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Last post Author Topic: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?  (Read 12709 times)

dr_andus

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Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« on: January 02, 2014, 07:28:47 PM »
I'm looking for a tablet + external keyboard + note-taking/writing app combination that would provide the best note-taking experience.

My requirements:

- I should be able to switch on the tablet + keyboard instantly (even in the middle of the night) to be able to take notes as quickly as possible. Hence netbooks, laptops etc. that require boot-up are not suitable.

- The keyboard should attach to the tablet and prop up the tablet firmly, so I can type in most situations, such as on a sofa, bed, my lap, moving vehicles etc. (i.e. not just on a perfectly flat and motionless surface). The keyboard should also serve as a folio case and provide protection to the screen and possibly the entire tablet.

- The keyboard should be as close as possible in size and function to a decent keyboard (like the Apple Wireless). Backlit keys or keyboard would be preferable, so it could be used in poor or low light conditions.

- The app should be minimalist, distraction-free, plain text, recognise Markdown, and sync with Dropbox but also have local copies for off-line use.

I have an iPad 1 and my favourite note-taking app (Nebulous Notes) stopped working satisfactorily on it, and many of the interesting apps now require iOS 6 or above, which is not available on iPad 1 (stuck with iOS 5). There are also performance issues with the iPad 1 now.

As I own some iOS apps already, my instinct is to go for an iPad Air with ZAGGkeys Folio with Backlit Keyboard, also because there seem to be many interesting note-taking and writing apps on there (Editorial, Byword etc.).

However, I'm completely ignorant about Android and Windows 8 tablets, keyboards, and apps, and this could be an opportunity to consider if better alternatives might exist before I lock myself in further with Apple. Would anyone have any Android/Windows suggestions for the above?

My budget is roughly what a 32GB wifi-only iPad Air costs now, plus the ZAGG keyboard. So unfortunately the Surface Pro is out of reach, as it's double of that.

Also, please don't suggest to me to use a pen and a paper notebook.  :) I have tried that already, and it's a nightmare to try to find a note within the ten notebooks I have with 200 pages each. Cheerio!

wraith808

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #1 on: January 02, 2014, 08:07:18 PM »
You might try a clamcase instead of the zagg.  I know you said not pen and paper... but you're angling towards keyboard which is only one way of electronic note taking.  Did you consider using a digitizer with a tablet solution?

mouser

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2014, 10:29:34 PM »
i like the question asked -- seems like that would be a nice setup to have.

i might suggest adding to the list of requirements, that the setup also make it easy to sync such notes between machines, that would be a nice benefit.

superboyac

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2014, 11:29:20 PM »
first of all, I would only use apple here as a last resort simply because of the closed nature of the file system.  I'll qualify that with this: if apple ALREADY has an app that does exactly what you want, get it.  if not, go with android.

the most flexible android tablet is the nexus 7.  if you need bigger and can wait, wait a little longer to get the next large nexus that comes out, nexus 10 or whatever.

with android, you can root it and get full access to the file system.  this opens up a lot of possibilities on the syncing end.  so even if you don't have good syncing in the app you like, you can set that up yourself with other apps like BTsync (which is awesome) or other things like FolderShare, or even just plain ol wifi or cable transfers.  the point is, the file system is open.  that's huge for me.

evernote is the easiest solution here, but it probably doesn't satisfy your more particular requirements.

Check out Simplenote:
http://simplenote.com/

Seems pretty good.

keyboard shouldn't be an issue at all.  find the best bluetooth keyboard you like, and it should work fine.

paulobrabo

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2014, 11:46:50 PM »
Hence netbooks, laptops etc. that require boot-up are not suitable.

You must consider that nowadays most netbooks (like my little Samsung running Windows 7 Home) don't require boot-up at all. You just open the lid and start working. In fact I've chosen a netbook instead of a tablet because I use mine mostly for writing, and the sturdiness of the keyboard was priority one in my own list of requirements.

