Noteshelf 2 Review 
Our Noteshelf review article was originally published in 2019 and most recently updated in March 2022.
The plethora of digital notetaking apps have made it easier than ever to get your thoughts on the page.
That’s especially true if you’re trying to replace notebooks and laptops with an iPad or Android tablet.
But with so many options to choose from, which app is best for taking notes and jotting reminders?
We’ve already compared GoodNotes and Notability, two notetaking 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!) notetaking apps on the market today.
Let’s get to it!
Like most other apps, a great part of Noteshelf’s usability is defined by its tools. Fortunately, this app comes with everything you need to take great notes.
Here’s a closer look at each of the major tools that Noteshelf provides to help you get your thoughts onto the page.
#caption#The four different styles of pen options allow you to customize and stylize your handwritten notes.
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 - The standard ballpoint pen is the default writing instrument in Noteshelf. While it draws clear lines that are easy to see, the strokes are slightly soft around the edges and can appear fuzzy, especially when used at larger sizes.
- Fine-Tip - The fine-tip pen is similar to the ballpoint, but it offers thinner lines and less bleed. This results in crisper, clearer lines compared to the ballpoint pen.
- Calligraphy - The calligraphy pen creates the kind of stylized writing that you’d expect from a specialized nib. The pen tip is angled, creating classic, calligraphic linework while you write. This is a great pen when you want writing that is both pretty and legible.
- Pencil - Compared to the other pen options, the pencil stroke looks grainy, but this is by design and will give notes taken with this tool a very unique feel. While all of Noteshelf’s pen tools are pressure-sensitive, the result is most obvious when using this variation.
Each pen has nine predefined sizing options built-in. If you tap on the pen size slider, the app will automatically adjust the pen to the size nearest to your tap. You can also adjust the size to taste by sliding the indicator left or right to suit your preference.
Color selection is different. While there are preset colors at the bottom of the selection menu, you can double-tap on any color to customize it. You can even add hex codes to get the exact color that you want and save it to the quick-select menu.
Protip: You can save any combination of pen, nib size, and color to the favorites menu by tapping on the little heart on the right side of the customization menu.
One last thing to note here: Writing with any notetaking app can be difficult if you’re unaccustomed to a glass screen. Noteshelf does its best to account for this challenge, but you can drastically improve the experience by using a Paperlike to change the slick surface of your iPad into a texture that feels like real paper.
#caption#The highlighter tool offers both round and slanted markup options, as well as various color options.
As with other notetaking apps, the highlighter is used to annotate specific sections of your text. This is particularly useful when you need to emphasize details within your notes or import PDF files into Noteshelf and you want to accentuate specific sections of the text.
Like the pen tool, the highlighter comes with various customization options around size and styling. With the highlighter, you’ll have two styles — round and slanted — along with six pre-set sizing options on an adjustable slider.
You can also select any color you prefer for your highlighter. Noteshelf will apply that color to your document in a reduced opacity so that the darker colors won’t hide the text. You can also darken the highlighted area by highlighting it more than once.
Protip: Enable the “Draw Straight Lines” toggle to ensure that your markings neatly cover the text you want to highlight.
Once you’ve built your highlighter the way you want, don’t forget to save it to your favorites bar for easy access.
#caption#Using the eraser tool comes with a variety of selection tools, including stroke-based and highlighter-only erasing.
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 notetaking experience and quickly clear mistakes off the page.
The eraser comes with three different sizing options as well as an “Auto” feature. The automatic feature doesn’t erase an entire line or delete an entire stroke. (There’s a separate setting for that.) Instead, it simply resizes the eraser to the size necessary to erase any detected keystroke in the surface area.
Unfortunately, the setback here is that the eraser only resizes itself up to the largest size available, 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. The “Clear Page” option is great if you’re looking to start fresh. The lasso tool (discussed below) can also help you quickly clear large blocks of text that the eraser can’t effectively handle.
On the upside, the eraser offers some advanced options:
- Erase Entire Stroke
- 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.
You’ll also see an “Auto-select previous tool” toggle. The auto-switch feature is great if you’re just erasing one stroke, but it can get annoying if you need to erase more because the tool switches back automatically as soon as the stylus nib leaves the glass.
