The result is something that’s unusually elegant, and a delight to use.
From the notebooks overview mode, tap to enter a notebook. From here you can flick through its pages – a lovely feature that instantly makes the app feel closer to its analog real-world equivalent. You can even share pages from here, without having to expand them further.
Tap or pinch outwards to open edit mode. Your notebook page lies before you, ready for your thoughts. The tools are deliberately minimal: five different drawing implements, one eraser, and a small selection of (well chosen) colors.
By default, with the free download, you only get one drawing tool, simply called Draw. It’s fine for simple note-taking and drawing, but if you want more freedom, you’ll have to pay in-app for the other tools: Sketch (pencil-like), Outline (marker-pen), Write (thinner strokes for text), and Color (a watercolor paintbox).
Each of these costs two bucks as an in-app purchase, or you can buy all of them at once for eight dollars (no saving for the bulk buy; just convenience). It’s helpful to offer the upgrade this way – you can pick and choose the tools you think will be most useful.
As with a lot of simple products, that means there are some features that didn’t get included.
There’s no zoom: a double page is the size of your iPad screen, and no larger. There’s also only plain blank paper on offer, no lined paper, graph paper, music sheets, or anything else. It’s landscape view all the way: tip your iPad into portrait orientation and the Paper UI won’t tip with it (although you can still draw just as easily this way).
Different people will have different opinions about these limitations. I’d like to see some additional paper types on offer, but the lack of zoom doesn’t bother me. Your view will depend on how you typically use a paper notebook.
Of course, there are many rival notebook apps around. Penultimate and Noteshelf immediately spring to mind as excellent examples, each of them packed with all the features missing from Paper and many others besides. I’d say there’s room for more than one of them on your iPad – Penultimate and Noteshelf are better for actual notes; Paper is more suited to designs, sketches and artworks. But each can be used for either.
Paper succeeds precisely because it leaves a lot of stuff out: it is the closest that any of these apps comes to the experience of picking up a real notebook, opening a blank page, and starting to draw.
Pro: Simple. Clean. Gorgeous. Free for the basics.
Con: Lack of features might bother some; but try out the free app anyway.