Last week I attended a full day of continuing education classes. The afternoon session is mandatory for Minnesota agents and we even had to pass a test, which is fairly unusual.

I sat at a table with five others and four of them had iPads. It seems like iPads are everywhere these days. They can be used for business or for recreation, but they should never be used as paperweights.

When the first class started, the agents with whom I was sitting closed up their iPads and set them aside. I used mine to take notes.

I use Evernote for taking notes so that they are stored in the cloud and can be assessed from my office or through mobile devices. The notes can also be searched and they are automatically dated and even geotagged.

During the break we talked about the iPads. All of the agents use them for business and for working with clients. They said the main reason they were not using the iPad for taking notes is that they couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with the instructor.

There are several apps for the iPad for taking handwritten notes, and many of them work with Evernote and Dropbox so that the notes can be stored in the cloud and can be accessed from a number of electronic devices.

The iPad is ideal for taking notes. It is just the right size and there is no paper to lose or put in a file cabinet. There are more than 900 iPad apps for note-taking, and each iPad comes with an app for notes already loaded.

Here are three of the most popular apps for taking handwritten notes with a finger or stylus:

1. Noteshelf (it’s new and currently discounted).
2. Penultimate.
3. UPAD.

Each of these apps works with Evernote or Dropbox for easy cloud storage and retrieval, and notes can be organized in notebooks. Throughout the day of classes and during the breaks and even during the lunch hour, my iPad was in constant use.

Why bring it to class and let it sit on the table?

Here are some ways to get the most out of your iPad:

1. Read the manual. I put my manual in iBook on the iPad, where it can be quickly accessed and easily searched.

2. Sync your iPad with iTunes once a week.

3. Make an appointment to meet with a "Genius" (a customer service representative) at the Genius Bar at your local Apple store and ask what you are supposed to do with the thing. Some Apple stores have iPad classes and lessons. Take advantage of them.

4. Check out Apple iPad support on the Internet. Go to the getting started page and also see the topics on the left side of the page.

5. Go to YouTube and look at "how to" videos that will help explain things you don’t understand.

There are now an overwhelming number of apps for the iPad. Most are inexpensive, which takes some of the pain out of buying the wrong app. They are also easy to delete from the device and can be put back on at any time.

Without apps, the iPad really is an expensive paperweight. It is important to explore the App Store on a regular basis. There is also an iPad apps starter kit available in the iTunes store.

The Apple App Store has lists of top-selling apps, and the apps are in categories. Many of the apps have customer reviews. I take the reviews seriously and pass on apps with one-star reviews or poor reviews.

It isn’t enough to have a friend say that an app "rocks." I need more information to make a decision. Newer apps can be found under "featured" in the app store. If you browse on the weekend you are more likely to find some discounts on new apps.

The "Genius" option in the app store is also useful because it makes recommendations based on previous purchases. When accessing the app store through the iPad, explore the options at the bottom of the screen.

During the full day I spent taking continuing education classes, I used my iPad for at least four hours. I used it to take notes, check email and Facebook, and moderate comments on my blog.

During the lunch hour I used it to read the news. IPads can be a distraction, but I passed the test at the end of the class with flying colors and I have access to a few pages of notes that I may need in the field.

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