A Quick Look at Penultimate 4

PenultimateEvernote released Penultimate 4 late last week. (Unfortunately, it’s only available for iOS 6 at the moment, though support for iOS 5 is expected in the next update. Penultimate is currently not available for Android, though they’re apparently working on that.)

Heather and Ethan have mentioned Penultimate in this space before, and we’ve spilled a lot of digital ink over Evernote itself.

There are two major features to this release of Penultimate:

  • Automatic synchronization with Evernote (to which the user must deliberately opt in; it isn’t forced) and
  • Handwriting recognition within the application itself, not just within Evernote (though this feature does require Evernote sync).

The app is free, so it’s definitely worth checking out. As I experimented with it, though, I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t going to work well for me.

The automatic synchronization with Evernote works flawlessly. If you make quick freehand sketches or take short handwritten notes that you want to be searchable and backed up automatically, Penultimate may be just what you’re looking for (and you certainly can’t beat the price tag).

In my case, the problem is that I take lengthy notes that are handwritten — quite a lot of them. Handwriting recognition seems to work best (at least in my experience) with printed letters. I write longhand. My penmanship is decent, but Evernote doesn’t seem to recognize it very well. Handwriting recognition, though nice, isn’t an essential for me, so that in itself isn’t a deal-breaker. But there are two other difficulties that mean Penultimate isn’t the app for me to use on a regular basis:

  • The application doesn’t have continuous scrolling. To add a new page when the current one is full, you need to tap the lower right corner (or upper right, if you’ve moved the toolbar to the top of the page — which I’d recommend doing to avoid accidentally selecting tools you don’t want while you’re writing).
  • There’s no zoom/focus that enables you to write normally in a window at the bottom of the screen, while what you write appears in smaller form above the area where you’re actually writing (Notes Plus and Notability both have this feature; neither is free, but neither is high-priced, either). It makes writing more difficult than it needs to be, and results in filling each page very quickly.

Penultimate may not be particularly useful for me, but for other usage scenarios it may work very well. So let us know in the comments: What kinds of things do (or would) you use an application like Penultimate for? If you’ve tried it, how well did it work for you? If you’ve tried other applications, what did you think of them?

[Creative Commons licensed Flickr photo by deburca]

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