If you routinely take notes by hand on your mobile device, either with your finger or a stylus, you know how essential handwriting recognition apps can be for organization and legibility. These apps offer an efficient alternative to transcribing scribbled notes manually into digital format, using character recognition and machine learning to do the heavy lifting.
Handwriting recognition software has been around since the early 1980s, but algorithms have since become advanced enough to provide highly accurate transcriptions.
The following apps can automatically recognize and digitize your handwriting. Some are free, while others require a one-time payment or subscription or offer in-app purchases. We’ve covered apps and utilities on all major platforms, including iOS, Android, Windows and Chrome.
MetaMoJi Note is a comprehensive notebook, sketchbook and scrapbook app that supports voice input, PDF annotation and handwriting-to-text conversion with the Mazec handwriting recognition helper app.
MetaMoJi Note offers a wide assortment of pens, calligraphy pens and inks, graphics, and layouts for writing and sketching. Edit and tag voice memos to visuals or documents, or import a PDF file, mark it up and save it as a new PDF. Share notes via email, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr, or store and share files with Google Drive, Evernote and Dropbox.
You can sync all folders to the MetaMoJi cloud, which saves and manages up to 2GB of documents for free.
Subscribing to MetaMoJI’s Gold Service for $29.99 per year or $4.99 per month gives you additional flexible features, including a shared drive for coediting documents, interval-based auto-sync for backing up notes, more cloud storage, access to additional inks and papers, and the ability to customize the navigation bar.
Twenty years after its debut, the revised Microsoft OneNote platform converts legible handwriting into text. Download the OneNote mobile app for free through Apple’s App Store or Google Play, or get the stand-alone desktop app for Windows PCs and Macs. However, you’ll get OneNote’s full functionality as part of the broader Microsoft 365 office productivity suite on Windows devices.
OneNote supports drag-and-drop text boxes and accepts stylus inputs. You can also use it to take a photograph of handwritten content before parsing it into a text document. As you’d expect as part of the Microsoft 365 platform, OneNote relies on cloud-based storage and access.
Unlike some apps in this list, OneNote supports internal linking and version histories. It’s a surprisingly powerful tool once you get into advanced features like on-page content positioning and the ability to translate parts of a page rather than automatically translating the whole thing. Speaking of translation, OneNote supports 35 languages.
Nebo uses its interactive ink tech to facilitate writing, drawing and formatting notes. It also converts text into shareable documents. Recent updates facilitate better performance with math objects and bring overall note-management improvements. A new library lets you view notebooks and collections in a side panel so you can rearrange documents via drag-and-drop functionality. An enhanced search engine covers your entire library.
Along with editing and formatting in an impressive 65 languages, you can sketch; annotate images; create editable equations; adjust type size and device orientation; organize notes in pages, notebooks and folders; and search, store and sync with Dropbox. You can export documents in text, Word, PDF and HTML formats. You can also copy, paste and edit diagrams to use in PowerPoint.
Notes Plus is a gesture-based writing app for iPhone and iPad that supports more than 50 languages and delivers fluid handwriting capabilities. It serves up ink effects, palm rejection, shape recognition and a close-up writing mode. The interface is stylish, fun and responsive, with plenty of options to scale or move elements around the page. It even offers variable ink styles, colors, thicknesses and writing implements.
Thomas Fultz, founder of Coffeeble, said that he likes Notes Plus because he’s more comfortable writing out his notes with it. “I get to handwrite my notes, but I automatically have them stored digitally. It’s also easier to find older notes if I need to reference them again, compared to an actual physical notepad, so if I ever have an idea for content for my site or simply want to note something down, I’ll use Notes Plus to quickly write it down, and then it’s easy for me to access later.”
Combined with the MyScript engine, Notes Plus translates your scribble into text, accepts text input, and exports notes as PDF documents or images to email, Dropbox, Google Drive and Evernote. You can import PDF and Word documents and insert images from the photos or camera app. Audio input lets you record notes.
The app is compatible with the Apple Pencil and styluses from Wacom and Adonit.
Mazec is a keyboard app that converts handwriting to text in various apps, including email, notes and social posts. Semantic databases combined with the MyScript engine let you search, browse the web and complete online forms. You can choose the font size, auto-scroll area width, word spacing and more. Recent updates have improved the built-in dictionaries and streamlined Apple Pencil usability.
As you begin to write, Mazec displays predictive suggestions and phrases to choose from – you usually don’t have to write out an entire word before the app completes it. Mazec intelligently detects your choices, learns specific phrases and even offers emojis if you write “emoji” or a recognized emoji category name.
Mazec supports 12 languages, but you must buy a language pack if you want to use any languages other than the one you signed in with.
In a variation on the handwriting recognition concept, Pen to Print reads scanned handwritten documents and converts them into editable, searchable digital text that can be stored on your device or within a cloud service.
