Noteshelf 2 Review [2021]

There are a lot of great options out there when it comes to digital note-taking on iPad and Android.

Between the onboard technologies in your hardware and the advanced software options available, digital notes are a viable option for replacing pen and paper notebooks and even laptops!

But which app is best when you’re taking class notes or jotting reminders down while on the job?

We’ve already compared GoodNotes and Notability, two note-taking apps that dominate the market, but they might not be the best fit for everyone. Today, we’re going to take a closer look at Noteshelf 2 by Fluid Touch, one of the smaller (but still significant!) note-taking apps on the market today.

Let’s get to it!

If you want to watch our video review, check it out below. Otherwise read on!

 

Table of contents

An image of a Noteshelf user reviewing tools on the Noteshelf welcome screen.

01. Tools

Like most other apps, a great part of Noteshelf’s usability is defined by its tools. 

In this section of our Noteshelf review, we’ll take a close look at each of the major tools that Noteshelf provides to help note-takers get their thoughts onto the page.

An image depicting the Noteshelf pen UI.
The pen tool is equipped with a variety of options for note-taking and illustration.

Pen

Probably the most important tool in the bunch, the pen tool is what you’ll use most often when taking notes. This tool responds to touch and/or a stylus like the Apple Pencil and allows you to make notes on the page.

Noteshelf comes equipped with four different types of pens to help you create beautiful handwritten notes:

  • Ballpoint
  • Calligraphy
  • Pencil
  • Fine-tip

The standard ballpoint pen is your primary writing instrument in Noteshelf. It draws clear lines that are easy to see. Compared to the fine-tipped pen, the standard ballpoint offers thicker lines and a slightly stronger bleed. It’s also worth pointing out that the ballpoint pen is softer around the edges and can give a general “fuzziness” to the appearance when used at larger sizes.

The calligraphy pen creates the kind of stylized writing that you’d expect from a specialized nib. The pen is angled, creating that classic, calligraphic style while you write. This is a great pen for headers and for stylized cursive when you want writing that is both pretty and legible.

By contrast, the pencil setting is somewhat rough. The pencil stroke looks grainy when compared to the other pen options. While this won’t be appealing to many users, it’s the only pen type that responds most readily to pressure sensitivity when using a stylus like the Apple Pencil. The other pen types respond to pressure as well, but the result is less dramatic.

Each pen has eight pre-defined sizing options built in. While you can easily switch between each of these, you can’t adjust them. However, for most users, this selection of sizes will be more than enough to cover every use case. 

Color selection is different. While there are preset colors at the bottom of the selection menu, selecting the “Edit” button at the end of the quick-select swatches opens a menu where you can select and customize any color. You can even add hex codes to get the exact color that you want and save it to the quick-select menu.

Most importantly, you can save any combination of pen, nib size, and color to the favorites menu by tapping on the little heart on the left side of the customization menu. This saves the selection to your favorites so that you can use it again with just a few clicks.

This feature is unique to Noteshelf, and it’s very well done. While Notability and GoodNotes 5 both allow you to save colors, neither one of them allows you to save pen combinations like this. It’s a huge time saver when using different pen types or sizing combinations to designate specific sections of text.

One last thing to note here: Writing with any note-taking app can be difficult if you’re unaccustomed to a glass screen. 

Noteshelf does its best to accommodate for this shortfall, but you can drastically improve the experience by using a Paperlike to change the slick surface of your iPad into a surface that feels like real paper.

An image depicting the Noteshelf highlighter UI.
The highlighter tool offers options for both round and slanted markup, along with various color options.

Highlighter

As with other note-taking apps, the highlighter is used to mark up and highlight specific sections of your text. This is particularly useful when you need to emphasize details within your notes or when you upload PDF files into Noteshelf and want to accentuate specific sections of the text.

Like the pen tool, the highlighter comes with a variety of customization options around size and styling. With the highlighter, you’ll have two styles — round and slanted — along with six sizing options. 

You can also select any color you prefer for your highlighter. Any color you pick should be sufficient. Noteshelf will apply that color to your document in a reduced opacity so that the darker colors won’t hide the text. However, you can also darken the highlighted area by highlighting it more than once.

Once you’ve built your highlighter the way that you want, don’t forget to save it to your favorites bar for easy access.

An image depicting the Noteshelf eraser UI.
Using the eraser tool comes with a variety of selection tools, including stroke-based and highlighter-only erasing.

