The Future of Handwriting: UPAD (3/4)

There are handwriting apps and there are handwriting apps. Some of the best we’ve introduced in our series already, but then there is UPAD.

Of course, your personal style of note taking will decide which app will fit you best, but UPAD has such an amazing feature set that it will be hard to find a user that can’t incorporate it into their workflow.

The Big Three

Handwriting apps are excellent tools for three things – actually writing down notes, annotating PDF files and annotating images (photos, screenshots). Annotating via manual writing is so much easier and faster than doing with a mouse – it’s like having a printout in front of you on which you can scribble.

And of course there are also differences when it comes to supporting handwriting – apps like Penultimate offer you the entire screen to draw on at all times, while Noteshelf and UPAD offer a zoom window that allows you to use the space on your virtual paper more effectively.

The Interface

UPAD’s main interface is divided into four sections that you can access via icons on the bottom.

Welcome to the note's section of UPAD

Welcome to the note's section of UPAD.

When you fire up the app, you always start in the notes screen where you can access your previous notes or create new ones. Then there’s the PDF section that holds your imported PDF files, and at last there is the images section that allows you to import images to annotate. The fourth section is marked with a star and holds your favorite files for quick access.

The actual editing tools are the same throughout all the areas so I’ll be explaining them only for the notes section, but the functionality applies everywhere.

Deciding on Your Paper

You can of course start with the note taking right away, but take a second to decide what those notes are for. If they are personal, you can select from various more personal types of “paper”. If they are for professional use, you can chose more professional paper.

If it’s a business or school note, why not use Cornell paper or the standard yellow legal pad?

Select paper types for notes or PDF templates in the BookPad section

Select paper types for notes or PDF templates in the BookPad section.

If you just want a piece of paper without any fancy stuff, then you can have that too. For writing, some lines will help to keep the text straight. You can add a grid (either lines or KARIERT) through the note’s settings menu. You can even specify which color the lines should be. They can of course be turned on and off at your disposal.

Use plain paper or have UPAD draw up lines to your specifications

Use plain paper or have UPAD draw up lines to your specifications.


When in the drawing mode, you can use either your fingers or you can use a stylus. I myself prefer the latter because it feels more natural to me to use a pen for writing (for sketching, I do prefer my fingers though).

UPAD offers a wrist protection that you can pull up or down to suit your needs. Normally, it sits at the very bottom of your screen, unobstrusive, and waits for something to do.

You can either just grab and pull it, or you can tap the tiny scribble icon that is located in the handle of the wrist protection.

UPAD wrist protection and zoom window

UPAD wrist protection and zoom window.

That will activate an input window where you can write in a comfortable size and the text is then scaled proportionally on the page, indicated by a small bright area.

That small area can be dragged across the screen to a place of your choosing and it can be resized. If you find that your writing looks way too tiny or too big on the final paper, just increase or decrease the size of the bright area. The scaling of your writing in the input window will be adjusted accordingly. It sounds really complicated but it isn’t. My mom has a tiny handwriting, if I enlarge the highlighted area, her tiny writing becomes proportionally bigger in the input window and vice versa.

Scale the input window to accommodate your handwriting size

Scale the input window to accommodate your handwriting size.

As you can see, you can adjust UPAD to fit your natural writing style. No need to cramp up or alter your learned and instinctively used flow of writing.

The input window is divided into three areas. To the left is the main writing area where you write your text. To the right there is a reddish area that can be expanded or shrunk by dragging the red arrow indicator – and this red area is where an incredible magic happens.

When you reach that part, the writing area automatically advances. There’s no need for you to drag the highlighted window along while you write. Just write. And if you reach the end of a line, it will insert a line break automatically for you.

I just need to take the opportunity to tell you guys how incredibly awesome the auto-advance and line-break features are. I’m not exaggerating. Penultimate doesn’t have a zoom window. Noteshelf has got one, but no auto-advance and no automatic line breaking. Note Taker HD has auto-advance (even though slightly different), but no automatic line breaks. If you’ve never experienced it, you won’t miss it and those three apps are amazing as they are.

But, if you are a heavy note taker and time is of importance, you really have to experience what UPAD does for you. You can really just write, write, write and fill an entire page during a meeting or a class and not have to push a single button once. It really is like digital paper.

Buttons within the zoom window

Buttons within the zoom window.

At the far right there are four buttons: auto-advance, line break, go back (though not back to the previous line) and then write to left!

If in your culture writing is performed from right to left, you can just switch to this style with one tap!

