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The best iPad note taking apps to use with stylus pens

Notable Mentions:

Whilst the apps that are shown below do not meet the specific criteria of using a stylus and ‘zoom’ function, they are remarkably good at being used to make notes and annotate lectures. Some of these apps are particularly useful because they include a highly effective PDF manager which allows you to keep track of all your notes.

iAnnotate PDF:

iAnnotate PDF was one of the original successful note-taking apps for the iPad which we were very impressed with when we reviewed it in May 2010. It offered an impressive range of annotation options including highlighting, underlining, crossing out, comments, and more. There is a useful tab feature which allows the user to have multiple documents open at one time. iAnnotate can only handle PDF files and there are question marks over its ability to import/export files however many users continue to convert lectures into PDF and use iAnnotate PDF as their app of choice. If this is the case then you may want to check out GoodReader or PDF Expert (shown below) as these apps offer significantly enhanced functionality over iAnnotate.




Keynote is Apple’s presentation editor which has been adapted from the popular Mac version for the iPad. Whilst it does not appear to fulfil many of the criteria specified for a note-taking app, it does have a remarkable number of strengths which mean it should be considered. Its main strength in terms of note-taking is its ability to handle PowerPoint files. It can import and open these from a number of sources including mail attachments, Dropbox and Safari. Once a file has been opened there are a vast number of options available to annotate slides. Text boxes can be added or removed and images can be manipulated in size and location. It is possible to delete slides completely or change the order of the presentation. There are also options to add media such as photos, charts and tables. With the advent of iCloud, there are significantly more options available in order to export presentations rather than the standard email, iTunes sharing, WebDAV or iDisk.

There are a number of shortcomings with Keynote such as its inability to handle complex themes, occasional file corruption issues, no presenter notes and no Master Slide/Templates. Despite these, it is the best app in the App Store to handle and manipulate raw PowerPoint files and as a result it has been included due to its ability to annotate lectures.



GoodReader and PDF Expert are primarily PDF Management apps as discussed in detail in our recent article on [The Best PDF Management App for Healthcare Professionals]. GoodReader can read a number of common file formats and has extensive connectivity with access to a number of cloud storage services including Dropbox. GoodReaders real strength when it comes to note-taking is annotating PDFs. Unfortunately GoodReader can only annotate PDFs however it is good at this task. There are a range of options available that include highlighting, underlining, strikethrough, comments, text boxes, a range of shapes and freehand drawing. The freehand drawing can be used effectively with a stylus to quickly add handwritten notes to PDFs. GoodReader can also duplicate PDFs so could be used as basic templates. [UPDATE: There is now support added for the zoom hadnwriting mode as seen in the other apps which makes this an impressive tool]


PDF Expert



PDF Expert was deemed to be the best PDF management app for healthcare professionals due to its extensive feature set. This included excellent connectivity to a range of online cloud storage services as well as a number of additional options to import/export PDFs. Annotating PDFs was exceptionally advanced and straightforward due to the impressive user interface. PDF Expert can be used by healthcare professionals to manage their PDF library whilst retaining the ability to annotate these documents. In terms of functionality, PDF Expert allows the user to annotate using the same tools available in GoodReader however the improved UI means that this task can be carried out easier and quicker. PDF Expert also offers the ability to manipulate PDF pages such as deleting/rearranging which ensures almost total control over a PDF.


Tom Lewis


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26 Responses to The best iPad note taking apps to use with stylus pens

  1. February 17, 2012 at 4:58 pm #

    Noteshelf actually does have text input in the latest version. I heavily use this app on ward rounds and at the bed side

    • aldaroma April 1, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

      Hi good morning; can u use on Noteshelf a preprepared module ? How do you use on ward rounds ; I work in Italy , in L’aquila ; we are going an up date in the use of Ipad in the ICU. Can you give us please some suggestions? tx A.D tx a lot

  2. Ryan February 19, 2012 at 9:15 am #

    Your article is outdated. Notes Plus received a major update over one month ago. It allows for importation and annotation of PDFs as well as provides an in-app web browser with clipping functions.

  3. justin February 19, 2012 at 11:01 am #

    Have you tried Notability. This app has all of the functions you are looking for in combination with an intuitive interface.

  4. dylan February 19, 2012 at 8:54 pm #

    FYI goodreader just got a zoom function. So now it meets your criteria. I’d call it #1 by a landslide.

  5. Tom Lewis | Editor February 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm #

    Hi everyone, as some commentators have noted, parts of this article are out of date. We are currently looking through the article and updating where possible. Thank you for your understanding and I shall update you all soon.



    • KW March 22, 2012 at 2:33 am #

      I’m really looking forward to the update since I’m getting an ipad3. That’s great.

  6. Carlos February 24, 2012 at 9:43 pm #

    What about Penultimate?

  7. Imari Queen February 28, 2012 at 7:45 am #

    A second vote for Notability. I purchased the app to be able to seamlessly switch back and forth in real-time from handwriting to typing notes, to easily sketch ideas, markup imported pdf’s, annotate images from the iPad’s photo library, to capture images with the iPad camera and paste into the notes. Notability allows me to do all of the aforementioned and simultaneously capture voice recordings. I can use Dropbox and it also supports templates. I looked into this app after coming across it on the Stanford Med eStudent iPad webpage. The app is so simple to use my 10 year old uses it for her homework instead of paper.