Eraser

Noteshelf’s eraser tool is something that you’ll end up using quite a bit as you go along. It’s got some great features to enhance the note-taking experience and to make life a lot easier when you make a mistake while writing.

The eraser comes with three separate sizing options as well as an “Auto” feature. The automatic feature doesn’t erase an entire line or delete an entire stroke all at once. (There is a separate setting for that.) Instead, it simply resizes the eraser brush to the size necessary to erase any detected keystroke in the surface area.

Unfortunately, the setback here is that the eraser only sizes itself up to the highest sizing option, which isn’t very big. Sometimes, when you want to erase an entire section of a page, it can take a while to scrub it clean. Of course, there’s always the “Clear Page” option for a quick and easy solution.

On the upside, you’ll see an “Erase Entire Stroke” toggle in the advanced options menu, along with the option to “Erase Highlighter Only.” These two options (especially the latter) can be a godsend when you’re trying to avoid turning a simple erasing exercise into a surgical procedure.

GoodNotes 5 also has the highlighter-only feature, and the two function in much the same way, but this is something that many users find sorely lacking in Notability.

You’ll also see an option to auto-select your previous tool after you’re done with the eraser. As the name suggests, after you lift your pen nib from the page, Noteshelf switches back to the tool you were using before you selected the eraser. This is similar to the auto-deselect feature in GoodNotes 5. 

The auto-switch feature is great if you’re just erasing one stroke. If you’re doing more than that, it can get annoying because the tool switches back automatically as soon as the tip of the pen leaves the glass. If you need to erase something else, you’ll end up putting your pen back down only to draw a line where you wanted to erase. 

Apple Pencil users can ignore this feature since the Pencil already has a built-in tap-to-switch feature. When you’re done erasing, just tap the body of the Apple Pencil twice to switch back to the pen.

An image depicting the Noteshelf text tool UI.
The text box tool and interface can help you quickly add written text to your note.

Text Box

Of all the text display options we’ve seen, Noteshelf’s interface is one of the best. Notability comes close as a good alternative, but the functionality and organization in Noteshelf’s layout just makes more sense.

Like other note-taking apps, the text boxes inside Noteshelf are easily resizable. Customizing and formatting your text is also intuitive and simple. The options to indent text, add bulleted/numbered lists, and align text are readily accessible. Customizing the text style happens in one place, and the customization options come with a huge selection of fonts, colors, and more.

You can also save settings. While Noteshelf already has pre-selected headers and body text, everything is customizable and easy to adjust. Rearranging and copy/pasting the text in any way you see fit is also straightforward and uncomplicated.

All of these options are extremely useful if you’re using the “Convert To Text” feature (see the next section to learn more), because they give you the ability to condense your text into a format that is easy to read and understand.

An image depicting the Noteshelf selection tool UI.
With the selection tool, you can select, move, or resize anything in your document.

Selection Tool

Of all the basic tools in the Noteshelf toolkit, the selection tool is probably the most important after the pen. This tool allows you to reshape or resize your text and move it around the page. 

If you have large handwriting and you need to make more room on the page, the selection tool can help you with that. If your manager or professor rambles and you need to restructure your notes so that they make better sense, the selection tool is your go-to solution. 

All you’ll need to do is draw a lasso around the text that you want to move and the full options menu will appear. From here, you can modify the text, take screenshots, change the text color or size, and even convert handwritten notes to text.

The selection tool has two major drawbacks:

  1. Enlarging your text through resizing is iffy, at best. Often time, enlarging your keystrokes makes the text look blurry, something we didn’t expect since Noteshelf advertises its vector-based graphic engine.
  1. Text conversion is weird. Based on the size of the font, “Convert To Text” tries to find a font size that is similar to the writing itself, but it often guesses incorrectly and ends up creating text that is much larger than you’re likely to want. This leads to a frustrating bout of resizing while you try to adjust and resize the text.

Overall, the selection tool is an essential and unavoidable part of the app. It gets the job done for simple moves and organization. While the “Convert To Text” functionality could be better, the weird foibles with the selection tool won’t be a dealbreaker for most note-takers.

Locking Tool

With the locking tool enabled, you won’t be able to draw on the page or add additional handwritten notes to your file. 

You can still add extra pages to your notebook, but you can’t draw on the page, add highlights or shapes, or do anything other than scroll when using your finger. If you have a stylus, the screen becomes unresponsive when you touch the tip of the stylus to the screen until the lock is removed.

