A [Semi] Comprehensive Look at Handwriting Apps for Android

Today’s post is all about convincing Dan Fingerman to get an Android tablet. Dan wrote me the following email:

I’m a lawyer, and I’ve read your blog every day for over a year. Keep up the great work.

I confess that I use an iPad, but I’m about to buy a new tablet, and I’d like to switch to Android. Your writing has convinced me that an Android tablet can now completely replace my iPad and that Android apps can now do everything I currently do on my iPad — except one
thing. I’m hoping you might be able to tell me I’m wrong about this last hurdle, because I’d really like to switch to Android.

I frequently take handwritten notes on my iPad, using a handwriting app called Note Taker HD (very similar to GoodNotes). Quill and
Papyrus on Android seem to be roughly equivalent to Note Taker HD, except for one feature that I can’t live without.

The main problem with all handwriting apps is that people write too large on the screen, and the handwriting ends up looking oversized and
goofy. The iPad handwriting apps fix this problem with a zoom box feature (the name varies from app to app). The zoom box will zoom in
on a portion of the note-taking page so that you can write large in the zoom box, and your writing is shrunk down to the area of the page
covered by the zoom. Typically, the zoom box will hold about 1-2 words of handwriting, then it detects that you’re near the right edge, and it will auto-advance to the right or to the next line. This fixes the problem of writing too large on the tablet screen — comfortably-oversized strokes are scaled down on the fly to a size that you would have written with a pen & paper.

The Android handwriting apps don’t seem to have this zoom box feature or anything equivalent. I’ve read your reviews of Quill and Papyrus. They look great — except for the lack of a zoom box.

I think this is the only hurdle left for me to switch from iPad to Android. If there is an Android handwriting app out there with a zoom
box (or something roughly equivalent), I’ll buy an Android tablet for sure. If not, this will be a hard decision for me.

My first thought was, “Hall-A-Freaking-Lujah! Finally, a lawyer sold on iPad sees the light.” But then I realized the magnanimity of this task, to actually convince Dan he can live in an Android world. (I also think Dan’s sneaky enough that he wrote me an awesome email just to get mentioned on this blog. I’m still investigating that theory.)

Nonetheless, Dan deserves an answer: stick with the iPad You can and should live in an Android world. Now, I’ll show you how to replace Note Taker HD on your Android device.

A brief history of time Android handwriting apps

Admittedly, iPad sets the standard when it comes to handwriting. Dan mentions his love for Note Taker HD, but there are a number of other quality “digital ink” apps.

The digital ink problem is two-fold: capacitive touch capability and design. Until recent months (perhaps 24 or less), iPad’s capacitive abilities dominated the tablet markets. Until Samsung (and a few others; namely ASUS) released its Galaxy Tab line of tablets, Android tablets lagged significantly behind the Apple cousins. Samsung’s tablets introduced new ways of designing fluidity into Android devices. Finally, with faster screen processing times (and some tweaks from Google on Android OS), these newer and faster tablets could actually process more touches. Thus, the revolution of Android handwriting apps that actually worked and looked good.

My first foray into Android handwriting was with PenSupremacy. This app started as a challenger based on iOS’s, PenUltimate app. Unfortunately, the developer’s taking a long sabbatical, and the app hasn’t seen an update in over 2 years. Smaller, similar apps flowed along until I discovered Quill, Papyrus, and Handwrite note Notepad Pro.

I’ll give you 3 to 1

Papyrus

Perhaps my favorite of all the handwriting apps, Papyrus is capable of expanding your device’s usability.

I won’t spend too much time discussing this app or Quill, since I’ve devoted posts to each — here’s my Papyrus review. And this video gives you a great look at how well Papyrus works in real life applications.

Papyrus also offers a brand new highlighter tool for the newly added PDF import function. One of the biggest drawbacks for the import function is the limited number of import sources.

Papyrus Import Sources

Just four: Dropbox, local documents, ASTRO File Manager, or from a local file.

However, being able to highlight and make notes on a PDF document is really cool.

Papyrus Highlight PDF

I think a lot of lawyers will like this feature despite the fact that the writing’s pretty large for the page size. The highlight and draw function is probably better suited for speed reading and quick commenting.

Unfortunately, Papyrus doesn’t have “the zoom box” that Dan desperately wants to see.

Get this app on Google Play

Quill

Quill ($1.00) has a special place in my heart as the first real note taking application for Android. Since I’ve also reviewed this app, I won’t spend too much time in further discussion.

If I was going to add one additional negative remark, it’s that I’m afraid Quill is seeing the end of days. The app hasn’t seen an update since September, so I’m afraid we might fall into an abyss of “it’s good enough,” even though there are a number of improvements to add. I’m hoping we’ll see a revamp in the coming months.

Get this app on Google Play

Handrite note Notepad Pro

Handrite note Notepad Pro ($3.98) might just be the app Dan’s searching for. The greatest feature of this app is the zoom box that Dan’s desperately craving.

Handrite Writing Box

The zoom box isn’t as predictive as Dan wants, although there is “continuous input” setting that works.

