in iPad

Noteshelf 4 – stop me before I cliché

The problem with writing a review of the new Noteshelf 4 is that I keep accidentally adding the sort of awful clichés that bad tech bloggers always use. It’s ahead of the curve! Leaves the competition in the dust! Best in its class, bar none! Argh! I will try anyway and you can slap me with a cheap Android tablet if I slip up.

Noteshelf is the stylus-based notebook app for the iPad that I have written about before – initial review, version 3 review. It is, easily, my most used “content creation”1 app and also one of my most used apps in general, apart from Mail and Safari obviously. Many iPad apps look nice but have few features (meaning that you have to switch out of them a lot, which is annoying on the iPad). Some have lots of features but are ugly and annoying to use. Noteshelf, even in version 3, had lots of features and was very easy to use. It did and still does have the best zoom system for writing and detailed work that I’ve seen on the iPad – this is essential if you want to use a free-drawing notebook app for anything but the roughest of sketches… well, I’ve written about the previous version before, I won’t go over it all again.

It did lack a few things that I found myself missing, though, particularly highlighting, being able to move pages between notebooks, being able to change paper types within a notebook, and cut and paste within a page. Version 4 addresses my previous issues so well that I’m suspicious that the app has been recording me muttering about them and sending the information back to the developer. New features of Noteshelf 4 include:

  • highlighting
  • moving pages between notebooks
  • multiple paper types within notebooks
  • cut and paste within pages

as well as

  • custom paper types, either user created or bought via an in-app purchase
  • notebook covers not based on paper type, and also with new ones available via purchases
  • an additional and very useful toolbar on the zoom view giving access to common functions without having to move your hand all the way to the top of the page – yes, lazy maybe, but faster
  • auto-advance when reaching the right hand side of the zoom view
  • a better interface for inserting images
  • groups of notebooks, rather than them all being on one shelf (rather like app grouping on iOS 4)
  • reworked and more convenient “export page(s)” UI – actually lots of UI elements have been reworked to make them more convenient

and probably lots of others. What impresses me is the level of care taken to make UI elements usable. For instance, the “auto-advance” feature puts an area on the right hand side of the zoom window, and if you write in that, the view shifts to the right once you lift up the stylus, or moves to the next line if you’re already at the right hand edge. One can change the size of this area. But it doesn’t just shift immediately – it waits for a period after you’ve finished that’s just enough time to dot an i, cross a t or maybe add another letter in the same word if you’re printing, but not so long that you think “this is taking too long to advance”.

I struggle to find anything with Noteshelf now that I don’t like or feels incomplete. The only ones I can think of at the moment are:

  1. The new way that landscape mode works is not how I would like it to work. (Previously Noteshelf let you work with the iPad in landscape but with the page itself still in portrait; you scrolled up and down it. Now, the orientation of the page changes with the orientation of the iPad.) However, the developer has already said that he’s going to make the new landscape mode optional in a quick update, so that isn’t much of a criticism.

  2. The new pens are pretty ugly. Really. The old pens were better. Even a colour palette would have been better.

Apart from that, this is really the best app that I’ve seen so far for notebook-like behaviour on an iPad, with all of the advantages of export, backup, undo, quick colour changing and so on that digital notebooks provide. Not everyone will want an app like this, but if they do, this is the one they should get. It’s the piece of software that’s been most likely to stop me using fountain pens and paper routinely, and that really is saying something.


  1. Does anybody believe that old nonsense about the iPad “not being for content creation” any more? It was never true, and it’s certainly not true now.