to the far right that serves as a scroll bar – enabling you to access every part of your page. While in the portrait orientation you don’t need it as the entire page is shown.

Noteshelf in landscape mode

Noteshelf in landscape mode

Why am I going on about the orientation? Because, the flexibility is important.

It will depend entirely on my situation, and purpose, whether I use my iPad in landscape or portrait. I may be restrained due to my location (at a desk or in a train), what I want to achieve (sketching vs writing), or even due to how I feel comfortable.

In landscape mode I can rest my palm much more comfortably on the screen of the iPad, while in portrait mode it will slip off the edge of the device more quickly.

Working with Notebooks

Once you’ve picked a style and created your notebook, you can start writing immediately! You should take the time to leaf through the user guide though, since it has some handy tips that can make your experience even better.

Here in landscape mode you can see all the important elements. The main part of the screen is occupied by the paper you will be writing on, while the controls of the app are located across the top, and the scroll bar to the right.

Since the user guide explains all of them, I want to point out only the most significant ones. First of all, there’s the wrist protection.

Write with activated wrist protection

Write with activated wrist protection

The wrist protection basically makes parts of the iPad’s screen immune to any input. When you rest your palm there while writing, it will not cause the app to think you’re trying to write something.

The red arrow at the right side of the page shows you where the wrist protection starts/ends – you can drag it up or down as you need.

The next key element I’ll look at is, of course, your pen. Noteshelf offers 17 different pen colors and a slider that helps you to control the width of the pen.

Since the pop up window closes immediately after selecting a color, you can save yourself unnecessary taps by changing the width first and then the color if you want to adjust both values.

Select pens and pen widths

Select pens and pen widths

By far the greatest feature of Noteshelf is the zoom, something I sorely miss in Penultimate. The zoom option allows you to magnify the tiny part of the sheet you’re writing on.

You can actually write in the area magnified by the zoom. But, why is that so important?

It’s important because, when writing with your fingers, it can be awkward to be precise. The zoom feature comes in extremely handy for anyone with normal sized fingers and average motor control!

It’s worth noting, however, that your writing will look rather large compared to the use of a pen. When you write in the magnified area, it will be proportionally scaled to fit on the paper. Once you zoom out your writing will look much better, and you’ll be able to fit much more on the paper… uhm, screen, that is.

Use zoom to write more naturally

Use zoom to write more naturally

You certainly shouldn’t worry about the writing looking blurry in the magnified area – that won’t be reflected on the final (exported) page.

There are more controls along the zoom window which allow you to fine tune just how much you want to zoom in. It’s worth taking a little time to play around with these to find the settings you’re most comfortable with.

Apart from the undo and redo controls, you have an eraser to remove specific parts of your writing. Additionally, you can enhance your writing with a rich variety of icons that come packaged with Noteshelf.

Multiple pages of icons available

Multiple pages of icons available

Your most often used icons will always be shown in the ‘lesser’ view, with all icons accessible in the ‘more’ view. While it may look like a childish thing at first, many of the icons can really help to make certain aspects of your notes stand out. They can even help to clarify the meaning, making it a very helpful feature of the app.

If your notebooks grow large, don’t tire yourself out with flipping through all the pages individually. You can access all of them very easily by tapping the binocular icon in the top right.

One last thing to note is the ability to add images to your notes. That’s something only a few apps offer, with UPAD offering image annotation but not insertion, and PhatPad the only app to allow for a real mix of written, drawn, and imported content. It’s worth looking at why adding images is important?

Insert images anywhere on a page

Insert images anywhere on a page

Speaking from a purely business viewpoint, imagine taking notes on your iPad during a meeting or a conference. You have a brainstorming session on a whiteboard, or maybe a speaker shows something projected on a wall, and you snap a photo of it.

Wouldn’t it be nice to import those images into your notes, so you’ll have everything neatly in one place? Instead of having to reference the images or even copy the content of the photos by hand?

Unfortunately, while you can easily import images, scale, and rotate them – once you place them on your page there’s no way of moving them around or adjusting them. If you made a mistake, but have done some work in the meantime, you’ll have to use the eraser to get rid of the image.

