How is the Apple Pencil Handwriting Recognition on the iPad Pro? - Review (Memo, Nebo and Notes Plus)

Introduction

What I look for in a Notes App are two things. One, handwriting to text conversion and two, good notes management (like folders general organization and most importantly a good cloud back up system). I have tried quite a few Apps to gauge the Apple Pencil handwriting recognition capabilities on the iPad Pro (read my iPad Pro hands on review here), like Notability, Memo, Nebo and Notes Plus to name a few. I reviewed Notability a few years ago and with these few years, the App has only become much better with whatever it does. However the big feature that Notability is missing for my use case is handwriting to text conversion. So in this review / comparison, I'm only going to talk about the other three Apps, Memo, Nebo and Notes Plus. Before you proceed with this article, bear in mind that this review is very subjective to my use case and your opinion of these Apps might be starkly different depending on what you use these Apps for. 

I have tried quite a few Apps to gauge the Apple Pencil handwriting recognition capabilities on the iPad Pro, like Notability, Memo, Nebo and Notes Plus to name a few.

I have tried quite a few Apps to gauge the Apple Pencil handwriting recognition capabilities on the iPad Pro, like Notability, Memo, Nebo and Notes Plus to name a few.

Apps that work the best for Apple Pencil Handwriting Recognition on the iPad Pro

Like I mentioned before, the most important thing I'm looking for in a Notes App in handwriting to text conversion. I have attached screenshots of my raw hand-written Introduction section on all three Apps below and I have also attached the converted text each App produced, below it. As you can see from the converted text, all the three Apps were pretty good in text conversion. There is no way any App is going to te 100% accurate in handwriting to text conversion, just because of the number of variables involved, like the handwriting itself, special characters, upper case letters, etc. For example the way I write the letter "s" in the middle of a word is very similar to the letter "r" and as you can see, all the three Apps had trouble with this and converted words like "these" to "there". Also the word "notes" for example can be used as a noun like for saying the App name "Notes Plus" or can be just used in a sentence with the lowercase "n" and the conversion engine had some trouble with such scenarios. But overall all the Apps were more than satisfactory in taking advantage of the Apple Pencil Handwriting Recognition capabilities on the iPad Pro.

Handwriting Recognition: TIE!

Handwritten text on the left and converted text on the right on Notes a Plus App

Handwritten text on the left and converted text on the right on Notes a Plus App

Handwritten text on the left and converted text on the right on Memo App

Handwritten text on the left and converted text on the right on Memo App

Handwritten text on the left and converted text on the right on Nebo App

Handwritten text on the left and converted text on the right on Nebo App

Writing Experience

Unlike the previous section, that ended with a tie, this section, spoiler alert, has a clear winner. All the three Apps have basic knobs like pen tip adjustment, various colors for writing, etc. But a big part of the writing experience on the iPad is palm rejection. With the Apple Pencil, it's pretty easy to implement this as, all the App needs to do is disable any input other than the Pencil's. On top of this Apps can also implement proper palm rejection in the conventional sense as Apps used to do before the Apple Pencil. Both Nebo and Notes Plus have Apple Pencil support and implement palm rejection exceedingly well. However Memo (the only free App in this list of three) has no Apple Pencil support and the only way to get some sort of palm rejection on this App is by using a virtual sheet, a shield of sorts that prevents any spurious input from your palm or other touches. However this is a major inconvenience if you want to write a lot with the Apple Pencil for handwriting recognition. 

The only way to get some sort of palm rejection on the Memo App is by using a virtual sheet of shield of sorts that prevents any spurious inputs from your palm or other touches

The only way to get some sort of palm rejection on the Memo App is by using a virtual sheet of shield of sorts that prevents any spurious inputs from your palm or other touches

All the three Apps have basic knobs like pen tip adjustment, various colors for writing, etc.

All the three Apps have basic knobs like pen tip adjustment, various colors for writing, etc.

Secondly if you've written on the iPad extensively you would've realized the need for writing in the same vertical section of the iPad and preferring the virtual page on the App to scroll up instead of you having to move your palm down after every line. For this, the App needs to implement a virtual paper that spans more than a screen height of the iPad. So as you finish writing a line, the page can scroll up either automatically or manually to make sure that your palm doesn't have to change position. Both Nebo and Notes Plus Apps allow this while the Memo App's notes page has a finite height, i.e., the height of the iPad's screen and hence as you start writing more lines and reach the end of the page, your palm is virtually out of the iPad and hanging in the air, making the writing experience painful and almost impossible.

Both the Nebo and Notes Plus App allow a virtual paper that spans more than a screen height of the iPad. So as you finish writing a line, the page can scroll up either automatically or manually.

Both the Nebo and Notes Plus App allow a virtual paper that spans more than a screen height of the iPad. So as you finish writing a line, the page can scroll up either automatically or manually.