The app’s handwriting optical character recognition engine extracts text from paper documents like letters, school notes, meeting notes and grocery lists. It allows those who prefer to write in longhand the freedom to continue doing so. The handwriting recognition system works with block letters, cursive and script.
Thierry Tremblay, CEO and founder of Kohezion, highly recommends the application. “It is very simple, straightforward, user-friendly, fast and pretty accurate. It’s working great on my iPad and over my smartphones. One of my co-workers is also practicing it on her Android tablet.”
Premium monthly and yearly subscription plans let you save your text to a file, copy, email, add to Notes and share through platforms as diverse as Messages, WhatsApp, WeChat, Messenger and Telegram.
You can transfer the text to word processors like Microsoft Word and Google Docs or export it to Evernote, OneNote or Google Keep. The app supports English, Portuguese and Spanish.
If you need to scan documents to turn them into editable text for a tool like Pen to Print, check out our document scanner buying guide to evaluate scanner types and choose the right one for your business.
Notability is an excellent iPhone and iPad notetaking app that features auto-correct and context analyzer tools as well as PDF notation. You can use built-in notetaking, journaling, and drawing tools (including ink, highlighter, text and audio) and add photos and webpages.
The Ink tool is optimized for the Apple Pencil and incorporates double-tapping to perform functions like erasing and switching tools. Varied brush sizes allow you to precisely erase freehand drawing or writing.
You can also share ideas in presentation mode, work with multiple notes side by side, and record and play back audio with Notability.
While the app is free to download and use, you’ll need the $11.99 annual or $2.99 monthly subscription to take advantage of expanded features and functionality.
Gboard is a Google keyboard app you can install on your Android smartphone. Once installed, you can hand write words on your keyboard to enter text via Google’s Handwriting input functionality.
To turn on Handwriting, open an app like Gmail or Google Keep and tap where you can enter text. When the keyboard appears, tap Open features menu, select Settings > Languages and choose your language. Swipe right and enable the Handwriting layout.
After turning on Handwriting, when you tap an area to enter text, select your handwriting keyboard and use your finger or a stylus to handwrite text. The feature discerns even the sloppiest scrawl and offers predictive text.
Ideal for Chromebook users or fans of the Chrome web browser, the unambiguously titled Handwriting Recognize converts handwritten content into digital text through a web browser or smartphone screen. It can be installed as a Chrome extension or used directly through the Heroku App website, where it does a good job translating clearly written text into words.
It’s possible to write in different pen colors and widths, and you can also resize the canvas using sliders. There are options to save drawn data for posterity, with undo and redo buttons for correcting mistakes.
The app also supports 50 languages, including Traditional and Simplified Chinese, alongside both European and Brazilian versions of Portuguese. However, you won’t find advanced features here, and in our testing, it struggled to interpret italicized text.
If you want a powerful notetaking and PDF annotation app with handwriting recognition, the updated GoodNotes 5 offers searchable notebook and document creation. This iOS-only app’s pen tool offers a choice of letter colors and thicknesses. Shape recognition automatically creates recognizable shapes from freehand drawings, and it’s possible to work with text boxes and images, moving items around as well as zooming, scrolling and turning pages.
“We love that we can draw and doodle as well as translate our scribbled notes,” said Ian Kelly, CEO at NuLeaf Naturals. “We enable sharing so everyone in the meeting can use their iPads or laptops to contribute. I like that it is searchable too. It’s more natural to jot down a note than typing it out and keeps us engaged with each other during pitches and sessions.”
The latest version adds features like horizontal and vertical flexible scrolling, the ability to create an unlimited number of folders and subfolders, and search capabilities via handwritten notes, typed text, or document and folder titles. It features shortcuts to various pages, documents and folders. It also has a QuickNotes feature that gets your notes started quickly and an option to display documents as lists.
An improved ink algorithm eases the writing experience. Updated brush pen and shape tools offer more colorful and creative notes, while a new template library offers distinctive covers and pages. With iCloud, you can sync your notebooks across all your iOS devices.
Born from an older type of technology known as optical character recognition, handwriting recognition tech converts the written word into digital approximations.
Today’s mobile apps let you draw letters, strokes and shapes onscreen with iOS and Android devices. However, only a select number of programs and apps will recognize, translate and digitize that input. Thanks to the high computational power of today’s mobile devices and desktop computers, handwriting recognition technology can help digitize unique handwriting styles.
After scanning a document, or once someone writes a note on a touchscreen, the app tries to separate each letter to compare it to a database of letters to find a match for the handwriting. More advanced handwriting recognition software utilizes complex algorithms to identify characters before churning out a digital approximation.
Over time, handwriting recognition tech will get better at deciphering even some of the hardest-to-read handwriting.
Jackie Dove and Andrew Martins contributed to the writing and reporting in this article. Source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.