Handrite has more to offer beyond the input box.

Handrite allows you to output notes in JPEG, PNG, or PDF format.

Handrite Output Settings

That’s handy. You can also share using one of your many cloud sites or any other method. Handrite gives another option to choose the output width of your note. However, I found that even though I sent the file in PDF and “US Letter” width, that’s not exactly the document I received.

Handrite Ouput Document

There’s obviously still a lot of right hand space to fill. Normally, that minor error wouldn’t bother me too much, but I get frustrated when I can select my output format and the app doesn’t perform.

I also got annoyed that there’s no way to “resize” the ink tip. I prefer fine or micro tip pen points, so the “blubbier” notes created by the default pen tip really annoy me. If you can figure out how to adjust the tip, please let me know.

Of course, you shouldn’t confuse the point issue with Handrite’s ability to resize the actual text. Thus, with a long-press on the screen you can select your text and pinch and zoom to increase the output size.

Handrite Enlarge Text

And yes, you can change the text color, boldness, or highlighting with the same selection.

Handrite Text Adjust

Once again, I’d really love this app if I could change the pen tip size.

Handrite also allows you to add drawings, but you need to use the free Handraw app to draw. I don’t mind this, except to say that Handraw doesn’t add too much to the drawing experience so I don’t really understand why its features aren’t built into the Handrite app. In my opinion, if you’re going to create a lot of drawings with your notes, Papyrus and Quill would probably be better options.

You might also check out my review of Handrite2Evernote.

Get this app on Google Play

Two honorable mentions

Evernote

First, I’d be remiss to not mention Evernote as a very capable note taking application. Obviously, Evernote’s an old carpet that gets beaten around legal tech quite regularly, but the app recently added handwriting to beef up its usability.

Evernote handwriting

Evernote isn’t perfect, but it’s a great solution for power users.

 DioNote

DioNote could become a great note taking application, except I couldn’t get it to run on any of my tablets, even though the app supposedly supports 1280×720, 480×800, or 1080×1920 resolutions.

DioNote has a really cool zoom box that’s pretty close to what Dan’s looking for to compete with Note Taker HD. Unfortunately, the resolution support (or lack of) doesn’t give me much confidence in recommending the app beyond saying that it might work with Samsung devices.

Additionally, DioNote has an awkward share function, which only allows you to share an image (not necessarily bad) or send a memo in DioNote format. Obviously, with the latter, the recipient would simply install the app on his device. but what about desktops? Thus, I’m skeptical that DioNote could have any usability beyond spouses sharing grocery lists or love notes. If DioNotes works well for you, please let me know.

Get this app on Google Play

The overall state of handwriting apps

Ultimately, the issue is whether Dan wants to move to the greatest mobile operating system ever created, or stay in the orchard. I think the choice is absolutely clear, and Android definitely has the features and abilities Dan’s looking for.

In reality, each system has positive and negative benefits. Certainly, iPad has benefits (especially apps) that aren’t available to Android users. But as I constantly remind lawyers everywhere looking to move to Android, I’m pretty confident you’re not going to miss one or two “great” iPad apps. Think of your daily tasks, now think of which apps you actually use to perform those tasks. My guess is that there are Android equivalents available.

Dan’s issue is significant since he’s almost sold on Android, but for that one pesky, regularly used app. I can’t say that Android has the app to replace Note Taker HD (it’s an admittedly cool app), but I think Dan could continue on with any of the apps I suggest above. Additionally, I’m pretty sure that once Dan starts using an Android tablet, he’ll fall in love with the feel.

Of course, sometimes Android doesn’t work for everyone. There are some learning issues, function problems, and admittedly cool apps that work well on iPad. Obviously I’m biased, but I don’t think Dan’s going to miss Note Taker HD once he checks out my suggestions.

Well Dan, what are you waiting for?

Update (1/15/2015): I just reviewed a new handwriting app called FiiNote. One word: it’s the best handwriting app available right now. Well, that’s 8 words, so you get my point.

6 Responses to A [Semi] Comprehensive Look at Handwriting Apps for Android

  1. Thanks for the thorough response, Jeff! I think I’ve decided on the Nexus 10 tablet. That seems to be the vest quality and best value around that price point. (The Samsung Galaxy Note Pro looks awesome, but it’s almost twice the price.) You’ve shown me some great looking handwriting apps to try. I’ll have to play with several of them for a couple of weeks each before I settle on one.

  2. Don’t forget SuperNote, which comes with Asus tablets. It automatically shrinks your handwriting as you write.

  3. Have you tried Mazec3 as a keyboard with your favorite app? Also I am still playing with Note Anytime. It is progressing. I really like the Mazec keyboard though.

  4. Actually the best and most feature filled one is missing from this list. It is the lecture notes suite. It has a great zoom function, and tons of customization functions. There was also antipaper but i fear that app is lost in the abyss. Lecture notes has so many functions that other apps just pale in comparison.

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Jeff Taylor

I’m just an ordinary guy living an extraordinary life. I’m also an attorney and I blog about Android for lawyers. You can follow me on Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, or Google+.