A really neat feature is that UPAD remembers where you initially dragged the highlighted area on the page. When you insert a line break manually or automatically, it will start exactly beneath the point you dragged it to. This is extremely handy when you start writing in the middle of the page for some reason and UPAD is the only app that handles this specific behavior perfectly.

The Pens

Apart from the simple writing features, you can of course change the color of your pen to whatever you like. There are pre-selected colors available and large variety of pen-widths. Also, there are “text markers” – wide pens with some transparency, which are extremely helpful when annotating PDF files and highlighting text.

Chose among many pens and colors

Chose among many pens and colors.

In addition to these pens there are erasers. One allows you to erase only specific parts of your content and the other is a kind of smart eraser that only needs to touch parts of a word or a line to erase everything that was drawn without stopping.


UPAD is primarily aimed at users who want to manually write notes, but you also have the chance to type text by switching to the the type options in the top menu bar.

Wherever you tap next, an input window will appear. You can style the color of the window, the font face and the font color to your liking, even after you’ve created a note. If you create several notes that overlap, you can set which note should be in the foreground.

Typing is also possible with many additional options

Typing is also possible with many additional options.

Annotations can only be edited when you are in the typing mode – so don’t despair if nothing happens when you tap on them while in the drawing mode.

Settings, Navigation & Export

In the settings menu, you can change the type of paper at any time and the kind of grid displayed; you can export your document to various formats – and select the pages you want to export!

If you are connected to an external screen, you can have your UPAD content show up there. With the upcoming iOS 4.3 this won’t be a problem anyway anymore.

If you have a document with many pages – for example a PDF file – you can switch between pages easily with the bottom navigation. It will show you small preview windows of all pages and there is a slider on top that allows you to quickly navigate to the desired page. Of course that also works with notes.

Navigate large files (many pages) easily

Navigate large files (many pages) easily.

The PDF export is excellent. UPAD renders the PDF so that you can scale it infinitely and it still stays sharp. So no matter if you look at it on your iPhone, your 13″ Macbook screen or your 27″ iMac, it will always look stunning.

PDF export is awesome

PDF export is awesome.

Document Management via Folders

As of the latest version of UPAD the app supports folders. That’s a huge deal for professional users with many documents.

Finally you’re able to sort them and group thematically, with similar notes together. In order create a folder, just tap the icon on the bottom right. A new set of icons will appear in the bottom bar, and once you’ve selected at least one document, all of them will become active. You can now create new folders, move selected documents into a new folder, or even just copy them there.

If you want to grab a large number of notes at once, just hit the “Select All” icon.

Organize documents in folders

Organize documents in folders.

Nesting folders isn’t possible yet, even though I think the folder management as this point is rather well implemented.


By now, we’ve introduced some apps of the handwriting category to you and I’ve tried to highlight their respective strengths in order to make it easier for you to decide which one is right for you. For mainly sketching, I’d recommend Penultimate. For pure writing, Noteshelf is a good choice. For heavy PDF usage, NoteTaker HD is pretty much on top of the list.

My personal favorite however, even though I like all of the apps I wrote about, is UPAD. Why?

Well, I like the user interface very much. It’s clean and elegant, while remaining functional. And I love that UPAD brings together what all the other apps are specialized in. The writing section is easy to use and very comfortable, with many pen varieties and the zoom writing window. The PDF section is also very comfortable to use, even though NoteTaker HD beats UPAD when it comes to merging and splitting PDF documents or doing other high-level stuff with them. Annotating images is something that most apps simply can’t do, but UPAD simply does.


UPAD is an app that will appeal to many because it has so many features at such an attractive price. It runs stable, is fairly fast, even though saving a document or opening it may take a couple of seconds, and it offers many options regarding pens and papers to suit the needs of different tastes and purposes.

With its excellent PDF export, documents can be sent around immediately and incoming PDF or image files can be processed within UPAD as well and sent back without wasting time. If you are looking for a pretty much perfect allrounder that is not just good but excellent at everything it does, UPAD is the right app for you.


UPAD is a very comprehensive writing app, allowing you to use handwriting on the iPad while taking notes, annotating PDFs and even scribbling on images.

  • Marc A. Kastner

    I bought it some weeks ago together with my Griffin Stylus. The app itself is quite good, but unfortunately you can’t really use the wrist protection stuff when you are a left handed writer, thats quite annoying. I wrote an email to developer but he did not answer.

    So I can recommend the app to right handed writers, but not to left handed writers who want to lay down their wrist on left/top of the input area.

    • franko

      as a lefty, this was on my list of questions about this app. thanks for mentioning it!

      • Widmaer Telisma

        I did ask, and the email I got wasn’t too promising such as… We’ll look into it..

