Review: Is the iPad Worth it for Students?

This article originally appeared in Patrick Henry High School’s ‘The Patriot Press’ in January 2022. It has been lightly edited for republication.

In late 2020, I had the privilege of purchasing an iPad. I’d been wanting one for a while, but worried the expensive device would soon go unused if it didn’t meet my expectations of productivity. 

I was delighted to discover the investment was absolutely worth it. I made the decision to replace my many worn notebooks, pens, highlighters and all other writing tools with an all-encompassing digital notebook: an Apple Pencil, and GoodNotes 5, an app that lets you organize, annotate, and create unlimited documents, notebooks, and folders. It was definitely an adjustment getting used to writing on a screen — I got a “paper-like” screen protector to mimic the feel of a notebook, but the change was still apparent. After about a week, however, I was able to successfully navigate the software and writing felt much more natural. 

Starting my iPad note-taking journey while still in distance learning probably contributed to the smooth transition. Almost all of our assignments were digital, so it was easy to complete them on my iPad and export them directly to Google Classroom. It was especially useful for homework or worksheets, as I was able to edit the PDF directly and then turn in the problems and solutions all together at once.

I was unsure of how my teachers would react when I brought my iPad back to in-person school. I worried they wouldn’t let me use it for notes, and I would have to switch back after making such progress in my digital notebooks. Surprisingly, they were all understanding and allowed me to continue using my new tool to succeed in class.

I now consider myself a mostly paper-free student, which not only makes my life easier but is also great for the environment! I take notes digitally during class and study them later. I scan paper handouts and annotate them in GoodNotes. I can even export my notebooks into PDFS, which I then send to friends during review sessions. I haven’t bought notebooks or writing tools in over 2 years, and I don’t plan to anytime soon — while the iPad was initially quite expensive, it’s certainly saving me a bit in the stationary department.

Taking notes via GoodNotes 5 has had some incredible perks. A lasso tool lets me select and move around anything I place on a document, including handwritten strokes, text boxes, and images. I can copy and paste between notebooks and documents, and can even search up a word (handwritten or typed) and GoodNotes will analyze all documents, folders, and notebooks to find matches. There’s unlimited possibilities for pen and highlighter tools, including customizable types, weights, and colors. I can also import any file to use as page templates or notebook covers, making the possible combinations and customization of notes virtually endless.

Portability has also been a huge perk. I have all of my notebooks and class materials in a single, slim device that I can take anywhere and access from any device compatible with GoodNotes, such as my iPhone or MacBook. Using the split-screen feature, I read online textbooks on one side and take notes on the other. Removing so many different physical objects has helped streamline my workload and make my entire school process much more efficient, and frankly, enjoyable. Getting to take notes that are fun to make and rewarding to read is something that I’ve truly found motivational for completing my schoolwork.

I would encourage anyone interested to test out an iPad beforehand before making such a big purchase. While I found it to fit perfectly with my lifestyle and study habits, it might not work for everyone and it’s important to fully think about how you would use it before saving up. 

Depending on the model and storage you’re interested in, getting the device plus an apple pencil can start at around $400 and go up well beyond $1000. I own the 11″ 2020 iPad Pro (starting at $799), and do notice and appreciate one of the flagship features of a 120hz refresh rate (basically meaning the screen refreshes so fast that pen-to-screen contact is virtually instant and incredibly smooth). 

The 2020 iPad Air (starting at $599) also has a redesigned screen and thinner bezels to mimic the Pro’s, so it’s a great and less-expensive option. The standard iPad (the least-expensive option currently starting at $329) is updated frequently to include the latest chips, and the iPad Mini (starting at $499) is a smaller choice that has also been recently redesigned. 

There are also refurbished iPads which often are listed at a discounted rate and can run just as well, so it’s worth exploring those options for good deals before buying a brand-new device. 

The iPad was certainly an expensive investment, but it’s been worth it. I’ve barely scratched the surface in this article of all the things it can do. Besides note taking, it’s a fantastic creative device for anyone who is artistic (Procreate is an amazing digital canvas that is super easy to use and can create some incredible work!), an excellent source of media entertainment (larger than a phone but not as clunky as a laptop), and also a great mobile gaming device, among many other things. 

The iPad has revolutionized my workflow and productivity, and I’m deeply glad and grateful to have such a brilliant tool that enhances not only my education but my creative abilities and other lifestyle habits outside of school.

By Alexis Kovacevic, Patrick Henry High School