This is a useful feature if you’re reviewing your class or meeting notes and you want to make sure you don’t add unnecessary marks to the page. Aside from locking the document down, this feature offers no other benefit.

A Noteshelf user reviews app features.

02. Extras

Now that we’ve got the basics out of the way, let’s take a closer look at some of the additional tools that you’ll see when using Noteshelf. This section of our Noteshelf review covers important and useful features, like audio recording, magnification, and shapes.

An image depicting the Noteshelf magnification UI.
The magnification tool can help you get up close and personal with your text.

Magnification Tool

The magnification tool is a lifesaver if you want to write smaller text on the page and don’t want to zoom in all the time in order to do it. This is also a great way to get a closeup of existing text if you’re parsing a document for notes.

By tapping on the magnification icon (third icon from the right), a magnification box will appear on the screen. An enlarged view of everything within the box will appear at the bottom of your tablet.

Like other apps with a magnify tool, the interface is broken up into two parts. On the left side of the magnification area, you can write normally. When you reach the blue section on the right side of the screen, the magnifying glass will auto-advance to the next available blank space on the page. This allows you to continue taking notes normally, without needing to constantly stop and adjust the position of the tool on your screen.

Overall, Noteshelf has a better interface than other note-taking apps when it comes to magnification. Like Notability, Noteshelf loads the tool interface in the magnification bar so that switching between tools is easy while working in this mode. GoodNotes 5 leaves the tools at the top, which makes it frustrating to switch between tools. 

Where Noteshelf excels is in the settings and customization options. While the magnifying tool will be familiar to Notability users, Noteshelf offers additional controls for adjusting the position of the margins, the line spacing, and the position of the buttons on the screen. You can even disable the auto-advance option if you want to do so.

As an additional and highly useful feature, Noteshelf’s magnifying glass comes with a guideline to help you keep your handwriting level as you take notes. This helps you save space and stops your text from drifting up and down as you write in an empty, white space.

The one minor drawback with this tool is that certain pen strokes look blurry while using it, especially if you maximize the zoom. This isn’t a problem on other apps, but it’s a place where Noteshelf struggles. If you’re looking for always-clear, always-sharp lines, the magnifying tool may make this shortfall even more pronounced.

Ultimately, the magnification tool is there to help you write smaller notes on the page. But you need more than a close-up view of the page to do it. You need additional precision as you jot your notes. A Paperlike adds friction and resistance (just like real paper) to improve accuracy as you write. Grab yours today.

An image depicting various shapes drawn with the Noteshelf shapes tool.
Toggling the shape tool allows you to draw perfect shapes and straight lines in Noteshelf.

Shape Tool

As you might expect, the shape tool helps you draw shapes on your page. This is particularly useful when you want to draw a box around a specific set of notes or illustrate something with a simple diagram.

This tool does good work with most basic shapes, but it gets a little overzealous if you add more than four or five lines to your illustration. Squares and pentagons are no problem, but hexagons and octagons often get automatically transformed into a circle if the illustration isn’t precise.

The shapes drawn by this tool aren’t automatically proportional, either, which is important to note because it means that you can draw circles, rectangles, and squares that closely match their drawn angles. Every triangle won’t automatically format to an equilateral triangle. Every rectangle won’t become a square. If you needed to draw an isosceles triangle to represent the illustration your professor drew on the classroom whiteboard, you could do that with this tool.

The tool doesn’t stop there, though. It also helps you draw perfectly straight lines, which can be useful when trying to section off your notes. You could also use the tool to format your page for optimum note-taking using a particular note-taking system, like the Cornell method or the boxing and mind-mapping method.

There is one major downside to the shape tool: It’s easy to forget that you left it on. Illustrated by the circle and square icon in the taskbar, the shape tool toggles on and off when you touch it. Unfortunately, it’s easy to forget to turn it back off. Leaving shape mode enabled will interfere with the natural strokes in your handwriting when you try to take notes, so remember to switch it back off as soon as you finish using it.

An image demonstrating the Noteshelf audio recording interface.
Audio recording is a powerful Noteshelf tool, but it works differently here than it does in Notability.

Audio Recording

The ability to record audio while taking notes can be a huge timesaver, and Noteshelf is a great app to help you capture audio in a lecture or a meeting. The microphone picks up the audio seamlessly, and the playback is good. As a basic tool, it’s a good feature — with a few caveats.