As for notetaking, I use Wiznote -- cloud-synced but with full local access.
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fgrieser

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2014, 04:21:10 AM »
@Paulo

Which netbook do you have? All the Windows (XP and 7) netbooks I tried, were not instant-on.

Thanks, Franz

techidave

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #6 on: January 03, 2014, 05:07:09 AM »
how about a Google Chromebook?  I am using the Samsung Model 303 which is 11.6" screen and about as close to instant on as you will find in a laptop.  I do not know if they are available with backlit keyboards.  I understand there is a touchscreen version available.

you can choose an app that will sync with the cloud so that your data is available to you from anywhere, any type of device.

the keyboard on it is much better than the keyboard on my wife's Surface RT tablet.

dr_andus

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #7 on: January 03, 2014, 05:28:29 AM »
You might try a clamcase instead of the zagg.

Thanks. Looks good but it's not out yet for iPad Air and also I'm in the UK, so I suspect it will take a few more months to get here.

Did you consider using a digitizer with a tablet solution?
Interesting suggestion. Do you have any particular tablet + software in mind to do this with? I presume this would use handwriting recognition? The last time I used that was with my Palm T|X...

i might suggest adding to the list of requirements, that the setup also make it easy to sync such notes between machines, that would be a nice benefit.

Yes, actually that's why I said plain text with Dropbox. To me that seems to be the best option, as long as the app does a good job of managing local copies (Nebulous Notes does).

if apple ALREADY has an app that does exactly what you want, get it.  if not, go with android.

iOS do seem to have some very nice apps. I'd be perfectly happy with Nebulous Notes if it hadn't stopped working properly with iPad 1. My main concern is not the app but the rapid obsolescence of Apple hardware.

the most flexible android tablet is the nexus 7.  if you need bigger and can wait, wait a little longer to get the next large nexus that comes out, nexus 10 or whatever.

Nexus 7 is too small. I'm really after a comfortable note-taking and writing experience (ability to see largest amount of text possible), so Nexus 10 would be more like it.

evernote is the easiest solution here, but it probably doesn't satisfy your more particular requirements.

Check out Simplenote:
http://simplenote.com/

Thanks, but I'd prefer the plain txt + Dropbox combo, to keep things safe. Evernote is overkill and too pretty for my taste. I've had problems once with Simplenote and lost some data, so I'm not going back there.

keyboard shouldn't be an issue at all.  find the best bluetooth keyboard you like, and it should work fine.

Do you have a concrete suggestion? The keyboard is an important part of the setup, it needs to protect the tablet and also prop it up safely for different writing positions and viewing angles.

@Paulo
Which netbook do you have? All the Windows (XP and 7) netbooks I tried, were not instant-on.

Same here. I also have XP and Win7 netbooks, and neither of them are instantly on. I want to be able to take a note as quickly as possible, e.g. even when I wake up in the middle of the night, so instant-on and off is essential.

how about a Google Chromebook?  I am using the Samsung Model 303 which is 11.6" screen and about as close to instant on as you will find in a laptop.

Really? I just can't imagine any of the netbook formats to be as instant as tablets are. Also, with netbooks there is the issue of blocking the vents, when resting it on fabric like a duvet...

Thanks very much for all the suggestions so far!

P.S. I forgot to mention that I am primarily concentrating on capturing written notes and doing writing with this setup. I'm not after an overall note-taking database, as I already have one. All text notes would end up in my desktop wiki (ConnectedText).

techidave

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #8 on: January 03, 2014, 05:34:42 AM »
well Doc, I was leary of the Chromebooks to at first.  from a dead start, its about 10 seconds. when i close the lid and then reopen it, its just a few seconds.  its certainly at this point not any slower than my 16gb iPad 2!

I don't see any vents on the CB either.  with its SSD, you probably don't need them.  I certainly haven't heard any fans either.   :)

the worst part about my Chromebook is the fact it is a loaner.  st some point I will have to return it ... and then get my own.  But I am wanting one with a larger screen.   :Thmbsup:

paulobrabo

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2014, 05:46:22 AM »
@Paulo
Which netbook do you have? All the Windows (XP and 7) netbooks I tried, were not instant-on.

