In 2020, Apple celebrates iPad's 10th birthday. Throughout the years, the device has become more and more powerful and very versatile. I got myself an iPad mini 5 years ago. It was mostly a reading and web browsing device. When the iPad Pro 2020 was announced on Apple's website, I jumped all in and bought the 11-inch model with an Apple pencil. I use it for many things, most notably, it as become the place where I take all my notes. And Nebo is perfect for that.
At first, when looking for a note taking app, I had a rather archaic vision. Since I was not used to taking notes on a tablet, my mind immediatly tried to figure out which desktop software company had made an iPad version of their app. Evernote or OneNote came to mind. Yet, in 2020, there had to be a better alternative that would embrace all the technology built in the Apple Pencil.
Like most people, when I am interested in a topic, I read reviews and watch tons of YouTube videos. As I was searching for a modern note-taking experience on the iPad, two references kept coming back among reviewers : Notability and Goodnotes.
Both apps feel very native on the iPad and both offer a great experience. And I realized that several YouTube reviewers kept comparing the two apps side by side, features by features, as if they were the only two best options on the market.
But they were missing something.
I'm not sure how it happened but I then stumbled upon Nebo, an app developed by French company MyScript. To be honest, considering the large media coverage given to Notability and Goodnotes, I was not expecting much. But when I fired it up and started using it. I was blown away.
When looking for a note-taking app, there are several things to consider depending on your needs. Mine were quite simple : the ability to quickly write down portions of text and to convert this handwriting note efficiently. I also wanted to be able to annotate those text fragments and to add sketches or images next to them. And this is precisely where Nebo excels.
On most note-taking apps, you start by writing down your text, then you select it and then you choose to convert it. To be honest, it's rarely perfect and you often have to correct a word or two. But then it usually learns your handwriting overtime and forces you to... well... to improve your writing ! At first, this can be discouraging. Besides, some of those apps simply were not smart enough to make the difference between French and English words. They'd come up with words from the wrong dictionary... I felt things had not evolved in 10 years...
Yet, in Nebo's case, this frustration is gone. In fact, MyScript has developed a technology which is so advanced that the converted text is shown to you on the fly, as you type ! Simply double tap on the screen and boom, it's all done ! And even if your handwriting hardly is readable, it just works. I guess one actually needs to try it to be blown away.
Then I discovered something interesting : MyScript actually sell their transcription engine to Notability and Goodnotes. This discreet company actually holds the true power ! BUT, they actually keep the most advanced features and algorithms for themselves, that is, for Nebo.
If you are looking for a feature-packed note-taking app, then Nebo might not be the solution for you. And that's probably why Notability or Goodnotes are so popular. For instance, you will not be able to import a PDF or a PowerPoint file in Nebo, nor can you take voice memos (you can, however, dictate your notes). Also you cannot choose many styles of backgrounds - a dark background would be awesome for instance.
However, Nebo enables you to create several notebooks. Each can be set up to a specfic language (66 to choose from). This is of course to optimize the text transcription. Inside each note you may import images, but you can also add a sketch, a diagram or even a complex math equation.
One interesting feature is the draft section. Simply draw a long line from the left edge of the iPad to its right edge and you'll get a bottom section that Nebo calls the "thinking mode". There, you can etch your sketches, copy them and arrange them in the upper part, alongside your text. With Nebo 2.7, you can even create a full free form page.
Nebo enables you to mix the pen and the keyboard in one line. Also, it was the first app to introduce special gestures like scratching a word or a letter to erase it. You can insert a break by drawing a straight vertical line downwards or join two words by drawing this vertical line upwards etc... The point is : Nebo is fluid and offers the best writing experience.
One interesting point is the export feature. Your notes can be exported as text, PDF or as Word documents. I believe those are pretty standard options among note-taking apps. Yet, one cool thing with Nebo is that you can choose to export your note as a HTML file.
This means that you can make a web page that contains properly aligned handwritings, converted texts, images and sketches. This make it the perfect solution for digital scrapbooking documents that you can view inside any web browser. Right now the exported HTML document is quite heavy though and their is no built-in FTP solution or Wordpress API. Besides you cannot preset a CSS design. However you can actually publish a note on MyScript's servers and get a shareable link. Anyways, there is a great potential here.
I discovered Nebo about a week after I bought the iPad Pro, that would be at the beginning of April. Then few weeks later, Apple held their virtual WWDC event and introduced Scribble for iPadOS 14. That technology also brings transcription on the fly within Apple's Notes app on the iPad.
I have not played with it much when trying iPadOS 14 public beta. For some reasons I was not particularly blown away by it, but that was at an early stage. After a nasty bug that erased any OS on my iPad, I moved back to iPadOS 13. However the system-wide handwriting technology looks interesting.
Will Apple sherlock Nebo ? It is way too early to tell. MyScript does not look too worried about that. In fact, I sometimes wonder whether they had been working with Apple on Scribble.
Despite the fact I was not used to taking notes on a tablet, Nebo quickly integrated my note taking routine. In fact, withing a month, I actually wrote a 100-page book right in Nebo. At the end of the day, I would go out for a beer, stay on the terrace for a hour or so and write a chapter everyday.
Because it comes with wonderful transcription engine and highly natural gestures, Nebo erases any kind of frustration. Using it feels more natural than typing on a keyboard in front of a screen. It did make me more productive.
The point is : instead of adding thousands of features to Nebo, MyScript has chosen to focus on a great experience and it actually seems to match Apple's historical vision for their software.
On a sidenote, Nebo is also available for Windows and Android.