Penultimate: Just Shy Of The Ultimate iPad Note Taking App

| In-Depth Review

Penultimate, for iPad, is a perfect solution for anyone looking to take a note, or series of notes, and compile them into a collection of notepads for specific tasks. If you are studying, in school or business, or simply want to take notes and draw diagrams using a stylus or your finger then Penultimate may be the solution you are looking for. That is if you can do without keyboard input and are satisfied working primarily in portrait mode.

Features

  • Uncluttered and easy to use interface.
  • Quick learning curve.
  • Use a variety of paper styles, including photorealistic backgrounds from your own Camera Roll.
  • Collate and arrange notes into a single notebook.
  • Rearrange notes easily from one notebook to another.
  • Wrist protection to prevent accidental visual inputs.
  • Dropbox and Evernote integration.

Using Penultimate

The first time you launch Penultimate, you will be presented with an easy to follow 10 page guide on how to use the app. Most of the apps controls and options are presented with only the more detailed or obscure being omitted.

Once you have completed your initial glance of the instructions, you will be ready to start using the app for your own series of notes.

Three paper types are initially available to chose from. They include graph, lined, and plain paper. Users can also add their own photographs as a paper background. In order to allow written or drawn pen strokes to appear without problem, your photograph will be turned into a sepia style photo with a reduced brightness of what appears to be about 50 percent. Unfortunately, there is no option to fine tune or alter this appearance.

If the pre-installed papers, or your own photographic backgrounds, do not suit your needs then you can always visit The Paper Shop to purchase additional paper styles. The Paper Shop offers in-app purchasing and comes with a wide variety of options that will suit many users.

Within the Paper Shop, there is a batch of seven free basic lined paper designs to download. Some of these include Narrow Rule + Margin, Lined Landscape, and Wide Rule.

The paid options range from US$0.99 to US$2.99. Depending on your requirements it may certainly be worth the additional investment, especially considering the app only costs US$0.99. Some of the themed variety includes Photo Pages, Music Pages, Young Writers, and just for fun game page designs for classics such as Tic-Tac-Toe or Hangman.

Pen Tools, Photographs, & Managing Pages

When you have chosen your paper style, you will notice that a series of pen tools become available on the canvas. Tapping on the Pen icon will allow you to select the color, along with the thickness of the line you intend on using. Unfortunately, the colors are limited to just ten varieties and the pen thickness options are also limited to just three. It would have been nice to have customizable options for both of these areas.

Tapping the eraser tool will allow you to remove any element you have added to the page. As with the pen option, there is no customizable eraser size. Although, depending on the width of your finger or stylus, the area erased will not exceed that thickness.

Using the scissor tool will allow you to cut around a specific word, or area, on the page in order to change its location. Simply draw around the section you wish to move and once selected tap and drag to the new location. This option works seamlessly, and is truly an amazing feature to observe in action.

The final tool to select from is the ‘x’. The functionality here allows you to clear the entire page if you wish. This function is also available should you tap and hold the eraser tool button.

In the top Menu Bar, you will notice an icon is available to add a photograph from your Camera Roll or, if you use the iPad 2 or later, the camera. This option will help users easily annotate photographs or other compatible graphics. You will be able to draw and write directly over the graphic and makes notes accordingly.

One thing you will notice, is the app does not allow you to easily change perspective from portrait to landscape mode. In fact, the app is designed mostly for use in portrait mode which makes landscape, even with the use of horizontal lined paper, feel awkward. If you attempt to continue note taking in the landscape view, the existing content on the virtual paper does not rotate with your iPad. This is a limitation that I have not come across when reviewing other competing apps such as Notability.

Penultimate, will allow you to create more than just a single note of information. You can create an entire notebook that would be of great assistance to students and professionals at all levels. In the corner, depending on your orientation, you will notice a small tab that if swiped will allow you to go to the page overview area. You can easily insert another page and one of the best features is each page can have its own custom paper style. Therefore, page one can be lined with a margin, whilst page two is graph paper.

Pages can also easily be moved around within a notepad in order to improve the flow of your content. This is done by simply tapping and holding the page you are interested in moving. When highlighted simply drag it to the new location within the notepad.

At the same time of tapping and holding you will be presented with options to delete, duplicate, or move the page. Moving the page will also allow you to take it out of the current notepad, and add it to another saved notepad that you have been working on.

The Undo/Redo Option

Undo and redo options are generally limited to altering the previous event.

In Penultimate, the undo and redo functions are page specific. For example, I can simply go to page one, of a three page notepad, and selecting undo will only apply to that first page. Likewise, when I go to page three, in the same notepad, any undo or redo prompts will not alter any other page within the notepad.

This additional fine detail control is a welcome addition and makes the app a standout in its genre. 

Settings & Import/Export Options

Within the settings area you will find options for wrist protection, tool locations, and paper design options for exporting, along with the ability to integrate Dropbox and Evernote.

