Penultimate – Putting Pen to Digital Paper

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One of the things I really wanted to see work when I picked up the iPad was the ability for me to take the device into a meeting, scrawl a bunch of chicken scratch as if I wee using a real paper-based notepad, and then have those notes translated into text so that it could be searched later.

Alas...

As far as I know, the killer app I'm looking for doesn't quite exist. There are some apps available tht say their handwriting recognotion is second to none, but because of the way Apple has set up the App Store I would have to spend the full $10 just to find out if the tool would suit my needs. I understand that there are limitations to what can be done for trials and in-app upgrades etc, but until I know the thing is gonna work for me, I really don't want to fork over more than a buck or two just to take a flyer on some app.

What I hae found though is a compromise. Something that will allow me to do my chicken scratch and have some hope of finding what I wrote down later -- as long as my penmanship is at least at a 3rd grade level (my apologies to any 3rd graders who've actually seen my handwriting). I found Penultimate.

What is it?

The app is a digital version of your typical pen-and-paper setup. This application allows you to have a series of notebooks into which you can scrawl whatever you want. There are a number of pen sizes and colours to choose from, and they are redered beautifully on the virtual paper. The inks are all nice and dark so even the lighter oranges and yellows can be seen on the light-coloured background.

There are a number of features included in the base price of the application. A set of default papers (3), a set of downloadable papers (7) and the ability for you to upload any image you want and use that as the paper surface. I tried this out by uploading a screen shot of a template I've used in MS-Word for meeting notes. It has spaces to fill out who's attending, date/time, topics, action items etc. It was originally designed to be a more fluid type-written template, but I have printed it out on occasion and it's worked well for me when I have. The template looks great in Penultimate too.

The second piece to the puzzle comes via Penultimate's integration with Evernote. One of the coolest technologies in the Evernote aresenal is its ability to scan your images for searchable terms. By adding those terms to its database, Evernote can actually allow you to do a text search on text which appears inside your images. So by syncing my notes into my evernote notebook they will all be searchable after my meetings are done -- assuming Evernote can read my scribbles.

As I've been using the application for the past few days my writing on the tablet surface has improved. I can now get more than 15-20 characters on a line and still have them be legible. Writing with a stylus on a touch screen is a strange feeling. Though the stylus provides additional control, it still doesn't give you the same precision contact with the screen as you would have putting pen to paper. For me, the advantages outweigh the disadvantages and this application has made its way into my primary tool arsenal.