Have you ever tried to use your Chromebook for note-taking with a stylus? Some devices are more suited to the task than others, with the Lenovo Chromebook Duet being the best, in my opinion. There are a lot of pen-enabled apps that you can use, but which ones are truly the best? Today, we’re going to tell you which three we think are the most featureful and provide the best experience on Chromebooks. Then, we’ll give you a few runners up that you can try out as well. If you’re interested in seeing which apps are best for sketching and drawing on a Chromebook, you can check out our round-up for that as well. Let us know in the comments if you feel we missed any note-taking apps that you use or recommend!
The king of the hill, by far, is Squid Notes. This app is really the go-to for testing for pen latency on a Chromebook because, well, there is none. Where others have failed, Squid has somehow created a perfectly optimized app that – aside from the fact that you’re drawing on glass – feels like you’re drawing on paper. There’s no delay between what you’re thinking and what you’re writing and that’s probably the most vital feature of such an app. I won’t gush much longer over this, because you can just read our review from a few years ago. It’s stood the test of time and the fact that we’re still talking about it today, says something.
For just one dollar per month, you can also use it to sign PDFs. There is the ability to create individual notebooks to separate your work, but compared to Noteshelf, it’s pretty bare. While it has great features, its speed is truly the reason to be excited about it. Besides, Chromebook owners get it for free for six months! If you’re an educator, there’s also an EDU version with special bulk pricing because Google does not support payments from Play apps through Google Workspace for Education.
Every now and then an app comes along that I feel has great potential, but many people don’t get a chance to see it. Noteshelf is that app. I first discovered it via the Chromebook Perks page years ago and instantly loved it. Some of its best features include separate notebooks with unique covers paper types that feel more tangible than that of Squid Notes, rich text formatting, smart shapes, the ability to mark up PNG, JPG or PDF files, audio recording and backup to Dropbox or Google Drive.
The best thing is that the paper doesn’t zoom in and out on you as you try to write as Google Keep does. You can pinch and zoom on the paper, but there’s quick access to a pen-only mode that disables touch input while you write with your stylus. Aside from your Chromebook shelf sliding upward (please fix this, Google), Noteshelf is the app that feels the most like a real notebook to me – and I’ve tried what I believe are all of the top apps. A big differentiator here is that the pen tracks well with my intentions when I write much smaller whereas Bamboo Paper does not, even after buying Wacom’s pro pack to get more writing utensils.
Lastly, there is an awesome store where you can buy extra page templates, paper types, and notebook covers. This means that you can easily customize your journals for a wide range of use cases. There are templates for parents, students, travel, home planning, creativity, and logging workouts, to name a few. Apart from it having a tiny bit of latency compared to Squid, this app would have my top pick for its level of personalization.
By far the cleanest and most professional – yet still somehow cozy – note-taking app is Bamboo Paper by Wacom. It prominently features your digital notebooks on a carousel and allows you to customize their cover and paper type similar to how Noteshelf does. Their built-in store features packs of paper, notebook covers, and pens that are themed to different types of people – the thinker, the maker, the artist, and the writer – but if you’re serious about using this app, just buy the Pro Pack for $5.49 because it includes them all. I just wish the notebooks came with the sweet image strips they advertise in the store or the ability to add your own.
Bamboo Paper can be used for note-taking or drawing, so as an artist, it wins points from me there. Also, I own several bamboo products, so I like the synchronicity between them with Wacom’s proprietary service called Inkspace (which I keep typing out as Inkscape). Inkspace allows you to synchronize your notes and drawings across the cloud and turn them into image, vector, or video file formats that you can then edit in any program. It works in harmony with their Bamboo Slate and Bamboo Folio smartpads and Intuos Pro Paper Edition pen tablet so that you don’t have to sacrifice the joy of drawing on real paper or a standard graphics tablet if your main computer for creative design is a Mac or Windows.
For those wondering how this app handles palm rejection while taking notes, a pen-only mode was added just this month and it works pretty well. Because I can gripe twice in one day about the Chrome OS shelf sliding up while writing, I will. Google, pretty please find a way to lock the shelf gesture while an active stylus is in use. I don’t know how you’ll do it, but I believe in you – we all do.
More note-taking apps
At this point, you may be wondering why we haven’t placed Google Keep as one of our top three picks. Those of you who have tried to use Keep for note-taking with a stylus probably already understand our frustrations with it. The app’s palm rejection is pretty terrible and no matter what you do, you can’t prevent the page from zooming in or out as you try to type. I love Keep’s simplicity and the fact that it syncs with my Google account, so it’s great for typing out quick ideas, but I don’t really think anyone serious about using their Chromebook to take notes should consider using its pen-based features. It breaks my heart to say that, but Google really needs to revisit the app and add page zoom locking, pressure sensitivity, rich text markup, and more before it becomes a serious contender.
Other great note-taking apps for your Chromebook include INKredible, Evernote, OneNote, and even Nebo, but this one is only compatible with specific Chromebooks and active styli. If you’re into the idea of having a physical notebook that coincides with a digital space and of keeping them in sync with one another, you can try out Moleskin Notes or Rocketbook.