I have an old Samsung NC215PD1 Atom 2Gb 500Gb.

You are right, a hard start will take those Windows 7 usual seconds, but after the thing is booted you may close and reopen the lid and it's really start on. The battery lasts about 7 hours, so I rarely have to boot it up, just recharge it every now and then. I use it everywhere :Thmbsup:
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fgrieser

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2014, 06:01:51 AM »
Thanks Paulo.
That's not what I am looking for. I already have that with my Thinkpad X200, though its battery only lasts for 4 hours (the larger one lasts 6 hrs).

paulobrabo

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2014, 06:42:09 AM »
Hehe we keep looking. The main advantage of the netbook for me is the size. It's my digital moleskine! As my main concern is writing, I would pick up a netbook over a tablet anytime.

I do a lot of writing, most of it txts (writemonkey!) synced through dropbox. I also have some Scrivener projects, synced through dropbox. As for notes, Wiznotes takes care of keeping them always synchronized among machines. I tried simplenote more than once, but I had constant synchronization woes and lost information I wish I hadn't.

I additionally backup all of these to the amazon servers with Cloudberry Backup.

English will never be my first language, it doesn't meter how hard I try.

dr_andus

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2014, 07:59:04 AM »
As my main concern is writing, I would pick up a netbook over a tablet anytime.

I do a lot of writing, most of it txts (writemonkey!) synced through dropbox. I also have some Scrivener projects, synced through dropbox.

Please note that I'm not just looking for a writing machine in general. For that there is my PC (where I also use WriteMonkey, Outline 4D, Gingko app, Scrivener or Dragon NS for various writing tasks).

I want a portable and cordless note-taking/writing solution that I can use when I expressly do not want to turn on my PC or my netbook. It might be the weekend when I don't want to turn on my work machine, or the middle of the night, when I just had an idea before falling asleep, or sitting on the couch, or being out and about, or at a business meeting.

Originally I bought my Asus eee PC exactly for this reason. However, eventually the ever-increasing booting or waking-up time with Win machines just put me off from using them. The competition to what I am looking for is pen and paper, which are instantly on.

dr_andus

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #13 on: January 03, 2014, 08:17:28 AM »
On another forum someone just suggested Nimblstand, which extends the Apple Wireless Keyboard (which is the best keyboard I've ever used - I use it with my PC) and seems to work with most tablets (though it has a bit of a problem with iPad Air, but they offer a free fix for it).

It does not offer protection for the tablet and it's not backlit, so Zagg and ClamCase might still have an edge. I read somewhere that the Zagg keyboard is the closest to the Apple Wireless typing experience (of the keyboard cases on the market).

dr_andus

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #14 on: January 03, 2014, 09:37:38 AM »
well Doc, I was leary of the Chromebooks to at first.

Does Chromebook have any nice writing apps (preferably plain text with markdown) that also work offline and sync with Dropbox?

wraith808

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #15 on: January 03, 2014, 09:56:22 AM »
You might try a clamcase instead of the zagg.

Thanks. Looks good but it's not out yet for iPad Air and also I'm in the UK, so I suspect it will take a few more months to get here.
Ah... that sucks.  It adds a bit of weight to it, but after trying that vs. other alternatives, it was the best for what it does.  As a note, other alternatives I tried were:

Adonit Writer+ Keyboard (a big contender vs. the clamcase, although also not for the air currently)
Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover (linked the one for ipad air.  Didn't like the angle or the lack of travel between the keyboard and the screen)  Also tried that with the STM Org Board which if you're going to go with one that just attaches, is a great addition.

Logitech Keyboard Folio (same problem as keyboard cover)

Logitech Solar Keyboard Folio (strangely enough, this one felt better than the other two logitech offerings... but still couldn't get past the depth of the keyboard travel to the screen)

What I finally settled on was the Logitech Tablet Keyboard and the STM Skinny Ipad cover (also used the inCase Book Jacket Select depending on weight needed).  I found that separating the tether between the two was the way to go- I'd been trapped into laptop like world, and this actually worked a lot better.

