I will speak to you of tablets and clouds

O notes of mine, where are you roaming?
How shall I, your scholar manage them
That hath tech both high and low.

So sings the modern-day Feste. Papers, books, mail attachments: my class documents come in all forms. Handwritten notes, emails from the professor, MS Word files from other students, PDFs from the research databases.  How to keep them all straight?

I’m finding that my iPad is a very useful tool for managing my student life. Everything I can possible put on the tablet, I do, and I’m usually only got the tablet, a spiral notebook, and maybe one text with me at any time.  I see other students still carrying backpacks full of stuff, and I think the switch to electronic texts is not only organizationally more efficient, but it keeps me from having to make too many appointments with the chiropractor.

I’ve found four apps in particular to be helpful: Kindle, Evernote, PDF Max, and Pages. The first three are free (though I use the paid “Pro” version of PDF Max, and there is a pay version of Evernote as well). Pages is not free, I could get along without it if I really had to.

Any book that’s available electronically, I get on Kindle (through if you’re not partial to Amazon, I’m sure the Nook, Google Play, etc. would all work fine.)  This eliminates having to carry tons of stuff around. Not everything is available this way, but it’s trending in that direction. Kindle documents can also be read on my desktop computer (or phone, if necessary) because they’re stored on Amazon servers.

Almost everything else, I convert to PDF and access with PDF Max (again, there are alternatives with similar functionality). While it’s possible to read PDF files on Kindle, PDF Max allows me to annotate the documents, so I can highlight and make notes. The Kindle won’t allow this on PDF files, only files in their format, and if you download a file annotated by someone else, the annotations are lost by the Kindle transfer process. PDF Max stores the documents in iCloud, so I can also get access to them via my phone if necessary.

Evernote serves as my commonplace book. I can make random notes, capture images, voice , URLS, and web pages or other documents. All Evernote items can be accessed via tablet, phone, or desktop, and are always kept in sync via the cloud at Evernote HQ.

I don’t use Pages as often as the others, but it serves two purposes: a word processor if I need it, when away from my desktop, and it converts from MS Word, so if I need to edit another student’s file (rather than just dump it to PDF), I can do so. Again, I don’t need worry about what machine the document is on, Apple manages that via iCloud.

The one thing that the iPad has not replaced for me is the spiral notebook.  I prefer doing some things longhand, and I don’t find the iPad conducive to direct handwritten notes. I’ve tried using a stylus (and apps like Notes Plus, Penultimate, and Moleskine) and it just doesn’t work for me.  I either take photos or transcribe by hand.

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One comment

  1. Sounds like you’re deep into Evernote, but here’s another thing to look at for notes: a combination of Simplenote and Notational Velocity. It’s particularly great for text. However, it doesn’t have image, voice, or OCR, so it would only be a complement to rather than replacement for Evernote. But I find it super-quick for capturing and searching plain text.

    I’ve been enjoying your blog; glad you aren’t too busy to update it!

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