The important thing to remember right up front is that recording audio isn’t exclusive to Noteshelf. There are other apps in the App Store that offer similar functionality — and Notability is king among them.

Unfortunately, Noteshelf just doesn’t measure up by comparison when compared to Notability in this regard. With Noteshelf, you can capture audio on a specific page, but the audio isn’t linked to the text on playback. In Notability, you can tap the text as you listen to the audio playback and see what you were writing when you wrote the text. With Noteshelf, the audio file is just a simple and straightforward playback.

The most frustrating part of using the audio recording feature is access and activation. From the notebook selection screen, you can create an audio note. This creates an entirely new notebook, complete with a lined page template, and turns on the audio. It’s a great feature if you need to start recording in a hurry and are fine with merging documents later.

If you want to add audio to a page inside an existing notebook, you’ll need to open the notebook, tap the “+” icon in the top left, and select audio. Once you do that, the audio will activate and a control bar will appear at the top of the screen, just below your standard toolbar. From there, you can start and stop the audio, as well as speed up playback.

The most frustrating thing that we found about audio recording is that it starts automatically every single time. If you’re just trying to set up a notebook for enabled audio or you just want to check out the feature, it’s frustrating to enable audio and then immediately be forced to disable the recording functionality.

On the upside, you can create multiple audio notes inside a single notebook — even on the same page! When you do this, you’ll see multiple audio note icons (the microphone surrounded by a circle) appear on the page. You can drag them across the page and set them up in any way that makes sense for you.

Document Scanning

Don’t be fooled by this feature. When you “scan” an image, you’re really just taking a picture with your iPad camera and importing it to Noteshelf. Some apps have the ability to change the way the scan looks when imported to your device, usually by enhancing the contrast. Noteshelf doesn’t do anything like this. It’s just a picture.

That being said, this is actually a handy tool. When you use the scanning feature, the AI will try to find the edge of your document compared to the background. You can also use handheld toggles to manually select the document if the system gets it wrong.

Once you import the image, the scan works like the base layer of a document. You can write and draw on it, make notes, and so on. As an added bonus, the built-in optical character recognition (OCR) will scan your imported document and catalog the text. This makes any document you import searchable within Noteshelf, which is a great feature to have when you’re trying to stay organized.

An iPad displaying the Noteshelf welcome screen.

03. Organization

When you’re searching for the best note-taking app, it’s not just about on-page functionality. Keeping your content organized is just as important as taking notes.

This section of our Noteshelf review will cover everything from how you keep your notes organized to search tools and interface friendliness. When using Noteshelf, you’ll interact with all of these features — and that’s important because it’s a big part of the Noteshelf system.

An image demonstrating the Noteshelf notebook creation interface.
As with GoodNotes 5, Noteshelf allows users to create notebooks and notebook pages for flexible customization.

Notebook & Page Creation

One of the most important things to realize when working in Noteshelf is that every note that you create is actually a notebook in disguise.

As a good rule of thumb, if your note is visible from the main user interface (the thumbnail selection screen), it’s a notebook. This includes scanned documents, imported images, and every other file type. Your notes are written on the pages inside your notebooks. This can complicate your organization somewhat, but we’ll discuss that a little farther down the page.

Notebooks come equipped with a ton of fun customization options. You can give them a title, choose their cover and their default page setup. Noteshelf features a variety of default page and cover designs, but they also have an in-app portal that you can use to download designs and paper templates for free when you sign up with Noteshelf Club (the Noteshelf blog) via the app.

If you want to go further, you can also enable the auto-backup feature using the various cloud services available through Noteshelf or set a password to protect your document.

Notebooks Hierarchy and Moving Things

Because everything you’ll interact with on the main screen is a notebook, you may experience problems when trying to reorganize your notes. Notebooks can’t be merged, and the ability to move notes from one notebook to another isn’t intuitive.

To shuffle your notes from one notebook to another, you’ll need to do the following:

  1. Open the notebook with the notes that you want to move.
  2. Tap the sidebar button in the top right corner.
  3. Tap “Edit.”
  4. Select the notes that you want to move.
  5. Tap the “More” button in the bottom right corner.
  6. Select “Move.”
  7. Find your destination notebook using the menu bar.
  8. Tap that notebook to (finally) relocate your notes.

