If you take notes by hand on your mobile device – either with your finger or a stylus – you know there's no substitute for a solid handwriting recognition app to make all your scribbles legible. Handwriting recognition has been around for decades, starting with the PalmPilot and the Newton MessagePad from the 1990. These popular PDAs recognized character input with a stylus. You had to write legibly for the Newton to recognize lettering, and you had to learn the Graffiti language for the Palm to do the same.
Many mobile apps let you draw letters, strokes, and shapes onscreen with iOS and Android devices, but only a few recognize, translate or digitize that input. The following apps can automatically recognize and digitize your handwriting.
Some of the apps are free, some operate with integrated keyboards, while others have in-app purchases or fees, or rely on the MyScript AI handwriting recognition and digital ink management engine.
MetaMoJi Note ($7.99)
This colorful notebook, sketchbook and scrapbook app supports voice input, PDF annotation and handwriting-to-text conversion with the Mazec helper app. The app offers a large assortment of pens, calligraphy pens, and inks, graphics and layouts for writing and sketching. You can edit and tag voice memos to visuals or documents, or import a PDF file, mark it up and save it back out as a PDF. You can share notes via email, Twitter, Facebook or 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 documents for free and password-protect your notes.
A Gold Service for $29.99 per year or $4.99 per month gives you additional flexible features, including a shared drive for co-editing 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.
Notes Plus ($9.99)
Notes Plus is a gesture-based writing app for iPhone and iPad that supports more than 50 languages and delivers fluid handwriting capabilities, complete with 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 – and it offers variable ink styles, colors, thicknesses and writing implements.
Combined with the MyScript engine, Notes Plus translates your scribble into text, accepts text input and export notes as PDF 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 styluses from Wacom, Adonit and Apple Pencil. A recent update supports the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil 2 and iOS 12. Available on iTunes.
Google Handwriting Input (free)
Google Handwriting Input, an Android-only app, translates your scribbles directly onscreen as you write. Upon installing the app, you get a few setup panes where you can choose your language and an optional keyboard, which lets you use the utility with other text input apps. In addition to supporting over 100 languages, it allows easy input of ideographic lettering and voice, and recognizes emoji-style drawings.
This app understands the sloppiest scrawl quite well and offers predictive text at the top of the window to let you tweak its interpretation, or you can correct spelling directly on the text output. An online feature sends information to Google to decipher your handwriting to improve the recognition engine, but you can opt out of this in favor of more private local device translation. While there is no specific iOS version, you can enable Google Handwrite in mobile Safari or Chrome to search with finger or stylus.
MyScript Nebo ($7.99)
MyScript Nemo is specifically designed for use with the Apple iPad Pro and Pencil or the latest versions of Android with an active stylus, like the S Pen or a Wacom pen. The app is now compatible with the iPad Pro 2018 and the second-generation Apple Pencil. Nebo uses its interactive ink tech to facilitate writing, drawing and formatting notes, and converting text into shareable documents. New updates facilitate better performance with math objects as well as overall improvements to note management. A new library lets you view notebooks and collections in a side panel, which allows for rearranging documents via drag and drop. An enhanced search engine covers your whole library.
In addition to editing and formatting in 65 languages, the app lets you sketch, annotate images, create editable equations, adjust type size and device orientation, organize notes in pages, notebooks and folders, and search, store or sync with Dropbox. You can export documents as text, Word, PDF or HTML. You can also copy, paste and edit diagrams to PowerPoint.
WritePad for iPad ($4.99)
If you prefer to write longhand, but need to see your text in digital format, consider WritePad for iPad. You can configure a host of options to recognize input forms and predefined commands, or you can input lettering with your finger or a stylus. When you're done with a word, the app automatically converts your scrawl to text. The app learns your writing style to cut down on mistakes. Gestures let you select, cut, copy, paste and insert special characters. Four recognition modes let you enter cursive, print, numeric text for phone numbers, and internet language for email addresses and URLs. Updates include a new invert toolbar colors option and better integration with the file manager. It is now optimized for iOS 12 and the third generation iPad Pro.
The Android or iOS app supports a dozen languages and can translate back and forth between them. It also has a spell-checker with a custom dictionary, a context analyzer, auto-corrector, and a shorthand editor that accepts frequently used words and phrases. It syncs with Evernote, Box, Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive and iTunes. You can even tweet or post Facebook updates directly from the app.
Mazec is a keyboard app that provides handwriting conversion to text in a variety of apps like email, notes and social posts. Semantic databases combine with the MyScript engine so you can search, browse the web and complete online forms. You can choose font size, autoscroll area width, word spacing and more. Updates improve the built-in dictionaries and streamline Apple Pencil usability.
As you begin to write, Mazec displays predictive suggestions and phrases to choose from so 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 other than the one you signed in with. It works on Android or iOS.
GoodNotes 5 ($7.99)
If you seek a powerful notetaking and PDF annotation app with handwriting recognition, check out the updated GoodNotes 5 for searchable notebook and document creation.
The app's pen tool offers a choice of letter colors and thicknesses. Shape recognition automatically creates recognizable shapes from freehand drawings. Work with text boxes and images, and move items around as well as zoom, scroll and turn pages. An intelligent palm rejection algorithm avoids bothersome artifacts.
Version 5 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. The new version also features shortcuts to various pages, documents or folders, 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. GoodNotes now supports the new iPad Pro and the second-generation Apple Pencil. With iCloud, you can sync your notebooks across all your iOS devices.
Pen to Print (free)
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 OCR (optical character recognition) engine extracts text from paper documents like letters, school notes, meeting notes and grocery lists, allowing those who prefer to write in longhand the freedom to continue. The handwriting recognition system works with block letters, cursive and script.
A premium monthly and yearly subscription plans let you save your text to a file, copy, email, add to Notes, or share on Message, WhatsApp, Hangout, WeChat, Messenger and Telegram. You can transfer the text to word processors like Microsoft Word or Google Docs, or export to Evernote, OneNote or Google Keep. The app works with iOS 9 or later and Android 4.4 and later in English, Portuguese, and Spanish.