  8. daverph March 26, 2012 at 11:07 am #

    Thanks for the comprehensive review. I have used Notes Plus and Note Taker HD in the past, but now find that I use Notability almost exclusively. I’d be interested to see how it compares with the others when you do your next review.

  9. Peter March 28, 2012 at 12:22 am #

    thanks for the tip on Notability. works and looks great on the iPad 3. simple and flawless.

  10. Richard March 29, 2012 at 1:41 am #

    Notability really delivers! Based on some comments of the apps in the post here, I bought it and tested it out. I must have bought 5-4 different apps for my free note taking needs and somethins is always missing. Hence my continued search. I am glad to announce my search is finally over and Notability gets my 5-stars vote in all departments! Thanks heaps!

  11. Marcus April 14, 2012 at 6:30 am #

    In addition to Notability, I just found Pencilicious — it has great organization and more flexibility to modify your strokes. So far I prefer it for anything where I need to tweak later.

  12. Edwin Hiatt June 11, 2012 at 8:40 am #

    Yes, as stated by others, definitely take a look at Notability. I have tried several others. Notability is the best, and it just keeps getting better. Also, keep your eye on Penultimate. Lacks many features that Notability has, including zoom feature, so now I use it mostly for a quick note or diagram; recently purchased by Evernote, however, and maybe good things will happen.

  13. RK July 5, 2012 at 9:28 am #


    I have purchased notes plus but find the stylus input irritatingly slow. Is that an issue that everyone faces or is it because of the quality of stylus ?


  14. Jack Reidy July 11, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    As a lefty, the ability to have a palm rest and reversed controls is a deal killer for note taking apps. I’ve been using Note Taker HD for several months, but I find it overly complex. An app doesn’t have to be a kitchen sink of all capabilities to be useful. Notr Taker HD can do a ton of stuff, but I don’t find the interface at all intuitive.

    Also, and not the fault of the app, I keep accidentally dragging down the notifications bar on the iPad. Annoying as hell and everything to do with the usual left hander dragging the hand across the top of the screen. I blame Apple, and the good Sisters of Charity for not teaching me to write correctly in Catholic grade school. 😉

    I’ve been trying Notability for a week or so, and I’m impressed. Good left handed tools, an easy interface to learn, Dropbox connectivity (an indispensable app for the iPad…) and good speed and responsiveness.

    The good reviews on this website for both apps are deserved. But I believe I’ll be taking meeting notes in Notability moving forward. BTW, it’s on sale right now for 99 cents in the App Store.

    A comment on this website. I’m not in the medical field, aside from how commercial real estate touches upon medical needs. This is an excellent website for reviews on apps useful across a broad spectrum of uses in the professional and business fields. Through, even handed reviews on products useful for all. I recommend this site to others all the time.

  15. Nivola August 2, 2012 at 1:03 pm #

    My essential iPad app for business is Beesy. It’s a great tool for my everyday life at work. help to sort out and don’t forget a thing on my differents projects. Very useful also in meeting with I can take note and send minutes at the end of the meeting by mail very quickly and easily.

  16. DrJo August 21, 2012 at 4:21 pm #

    I have tried and researched a few apps, and I almost exclusively use Notability and Penultimate. Notability is intuitive and functional and I use it for conferences, lectures, division meetings, etc while Penultimate is my favourite for jotting personal notes and casual recordkeeping. I haven’t tried all of the applications above though so can’t draw a direct comparison.

    For notetaking on inpatients or consult patients, I would really love an app that allowed you to enter a patient’s basic ID so that you could have a list-at-a-glance of all your active patients, yet link to more detailed info on each one with a touch of the screen. Security would also of course be paramount. Some apps exist but the ones I have found are usually either “scut notes” for medical students or residents or else apps to keep track of patients for billing purposes as opposed to being useful running logs for active patient care. There are a good many patient-oriented personal health records too, which is great but again not helpful for me. If you know of any great apps for this purpose, a review of those would fantastic!

  17. Jon Buckle August 25, 2012 at 5:09 am #

    Have tried about five and settled on Note taker HD for the following reasons.
    1. Folder and file structure. Unlimited ability to create network of folders to organize date.
    2. Zoom function is amazing. Auto advance along a line is brilliant. Return at end of line works well.
    3. Inserting template pages is easy and looks like the real thing.
    4. Duplication of templates or files is quick and easy.
    5. Taking photos and adding annotation works well.
    Finally much better than any othe note app I have tried. The best $5 dollars I have ever spent.

  18. Karen November 28, 2012 at 1:55 pm #

    I am a psychologist and have been exploring using the ipad for sessions, etc. How do you deal with security and HIPPA compliance using the IPAD? What if your ipad is lost or stollen? I know you can use find your iphone to erase but, do you need to encrypt? Can any of these applications accomplish that?

  19. Tina December 26, 2012 at 9:01 am #

    NoteLedge can encrypt notes files, recently lots of enhanced features are available in updated version, such as built-in browser, insert video, audio and tables…

  20. Frank Mancuso March 22, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    I discontinued using Upad after legal advice suggested, and I believe HIPPA laws require, I keep confidential notes in an encrypted file only. Lawsuites are rising and being lost to professionals who have had their unencrypted, confidential information stolen. Do any of these notetaking apps provide encryption?

    • Iltifat Husain, MD March 22, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

      You shouldn’t be storing any patient info on an unsecured device. What lawsuits are you talking about though? I’m not aware of any?

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