Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Taking Notes on a Touchscreen - Three Options Compared

iPads, Android tablets, and touchscreen laptops that fold flat make it easy for those who prefer to handwrite their notes to preserve those notes in a digital format. I've used Google Keep for this purpose for a number of years, but as a part of my on-going effort to feature more non-Google tools I spent last week trying out some other options. Here's what I determined about OneNote, Zoho Notebook, and Google Keep. (Evernote fans, I left it out because the free version limits how many devices you can use it on).

OneNote is the obvious choice for anyone who is using a Microsoft Surface or other Windows-based tablet. It is also available to use on iPads and on Android tablets. The option to have handwriting converted to text is an outstanding feature. Note that those of us with exceptionally sloppy handwriting don't always get accurate conversions from handwriting to text. Like all other notes in OneNote, your handwritten notes can be added into any of your notebooks.

Google Keep
If you're a G Suite for Education user, Google Keep is probably already on your radar. It has a handwriting input option that often is overlooked by new users. Just tap the pen icon to launch a handwriting screen. This option is now available in all versions of Google Keep. It doesn't have the handwriting-to-text function that OneNote offers. Keep is a solid choice for G Suite for Education users even without the handwriting-to-text function and fewer notebook organization options. If you're not married to G Suite for Education, OneNote has more options for you.

Zoho Notebook
Zoho Notebook doesn't have the name recognition of OneNote or Keep, but it is backed by a solid company with a reputation for developing excellent and reliable products. Of the three options featured here, Zoho Notebook has the most intuitive design or organization options of the three digital notebooks featured here. The downside to Zoho Notebook is that the handwriting option only appears on the Android and iOS platforms. If the handwriting option worked in the Chrome or Edge web browsers, I'd probably put it at the top of this list.

Applications for Education
When it comes to jotting down notes or sketching out my ideas, I prefer to do it by hand. I'm sure that you have students that feel the same way. For me it's partly because I started taking notes long before I could even dream about using a laptop, let alone a phone, to write notes. The other reason I like to use handwriting for notes and idea sketches is that many of the mind mapping programs I've tried are fine for displaying flowcharts, but they feel a little restrictive when I'm in the early phases of sketching out my ideas.

Of course, the obvious downside to taking notes on paper is that you then have to keep track of the physical notes and notebooks. That's not much of a problem for adults, but it is certainly a challenge for many students (have you looked inside a middle school student's backpack?). That is why the rise of touchscreen tablets and laptops is a boon to so many.