Cursive Review: Hands on with Google’s new writing app for Chromebooks
There are a lot of options if you want a quality app for taking handwritten notes. Of course, not all of those are made by our beloved Google. As Chrome OS fans, it’s always nice when Google releases a new app to play around with (even if they decide to kill it later on). Such is the case with the new Cursive Progressive Web App (PWA). Google has decided to take a shot with a new type of notes app. Considering the success of Google Keep (or is it Keep Notes?), that makes a lot of sense to me.
In this Google Cursive review, we’ll take a look at everything on offer in Google’s new PWA and whether you should consider using it on Chromebooks.
About this review: I’ve used the Google Cursive PWA on my ASUS Chromebook CX9 and Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2 for the last three weeks. These are two of the best touchscreen Chromebooks available right now. During that time I’ve written nearly all of my lecture and research notes for my university job using the Cursive app. I haven’t yet had a chance to test Cursive on the HP Chromebook x2 11, but when I receive my review unit, I’ll update this article with the experience on a true Chrome OS tablet.
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Google Cursive: UI
The Google Cursive UI is fairly simple. If you’re looking for a note-taking app with an overwhelming amount of UI theming and customization, this isn’t the one for you. My personal favorite app for handwritten notes is Notability, which is, unfortunately, an iOS exclusive. Notability offers custom themes (for a price) and other options you can add to your basic experience with the app. Considering Cursive just launched, I didn’t quite expect that level of customization just yet from Google.
Still, this looks like a Google app and behaves in the way you’d expect. There are options for organizing notebooks, a pen, highlighter, and eraser tool as expected, and they work fine. The pen and marker both have a handful of colors to pick from and three stroke widths. There are no other settings here for inputs and if you want to focus only on taking notes, that could be viewed as a benefit.
The only other items in the toolbar are a spacer, selector, and image tool. Again, these do precisely what you’d expect from them, giving you the ability to add space where needed, highlight/select certain scribbles in order to move/resize them on the page, and add images into your document when necessary. You also get a few different paper options — lined paper, graph paper, and dot-matrix style.
Aside from the aforementioned tools and different types of virtual paper, there aren’t a whole lot of flagship features in this app yet. That isn’t a bad thing, as it’s meant to be a fairly simple handwriting app. The most useful features in the Cursive app are currently confined to the pen gestures that allow you to use the available tools without engaging the toolbar. Google has clearly thought this aspect through and it’s enjoyable to use the pen gestures to edit notes.
Let’s take a look at the available gestures. For selection, draw a big circle around what you want to grab/drag/move and you’ll see your circle get a blue glow. This means you can now tap that circle with your pen and it will call up the selection tool. In a similar way, a long horizontal line drawn anywhere on the page will glow and allow you to click to utilize the Spacer tool. Scribble over a section of text and clicking the glowing scribble makes that stuff simply disappear. All of these gestures work intuitively and I didn’t have any issues using them to edit my notes in a more efficient way.
While the basic UI design and tools on offer are nice, the really important thing is how the app performs when you’re actually taking notes. Unfortunately, that experience is actually pretty awful. The biggest problem by far right now is poor palm rejection. As I mentioned before, I typically use my iPad Pro for notes, and the experience with Cursive on a Chromebook was a frustrating one in comparison.
If you rest your hand on the screen before you start writing (who doesn’t, really?) you’ll notice all sorts of weird behavior and ghost touches. The most common issue is activating the dock on your Chromebook or accidentally exiting the Cursive app altogether. This may not seem like a huge deal, but if you compare the palm rejection to the iPad/Apple Pencil experience, it’s very annoying.
Of course, this can be improved over time, but right now it is unusable for any reasonably long note-taking session. If you’re scribbling down a phone number or some small thought, that would be fine, but I wouldn’t use it for anything more.
Bugs and Input lag
Aside from the palm rejection, the input lag with the pen is also fairly noticeable. I used my Penoval USI pen, as well as more standard styli to test the experience. None of the instruments I tried were much of an improvement. I hate to keep referring back to the iPad, but the Apple Pencil has virtually zero lag and it’s really like writing on paper, in terms of smoothness.
Keep in mind that I tested Cursive with both, the ASUS Chromebook CX9 and Samsung Galaxy Chromebook 2. These are both premium, high-end Chromebooks. If you use a budget Chromebook, the experience is likely to be even worse for input lag. Of course, the iPad has a bit of an unfair advantage with Apple controlling the software and hardware, but the amount of lag using Cursive at the moment is unacceptable.
Conclusion: Should you use Cursive?
In its current state, I definitely don’t recommend using Cursive as your go-to app for taking handwritten notes on a Chromebook. The clean and understated UI does pair nicely with the pen shortcuts Google has included, but the core writing experience is just too flawed to look past right now. Hopefully, Google will continue to work on Cursive as more Chromebook users discover the app and complain about the egregious palm rejection and pen lag problems I’ve outlined above.
Of course, when it comes to new Google products, there are no guarantees that they’ll last at all. Google could get bored of Cursive and decide to kick it to the curb like so many projects before it. Still, I think they have a solid start and it could be a great app that adds appeal to owning a Chromebook, once they clean up these key problems.