Quickly access pages

Quickly access pages

Exporting Your Notebooks

Every notebook application is only as good as its export options, since most of you will have to share notes with coworkers, friends or classmates. And, although it may be hard to believe, some of them may not have an iPad or Mac!

Noteshelf offers two export formats – images and PDF files. The latter has the distinct advantage of being indefinitely scalable. With Noteshelf, the export is a lot better than with Penultimate, but it’s still not perfect. The output is not unforgettably crisp, but is very readable and printable.

Moreover, you can decide which pages you want to export. You have the choice between the full notebook, selected pages, or just a single one. Noteshelf sets itself further apart from the competition by offering more than simple Email-export, as most apps do:

Wide range of export options

Wide range of export options

The only thing I can think of that is sorely missing, is the option to export the actual notebook file. This would enable teams using Noteshelf to edit the original notes from another team member and pass them around.


As an honest reviewer, it would be foolish to say an app is perfect – there’s always room for improvement! But Noteshelf is pretty close to a perfect app. It’s stable, offers a wealth features, and the zoom option is the icing on the cake.

The only gripe I have with the app is its inability to edit images once they’ve been inserted into a notebook, and it’s inability to annotate PDF files. Also, owing to the fact that I’m a rather impatient person, I wish the notebooks would load a tad faster. Saying that, there’s really just a 2/3 second delay when tapping a notebook to open – it’s not all that bad!

If your desire is to write quickly and easily on your iPad, while also being presented with a multitude of delightful styles and options, then Noteshelf may be for you!

If, however, you need to annotate PDF files on a regular basis, or even need handwriting recognition, you should keep an eye out for the other apps we’ll be reviewing later in this series…


Noteshelf is a handwriting application for the iPad that allows for a natural writing experience in beautifully designed digital notebooks.

  • Franko

    i love this app, but i’m constantly wishing they would add support for typing OR handwriting notes. sometimes typing is much faster, and as a leftie, the wrist protection doesn’t always work for me, and i’m much faster at typing, anyway. one question: what do you use for a stylus? i use the Pogo Sketch, but the little capacitive sponge gets compressed and non-responsive over time. i’d love to know if there’s a better solution out there.

    • Leonardo Prunk

      Nice app, I’ll give it a try.
      And I’m also looking for a good stylus for the iPad…

    • Julia Altermann

      Hello Franko,

      I use the Griffin Stylus, which I absolutely love. Originally I wanted to get a Box Wave, but those don’t seem to be available in Germany. As far as I could find out, the Griffin and the Box Wave seem to be virtually identical.

      Here’s the link to the stylus I use: Amazon Link

      • Franko

        thank you!

    • Brodwyn

      Good review came out in May on on 12 popular styluses. I went out and bought what came across as the forerunner, the Wacom Bamboo Sylus… feels great in the hand and writes and sketches good. I had not other stylus before this, so can’t compare it to any other experience, but so far so good.

  • Joe

    Excellent review, as always. Since I got my iPad 2 I’ve been searching for the perfect handwriting app, and settled in UPAD. I love the thing, with it’s ability to write notes and to import PDF’s and annotate them. It’s pretty handy to have those two features in the same program.

    That said, UPAD was the only one I bought, so I can’t give an opinion about the other ones. I was tempted to try Penultimate, given that it’s consistently in the top paid apps section, but the PDF thing is really important to me. Noteshelf seems pretty good to.

    Anyway, I’ll be waiting for the UPAD review. This is an excellent series of articles, I must say, and I am now a frequent visitor of this site because of these in-dept articles. Keep up with the good work! 😉

    • Julia Altermann

      Hi Joe,

      thanks for your kind words about the article. I’m happy when it helps our readers to make up their mind.

      As for UPAD – stay tuned for the rest of the series 😉

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  • Elizabeth

    Excellent review! I love the details and screenshots provided.

    Noteshelf looks incredibly similar to an app I recently purchased called Note Taker HD. Noteshelf has some great features missing in Note Taker and has what looks to be a much nicer UI. But Note Taker HD has a couple of features that would be hard to give up too — mainly an auto-advance feature on the zoom panel and the ability to annote PDFs.

