All good with the shiny big iPad pro and the pencil. But what do you do with it? What software do you use? Apple Notes had some amazing stuff built into it, but that was that. Other software did not do much for note-taking. You can look back at some other software we have reviewed earlier for Drawing/Painting and for image manipulation like Photoshop, we also reviewed a vector drawing app. However there was no app for note-taking or general visual thinking. The one that has resonated with me was Bamboo Paper, I loved it over all other apps as it had some lovely colors and tools. It was a visual pleasure but there were plenty of issues that made it difficult to work with it. The palm would accidentally touch the screen leaving a trail of dots and smears, if you were trying to draw details, i.e. closer pixels, the software thought that it was a long press and it would display the color palette to change color, which was quite frustrating at times.
After a year of the iPad establishing itself, end of January 2017, I saw a tweet in my twitter feed of someone praising a new iPad app. It was worth a look and I saw it was an app by iConfactory and it was called Linea. It was yet another note taking app, however the features sounded quite interesting and my first impulse told me to buy it. So I purchased Linea and set upon a journey to use it, the bar was set quite high by Bamboo Paper App, it had some issues, but among the apps available, it was the best app.
LineaThe Icon is orange, it reminded me of the Todo app Clear, however it is an icon that you cannot miss, it can be spotted even if you place the app in a group.
On starting the app, you are presented with a Starter Project and a tab called My Sketches. It was a bit unclear, but this is the equivalent of a Notebook. Each group is a notebook and each notebook can have multiple pages. The lack of clarity was a problem because I added new pages to a notebook and at this moment, pages cannot be moved between notebooks.
Upon selecting a new page, you are greeted with a minimal interface that is easy to understand and nothing complicated. On the left is a palette of colors and on the right are two palettes, the bottom palette has 5 tools, a pencil, a crayon (which also looked like a pencil), a marker, a highlighter and an eraser. The palette on the top had 5 squares and two icons, which admittedly at first glance were a bit unclear. However, on tapping the icon, it was clear that the 5 boxes were layers, so you can have 5 layers of drawing (you can technically have more, but then you will have to merge them to make way for more as you can have only 5 at one time). The layers can be switched on or off, the opacity of the layers can be manipulated to an alpha between 0 to 100%. The other icon is to set a grid/template, this allows you to create a guideline for drawing, you can choose between grids, isometric, dots and the interesting thing is you can even choose icons and app screens along with Storyboards (for comics and/or movies). Then you also have the choice of paper, which can be normal paper, butcher's paper (slightly yellowish brown), black construction paper or a blueprint. If you do not want any paper, simply click on the eye icon to make it hidden.
The color palette is also an interesting bit as each color further has 6 more variations, 3 lighter and 3 darker, this is quite handy when trying to get a range of shades for a color. There are 14 slots of predefined colors and another 14 pastel/muted variations of the first 14 and also has 12 user defined colors.
So what's new?If you feel that the features so far are 'meh, so what?' then let me tell you about my experience using the app. I am not an artist and if I wanted to make some amazing art, then I would use procreate it has brushes and a lot of control. However, from a visual note-taking perspective, Linea is amazing, you can simply rotate the canvas (paper) without having to move the iPad, which you have to in most of the other apps. You can simple pinch to zoom in or out, rotate to angle the paper and draw with the pencil. If you have a pencil (this is the best part, and I am surprised that apple did not think about it, for those that are developers, this is so easy to implement in theory) you can draw with the pencil and if you touch the screen with your fingers, it acts as an eraser. There is nothing more natural to an artist or someone taking notes than using a finger as an eraser. It is so intuitive and in fact facilitates whatever you are working on. If your palm does touch the screen, it does not end up with accidental marks. It does a very good job of palm rejection. You can hide the palettes and have a distraction free canvas to work on by simply clicking the little arrow that toggles the palettes.
The tools are also quite interesting, they all have 3 thickness levels, fine, medium and thick. In addition it also has two modes, overwrite or blend. This is particularly useful in creating effects where the cross over strokes are darker (if of the same color) or blend to a new color.
The app has some amazing shortcuts like two finger tap for undo, three for redo. To really gauge the power of these single finder eraser, two finger undo and three finger redo, hold a pen or pencil in your hand the way you would, imaging you are writing something and now use your finger to erase, draw some more imaginary strokes and try to undo and redo. You will realize that your entire workflow is now in that single hand. Your middle finger (at least for me) works as the eraser while still holding the pencil. It is so natural to me that it does not disrupt my chain of thought, I tried to think if say there was an eraser at the back of the pencil, single handedly rotating the pencil to position it for the eraser and then rotating it back for writing, involved readjusting the pencil in hand, where as using the finger to erase simply meant angling the pencil of the surface.
It also recognizes the pressure sensitivity of the pencil but not the tilt. This was of lower importance to me as I required the marker for writing. Linea also allows for saving your work in PNG or JPG format. You can export the entire page or you can export portions of the screen. One thing that was of concern to me was where are the drawing saved apart from the device. I had my iPad stolen and all of the work that I had done in Bamboo Paper was lost. It had the functionality to save to DropBox as PDF or to it's own program called Inkspace but for some reason it was not and I lost it all with the device. This is my greatest concern. Omni Graffle and Pixelmator make use of the Cloud Drive and I am fine if Linea can use that.
TemplatesThis is another good feature and perhaps the best feature for UI/UX designers, If you use a vector based tool like sketch, then you cannot move away from that perhaps you could try Omni Graffle if you were looking for alternatives or Adobe has a couple of options however, if you wanted to draw or sketch your interface like many do (including what I prefer) then you can simply change the template to App design and choose from phone screen 2 large or 8 small or app icon single, small matrix or medium matrix (for icon ideas). There is no reason why you would want to go to any other app. Given that the multi-tasking on iPads is still not evolved and has its moments, it is still quite useful to have quick information on the side. In one particular instance I required a calculator to calculate and jot down the numbers. The iPad has no in-built calculator, the best option is to open safari in the multi-tasking bar, and google provides a web based full fledged calculator. Nothing to do with the app Linea, but in case you ever need, this is a great tip for quick access to a calculator.
IssuesSometimes the canvas simply goes blank (which probably would mean a memory issue) and if you kill the app entirely and com back, you can continue working on your drawing, if you don't, you simply see a blank and not sure but I feel you might end up losing your image. This could also come to pass as I like working zoomed in greater than 500% for writing.
Lastly a wish list item is to be able to lasso an area and duplicate it or re-position it on the canvas. It would be nice to also have masks, but those can wait.
SummaryThis is an app that has me hooked on instantly, It makes me want to write, use the app more, draw on it, write on it, just doodle my thought. To add to that, this is an app that we did not even get a promo code for to review, nor did we have any financial transaction for reviews or anything. The app is so good that you cannot but praise it. It could be a a little bit expensive for the casual user, however if you have an iPad and an Pencil, then this is an investment you must make. If you want to get your kids to use paper or writing, this seems like a good option.
Software : Linea
Version : 1.0.1
Publisher : IconFactory
Website : http://linea-app.com/
Twitter : @linea_app
Platform : iOS 10.x
Price : $14.99 AUD ($9.99 USD)
App Store : https://itunes.apple.com/au/app/linea-sketch-simply/id1094770251?mt=8