The reason for all of this frustration is pretty simple: None of the menu options on the main screen are intended for notes — only notebooks. You can press and hold on a notebook to customize the notebook itself and even move it to a different category, but none of those options apply to the notes inside the notebook.

Noteshelf sees notes inside of notebooks as part of a different hierarchical structure, but the app doesn’t allow items of equivalent status in the hierarchy to interact with one another. For example, you can’t merge different notebooks, but you can move the pages from inside one notebook to another notebook. You can’t merge pages, but you can move the text from one page to another page.

It’s a confusing way to manage and merge documents, but Noteshelf isn’t the only perpetrator here. Both Goodnotes 5 and Notability are just as confusing when trying to move or merge documents. It’s just part of the process and something that you’ll have to learn in order to use the software effectively.

Quick Create

The “Quick Create” feature will help you create notebooks at lightning speed. While you can customize your settings, the main idea here is to help you get from the main menu to the note-taking screen as fast as possible. 

By default, pressing the “Quick Create” button will generate and open a notebook with a random cover and a default white page so that you can start taking notes quickly.

But remember: This option creates a notebook, not a note. If you’ve been following along so far, you’ll know that you will eventually need to move the pages following the method in the previous section to eliminate the notebook and keep things organized.

If you’re serious about minimizing clutter (even in your digital life), then you might want to create everything the way you like it right up front and save yourself the frustration of trying to merge and combine notes after the fact.

An image demonstrating the Noteshelf sidebar.
The sidebar contains all shortcuts and navigation to your notes and notebooks.

Sidebar

The sidebar is your primary navigation option when it comes to sorting your notebooks and accessing documents quickly. Using the sidebar, you can view and open recent documents. You can also add folders in the “Categories” section. Then, by pressing and holding on to a notebook in the thumbnail menu, you can move that notebook to a specific folder.

This is great if you’re using a variety of notebooks for different purposes. For example, if you were using a notebook for every college class, but you also used Noteshelf to take meeting notes at work, it might make sense to create a “School” and “Work” category folder to make navigation easier.

However, this kind of categorization only goes so far. Similar to Notability, Noteshelf won’t allow you to add subfolders to your categories. However, you can create something called “Groups” which is Noteshelf’s way of organizing categorized folders into a final segment. Group notebooks are combined under a grouped title, but there are no additional customization options to separate them.

Hierarchically, this means that you can create a category, house notebooks in that category, and house the relevant notes inside those notebooks. If the notebooks are similar, you could group them together. But that’s as far as it goes.

When would this be useful? Let’s say you had a “College” folder, and you had a notebook for every class. At some point, it might make sense to group those notebooks together by subject (ex: Lit 101 & Lit 102), so that you knew where to find all notebooks pertaining to a specific area of study.

If you’re looking for a way to nest folders inside of folders, GoodNotes 5 is the only app we’ve seen (so far) that offers that kind of functionality.

The sidebar also allows you to access your settings (covered in greater detail below) by tapping on the gear icon in the upper left corner.

The last, and potentially most useful, item that you’ll find in the sidebar is the trash can. This is where you can throw your old notebooks when you’re done with them. While notebooks are in the trash, you can’t open the notes inside them, but it’s easy to restore them until you delete them permanently.

A screenshot of the search toolbar and recent search functionality.
The search bar allows you to search notes and note contents thanks to Noteshelf's optical character recognition (OCR).

Searching

The main search bar is located on the selection menu with all of your notebooks. This is a powerful tool that helps you navigate through your notebooks with speed and precision.

As you create your notes, Noteshelf’s built-in OCR scans and indexes them for easy search and recovery. The app does this for scanned documents, handwritten notes, and typed text — and it’s pretty good at it, even if you have terrible handwriting.

It takes a few minutes for your note to become searchable after it has been created, but search results are instant once everything has been scanned and indexed.

While you can scan every document by using the main search bar, you can also limit the scan to a specific notebook by opening that notebook and accessing the right sidebar. The search function located there will only return results from the selected notebook.

The one minor frustration that we have with the search bar comes from the way the interface is set up. If you’re on the main screen, you’ll have to close the sidebar in order to access the search function.

An iPad displaying the Noteshelf setting screen.

04. Customization & Storage

Noteshelf comes equipped with a ton of user-friendly settings to help you customize your experience and create great notes in the process.

From adjusting the appearance of the app to changing the stylus you use to syncing with different cloud services, Noteshelf gives you the options you need to make your workspace your own.

