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.