Did you consider using a digitizer with a tablet solution?
Interesting suggestion. Do you have any particular tablet + software in mind to do this with? I presume this would use handwriting recognition? The last time I used that was with my Palm T|X...


Well, there's two ways to go... either handwriting as is, or handwriting recognition.

The first thing is getting a good pen- the Adonit Jot Pro wins hands down IMO.  It's a bit pricey, but worth it.  There's a more expensive one for artists; it uses bluetooth to facilitate pressure sensitivity.  But I didn't need it.  Wacom is also pretty good, but surprisingly, Adonit was the way to go for me.  That's the most important one- more important than the application.

For the application, however, I use OneNote/Outline+ and Evernote/Penultimate.  Both have search across handwritten text, so they have the ability to index all of my notes.

I also use AirDisplay to extend my computer screen when I'm at my desktop and then use my iPad like a wacom tablet to write/sketch on my computer.

And, I use the Whitelines products to converge regular note taking and scribblings with my iPad... it works wonders for scanning diagrams and sketches into my evernote account.

Let me know if you have any specific questions about any of them.
« Last Edit: January 03, 2014, 10:04:59 AM by wraith808 »

mouser

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #16 on: January 03, 2014, 10:20:52 AM »
Btw I have to agree with paulo -- if i was just wanting a device for notetaking, i'd prefer to be carrying out a small little windows netbook with a good built-in keyboard.

techidave

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #17 on: January 03, 2014, 10:24:31 AM »
DR_Andus, i believe that they do.  Google's word process would be one.  I am not your typical app person.  I don't need a lot of apps, thus I don't download and play with many.  More and more of google's apps are designed to work offline.  1st generation of stuff, you had to be online, but now they are seeing one of the errors of their ways and changing it.  and they do have a dropbox app too!

dr_andus

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #18 on: January 03, 2014, 11:25:24 AM »
I'm in the UK
Ah... that sucks.  

Nah, it's not that bad.  :) But many thanks for the extensive suggestions and links. I'll have a think about the various options.

Btw I have to agree with paulo -- if i was just wanting a device for notetaking, i'd prefer to be carrying out a small little windows netbook with a good built-in keyboard.

I think we're talking about very different types of note-taking. Yes, if I'm preparing for a big writing job while I'm mobile, I'll definitely take my Asus Win XP netbook with me. It's a replica of my PC workstation.

But here I'm talking about ad hoc notes, ideas that occur to you when you least expect them (which is why I keep talking about taking notes at night while I'm in bed). In those situations I would use a tablet when I'm home or at work, and a PDA/smartphone (iPod Touch in my case) everywhere else, because I can just whip them out and take the notes before I forget them, even if I'm in the gym changing room or out shopping. Carrying around a netbook would be too taxing, and I'd forget what I wanted to write down by the time I'd boot it.

More and more of google's apps are designed to work offline.  1st generation of stuff, you had to be online, but now they are seeing one of the errors of their ways and changing it.  and they do have a dropbox app too!

Thanks. I'm wondering though if Google Chrome apps have really 'arrived' yet. I looked at the top rated note-taking and distraction-free writing app reviews in the Chrome store, and a lot of users mention losing data due to sync problems or forgetting to save it, which has never happened to me on iOS over the past 3 years (well, ok, there was the Simplenote incident, but I mean with my other apps of choice). It suggests to me that the Chrome system hasn't quite reached maturity the way iOS did.

xtabber

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #19 on: January 04, 2014, 07:22:05 AM »
Please note that I'm not just looking for a writing machine in general. For that there is my P (where I also use WriteMonkey, Outline 4D, Gingko app, Scrivener or Dragon NS for various writing tasks).

I want a portable and cordless note-taking/writing solution that I can use when I expressly do not want to turn on my PC or my netbook. It might be the weekend when I don't want to turn on my work machine, or the middle of the night, when I just had an idea before falling asleep, or sitting on the couch, or being out and about, or at a business meeting.

