PenUltimate Review: Solid Functionality
Penultimate , from Cocoa Box Design, is the app that I have settled on for meetings in my day job. [What, you thought I wrote app reviews for a living? I wish!] Out of a field of many notetaking contenders, Penultimate was the one that did what I needed it to do. Specifically, Penultimate takes notes and takes them well, and it doesn’t clutter the experience with lots of unneeded bells and whistles. While it may not be the fanciest notetaking app in the App Store, it’s definitely first-class.
Reviewer’s note: Everything I’m about to say about Penultimate assumes the use of a stylus. Frankly, taking quality notes with a finger is an exercise in futility with any app, and not even a great app like Penultimate is going to change that.
As a notetaking app, Penultimate offers up a well-designed core of tools and utilities. It allows you to take notes in 8 different colors with three different pen tips on a variety of paper types [3 types upon purchase, with the ability to either purchase additional papers or create your own]. You can write and erase, of course; add pages and change paper types; save and e-mail notebooks or pages of notebooks as either a PDF or the app’s unique .pen format.
Its pen algorithms are extremely well-executed. I’ve tried many notetaking apps, and so far I like Penultimate’s pen the best. It smooths your jagged scrawl, but not too much; it’s a point of finese and subtelty, but PenUltimate seems to get it nailed just right. In addition, the wrist-detection on Penultimate — vital if you’re writing with a stylus — works better than the wrist-protection on any other app I’ve seen the feature on. I have a big, meaty wrist, and in past apps the wrist detection has been haphazard because of it. Not on Penultimate.
When you’re done, you can share out Penultimate notebooks as either a PDF file, or as a native PEN formatted file. Presumably, the latter is for sharing notes with another Penultimate user, though to be honest I’ve never had a need to do so. The PDF conversion functions fine; I only wish it could make my handwriting look better!
Now, there’s no denying that Penultimate is a bare-bones notetaker. It has pens, it has papers, it has … an eraser? Yeah, that’s about it. It lacks some features that other apps tout — text recognition, inserting text boxes, highlighting, etc. But for an app like Penultimate, that could be seen as a blessing, not a curse. Penultimate is designed to be a “launch and get to work” app. If I’m quickly taking notes in the middle of a meeting, I don’t need lots of complicated features that require me to be selecting and re-selecting a bunch of options. I want a few core functions that I can access and adjust on-the-fly, at the speed of the meeting. Penultimate delivers that core, and delivers it very well.
That said, There are things I’d like to see in Penultimate. For one, multi-touch gestures — and specifically, I’d like to see something like two-finger page turning implemented. The only way to turn a page in Penultimate is to swipe the lower edge of the page (or the left side in landscape orientation). It’s not a bad solution, but the zone is small and it kills my writing rhythm sometimes, especially if I swipe too high and end up drawing extra lines across my page. Two-finger swipe turning would be awesome, and it would let me flip the page faster and more intuitively. I’d also like a typing tool of some sort, for when my handwriting just isn’t going to cut it. And finally, I would love to see some finer pen tip controls and eraser tip controls, maybe with something like adjustable slide bars in addition to quick-select sizes. These things would make Penultimate sing.
Penultimate’s bare-bones nature, however, may leave some power users wanting; and those users would be advised to try out other, more robust apps. But if you’re looking for the handwriting equivalent of the Notes app, with no fuss and no problems, than Penultimate is the app you want on your iPad. Coupled with a stylus, it is top-notch for reliable, casual, and quick notetaking. It’s one of those apps I always recommend to new iPad buyers, practically a must-have for anyone looking to increase the productivity quotient of their new device.
Our Score: 4.5 out of 5
PenUltimate Photo Gallery
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