An image depicting the Noteshelf appearance selection menu.
Noteshelf offers multiple color schemes and combinations.

Appearance and UI

The images we’ve used throughout this walkthrough so far have used a dark gray background and a black interface. There’s actually a good reason for that. With the release of iOS 13, Noteshelf officially gained support for Apple’s Dark Mode.

This feature is located in the display settings on your iPad, and Noteshelf changes its appearance based on that preference. If you’re looking for a version of Noteshelf with a white background, change from Dark Mode to Light Mode and Noteshelf will automatically shift with it.

Aside from that major change, Noteshelf does come equipped with a variety of customization options in the user interface, but this feature is really focused on changing the color of your top bar compared to the rest of your background. Since we’re night owls here at Paperlike, we’ve chosen the black-on-black setting to make things easier on the eyes.

Aside from that, you won’t see much else in the way of customization. There is no way to change the basic layout of Noteshelf. You’re locked into using a thumbnail view for all of your notebooks, and you can’t resize or change the layout. There is no list mode like you’d see in GoodNotes (optional) or Notability (default).

If you’re looking for maximum control over how you view your content, Noteshelf won’t give you many customization options here. That said, the thumbnail view is probably the best way to keep things organized, based on how Noteshelf functions. A list view or similar functionality would further complicate the interface.

An image depicting the Noteshelf handwriting style selection menu.
Everyone writes differently, and Noteshelf adjusts for that based on the handwriting style you choose.

Handwriting

Noteshelf’s handwriting style and customization options are top-notch. Not only can you select one of six different writing styles (based on how you hold your stylus), but you can also change the handwriting recognition engine that Noteshelf uses to parse your text.

As far as selecting a handwriting style, you’ll just tap the image that looks most similar to how you write. The system is still responsive, even if you forget to do this, but selecting the correct writing style helps with palm rejection and navigation.

For handwriting recognition, the sheer number of different languages supported really makes Noteshelf a universal app. You’ll find everything from US/UK English all the way to Turkish, Norwegian, various forms of Chinese, and more.

An image depicting the Noteshelf stylus customization menu.
While the Apple Pencil may be the go-to choice for many users, Adonit and Wacom pens are also an option.

Stylus

For stylus support, Noteshelf offers compatibility with three separate brands: Apple, Adonit, and Wacom.

We tested the app with an Apple Pencil 2, and the results were what you’d expect from using an Apple-branded product on an Apple-made device. 

Some newer functionality, like the double-tap action that allows users to switch between tools, felt like it made some of the auto-switching features in Noteshelf redundant, but those options could be customized from this menu.

Noteshelf also offers support for various third-party stylus options, like the Adonit Jot and the Wacom Bamboo series.

Everything Else

Most of the other options in the menu are straightforward. Noteshelf allows you to connect to multiple backup and storage options, including iCloud, Dropbox, Evernote, OneDrive, and Google Drive. 

You can automatically back up your data to any of these third-party services in addition to syncing across iCloud — which is important if you’re planning to use Noteshelf on your iPhone, Apple Watch, or with the Mac app.

The app also connects with Apple Schoolwork and allows teachers to create assignments in Noteshelf specifically for content inside the Schoolwork app. Students can download content from the Schoolwork app and work on it in Noteshelf. While this compatibility is unique to Noteshelf, it only works when the institution is signed up for Apple School.

A note-taker writes on an iPad using Noteshelf.

05. How Does It Compare?

Competition is pretty stiff in the note-taking space. There are a lot of great apps out there vying for your attention (and your notes).

So how does Noteshelf compare to other popular apps on the market?

A title card for the GoodNotes 5 comparison section.

GoodNotes 4 & GoodNotes 5

Noteshelf is definitely closer to GoodNotes than anything else. If anything, it feels like a streamlined version of the GoodNotes app — and we mean that in the best possible way. 

For example, much of Noteshelf’s interfacing and design feels very similar to the GoodNotes formatting and layout, but Noteshelf lacks the ability to create nested folders and doesn’t provide additional functionality around organization or sorting. For power users with a ton of notebooks or who want to organize content in a very specific way, this could be a dealbreaker.

On the other hand, Noteshelf’s search tools are top-notch, and you don’t need to keep everything perfectly organized in order to find what you want. All you really need to do is search for it and trust Noteshelf to find it.

