Paper vs Penultimate

Commenting on Evernote’s acquisition of Penultimate, John Gruber says:

Penultimate is a great app, but I think it’s been eclipsed by Paper.

Having bought just about every note-taking app for the iPad, I have to say that Paper is not without its flaws.

  • It’s pretty useless without the full in-app purchase of around ten dollars, which makes it more expensive by quite some margin than the competition, though hardly a stretch given that most writers, myself included, won’t hesitate to shell out more for a Moleskine or three.
  • The performance leaves something to be desired, even on the new iPad, with initial strokes being missed or messed up.
  • It doesn’t work well at the edges. Try starting a stroke near the bottom and sliding up and the slide out tray keeps coming up. This means you get the illusion of a blank slate, but the behaviour of the pen is inconsistent across the whole page area.
  • The page turning that apes a BlackBerry PlayBook bezel gesture doesn’t always work, causing unwanted marks to appear.
  • The “rewind to undo” mechanic is flakey, when you don’t get this right, you leave a mark on the page, when you do, it’s not clear how much undo history you have and the granularity is tough to predict.
  • The orientation is forced to landscape. That makes it very hard to use without a stand. 
  • The centrefold is implicit, but sometimes, you really want it to be explicit to match up with the zoomed out view, just in case you are interested in writing on “both sides of the page”
  • Penultimate handwriting is always silky smooth. There is nothing more important than this, not even the admittedly beautifully thin strokes allowed by Paper.
  • Having to step out of the writing view to add pages to the end is a pain.
  • There are no templates. It would be nice to be able to write on lines.
  • There’s no image insertion, though I’m sure this will come at some point.

Paper tries to do things differently and follows the same minimalist school as Clear on the iPhone, but sometimes, this causes problems. With the IAP, Paper is a beautiful app and goes on the first page of my iPad, but Penultimate stays at position #1, at the top left.