Rnote is a seriously impressive freehand note taking app written in Rust and GTK4.

I came across it on Flathub this week and, within seconds of installing it, I knew I had to give it a bit of a spotlight. If you’ve got a laptop with a stylus or touch-enabled screen and you use GNOME Shell you have to try it out.

Rnote is billed by its developer as a “simple note taking application written in Rust and GTK4”. I spent about 20 minutes playing around with it (albeit with a mouse as primary input) and it’s really quite polished considering that it’s likely far from feature complete.

The app is primarily designed for freehand drawing, annotating, and marking up documents and images. A key USP is that everything scribbled and drawn is vector based to allow contents to be edited or altered at a later date.

a screenshot of Rnote freehand note taking app
Rnote includes configurable tools

Functionality wise you could describe Rnote as an alternative to Xournal++ or Write. I’ve no doubt that down the line if the developer stays at it, it will be a worthy rival to those. For now, it lacks a few features those apps have like being able to enter text using a keyboard that make it a little less production ready.

It comes with a number of basic tools, including a marker with different brush styles, a pen, shapes, eraser, and couple of ‘selection’ tools that make it easy to select an area to move it, resize it, or clone it.

You can also switch between light and dark modes; change the page size, fit, and colour; switch between different background patterns (e.g., lined, dots, grid, plain); use multi-touch gestures to zoom in/out; clear the sheet; enable pen noises; and import/export. Heck, it even has one of OneNote’s best features: a vertical spacer that lets you insert space exactly where you need to.

As Rnote is a GTK4 app it takes full advantage of the many new widgets and UI elements the toolkit update offers. It’s kind of like a showcase of what makes GTK4 is exciting. Simple thing like rounded menus, side-panels that can be repositioned, consistent pop overs, animations within the UI, all feel right.

another screenshot of Rnote freehand note taking app
Adjust page settings easily

Take the brush selector: you’re not hit in he face by a pop up dialog, nor do you have to relocate your glance to look someplace else on the screen, you can do it where you are. Similarly for the shapes tool, or the page settings — everything you might want to configure is configurable from wherever the tool is. But it’s not all on screen at the same time, either.

It’s a perfect on-demand user experience that — and this might be controversial — is more akin to professional-grade iPadOS apps than GTK apps. I know this will sound like a minor thing on paper but spatially, within the user experience, it reduces friction, and makes it so much easier to get things done.

But the best bit is that I get the feeling this app is only just getting started.

With more brush types, brush styles, a text tool, and so on it could become something really powerful and persuasive not only for those note-taking during lectures or seminars, but to creatives looking for a sketching or drawing app, and business folk wanting to brainstorm ideas.

Install Rnote on Ubuntu

Moving a selection

You can install Rnote from Flathub. This is is where I tried it out from. Just make sure you have installed Flatpak and configured the Flathub remote.

AT the time of writing there are a few minor quirks. In order to drag and drop images in to the Rnote canvas (so you can mark them up etc) you need to install Flatseal (a Flatpak permissions manager app) and use it to Rnote file access. You can use the ‘import’ menu option to get around this, though,

Finally, although the app is apparently capable of marking up documents I couldn’t get it to open or import any documents I had, only images. Could be a bug, could be a sandbox quirk, but worth knowing about all the same.

Apps flathub apps flatpak apps gtk4 handwritten notes note taking apps notetaking rnote