The biggest disappointments we saw in Noteshelf were blurred lines upon resizing the text. GoodNotes has solved this problem. When you resize text in GoodNotes, the graphics engine ensures that it’s sharp and crisp every single time. Unfortunately, Noteshelf is lagging behind in this area.

Lastly, GoodNotes has a leg up on customization options when working with tools. Noteshelf took its cues from Notability by offering preselected sizing for its writing tools. GoodNotes uses sliders so that users can designate the precise size for any pen or eraser. That being said, Noteshelf offers a selection of options that will help you get the job done, but you won’t find as many bells and whistles as you will inside GoodNotes.

A title card for the Notability comparison section.

Notability

One of the things that we really love about Notability is the practicality of the app. It’s simple, clean, and straightforward.

To put it simply: Notability is all about notes, not notebooks. Notability is a no-frills way to handle notes and note-taking. Compared with Noteshelf, that’s still true. Noteshelf has more customization options than Notability when it comes to the presentation and storage of notes. Whereas Notability relies on a sidebar and a list view, Noteshelf uses notebooks, some folders, and grouping to keep things neat and tidy.

The end result is that Notability feels, in many ways, like Apple Notes on steroids. Noteshelf has a more comfortable and customizable interface, which makes it more attractive for long-term use.

Noteshelf has fewer options when it comes to small things like the maximum size of the eraser, and Notability’s audio recording feature is superior to the functionality offered by Noteshelf (and pretty much every other note-taking app on the market). If you’re serious about recorded audio, Notability is still the way to go.

Lastly, just like GoodNotes, Notability has solved the problem of resizing text without blurring the writing. Noteshelf still has some work to do here to meet this standard.

[Still trying to figure out what app is best for you? Check out our comparison between GoodNotes and Notability!]

06. Noteshelf Review: Summary

There are a lot of great things to say about Noteshelf. Whether you’re using it on a small iPad Air or the huge iPad Pro, the tools and their preselected sizing options are more than enough to meet your needs.

The app interface feels responsive and versatile. It would be easy to take notes, sketch doodles, and use digital planners inside Noteshelf without issue. Plus, the free customization options and downloads add even more variety to an already-sizable collection of covers and paper styles.

The UI is hit-and-miss. On the one hand, you’ll find some clever implementations like the favoriting system for tools, where you can select the tool type, color, and size and then save it for easy reuse. The toolbar atop the magnifying glass makes the tool so much easier to use, and it’s a shame that other apps haven’t followed Noteshelf’s lead on menu design, layout, and execution.

On the other hand, Noteshelf has its fair share of little annoyances. Hiding the search tool behind the sidebar view on the main screen is frustrating, as is the fact that audio notes start recording the second that the feature is added to a document. The lack of organizational options will be a dealbreaker for some, and the process that it takes to combine notes from separate notebooks feels like a monumental effort until you realize exactly what is going on behind the scenes. Plus, some features feel poorly implemented. You can use bookmarks in Noteshelf, but the functionality is difficult to locate, and they don’t really serve a major purpose.

The absolute worst comes down to the fuzziness when resizing handwritten content. When it happens, it’s annoying and it stands out on the page. Plus, given that the other major players in the space have solved this issue, it feels like Noteshelf is lagging behind on one of the most important features of any digital note-taking app: The ability to organize and resize text after the note-taking is done while still maintaining crisp image quality.

Our Recommendation

Noteshelf has a lot of great features but, as an app, it feels like it’s trying to walk a tightrope between GoodNotes and Notability. Clearly, the app tries to take the best of both worlds and create a streamlined/simplified experience that it can call its own.

And it mostly succeeds. In exchange, what you really get when using Noteshelf almost feels like “GoodNotes Lite.”

Because of how Noteshelf has positioned itself in the market, it’s difficult to find an area where it really outshines the competition. At the same time, it’s also hard to determine exactly what the app could do in order to innovate in this space. The developers could make minor improvements to the UI to smooth out some trouble areas, but those aren’t game-changing improvements that set it apart from other apps on the market.

Bottom line: Noteshelf is worth a try. 

If you love the UI and the cross-compatibility between Android, iOS, watchOS, and macOS, it may be a great fit!

But, no matter what app you use to take notes on your iPad, don’t forget that you can drastically improve your experience by using a Paperlike! 

Our screen protector transforms the iPad's slick, glass surface into something that feels just like real paper. It’s a must for note-takers, artists, and creative professionals who want to use their iPad more effectively in class and on the job.

Pick up your own Paperlike today!