The Memo App's Notes page has a finite height, i.e., the height of the iPad's screen and hence as you start writing more lines and reach the end of the page, your palm is virtually out of the iPad and hanging in the air, making the writing experience painful and almost impossible.

The Memo App's Notes page has a finite height, i.e., the height of the iPad's screen and hence as you start writing more lines and reach the end of the page, your palm is virtually out of the iPad and hanging in the air, making the writing experience painful and almost impossible.

Finally, another major part of the writing experience on the iPad is the accuracy of the Pencil's strokes. You might be thinking, wait a minute, dint I say in my Apple Pencil's review, repeatedly that the Apple Pencil was the most accurate stylus I've ever used with the iPad? Yes I did and I still stand by that statement. But even with the Apple Pencil, third party Apps have to implement it right. In this category, I found that the Notes Plus App was the least accurate of the Apps I tried. While this statement is relative, there were quite a few times, when there were strokes missing and when I felt that I needed to put in more effort with my palm and my fingers while using the Notes Plus App.

Writing experience: Winner - Nebo, Loser - Memo.

 

Notes Management

For any Notes App to take full advantage of the Apple Pencil handwriting recognition on the iPad, this category in a must. What I mean by management here, are a few things. Once you start using a Notes App, you'll be surprised how quickly you can amass a lot of notes. With so many notes, its very important how the App allows you to organize and arrange all your notes. This can be simply allowing multiple folder creation, tags and specific colors for each folder or category, etc. For example, Nebo allows folder creation and within folders, you can create notebooks (and specify separate colors for each notebook) and within each notebook, you can create several multi-page notes. Notes Plus is very similar to Nebo in this case with its folders and notebook management. However (again probably because its a free App) Memo is very limited in this functionality. All you can do is create several one-page notes and nothing else!

Nebo allows folder creation and within folders, you can create notebooks (and specify separate colors for each notebook) and within each notebook, you can create several multi-page notes.

Nebo allows folder creation and within folders, you can create notebooks (and specify separate colors for each notebook) and within each notebook, you can create several multi-page notes.

All you can do on the Memo App is create several one-page notes and nothing else!

All you can do on the Memo App is create several one-page notes and nothing else!

Coming to next important feature in this section, Cloud backup. Notes Plus has (as expected) automatic back up options with either iCloud or Dropbox and its implementation with both of them is seamless. When you install Notes Plus App additionally on say your iPhone, if you had either one of these two backups enabled, all your notes sync in no time on your iPhone from your iPad. However when it comes to Nebo, I was really surprised to find that it had no backup solutions available, I mean none! You can export your notes using a variety of choices, similar to Notes Plus but back up wise there is absolutely nothing. And again as expected, the simple but free Memo App has no back up solutions whatsoever.

Notes management: Winner - Notes Plus.

 

Other Features

Features like choosing the type of the virtual paper you write on, adjusting dimensions of the paper, allowing both the Apple Pencil and the normal finger Touch to work simultaneously, allowing a magnified writing area to simulate a proper writing text size to paper dimension ratio, to enable or disable gestures, etc., are available and implemented exceptionally well on Notes Plus. Nebo, on the other hand, though not as devoid in such features as Memo, falls way short compared to Notes Plus. One area of big irritation for me on Nebo is that I can't disable gestures on the App. There is a gesture where you can draw a vertical line (like a slash, "/") between letters and the App will separate the single word into two. But this gesture is very badly implemented and there are a lot of false positives, like even the letters "t" and "P" trigger this gesture and I end up having to write the same words repeatedly after erasing the erroneously split word.

 Other features: Winner - Notes Plus.

Notes Plus is the clear winner when it comes to handy bells and whistles

Notes Plus is the clear winner when it comes to handy bells and whistles

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Notes Plus is the clear winner when it comes to handy bells and whistles

Notes Plus is the clear winner when it comes to handy bells and whistles

Notes Plus is the clear winner when it comes to handy bells and whistles

Notes Plus is the clear winner when it comes to handy bells and whistles

Conclusion

For my needs, both Nebo and Notes Plus are joint favorites for using the Apple Pencil handwriting recognition on the iPad Pro. Notes Plus was $7.99 when I bought it and Nebo seems to be free for a limited time as of today. Memo is absolutely free and is a pretty decent App if you don't want to spend any money. It's handwriting recognition is exceptional and though it lacks a lot of basic features that the other two Apps have, considering the fact that it's free, I have no reservations recommending it. Nebo stands out in the actual writing experience, i.e., the accuracy of the Apple Pencil's strokes and Notes Plus shines with its Notes management, backup solutions and overall flexibility. I personally use Nebo when I don't care about my Notes after I have converted them to text, like these blog posts. However for note taking at work and other personal chores where I need to save these Notes for the future (in either the hand written form or the converted form), I use Notes Plus. One word on Notabality; Notes Plus and Notability are very similar in App construction and features, except that Notabilty does not do handwriting to text conversion, so if you don't need that feature, Notability is a also a worthy alternative.