Take better notes on your iPad with these 5 apps

It's almost time for students to go back to school and get their learn on. Here are five great apps for taking notes -- in or out of the classroom -- with an iPad.

Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani
Jason Cipriani Contributing Writer, ZDNet
Jason Cipriani is based out of beautiful Colorado and has been covering mobile technology news and reviewing the latest gadgets for the last six years. His work can also be found on sister site CNET in the How To section, as well as across several more online publications.
Jason Cipriani
3 min read

The iPad, along with competing tablets and even the growing list of highly portable ultrabooks, is quickly becoming a staple in the classroom for teachers and students alike. It seems more and more likely that taking notes with a pen and paper will one day be an antiquated practice we'll all reminisce about to our grandkids.

The iPad can be a great tool for taking notes, but the native iOS Notes app doesn't cut it for everyone. To take truly useful notes that can replace that spiral notebook, you're going to need the help of an app or two.

Here are five apps that will help you take effective notes on your iPad.

iA Writer offers some great additional keys to the default iPad keyboard, making typing a breeze. Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

iA Writer
iA Writer is a simple text editor packed full of subtle features, such as a custom keyboard that makes typing quickly on your iPad a breeze. You can move ahead or back a word with the touch of a button, or add common punctuation without having to visit the second (or third) keyboard screen.

You can also use iA to sync your documents in the cloud, making them available on any Dropbox- or iCloud-capable device.

You can get iA Writer from the App Store as a universal binary for 99 cents. If you'd like to use it on your Mac, you can get it from the Mac App Store for $8.99.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Evernote has made a name for itself (no pun intended) on making it easy to not only take notes, but to also share and access them from nearly every device you own.

Going beyond simple text notes, you can take photos, add voice notes, draw sketches, create your own study materials, and even create to-do lists.

Best of all, you can do all of this with Evernote for free. There is a premium option that allows for bigger uploads, offline storage, and more features. But for basic note-taking, a free account will suffice for most.

Get started by downloading Evernote here.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Simplenote is another plain-text editor. There aren't many bells or whistles; simply enter text and save it. Your notes will sync with the Simplenote Web site and across your iOS devices without requiring a premium account.

If you do opt for the premium version of Simplenote, you'll be able to sync with Dropbox, among other perks.

Get the free Simplenote download here.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

There's something to be said about physically writing, instead of typing, your notes. For some, it's the preferred method. With an app like Paper, writing notes and organizing them into notebooks is a breeze.

Using your finger or a stylus, you can easily draw diagrams to mimic what's being taught in the lecture, or write notes in your own handwriting. The basic pen tool that comes with Paper is free, or you can upgrade to get the rest of the tools for a total of $6.99. If you'd rather only pay for one or two tools, you can do that as well. Prices vary depending on the tool.

Download Paper for free.

Screenshot by Jason Cipriani/CNET

Part of Apple's iWork suite, Pages is a great word processor. With pages you're able to create simple or complex documents, relatively quickly, by choosing from one of sixteen total templates.

Adding photos and charts or even formatting text can all be done within the app directly on your iPad. When you're done, your documents will sync across iCloud to Pages on your Mac (OS X Mountain Lion required) and your iOS device(s).

Pages may be a bit overkill for most, but for others it'll allow them to quickly turn notes into projects, all within the same app. Plus, if you're already familiar with Pages on OS X, the learning curve transitioning to the iOS version won't be very steep.

You can get Pages for $9.99.


In addition to apps, you may want to look into a stylus or iPad-compatible Bluetooth keyboard to help keep your backpack light, yet full of the tools you need.

We know there are plenty more note-taking apps out there. If your preferred app isn't listed here, leave us a comment below telling us which app you use and why.