MyScript Nebo review: Nebo app for note takers with high-end tablets still needs a little work

The Good MyScript Nebo does some unique tricks, such as reflowing handwriting, mixed text/handwriting operation and equation recognition. And when it's good, it's very, very good.

The Bad It requires one of the pricier tablets and like many digital note-taking systems, it can be finicky to the point where you may not think it's worth the effort.

The Bottom Line If you own a tablet with a good active stylus and you take a lot of notes, it's definitely worth giving MyScript Nebo a shot while it's free. But your mileage may vary.

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The latest candidate in my continuing search for the best way to take notes comes from MyScript, the company formerly known as Vision Objects, which renamed itself to match its MyScript Notes Mobile app launched in 2012. Named "Nebo" (I think it should have stuck with "MyScript Notes") the app extends its capabilities with the company's updated recognition engine and new Interactive Ink technology. It works pretty well, but still doesn't provide the seamless experience I'd hoped for.

It currently works on some iPad and Windows 10 devices -- Android is forthcoming -- but not all of them. It requires devices that support active pens, like the Apple Pencil or Surface Pen. And the company stresses it needs to be a good one. Passive styluses work by pretending to be your finger and lack the precision necessary to capture all the necessary stroke data.

The app, which normally costs $9 but is free for the moment, tries to simulate the real writing-in-a-notebook experience, albeit with some useful and unique capabilities like mixed font/handwriting editing and handwriting reflow, equation recognition (from its calculator app) and solving (like its calculator) and conversion of drawn shapes to digital vector objects.

Like all note-taking apps, Nebo uses notebooks and pages as its organizing metaphor; unlike a real notebook or many other note-taking apps, which basically offer freehand pages, you have to create blocks for nontext content: local images, camera shots, drawings, diagrams and equations. That can slow you down. The trade-off is that because it "knows" what the type of content it's looking at, it can convert equations to text as well as solve them and turn basic shapes into objects for diagrams. It supports the same operations as other good apps, such as cross-notebook searches.

As the text flows

My biggest issue with handwriting recognition is, well, software finds my scrunchy, squiggly handwriting pretty tough to recognize. That's unsurprising: Even I can barely read it. But it ultimately makes cleaning up my "recognized" notes more of a chore than just retyping them from a hard copy. Interactive Ink lets you make corrections to recognized text by writing with the stylus rather than having to jump to a keyboard.

Nebo can convert basic shapes in diagrams. If you want to leave objects like arrows as they are, you flag it as a doodle.

Screenshot by Lori Grunin/CNET

Nebo does the best job of recognizing my handwriting that I've seen to date. But, as we saw with optical character recognition software, you have to reach a tipping point where the number of corrections you need to make is small enough to counter the hassle of making them. So OCR software usually preserves the original scan for reference. With Nebo, once you've converted to text, the handwritten version is gone (or at least not displayable); it's not even there while you're making corrections. In many cases, some incorrect characters aren't a problem. And in the preview it can autosuggest corrections.