Notability + Bamboo + iPad = Paperless Note Taking

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I have been a collector of notebooks for decades. I love them. They’re portable, come in all shapes, thicknesses and sizes. Some have lines, others are blank for sketching and still others offer a grid. I have been a devoted user of the Moleskine for many years and very much enjoy the visceral experience paper affords. Although I enjoy the paper, it is difficult to find something you wrote months before, as it’s buried in the stream of pages.

When the iPad came along I thought it would be cool and easier if I could use that as my notebook. But taking notes on a tablet is tricky business. First you need a good app. I immediately begin trying different apps for taking notes. I downloaded and experimented with Draw Pad Pro, Noteshelf, Idea Flight, Design Scene, HelvetiNote, Penultimate, Adobe Ideas, Simplenote and of course Apple’s Pages. Some of them are not very good at all, while others do some things well, but none of them really bring it all together in a way that leverages the multimedia features built into an iPad. I wondered if I would ever get off paper.

There are three ways to get content on an iPad. You can use your finger, a stylus or a keyboard (interface or external). It you choose the external keyboard then you’ve got to carry that thing around and keep it charged. I’ve spent $200 on two keyboards and don’t use either one. Just not comfortable to use. I did come across what looks to be a very cool keyboard on Kickstarter. It’s called Brydge and it looks splendid. I’ve become a backer of Brydge but must wait until October to get one. One’s finger does not work that well because you can’t place things precisely on the screen. The stylus is getting better, but most have ignored ergonomics and balance in favor of rushing to market. I’m a bit of a pen snob and spend lavishly on writing instruments, so I was horrified when I purchased my first stylus. I’ve got a drawer full of failed attempts at finding one.

Then I found the app Notability and the Bamboo stylus. This combination is fantastic. After about two months using this together I’m happy to report that I’m off the paper notebook.

Notability provides:

  • Quick toggle between internal or external keyboard
  • Several line thickness and colors
  • A highlighting feature
  • Numerous choices of tablet styles and colors
  • Ability to embed voice notes or photos
  • Create, organize and file various notebooks
  • Simple to use interface
  • Auto synch to Dropbox and other storage systems
  • And so much more

The Bamboo stylus feels like a finely balanced writing instrument vs. those cheap plastic pens. It has a narrow tip that can be replaced if worn or cracked. I’ve found this to be the best choice for writing and sketching. All I carry to meetings now is my iPad and Bamboo stylus and I love it. Now, what to do with all those notebooks I’ve collected.

19 thoughts on “Notability + Bamboo + iPad = Paperless Note Taking”

  1. Steve,

    I’m a private tutor looking to find or build similar note-taking solution. Saw student using Notability to write on top of a scanned pdf containing some practice drills, and I almost started to cry…

    Question #1: four months later, how has your N + B + i experience been?

    Question #2: do you have any Notability + Bamboo + *Skype* screensharing + iPad experience? If so, has it been smooth?

    Thanks in advance.

    1. Justin,

      Stil very happy with my experience. Would like to see an update soon, but the app has so much already. I have not tried Skype screen sharing. Will try and give that a shot and then let you know.

      Good luck on your journey.


      1. Thank you so much! But I’m so, so disappointed … I’ll stay tuned with hope and appreciation for you research.

        Sent from my iPad

  2. I can’t seem to get my keyboard to work on notability. I still have to use the “Notes” feature that comes with the Ipad

    1. That’s odd. There is a small “t” in the top toolbar. When I tap it the iPad keyboard presents itself.

    1. I don’t use a screen cover, so can’t say for sure. Are you able to use a stylus with the cover. If so, then it probably will work.

  3. Have you tried Maglus or New Thifty Three Pencil for writing. I’m more into taking notes rather than sketching. Do you see Maglus or Pencil as better choice than Bamboo?

    1. Maglus looks fantastic. Haven’t tried it yet. Happy to see these tools evolve and improve. Thank you for reading.

  4. Thanks for the excellent post. I started using using Notability after reading this. I was wondering if Bamboo Fineline stylus works with this app and produces even better notes!

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