Protip: Apple Pencil (2nd Generation) users can ignore this feature since the Apple Pencil already has a built-in tap-to-switch feature (enabled in Settings). When you’re done erasing, just tap the body of the Apple Pencil twice to switch back to the pen.
#caption#The text box tool and font customization interface can help you quickly add written text to your note.
Noteshelf’s text display options are excellent.
The functionality and organization in Noteshelf’s layout just make sense. Text boxes are easy to resize, and formatting your text is intuitive and simple, with bold, italic, underlining, and options quickly accessible.
But Noteshelf doesn’t stop there.
You can also indent text, add bulleted/numbered lists, and align boxed text based on your preferences. Customizing the text style happens in one place, and the customization options come with a huge selection of fonts, colors, and more.
While Noteshelf already has preselected 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.
Protip: After you finish customizing everything, you can save your settings, so they’re ready to go for your next note.
All of these options are extremely useful if you’re using the “Convert To Text” feature (more on this below) because they give you the ability to condense your text into a format that is easy to read and understand.
#caption#With the selection tool, you can select, move, or resize anything in your document.
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 need to make more room on the page, the selection tool can help. 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. Oftentimes, enlarging your keystrokes makes the text look blurry, something we didn’t expect since Noteshelf uses a vector-based graphic engine.
2. Text conversion is weird. Based on the size of the font, “Convert To Text” tries to find a font size similar to the writing itself, but it often guesses incorrectly and creates text that is much larger than expected.
Protip: In the “Convert To Text” menu, change the “Font Size” to “Default,” and it will automatically convert to the saved font size in your text tool.
Overall, the selection tool is an essential and unavoidable part of the app. It gets the job done for simple moves and organization.
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.
You’ll find important and useful features, like a zoom box, shapes, audio recording, document scanning, presentation mode, and more.
#caption#The zoom box can help you get up close and personal with your text.
The zoom box is a lifesaver when you need to write smaller text. This is also a great way to get a closeup of existing text if you’re parsing a document for notes.
You can access this feature by clicking on the “More” icon (the ellipsis icon on the righthand side of the menu bar) and switching the “Zoom Box” toggle to green.
A magnifying glass will appear in the bottom right corner of the app. Tap on it, and the zoom box will appear on the bottom half of your screen.
Protip: The zoom box is highly customizable. Use the zoom box toolbar settings to adjust the position of the margins, the line spacing, the position of the buttons on the screen, and disable the auto-advance option.
While this feature will help you write smaller notes, you may need more than just a close-up view of the page to do it. A Paperlike adds friction and resistance (just like real paper) to improve accuracy and precision while you write. Grab yours today.
#caption#Toggling the shape tool allows you to draw perfect shapes and straight lines in Noteshelf.
As you might expect, the shape tool helps you draw shapes on the page. This is particularly useful for drawing a box around a specific set of notes or illustrating something with a simple diagram.
This tool works well 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 drawing isn’t precise.
The shapes drawn by this tool aren’t automatically proportional, meaning that it’s possible to draw imperfect but necessary shapes, such as an isosceles triangle or a long, short rectangle.
Protip: While you can use this tool to draw straight lines, you don’t have to. Toggle “Hold to Convert to Shape” in pen tool settings to draw straight lines and convert shapes without switching to this specialized tool.
#caption#Audio recording is a powerful Noteshelf tool. When you activate it, the recording icon will automatically appear on your screen. This icon can be moved like a normal object on the page.
Noteshelf’s ability to record audio while taking notes can be a huge timesaver, but it comes with a few caveats.
While Noteshelf will allow you to capture audio on a specific page, the audio isn’t linked to the text on playback in the way you’d experience with Notability.
Access and activation aren’t easy, either. There are two ways to do it:
- 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.
- 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” from the “Add Media” window.
In both cases, the audio will activate automatically, 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.
As with Notability, it’s possible to record multiple audio notes inside a single notebook. You can even add them to the same page! If you do this, you’ll see multiple audio note icons (the microphone surrounded by a circle) appear on the page that you can move to any place on the screen.
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, allowing you to annotate PDFs or write and draw on pictures.
