Note taking with iPad: Making our life easier.

May 28, 2013 § 25 Comments

Dear colleagues:

A few months ago while on break during an event I was working with several colleagues from different language combinations, we had one of those not-so-common moments when we all gather outside the booths and talked about the industry.  As we were having this conversation I brought up the note taking topic saying that I had noticed that some of the interpreters were using a tablet while others were working “old-school” with pen and paper.

I have been taking advantage of the benefits of the iPad for quite some time.  I love showing up for work with nothing but my tablet. No more heavy briefcases with multiple dictionaries. I now have my glossaries, dictionaries, and textbooks in my iPad; and if for some reason I need to consult other sources, I just go online with Safari.  It is great to have my calendar, invoices, and even my travel apps handy at all times.  Note taking for both, simultaneous and consecutive interpretation are another good reason to go to work with an iPad as well.  Although I now use the Livescribe Echo Smartpen for consecutive renditions during press conferences and other non-judicial settings, because of the issue of recording in-court statements that has been raised in some courthouses, I am taking advantage of my iPad with a different application when interpreting in a courthouse, and many times when working in the booth.

1 Notes app on screen

There are many good efficient note taking applications for your iPad and other tablets: Paper Desk Lite, Idea Sketch, ABC Notes, Penultimate, Note Taker HD, Notes Plus, and others specific to Android or Microsoft are a good option, but in my case, I have been using TopNotes for about a year.  This app has
everything I need to have in the booth and in the courtroom. It is a friendly application that takes you to your bookcase as soon as you open it. Once you
are at the book case you can either retrieve the notes of a conference or case you have been using, or you can simply create a new notepad for a brand new
event.  To make it easier to identify your notepads, the program lets you name them, and then it allows you to pick a color for the cover and a paper style for the notepad. Finally, you can link or unlink your notepad to Dropbox, Google Drive, Box and Evernote, you can copy from Dropbox, Google Drive and Box, and you can protect your notes by setting a 4-digit passcode.

Once you have a notepad you can write in  different ink colors: blue, purple, grey, black, red, orange, yellow and green;  you can select the width of your handwriting making the lines and letters  bolder or finer, and you can highlight, erase, copy, and paste your notes.

You can also choose your paper, turn on the read-only mode, change fonts, and turn on a wrist protection that allows you to write without having to worry about any marks or alterations by your hand and wrist pressing against the screen.

This app lets you switch the screen so you can see all of your notes at the same time making it easier to go back and forth without having to shuffle papers at the speed of light.  Finally, with TopNotes you can email your notes, upload them to Dropbox, Google Drive, Box or Evernote, open the notes in other apps installed in your iPad, print your notes via air-print, and copy pdf files from your Dropbox and elsewhere so you can underline the text of a presentation or court file without ever touching the original documents.

I just want to end by saying that my choice of stylus for the iPad are:

Bamboo for fine handwriting. It is beautiful, its shaft is a little girthier than a Bic pen, and it is strong and durable but light enough to carry it in the shirt pocket like a regular pen; and

Boxwave from Amazon for bolder writing. It is heavier than Bamboo, its tip will not write with the fine precision of a Kensington, but it is far less expensive than Bamboo and you would not be very sad if you lose it.  In my experience I found it better to have them both by my iPad and use the Bamboo stylus to write and the Boxwave to underline or to write big bold messages to my colleague in the booth.

Technology has changed the way we take notes as interpreters, and I invite those of you who have not switched to a tablet to give it a try. You will discover freedom and speed thanks to your new tool. Please tell me what apps you prefer and what stylus are more compatible with your handwriting.

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§ 25 Responses to Note taking with iPad: Making our life easier.

  • Lidia Carney says:

    Thanks for that Tony, this information is really useful!

  • Stephania says:

    Hello Tony,
    Thank you for this great and enlightening post! 🙂 I have to say that as soon as I read it, I downloaded the Top Notes app! I’m quite looking forward to giving it a try.
    Have a nice rest of the week!

  • Ana Maria Barreiros says:

    Hello Tony,
    Thank you so much for your extremely useful post! I am looking forward to finding out and trying all the tools you mentioned in your post. May I ask you a question: Do you believe Nexus from Google has all this useful features for us interpreters, or the iPad is more suitable for our needs?
    Thank you in advance for your answer!

    • Ana María, I am an “Apple Guy” so I prefer the iPad, but if you want to try other options go ahead. Explore them and then decide what suits you better. It is all about feeling comfortable during your rendition.

      • Ana Maria Barreiros says:

        Thank you very much for your kind answer. I will explore the possibilities of both. Maybe the iPad, besides being more user friendly, has also more tools to suit our needs.

  • Betzabe Turner says:

    I just downloaded TopNotes and bought a bamboo pen. Thank you for keeping us in the techonology loop!

  • Chica says:

    Eres una joyita. Habrá que probarlo

  • Chica says:

    Por cierto, ¿Qué diferencia hay entre la versión gratuita y la que no lo es? ¿Lo sabes?

  • Was looking forward to a post on this issue so thank you.
    If I may ask, how was the transitional period from paper to iPad? (if there was any). I’m a dedicated tecnophile and feel the technology, especially when it comes to stylae is yet to catch up with good old pen and paper. Quite simply, I can’t see myself relying on the ipad 100%. I guess it’s a matter of jumping in the pool…

  • I’m already looking forward to the funny looks I’m going to get in court…

  • Thanks for that, very interesting!

  • Aude-Valérie Monfort says:

    What is your experience with battery life? Or the sudden vanishing of you app (it happens with other applications)? I appreciate your enthusiasm but I cannot imagine that there is never any incident. I would be interested in hearing about them in a real life situation, how to cope with them, how client react, the impact on the interpreter’s concentration and memory if one has to deal and solve such an incident while doing consecutive. A trainer myself, I wish we could offer note-taking with iPad or other tablets in class.

    • Battery life is good as long as you charge the iPad before the event and during breaks (very doable) Glitches are rare but if they happen rebooting is fast (so far never happened to me while working) You should save everything in the cloud so nothing is lost (one of the reasons to use this technology) many clients are already using the technology in their businesses and personal lives so I have never encountered opposition to the iPad. Students are already learning consecutive interpreting with electronic tools in the U.S., and professional interpreters are taking the every day more common continuing education workshops where they learn and practice this technology.

  • Ernesto Garcia says:

    Hi. Could you comment on how bad the lags are between the moment you touch the screen with your e-pen and the point in time when your writing actually appears on it? I’m asking because I have a Samsung Note “phablet,” which is tailored for use with an S-Pen (Samsung’s stylus). Still, I find it pretty disturbing that there’s a certain, though small, time gap associated with the device processing the input data. Thanks.

  • Laura Bush says:

    Tony, Do you use the free version of TopNotes or the $4.99 Top Notes Pro?

  • Ian says:

    Hello Tony,
    What do you feel is the optimal screen size for note taking?
    I assume your iPad is a 9.7 inch tablet, what do you think about smaller tablets?

    • Ian, the 9.7 inch screen is right for me. It gives me a size big enough to write and read. The mini-pad’s 7.9 inch screen is a little small for me. You should pick the screen size you feel is better for your note taking style.

  • Rafael Silva says:

    Really cool stuff!

    I tried the app today in the booth. My colleague also had an Ipad and downloaded it as soon as he saw it on my screen. It was a great help every time the speakers mentioned figures or dates.


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  • alma j calix says:

    I found this article both useful and exciting. I realize that it was written in 2013, but i am now prepping to use the new apple pencil on my iPad for note taking on consecutive interpretation. Have you had a chance to use it? I would love to hear your thoughts.

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