I’ve had a lot of people ask me what I think of the new Notebook for iPad app and whether they should purchase the app. In response, I set aside some time to go through the app and jot down my initial thoughts.
I must caution that you should not place undue reliance on this review especially concerning the forward-looking information and statements. As such, I do not assume responsibility for the accuracy or completeness of the information presented in this review.
You can click here to watch a video demonstration of the Notebook for iPad app before you read the review.
Smart Technologies has just released the new Notebook for iPad app that allows students to open, interact, modify, and save files using the .notebook format. Having a common file format between the computer and the iPad makes it very easy for teachers and students to share Notebook content. This is a huge leap forward in the seamless integration of large group instruction on a SMART Board and individual learning on an iPad.
This review will focus on the current state of the Notebook for iPad app and whether it delivers on what it promised. Keep in mind, that what it promised for the first release was an extremely basic version of Notebook that could run on an iPad (see Press Release for details).
So, does the Notebook for iPad app deliver on what it promised? The simple answer is yes. I had no problem adding text, images, or drawings and I found it very easy to record audio and attach the recording to an object. I was able to zoom and pan a page and I thoroughly enjoyed how easy it was to open existing Notebook files from the Internet.
The sections below outline the features as described in the iTunes Store and my initial experience interacting with the Notebook for iPad app.
Using The App
SMART Notebook Content Manager
When you open the app you will first see the Content Manager which displays a thumbnail of all the Notebook files that you can open; it also has an option to create a new Notebook file. I found it very easy to change file names, remove files, and share files from the Content Manager.
Issues: You cannot open Notebook files from the Internet (or from iTunes) from within the Content Manager. You need to exit the app to do this.
SMART is looking into adding improvements for importing files in future releases.
Zoom and Pan
It is very easy to zoom in or zoom out on any Notebook page by pinching the iPad screen and you can pan around the page by sliding your finger while zoomed in.
Issues: If you are zoomed in on a part of the page and you want to pan to another area, you cannot move the screen if you touch on an object, even if it is locked. You can only move around the screen if you first touch in an empty area of the page. This can make it difficult or impossible to pan to another area of the page.
Insert and Edit Text
It is easy to add Text Object to a page and controlling font properties like font type, font color, and font size is straight-forward. Text objects are also very easy to rotate and resize, and modifying font properties to existing text objects is simple.
Issues: I found it extremely frustrating when modifying an existing text object. The problem is that the width of the text object (in relation to the font size) cannot be changed once it gets created and any new text will wrap automatically to the next line.
SMART is investigating improvements to the text editing tool.
Adding and Erasing Pen Drawings
I found it extremely easy to use the pens to add drawings. Changing the color or the type (regular or highlighter) of the pen is very easy and rotating, resizing, and deleting a pen object is a breeze. Using the eraser tool is also very easy and you have the ability to change the size of the eraser.
Issues: There are no options for changing the line thickness of the pens. However, this was not promised for the first release and I am confident this will be added in a future release.
Inserting and Using Images
Adding images is very easy. To add an image it must be saved in your iPad Photo Library. Fortunately, the iPad makes it very easy to save images from the Internet to your Photo Library. You can also take a picture with your iPad (iPad 2 and iPad 3 only) instead of selecting an image from your Library. Once again, rotating, resizing, and deleting images is very easy.
Issues: While it is very easy to resize images, I could not resize images to proportions different than the original image. For example, I could not increase the width of an image while keeping the height the same.
The Notebook for iPad app makes use of the iPad’s ability to record sound which enables you to record a sound and attach it to any object from within the app.
Issues: You cannot attach an existing audio file to an object. In addition, the sound is attached as a corner icon and cannot be attached to the entire object. This is a drawback for using audio in an application. I should point out that if you open an existing Notebook file that has the sound attached to the entire object, the sound will play as intended by touching on the object.