Originally I bought my Asus eee PC exactly for this reason. However, eventually the ever-increasing booting or waking-up time with Win machines just put me off from using them. The competition to what I am looking for is pen and paper, which are instantly on.

Professional photographers will tell you that the best camera is the one you have with you.

You seem to have plenty of devices that you can use in the comfort of your home, so I would suggest looking for something that will always be on you and you can use anywhere.  Unless you wear Harpo Marx's topcoat, to me, that means the smallest form factor device you can live with.

I use both  a Nexus 10 and a Nexus 7 (2013), and while the 10 is unbeatable for reading large format documents, the 7 is what I use most of the time, because its portability means that I almost always have it at hand. The 7 is also faster and more responsive than the 10. even though it is, in theory, less powerful.

A keyboard is nice, but removes the "always with you" factor. Logitech makes a backlit Android keyboard that you can keep nearby to use with the tablet when convenient (e.g., at your bedside), but for quick and ever-present access, I'd suggest learning to work effectively with the tablet alone so that you can do so when you need to.

Finally, while I don't use an Android editor with your requirements, and so can't give you any recommendations, here is a place to start looking.


dr_andus

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #20 on: January 04, 2014, 08:38:28 AM »
Finally, while I don't use an Android editor with your requirements, and so can't give you any recommendations, here is a place to start looking.

xtabber -thanks for your thoughts and suggestions. Actually capturing notes on the go is not a problem, as my iPod touch 4th gen. is highly portable and great for that. It is more for the home and for work when I don't want to turn on or wake a PC/laptop/netbook. My old iPad fit the bill, but I didn't have a good keyboard for it.

I'd be more interested in the forthcoming Nexus 10 (2) with a keyboard folio case (but it would probably work with the Nimblstand as well). Big screen is better both for writing and for reading and annotating PDFs, for instance. Good to see there are now some decent Markdown editors for Android too.

wraith808

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #21 on: January 04, 2014, 12:11:36 PM »
Finally, while I don't use an Android editor with your requirements, and so can't give you any recommendations, here is a place to start looking.

xtabber -thanks for your thoughts and suggestions. Actually capturing notes on the go is not a problem, as my iPod touch 4th gen. is highly portable and great for that. It is more for the home and for work when I don't want to turn on or wake a PC/laptop/netbook. My old iPad fit the bill, but I didn't have a good keyboard for it.

I'd be more interested in the forthcoming Nexus 10 (2) with a keyboard folio case (but it would probably work with the Nimblstand as well). Big screen is better both for writing and for reading and annotating PDFs, for instance. Good to see there are now some decent Markdown editors for Android too.

I just bought a Dell Venue Pro 8 instead of an iPad Mini to hopefully start to get me out of the Apple infrastructure.  As a .NET developer, I can also directly develop for it, and it was cheap... $329 for 64GB and a full version of windows?  A no brainer I thought.

I'm starting to regret not going for the iPad mini.  From software to accessories, to ... just about everything.  Don't get me wrong... it's a great device.  And being able to program for it is great.  But I find myself picking up my iPad more than it... even in the cases that I bought the 8" tablet for.  It's more portable... so would be better to carry around.  But I still carry my iPad.  I tried only using it... but missed my iPad's ease of use.  And the apps.  That's the big thing.  Not the buy in of having them.  But the apps themselves and the paradigm of usage.

I positively hate iOS7 with a passion.  But at least it's internally consistent.  Most Windows tablet apps aren't really.  And programming for it, I see that MS left it more open than the Apple infrastructure.  And when I evaluated the Nexus and played with a friends applications and such, I could see the same disconnect.

Though I enjoy my Venue Pro, I think I'm getting an iPad Mini when i get a chance.  That same ecosystem that we as hackers and technologies skewer them for?  When you just need to get things done, and you're already used to it, it's hard to change to the wild west paradigm.