    • Javon

      Hey everyone, I have the Upad lite, and I tried to import PDFs from my cpu to the application so I can view in book mode. I transferred it from itunes, but when I go into the Upad app, I don’t see any PDFs. Can anyone help???

  • Ahmed

    Oh my. This looks excellent, and I’m badly tempted to get it, but i need to hear your views on Notes Plus before I make another purchase. Just looking at Upad though, I can easily see that it’s got a far better UI, much neater and more attractive. But I can’t be sure that the handwriting continuation feature is too different to Notes Plus, and Notes Pus throws in the addition of shapes recognition which is perfect for drawing diagrams etc. But I’ll just have to wait for your review. Looking forward to it!

  • Ahmed

    Forget what I said above. Upad looked too appealing that I’m not going to wait for your review of Notes Plus, and instead, i just went and purchased Upad! Will have a play around with it to see for myself.

  • Felix

    Thank you so much for this article. I had already given up on the “light” version of this app and went of buying note taker hd an noteshelf.
    First one gives me a feeling of a massive program. It feels like opening MS Word if you just want to take a note. It still is a good app though.
    With Noteshelf I found myself constantly running out of space and opening new pages although my handwriting isn’t that big.
    Upad is a snappy tool with great pdf export quality and a nice folder overview.

  • Sorig

    I agree that UPAD is the best handwriting app of the ones you’ve mentioned, but I don’t think it deserves the 10/10 rating. As you mentioned it lacks some pdf features, it haves some weird bugs some places (e.g. undo on stroke-erase doesn’t work) and I personally think the organisation of the documents you write could be better. I would problably give this app 7/10.
    I think it’s a problem with all appstorm reviews, that you simply give too high scores. The 10/10 rating should only be awardet to almost PERFECT apps (an app such as garageband should have a rating of 9 or 10). I don’t think i’ve seen a rating under 6 on this site.

    • Joel Bankhead

      I think that’s definitely an interesting point you make about ratings – I’m looking at moving towards a more stringent rating system, with clear criteria for very high scores.

      Regarding ratings under 6, as we can’t review everything anyway we tend to avoid going ahead with negative reviews (while occasionally entertaining, we don’t want to waste readers’ time) – Kind of like the old adage – “If you have nothing good to say, say nothing at all…”

      Thanks for your comments – It’s always great to get feedback!

    • Julia Altermann

      Hi Sorig,

      I can understand your opinion about the rating and where it’s coming from. Joel has already explained a little behind the general idea.

      My reason for giving this app a full score is this: of all the apps I’ve tested (and I did work with more than a dozen, which simply can’t all be introduced here), UPAD has the best “allround” package.

      Yes, NoteTaker HD is better at handling serious PDF-work, Noteshelf has an awesome interface and Penultimate has its merits as well. But if you want all of those features in one single app with a very good implementation, then UPAD is- in my opinion – the one to pick.

      I’m not saying the other ones are not bad – they stand out with a certain functionality or aspect, but don’t do well in others. So, for this reason, I have UPAD a 10/10.

      Ultimately, like I wrote, everyone has to see that an app is needed for and I’ve tried to show which app could help in certain situations.

      Hope that clarifies it a little better. :)

  • Joe

    I agree, this darn thing is awesome!

  • TripleA

    Nice review.
    Which pen do you use for your iPad ?

  • Kat

    I bought NoteShelf because I liked it over Penultimate’s features, but now I bought UPAD. And even more, I kicked off an app on my dock just so I could have quicker access to it. Hurry up with Part 4! I

  • Julia Altermann

    Hi TripleA,

    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

    • TripleA

      THX 4 the quick answer.
      Then i have to get the Stylus, i’m from Germany too.

  • Kathy

    I’ve been using Noteshelf for the past month, but your review convinced me to purchase UPad. I found it frustrating since I couldn’t change the height of the writing input box, and could fit far fewer words at a time than I can in Noteshelf. Until that changes, I’ll stick with Noteshelf. I’m disappointed, since it would be nice to be able to have some of UPad’s other features. But this was a deal-killer for me.

  • Saikat

    UPAD is the only one which offers a free lite version where you can evaluate all its features. Only limitation in lite version is that you can have max 5 pages in notebook. No other handwriting apps offer free version. For this reason alone UPAD wins. I tried UPAD with fingers only and it is excellent.

    • Eternal-student

      Also, the Lite version doesn’t have Export to PDF.

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  • Verinder

    I too like this app a lot. Other than the fact that I wish I could adjust the side margin, it works very well.

    10/10. Wow! Are there any other ipad apps that you have given such a score too?