Note: Attaching existing audio files to an object is technically very difficult due to the lack of a browse-able file system on the iPad.
Moving, rotating, and resizing objects is very easy. It’s also easy to delete the object, turn the object into an Infinite Cloner, and attach sound to the object (see above).
Undo and Redo
You can Undo the last action and you can Redo the last Undo.
Issues: You can only Undo the very last action (i.e. – you cannot do multiple Undo’s in a row). This is very frustrating. When you add to that the fact that the file is being auto-saved (see below) it makes it impossible to return to a previous state.
SMART is considering the implementation of more robust Undo / Redo capabilities in future releases.
This is always enabled so you never need to save your file.
Issues: Since this is always enabled, you cannot go back to the original file after making changes. This is a major drawback. I would like to have control over when and if I save the file.
Note: Apple has very stringent requirements for auto-saving files on an iPad. Moreover, having full Undo capabilities would resolve this issue.
To share a file from the Notebook for iPad app, you touch on the send icon from any page (or from the Content Manager). It will save the file and then open up the iPad’s default E-mail with the file already attached. All you need to do is enter the email address and press the Send button.
Issues: I’m very disappointed the app does not provide options for sharing files to Internet “file sharing” sites like Dropbox or Box.com, especially considering the fact that many of these file sharing sites provide app developers with the code they need to do this. Furthermore, many schools do not allow or will block emails that include attachments.
SMART is investigating how to best support more third-party sharing options in a future release.
To import a file, all you need to do is click on the Notebook file link from the iPad’s browser. It will automatically start the Notebook for iPad app and load the file. Downloading Notebook files from the Smart Exchange is extremely easy.
Issues: You cannot open an existing file from the Internet from within the app. You need to leave the app to access the file. I also noticed a considerable delay in opening large files.
SMART is considering improvements for importing files for future releases.
Note: You can also open files located on your computer or save files from the Notebook for iPad app to your computer using iTunes.
You can use the built-in Airplay feature of the iPad to display the iPad screen so it can be seen by a larger audience. This is not a feature of the Notebook app but rather a feature of the iPad.
I am very glad the Notebook for iPad app has been released to the public and I have high expectation on future improvements in functionality after what I saw. So, if you understand the app’s current limitations and you were waiting to find out whether the Notebook for iPad app delivered on what it promised, I would recommend purchasing the app.
With that being said, in its current state, I cannot recommend the volume purchasing of the Notebook for iPad app for students to use in the classroom. This recommendation is based on the following rational and has nothing to do with the quality of the initial release of the app.
1. One of the biggest concerns I have is that the Notebook for iPad app is really intended to be used by the student on the student’s iPad and students may be the ones responsible for the cost of the app. If the app does not get used in the classroom, it is a financial loss for the student.
If the school takes responsibility to invest in the purchase of the app for the student population, I think there needs to be a clearer path and documented research for how it can improve learning in the classroom.
2. In its current state, the Notebook for iPad app does not display object animation, flash objects, video objects, table objects, browser object, or widgets. Since these types of objects are prevalent in existing Notebook files created in Notebook 10 or Notebook 11 for the desktop, most existing Notebook files will not function as intended when opened in the Notebook for iPad app. More of these object types need to function within the Notebook for iPad app.
Based on what I’ve read on the Internet concerning the Notebook for iPad app, I think it’s necessary to mention a few things before I finish.
1. The Notebook for iPad app does not communicate directly with the SMART Board. That means that you cannot collaborate on the same Notebook file on the SMART Board and the iPad simultaneously. While this has never been a feature promised by SMART, many people have this misconception. To control a Notebook file on the SMART Board and iPad simultaneously, you would need remote control software like Splashtop or LogMeIn which lets you control your computer using your iPad.
2. It is my belief that SMART will eventually provide enough features and improve upon the functionality of the app to make it a useful tool in the classroom. With this in mind, you might want to purchase the app “now” since updates in the iTunes Store are usually free.
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