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Review: Carbo – Handwriting in the Digital Age on iOS

Carbo is a new app that lets you capture and archive handwritten notes in an attempt to combine the glory days of pen and paper with the modern age of phones and tablets.

There’s something about writing notes by hand that just feels right. That said, the problem with hastily scrawling your best thoughts and ideas onto post-its, napkins and half-torn envelopes is that it’s near impossible to keep track of them all. You can’t always trust a diary or sketchbook to be around when you need it – and it’s all too easy for important information to get lost or forgotten. Not anymore.


Scanning with the iPhone camera is a breeze

Creating a new note is as simple as photographing a piece of paper – mainly because that’s all it takes. There are options to tweak the framing, contrast and perspective, so you always end up with the best possible image.

We tried scanning notes written on various types of paper and with different writing implements, with mostly great results. Got a combination of pen and pencil drawn on tracing paper? No problem. Multiple colors up on a whiteboard? Easy.


We put Carbo (center) to the test, against popular apps Evernote Scannable (left) and Genius Scan (right)

The main difference between Carbo and other document scanning apps is the conversion to vector artwork. (Vector graphics are drawn computationally using math rather than relying on specific pixels.) This has a number of benefits, including increased clarity, quality, smoothness, and much smaller file sizes.

On the flipside, vectors are no good for photographs or anything with too much color or texture. Carbo converts everything to black and white. Luckily, this works really well for the app’s intended purpose – scanning handwriting and the odd biro doodle. It holds up surprisingly well against other document scanning apps, as shown in the above image. Carbo’s scans are much cleaner, blacker and zoomable than the rest.


Carbo’s main view shows your notes organized chronologically

Carbo works seamlessly with Evernote, Dropbox and iCloud, plus you can store notes locally if preferred. Additionally, every image can be tagged and annotated, meaning it’s very easy to filter out specific types of notes or search for a particular item at a later date.

It’s a shame that each note can only exist in one place, and there are no options to automatically sync all your notes. It would also be nice to be able to manually rearrange the notes or create new, themed notebooks. As it stands everything either sits in the catch-all “local” folder or one of your synced cloud services.


Another benefit of working with vectors is that they’re easy to manipulate with no loss in quality

The editing tools are simple but powerful, and particularly well implemented for a touchscreen device. They allow you to easily move, scale and rotate specific sections of a note and are very forgiving of clumsy thumbs. It’s also very easy to erase parts of the image or change line thicknesses, and the tools are elegant and intuitive to use.

You can export all images at high resolution, with a number of customizable filters on hand to make your drawings look like they were done in chalk, on blueprint paper or by Andy Warhol.


Some of the filters are pretty tacky, but we like this blackboard effect

Overall we’re pretty impressed with Carbo. It’s not overflowing with features, but for an app with a specialist function that’s no bad thing. Carbo knows what it’s for – scanning, editing and archiving notes – and does it well.

It’s a little pricey, but if you’re the sort of person who still prefers writing notes the old-fashioned way this app could perfectly bridge the gap between pen and iPhone.

Price: $3.99/£2.99 (usually $7.99/£5.99)
Size: 25.4 MB
Version: 1.0
Developer: Creaseed SPRL

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