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  • Anne

    Awesome! Sure wish there were some sort of competition for a promo code….

  • alan

    I agree with you after 5weeks, its great!

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  • Giovanni

    could someone tell me how to do squares, circles and lines as I was not able to udnerstand the way it works?

    • Anna

      To use the shapes/line features, tap the ruler in the left hand corner. Two circles, one with shapes, one with a grid should appear. Tap the shape circle until you get the figure you want (circle, line, square). Now tap and hold the shape circle and draw.

  • policarpo

    Has anyone figured out how to move a page from one notebook to another? It seems as though I can only move notebooks around, and not individual pages.


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  • Eternal-student

    Am I missing something with uPad or is it not possible to move parts of your notes (ie. select, drag and drop). I think this is the biggest missing thing from the app.

    For me personally, Note Taker HD and uPad were the best note apps that I ended up settling on. I prefer Note Taker HD for more formal note writing (only 90 degree angle photos) and uPAD for adhoc styled notes with images in.

    For me uPad is a great app too but I think it would miss out on a 10/10 rating simply because of the missing editing features (unless I’ve missed it).

  • Jenny

    Anybody know how to get written on pdf’s from UPAD onto a PC?

  • Don Birdsall

    The app does not support WiFi file transfer. It would not be my choice for working with PDF files. Using iTunes is a nuisance that I normally (and successfully) avoid.

    In the PhotoPAD mode, photos imported from the camera roll do not keep their aspect ratio, they are distorted to the iPad’s ratio. So as a photo editor it just wont work. Someone please correct me if I’ve missed something here.

    This leaves MemoPAD, which works well and has some nice features. It might even be my first choice for some quick note taking in place of pen and paper.

    No, this app does not deserve a 10/10 rating at this time. If the developer keeps working on it, it might in the future.

  • Misti

    Has onyone had trouble with it not saving your work even after saving it. I reopen my work and a chunk of its gone. This has happened three times in two days on important info I am taking notes on.

  • Chris

    Great App, definately the best note taker available, also the easiest to use!!!. Any ideas on how do I move notes taken on Upad lite to the full version?

    • SW

      Back up UPAD Lite data and transfer it to UPAD via iTunes.

      1. Run UPAD Lite.
      2. In the library, select “Setting” icon at the bottom menu bar.
      3. Select iTunes backup.
      4. After competing backup, connect your iPad to a computer.
      5. In iTunes, go to your device’s Apps pane. In the File Sharing section, select UPAD Lite, find a backup file
      that ends with .fdb. and download it onto your computer.
      6. In the File Sharing section, select UPAD and transfer the backup file to UPAD.
      7. Run UPAD and select restore from iTunes.
      8. Select a date from the calendar and tap on a backup file to restore it.

  • Michal

    The core writing engine is poor compared to bamboo paper or penultimate. Use a bamboo stylus which is supposed to be the best and I find upad ugly in every respect.

    I guess we all like different things

  • Francis Parakkal

    Very good app !!! Congratulations to the developers !!! . However, a few points;

    1) How to color a circle or square ?
    2) The tutorial book has to be better. Not good enough.
    3) Output to FB does not work?

  • http:/// Korky Kathman

    This is very comparable to Noteshelf except I think Noteshelf actually is more intuitive and has more functionality. You can’t cut/copy/paste content from another source (except from the cameral roll and camera) which does NO good if you want to put in Web clippings, etc.

  • Yngve

    This app seams to have everything i need for working with annotations in PDF and on Pictures. The only thing I am missing is the possibillity to “lock” the PDF for removing Annotations. At the same time should it be possible to continue to add more annotations.

  • Rodney K

    A side by side comparison of the features of the individual apps would be nice with a ranking scale for each feature.1-10… An average of scores would then provide a more accurate review.
    I don’t know if “Ghostwriter” is a contender but it seems to have a lot of the features stated in the above 3 apps. Cut and paste, 5 main tools (pen, pencils, markers, highlighters and text type) wrist guard, zoom writing, 9 preset paper styles and 1 customizable, Import via Dropbox, iTunes, and web, export via Mail, Dropbox, Evernote, PDF Viewer, iTunes, Print, and Photos. Ability to import photos from clipboard or from camera. Additionally it has Notebooks with Bookshelf for organizing your note… Ability to transfer pages between notes… I believe its an app much worth looking into…

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  • Magnus

    This is awesome, using it every day. But how do I erase documents?Maps?
    from me 10 out of 10, I have tried a lot of the other Notes and this is THE NO UNO

  • david gettys


  • Joseph J. Chiou

    I am using UPAD and I think is a great handwriting app. I stopped using my real notepad now.