    As a new iPad owner I’m finding that one can spend an awful lot of money looking for the right set of features.

    • Julia Altermann

      Hi Elizabeth,


      I also own a copy of Note Taker HD and can only agree – it’s an incredible app; especially for professional work with PDFs it offers some features that are unique, like merging of PDFs and so on.

  • Kathy

    Great review, and insightful comments. I’d also like to see Noteshelf add folders that would group notebooks. I’m using a different notebook for each seminar at a conference I’m at, and would love to be able to not have them take up all the shelves. Love this app anyway!!

  • Robert

    The app is great but has one, for me, major problem with the zoom writing. It does not automatically advance the zoom view. So once you you have written all across the zoom view, you have to push one of the three buttons to continue to write. This breaks the flow, and starts to annoy quite fast.

    I really hope the developers add this feature to the app!

    • Kenny

      Try Notes Plus, their zoom feature is the most advanced out there.

    • Steve

      Once you start touching the gray zone in the zoom view, it auto advances once you finish the work you are writing…’s amazing once you position the zoom box..

  • Kenny

    I’ve used Noteshelf, Penultimate and couple other notes taking/hand writting app, but in my opinion, Notes Plus ( is better than the rest.

  • Muhammad

    Wow. Noteshelf looks very neat and tempting. If an app has a good balance between a cool UI and good functionality, it wins.

    Having said that, I’m going to wait for the other reviews. The PDF annotation is something important to me.

    At the moment though, from my own research, it seems Notes Plus beats the competition hands down. The app has an insane amount of features and customization; chief one being the ability to hand-write as well as input text. And then there’s the option to auto-detect shapes. Just so great when you move from typing to inputting a diagram or flow chart with your hand…

    But the UI isn’t as slick as Noteshelf reviewed here. Noteshelf looks like it’s easier for what it does best; handwriting.

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  • Kelliesp

    Love the app, but PLEASE add keyboard capability. It would be absolutely perfect then

  • heike

    Hallo Julia,
    seit einigen Tagen arbeite ich mich auch in Noteshelp ein, wunderbare app :-),
    habe aber eine Frage, wie kann ich erstellte Bücher komplett wieder löschen, oder diese mit anderem Titel versehen?

  • Anne

    Just Mobile’s AluPen

  • stuart grimshaw

    great review, great app. but i think 9 out of ten is a bit over the top while such features as kbd support are missing. pdf import is less important for me, but seems to be a no brainer, given how easy these things are to implement and how much work has gone into an excellently laid out and structured app.

    fingers crossed for an update, i guess.

  • hazel

    hi there
    can someone help me, i have the pdf file, how to open it through note shelf? normally i used enote taker to do some editing on thid pdf file. would like to use noteshelf but not sure how to open pdf file


  • Jake

    I absolutely love the NoteShelf but I keep going back to NoteTaker HD to annotate PDF’s. What I am looking for in a notetaking app is: a top notch ink engine, elegant interface, ability to annotate PDF’s, and the ability to record audio in sync with the ink engine or keyboard similar to Livescribe.

  • Amanda221

    ZoomNotes is definitely the best handwriting app around. It has an unlimited zoom feature which means that you are not constrained to pages, and as such I can use it on the iPhone as well as the iPad. You can annotate PDFs and photos too.

  • Febby Tan

    I’ve tried a lot of handwriting apps before, and I have to say that Noteshelf by far is the most comfortable-feature rich-realistic ink rendering I’ve ever tried. I use it everyday ever since and I cannot imagine living without it.

  • Brodwyn

    Excellent presentation of the review. I wish all review sites could be like this, which makes the concept of “informed decisions” more objective.

  • SB

    Noteshelf now allows text input. In fact, between all apps now, I find it best. Wrist guard moves automatically and non-zoom mode handwriting looks best in this app.

  • Eric

    Nice app! I would like to have the possibility to add some flowchart shapes, in which text can be written.

  • Al

    Great review. How does one import PDF files into the different notes books on the shelf one has created?

  • richwalt

    Would be PERFECT … if it could import PDF to mark up! :-)