As an added bonus, the built-in optical character recognition (OCR) will scan your imported document and catalog the text. When you import PDFs, this makes them searchable within Noteshelf, which is a great feature to have when you’re trying to stay organized.
#caption#Noteshelf’s presentation mode allows you to share your screen with an audience.
This tool allows you to share your screen via Airplay or an external display, and it turns your app into a whiteboard.
To activate, click on the projector icon (last icon in the center section of the menu bar) to activate this feature. This will open a menu that allows you to hide the UI from your audience for a distraction-free presentation.
There are two tools available to you to aid in your presentation:
- The Laser pointer allows you to easily draw attention to any point on the screen. It comes in three different colors, all of which are visible on any page or background.
- The Pen tool allows you to make annotations on the screen. It is especially helpful if you’re demonstrating how to solve a math problem or sketching out an idea for your audience.
#caption#Interactive checklists in Noteshelf allow you to check off boxes.
Other Useful Tools
Noteshelf also offers a few more useful features, such as a read-only mode, movable favorites toolbar, and interactive checklists.
Read-only mode allows you to hide your toolbar. When this is enabled, you won’t be able to draw on the page or add additional handwritten notes to your file. 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. It’s also essential when you’re using a digital planner or digital calendar and you need to navigate using hyperlinks.
The movable favorites toolbar allows you to completely customize your experience. Not only can you add all your favorite pen, highlighter, and other settings, you can also move the toolbar to anywhere on the page that makes sense for you.
Interactive checklists also make it even easier to keep track of your shopping lists or to-dos. Instead of using bullet points, you can create checkboxes and mark them off once the item is completed.
When you’re searching for the best notetaking 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.
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. This is different from GoodNotes, where imported documents are treated as standalone files, and it can complicate your organization if you aren’t careful.
Notebooks come equipped with a ton of fun customization options. You can give them a title and choose their cover and default page setup. Noteshelf features a variety of default page and cover designs, including templates for digital diaries and digital planners.
Protip: Sign up with Noteshelf Club via the app to access even more free designs and paper templates.
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.
Noteshelf’s organizational structure only goes so far. You can create categories from the sidebar and then press and hold on to a notebook in the thumbnail menu to move that notebook to a specific folder.
This is great if you’re using Noteshelf in multiple scenarios. For example, say you were taking notes at both work and school. In those situations, it might make sense to create a “School” and “Work” category folder to make navigation easier.
Similar to Notability, Noteshelf won’t allow you to add subfolders to your categories. What you can do is create something called “Groups,” which is another way to organize your notes.
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 know where to find all notebooks pertaining to a specific area of study.
You can go even further by creating groups inside groups, with as many subgroups as you want.
Moving Things in Noteshelf
Merging and migrating notes inside Noteshelf is something of a challenge because every note is a notebook.
To shuffle your notes from one notebook to another, you can either copy/paste or use the edit function, but neither of these methods is intuitive.
Noteshelf doesn’t provide many workarounds, unfortunately. But, while you can’t merge different notebooks and you can’t merge notebook pages, you can move the pages from one notebook to another. Overall, these limitations can create difficulties during document management.
However, it’s worth pointing out that Noteshelf isn’t the only perpetrator here. Both Goodnotes 5 and Notability have their own confusing processes when trying to merge and manage notes.
It’s just part of the process and something that you’ll have to learn in order to use the software effectively.
The “Quick Note” 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 notetaking screen as fast as possible.
Noteshelf has revamped its Add Menu, so it’s even easier to start notes quickly. Just double-tap the plus icon to skip the selection menu and immediately open a quick note.
Quick notes 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 (because everything is actually a notebook). This can eventually lead to issues when it’s time to manage and organize your notes (see the previous section for more detail).
If you’re serious about minimizing clutter, it’s worth taking the time to create everything the way you like and save yourself from the frustration of trying to merge and combine notes after the fact.
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.
Protip: 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.
You can also use bookmarks in Noteshelf to mark important pages in your notes, but this feature is limited. As with Notability, this functionality is difficult to locate and doesn’t seem to promote fast navigation or better organization.
#caption#Noteshelf’s settings menu will help you set everything up according to your preferences.
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 or syncing with different cloud services, Noteshelf gives you the options you need to make your workspace your own.
