Note-taking Applications for the iPad: Part 3

In Part 1 of my posts on the topic of notetaking apps for the iPad, Note-taking Applications for the iPad: Part 1, I discuss two available iOS apps, PDF Expert and Noteshelf 2, and describe the ways in which students can use these apps to complete, organize, and submit assignments and decrease the amount of paper copies they have to manage. I also present a checklist template for progress monitoring of notetaking skills.

In Part 2 of the series, Note-taking Apps for the iPad: Part 2, I  discuss some of the differences between the two apps and present some pros and cons of each.

In this third part of the series, I present video demonstrations of the two notetaking apps, so you can see them “in action.” At the same time, I will demonstrate three types of styluses that I have used with notetaking apps, and in the text of the post I will compare the different types.

By request, I am adding a fourth post to the series as well, which will address the use of notetaking apps in the Android environment.

As noted in my previous posts, my students often just use their finger to interact with the apps, because a stylus is one more thing to keep up with and a finger is always handy! A finger does work fine for highlighting text and drawing, but for handwriting, especially in a small space such as the margins of text, a stylus is much more precise and feels similar to the way in which we use pen and paper.

View the first video below for a demonstration of how to create a new notebook in the Noteshelf 2 app, using one finger to interact with the screen.


Now, as I begin to describe and demonstrate different types of styluses, please note that in the pictures and videos associated with this post, the examples of styluses I demonstrate are the types of styluses I happen to have in my possession at the moment. They should not be construed as recommendations for specific brands of styluses! There are also many types and forms of styluses out there, but in my experience these three are the most useful.

The most basic and inexpensive type of stylus looks like this:

It generally has a large, soft tip on it. Like using a finger, it gets the job done, and can be purchased very inexpensively (it is not hard to find a 10-pack for around $6.00 at the time of this writing). The disadvantages are that it tends to make a thick line, and, depending on the quality of the stylus, you might have to bear down fairly hard with it in order to get a consistent, solid line. Also, the tips on these types of styluses do not tend to be very durable, and if the tip frays or degrades you run the risk of scratching your screen.

Another caveat, based on my experience: many styluses like this are advertised as “pen” styluses, and in pictures of these styluses shown online it may look as though the tip is fine rather than large. However, what this usually means is that there is a ball point pen tip that can be thrust through the soft tip via a click mechanism, allowing you to use the stylus as an ink pen on paper. As handy as this sounds, I do NOT recommend this type of stylus! As mentioned above, the soft tip can degrade, and if this happens with a “pen” stylus the ball point tip is exposed, increasing the danger of scratching the screen even further. I have also found that the cheap versions of this type of stylus just don’t work very well as a stylus, although the ball point pen generally works fine.

In the second video below, I demonstrate both types of standard styluses while showing you how to open and work with existing PDF and picture files in the Noteshelf 2 app.

The next type of stylus, and one which I loved when I first got it and have used a great deal, is a disc stylus, which looks like this:

With this type of stylus there is a clear plastic disc attached to the end of a fine tip, as shown in the picture and demonstrated in the video. The disc is the only part that touches the screen, so it prevents scratching of the screen. The particular version that I own has interchangeable tips, but I generally only use the fine one. The disc stylus allows for thinner, more precise lines, and feels even more like writing with a regular pen on paper than the basic stylus discussed above. It is also very durable, because there are no soft parts to break down. One disadvantage I have found with this stylus, and one that is evident in the video, is that you have to discover the best angle at which to hold the pen in relation to the screen, and this angle may not be the most natural one for any given individual. Also, the performance of the stylus can be a little inconsistent, and when it decides to act up (also demonstrated in the video, unfortunately!), I usually give up and use my finger temporarily.

A disc stylus runs around $15.00 at the time of this writing.

In the third video below, I demonstrate the use of the disc stylus to create a new note in the PDF Expert app.


The final type of stylus I will discuss is one that I discovered while doing research for this series. It is called an “active” stylus, and I suspect it was developed to mimic the functionality of the Apple pencil and the stylus that comes with a Microsoft Surface tablet. It connects to the device through Bluetooth, and it runs on a rechargeable battery, so it must be turned on before using it. I purchased an active stylus in order to test it out for this post, and it looks like this:

They can be found for various prices, but I paid around $20.00 for it and it works just fine, so I do not see the need to pay any more than that. I have to say, I am loving this device! It makes a nice, thin line, is durable, and so far it is performing consistently with no issues. Unlike the disc pen, it writes at various angles to the screen. I will have to see how it holds up and performs over time, but at this point I can definitely recommend using this type of stylus with the notetaking apps.

In the final video for this post, I demonstrate the use of an active stylus when opening and annotating an existing PDF file in the PDF Expert app.

As mentioned above, in Part 4 of this series I will discuss the use of notetaking apps in the Android environment, and I will continue to demonstrate the use of the disc stylus and the active stylus on an Android device.

Collage of note-taking app