Quick Review: NoteShelf for the iPad

One peculiar aspect of the iPad is how many apps attempt to replicate the appearance and feeling of using a paper notepad or diary, as if this were a gold standard. The built in calendar looks like a paper one; the Notes app uses handwriting fonts; there are many examples, but the subject of this post, NoteShelf, is certainly pretty explicit about it.1

There are quite a few drawing and notebook apps around for the iPad which allow you to draw directly on the screen with finger or – more usefully – stylus. Obviously I haven’t tried them all: I don’t get review copies and I’m not made of money. Brushes is one I use, as well as Omnigraffle, but those have different purposes – Brushes is for artwork and Omnigraffle is for diagramming. (Omnigraffle is very good by the way, but for the iPad enormously expensive, and not as useful if you don’t have the accompanying desktop app.)

What is it?

If one were going to make a physical comparison, NoteShelf is a pack of (erasable) coloured felt-tips of different sizes and an endless supply of cheap notebooks, as well as lots of stickers to put in them. Launch it and you have a Shelf of Notebooks, or initially, just one special one, which is the help and tutorial. Add a notebook with the + icon and touch it, and it opens up to give you a page defined by the type of paper you selected, which can be plain, lined or squared in either narrow or wide rule, or one of a few special-purpose pages like to-do lists. (It would be convenient for users to be able to add templates here.)

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  1. There are good reasons why one might want to emulate the paper experience on an iPad to a degree, by the way. For a start it is familiar and will let users quickly find the features they want to use. I am a great fan of Circus Ponies Notebook, which is basically a free form database and outliner that happens to use “paper notebook” as a UI metaphor. 

Paperchase “Creative Book”

I often wander around Paperchase looking for notebooks that:

  1. don’t have animals on them, or any sort of cute Japanese-esque design, or are covered with half an inch of frou-frou ornamentation that doubles the price (hello Paperblanks) but which still don’t look embarrassing;
  2. aren’t lined – I can get lined notebooks anywhere and I don’t want lines;
  3. open reasonably flat;
  4. aren’t too expensive.

Near the back of the shop they do have some practical but still attractive stationery, which will also take fountain pen ink. Here is an example that I picked up today.

Paperchase Creative Book set on Flickr

This is called a “Creative Book”. It is a fat sub-A4 squarish ring-bound notebook with a generous 140 pages of plain paper. This is nice paper – it didn’t bleed or feather when exposed to my most ridiculous fountain pen, a Lamy 2000 with a broad nib. (Edit: after some use, I can say that the paper is relatively absorbent, and spreads quite a bit, so even quite fine-nibbed fountain pens will be wider than normal.) The size is convenient for me as well. I find that ring-bound A4 notebooks tend to get a bit squashed when stuffed in a bag, and be a little too tall, but this fits well into my bag with the rings upwards.

Why would I want such a book? I have pocket notebooks coming out of my ears, but sometimes when coming up with ideas it just isn’t ideal to have to scrawl on a little Rhodia pad or Habana notebook where you flip pages every minute and can’t see what you’ve already written without flipping back. Maybe you want to draw a diagram, or sketch a picture or wireframe, or make a mindmap. I used to have an A4 squared book which was good for this, but the size did result in ring-squashage, and the exact model that I had is now apparently not on sale any more.

Paperchase do also make other types of notebook in this style, which I assume use the same paper. There are 80-page A4 books, lined and plain, as well as A5 and smaller, side-bound or reporter-style. The polypropylene covers are tough and attractively simple in design – they look like something you’d find in Muji, and I mean that as a compliment. They’re also relatively inexpensive as well; the Creative Book above was £4.50, and the A4 books were the same price. It’s very hard to get hold of decent quality plain paper notebooks on the high street these days, and while Paperchase is not on every high street it’s still a relatively common chain, so if you share similar priorities to myself you should take a look. (Even if you’re happy with lined paper, they do have a selection of lined notebooks in this range as well.)