#alt#A screenshot of the appearance interface with two rows of top bar color options. There’s also a toggle to “Show Date on Shelf.”
Appearance & UI
Noteshelf comes 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.
As a default, you’ll have a white background with a choice of colors for the top bar. If you prefer a black background, you can change from Light Mode to Dark Mode in the display settings on your iPad and Noteshelf will automatically shift with it.
Since we’re night owls here at Paperlike, we’ve chosen the black-on-black setting to make things easier on the eyes.
Noteshelf doesn’t offer any way to change the basic layout. You’re locked into using a thumbnail view for all of your notebooks, and you can’t resize or change the layout.
This is a miss since many other apps (GoodNotes, Notability, Apple Notes) all provide options for switching between a list and gallery view.
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. Even if you forget to do this, the system is still responsive, but selecting the correct writing style helps with palm rejection and navigation.
#caption#While the Apple Pencil may be the go-to choice for many users, Adonit and Wacom pens are also an option.
#alt#A screenshot of the Stylus UI depicting the Apple Pencil on a blue background in the top half of the screen. The bottom half includes the options, “Enable Apple Pencil,” “Pressure Sensitivity,” “Double-Tap Action,” and “Support.”
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.
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 also 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 the Mac app.
How Does it Compare?
Competition is pretty stiff in the notetaking 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?
Advantages of Noteshelf
There are a lot of great things to say about Noteshelf. Whether you’re using it on an iPad Air or iPad Pro, the tools are more than enough to meet your needs. Let’s quickly recap what we love most about this app.
- Advanced customization. Noteshelf offers a variety of page templates, notebook covers, and tools. You can even customize the color and sizing of the pen and other tools.
- Favorites Toolbar. This feature is unique to Noteshelf, and it’s very well done. It’s a huge time saver when using different pen types or sizing combinations to designate specific sections of text.
- Zoom Box. Overall, Noteshelf has a better interface than other notetaking 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.
- Selective Eraser. The ability to erase only the highlighter is super helpful. Both GoodNotes 5 and Notability also have this feature, and it’s nice to see it in Noteshelf.
- Audio Recording. Recording audio and adding it to your notes is a big help, especially if you’re a student. However, unlike Notability, which syncs audio playback to the text as you write it, Noteshelf’s audio file is just a simple and straightforward playback.
- Cross-platform. One of the biggest selling points for Noteshelf is its ubiquity. This app is on all Mac devices (including Apple Watch) and on Android devices, something that you just don’t see with most other notetaking apps.
Although Noteshelf is one of the smaller digital notetaking apps, recently added features and upgrades have made it a contender. Plus, Noteshelf has a YouTube channel and a blog with tons of support and news that’ll help you make the most out of the app.
Main Limitations of Noteshelf
Noteshelf lacks a few of the features that serious notetakers who’ve used GoodNotes and Notability might expect. Let’s take a look at where this app falls short.
- Resizing issues. The biggest disappointments we saw in Noteshelf were blurred lines upon resizing the text. While other apps have mostly solved this problem, Noteshelf is lagging behind in this area.
- Paid app. Much like GoodNotes, Noteshelf doesn’t offer any kind of free trial or freemium option. You’ll have to pay for it to see if you like it and Noteshelf is consistently one of the most expensive apps in the notetaking market.
- Moving notes. While you can move your notes from one notebook to another, the process isn’t as simple as dragging and dropping. You’ll need to follow a complicated and time-consuming process if you need to reorganize.
Ultimately, you’ll need to decide which features are the most important to you and what you can live without.
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.” The biggest advantage that Noteshelf has over the other notetaking apps is that it works on all platforms, including Android. Neither GoodNotes nor Notability are compatible with Android devices, which makes Noteshelf the best option for those that want to take notes and access them everywhere.
Bottom line: Noteshelf is worth a try.
If you love the UI and the want a similar experience shared between Android, iOS, watchOS, and macOS, Noteshelf may be a great fit!
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Correction: Our initial review stated that Noteshelf was cross-compatible between iOS and Android devices, but we've been informed that's not the case. While Noteshelf is working on a fix, it's not possible to sync across platforms at this time. This article has been updated to reflect that change.