You've got an iPad in your bag, a Surface Pro on your desk, and you're still writing your notes on loose-leaf paper? Don't be an animal. It's 2018, and it's high time for you to ditch the paper and embrace the future of note-taking, a future that lets you do so much more with every jot and scribble.
Whether you need an app that converts handwriting to text, or you're ready for a complete notebook management system, it's time to stop digging around for the right binder whenever it's time to study (or doodle). There are a ton of tools you can use to take all of your notes with you wherever you go.
No, You Don't Need Special Paper
If you want to get your handwritten notes into a digital notebook, don't worry - you don't need some clunky document scanner, pricey optical character recognition software, or proprietary pen and paper combo to get your handwritten notes into your notebook. If you have an iPad Pro and Apple Pencil, an Android device with a powered stylus (like an S-Pen), or a Surface device with an accompanying Surface Pen (or compatible powered stylus), you're good to go.
Yes, a Powered Stylus is Important
If you're an Android device owner, you could go out and buy a cheap stylus from your local tech store, but that won't do you much good if you're trying to take handwritten digital notes. Apps like Nebo require use of an active, powered stylus for accurate recognition of what you're writing, and you should double-check your note-writing app of choice to see if your stylus or device is supported.
If you're on the iPad Pro, you'll need to use an Apple Pencil. End of story. On a Surface, you should stick with the Surface Pen. For the actual writing experience, the Apple Pencil is slightly smoother and feels incredibly responsive, however the Pencil's lack of additional buttons, no "eraser" feature - which I love on the Surface Pen - and unorthodox charging mechanism means you'll be tapping at the screen or adopting app-specific gestures to move text or erase your writing.
Stick to One App for Converting and Syncing Notes
It helps to keep all of your notes under one roof, especially if you bounce around between devices. Sticking to a single app or storing your notes in one location reduces the friction for writing, editing, and finding your notes.
If you're looking to extract as much utility as possible from your written word, you'll also need an app that can instantly identify and convert your scribbles to text. You can then search through your documents for particular notes, or narrow down the number of pages you need to pore through to find exactly what you're looking for.
Want a Full-Featured App? Try OneNote First
If you live a multi-platform life - a Surface laptop at work, a Pixelbook at home, and an iPad Pro in your backpack, for example - Microsoft OneNote makes it easy to access notes across different devices (as long as you have an active Office 365 subscription). It also comes with a useful handwriting conversion feature, but only on Windows 10.
These quirks aside, OneNote is a formidable note-taking and idea-management app, and the ability to write, convert, and sync your notes across multiple devices is a huge benefit. And even though you can't convert handwriting to text when using OneNote on the iPad, you can still access that content through OneDrive.
Hate Subscriptions? Consider MyScript Nebo
If you don't want to pay a monthly fee to access your notes, use MyScript Nebo - also helpful if you know you'll be writing or outlining more than sketching and doodling. Nebo converts your handwritten words to text in real time, and you can use gestures to activate editing tools like corrections, line breaks, and erasing. It has a simpler interface compared to OneNote, and its real-time conversion on supported devices makes it a great gateway app for getting into the habit of digital note-taking.
You can also use the app to create shapes and lines, draw outlines, doodle diagrams, and solve handwritten maths equations (a feature also available in OneNote). The app syncs your work using Dropbox on iOS and Windows or Google Drive if you're an Android user. You can download MyScript Nebo for Windows 10, iOS, and Android.