The wrist protection is available for both left and right-handed users. By default the right-handed user option has been selected. Regardless of the writing hand you will be using, each option contains three additional preferences for pen height and angle. Depending on how you write, and hold a stylus, selecting a different option may better suit your hand writing style. In testing I found no problem at all with the default setting.

By default the pen tools will be positioned at the bottom of the display or on the left hand side of the display when in landscape mode. I personally prefer all my writing tools to be located at the top of the display, and thankfully with the flick of a switch this is possible in portrait mode.

An interesting option is the ability to include or exclude the paper design when exporting or printing your content. By default, when you export your notes, it will be done without the paper design background. Should you turn this option on, the background will then be included. This same feature is also available when presenting content on a large display or projector.

Penultimate, allows you to link the app to both Dropbox and Evernote for added functionality. When linking with Dropbox, a specific folder can be assigned for automatic backups. It would be nice to see the implementation of iCloud as an alternative or additional backup service, but Dropbox does perform admirably.

It is important to note that Dropbox allows for both import and export functionality, whilst Evernote integration is limited to exports only.

When it comes time to sharing your notes with others you can do so via various methods including using the Apple VGA Adapter to present content on an external screen or projector. Interestingly, the developer doesn’t offer or mention in their product notes compatibility with AirPlay or the Apple Digital AV Adapter. Despite this, Airplay mirroring functionality works perfectly.

The key options for exporting include sending a page or entire notebook via email, sending a page to your Camera Roll, Evernote, or Dropbox account, and Printing the content via an AirPrint compatible printer.

The Open In... option allows users with apps that are compatible, to open the content you have created within Penultimate.

Import options are available but are limited to .pen (Notebook) and .ppr (Paper) formats. I find this limiting, especially considering photographs, from the Camera Roll, are able to be imported directly from within the app.

Importing of compatible files can be done either via iTunes, in the app File Sharing area, or via Dropbox.

What I Did Like

The ability to undo and redo on independent pages allows for complete editing flexibility.

Simply and easy to learn interface.

The wrist protection just works. There is no fiddling around to get it right. The variety of options for both left and right-handed users should offer a complete solution for everyone.

The scissor tool makes rearranging content easy. It is a feature I wish were more prevalent on the Mac.

What I Didn’t Like

The lack of pen color and thickness varieties is of concern. It would be nice to at least have basic customizable options.

Using the app in landscape mode feels awkward. The majority of paper templates are designed for portrait use, and rotating the iPad will not change the orientation of the content you have created.

The import options are limited and it would be nice to be able to open additional formats, especially graphics.

No optional keyboard input will limit usage of the app for some users. Whilst it is not essential, other apps within the same category have this additional input option.

Summary

Penultimate is so close to being the ultimate note taking app for iOS. The interface is clutter free, whilst given ample control for most users.

The paper options, both included, and available via an in-app purchase will appeal to all audiences and are reasonably priced. The photorealistic background option is also a bonus that will impress some users.

Wrist protection and onscreen responsiveness is truly amazing. The developers have mastered this functionality.

Most importantly, the undo and redo features truly expand editing functionality. Add the flexibility of unique note page layouts in a single notebook, and you have an app that seriously challenges its rivals.

Unfortunately, some aspects of the app are disappointing. The limited variety of color and pen thickness will limit some intended uses and landscape mode just doesn’t feel right, even when using the horizontal lined paper. Disappointingly, your content will not rotate. This limitation forces you to chose between landscape or portrait modes prior to commencing your first note. This is a limitation that is not suffered by its competitor, Notability.

These problems aside, at $0.99, the app performs extremely well in the majority of areas. If you need to take notes on a regular basis, you would be foolish not to give this iPad app a look.

Product: Penultimate

Company: Evernote Corporation

List Price: US$0.99

Pros:

Redo and undo for individual notes, simple and easy to learn interface, amazing wrist protection, and the scissor tool makes rearranging content simple. 

Cons:

Limited variety of pen color and thickness, majority of templates are designed for portrait mode, existing content can not be rotated, limited import options, and no optional keyboard functionality for adding typed notes.

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Comments

Jim

I have been taking class notes on my iPad 2 with my Jot Pro for over a year now.  I have used NotesPlus from day 1 and as good as it can be to use a stylus to take notes it isn’t quite practical.  I mostly use the iPad for diagrams and drawing examples since I cannot write sentences nearly as quickly as I can type them.  I tried penultimate months ago and it seemed too basic but I might try it out again.  NotesPlus has made a lot of improvements to make note taking easier but I’m still searching for a replacement app.

A comparison of NotesPlus, Penultimate, and whichever other apps you have experience with may help a lot of people who are struggling to find the best notes app out there.

Rogerio Barlotti

What is happening to this app? It is lost in the space for updates… IOS 6 came and no updates… We just got retina updates, it is missing some lefty improvements like the full screen and others… Whys is that?

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