Oh... and what Markdown Editors do you use on the iPad?  Just wondering...

dr_andus

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #22 on: January 04, 2014, 12:43:43 PM »
Though I enjoy my Venue Pro, I think I'm getting an iPad Mini when i get a chance.  That same ecosystem that we as hackers and technologies skewer them for?  When you just need to get things done, and you're already used to it, it's hard to change to the wild west paradigm.

Oh... and what Markdown Editors do you use on the iPad?  Just wondering...

I've read quite a few reviews by now (and there is one iPad Mini 2 in my household), and my impression is that there is such a small difference in terms of weight and everything else, that if you want to use it for more serious work it's better to go for the iPad Air (larger screen, basically).

As for Markdown editors on iOS, I haven't been able to try the most celebrated ones (Editorial, Byword) because they don't work on iOS 5 that I have. When it comes to iOS note-taking and writing apps, Markdown rendering doesn't matter to me all that much because as long as I can write in plain text, I can write in Markdown, and then I can transfer it via Dropbox to my PC and use my tools there to process the Markdown.

My favourite plain text note-taker used to be Nebulous Notes because it gave me the most control over syncing via Dropbox, so I could decide what is online, what is local, and what needs to be overwritten and when. Unfortunately lately it became too slow on iPad 1. It also has good macros for the on-screen keyboard.

If I need to write something longer, I'd use iA Writer, which has beautiful font and a clean full-screen view (but poor syncing options). For very short notes, I would use WorkFlowy (which unfortunately just today 'upgraded' itself to view-only in iOS 5, which sucks).

I also tried a bunch of other editors/writing apps (Daedalus, Texts, PlainText, Notebooks), but I thought iA Writer and Nebulous Notes were better. BTW, all of these can do Markdown rendering, except WorkFlowy (which is more of an outliner, to-do manager).


dr_andus

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #23 on: January 08, 2014, 06:51:01 PM »
I don't see any vents on the CB either.  with its SSD, you probably don't need them.  I certainly haven't heard any fans either.   :)

the worst part about my Chromebook is the fact it is a loaner.  st some point I will have to return it ... and then get my own.  But I am wanting one with a larger screen.   :Thmbsup:

Although I set out looking for a tablet + keyboard + app combination, I'm starting to lean towards the Chromebook idea. The new HP Chromebook 14 seems interesting. Bigger screen, bigger keyboard, more memory, faster processor (than the Samsung 303), and people are reporting 9+ hr battery life. There is a fan to cool the processor, but supposedly it's not too loud. Plus there is 2 yrs free (though limited) mobile internet access with one of the models.

The key benefits are the speed, half the price of the iPad Air + ZAGGKeys keyboard combo, instant on from sleep, battery life, integrated keyboard, not as heavy as a netbook/laptop.

Edit: here is an informative discussion of the pros and cons of the HP Chromebook 14.

xtabber

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Re: Best note-taking setup with tablet and keyboard?
« Reply #24 on: January 08, 2014, 09:58:41 PM »
Although I set out looking for a tablet + keyboard + app combination, I'm starting to lean towards the Chromebook idea. The new HP Chromebook 14 seems interesting. Bigger screen, bigger keyboard, more memory, faster processor (than the Samsung 303), and people are reporting 9+ hr battery life. There is a fan to cool the processor, but supposedly it's not too loud. Plus there is 2 yrs free (though limited) mobile internet access with one of the models.

The key benefits are the speed, half the price of the iPad Air + ZAGGKeys keyboard combo, instant on from sleep, battery life, integrated keyboard, not as heavy as a netbook/laptop.
Check the specs: The HP Chromebook 14 weighs over 4 lbs, nearly twice the weight of the Asus T100, which is a full Windows 8.1 device and includes a full version of MS Office 2013 in the $349 price of the 32GB version.  The HP has a bigger screen, but the same measly 1366x768 resolution, meaning that it is considerably less sharp visually. By comparison, the Nexus 7 has 1980x1200, the Nexus 10 has 2560x1600 resolution. The T100 also has better battery life (over 11 hours, supposedly).