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Notability vs Apple Notes

FeatureNotability Apple Notes
Price$9.99 on iPadOS/iOS
$4.99 macOS
Free
DeveloperGinger LabsApple
CategoryHandwriting note taking Handwriting note taking
Supported OSiPadOS, iOS, macOSiPadOS, iOS, macOS,
web app
Cloud services
supported
iCloud, Dropbox,
Google Drive, Box,
OneDrive, WebDAV
iCloud
Auto backup✔️
Syncing across
devices
✔️✔️
Exporting options★★★★
File organisation2-level foldersMulti-level folders
iPadOS supportFalse Dark mode
Gestures
True Dark mode
Gestures
Multiple instances
Handwriting
recognition
Search through handwriting
Convert handwriting to text
Now separate in-app, one-time purchase for new users
Search through handwriting
Languages supported
for OCR
15 languagesSystem’s language
Universal search✔️Only searches folders
and notes
Page templatesPlain, squared, lined, dotted
4 spacing options
15 colours
A4 size
Plain, squared, lined,
3 spacing options
2 colours
Undetermined size
Page customisation★★
Password protectionFoldersFolders + notes
ScrollingVertical and Horizontal
★★★★★
Vertical
★★★
PensFountain and Ballpoint
12 sizes
Ballpoint and pencil
5 sizes
HighlighterBehind inkInfront ink
Eraser★★★★★★★★★
Handwriting
accuracy
★★★★★★★★★★
Handwriting
experience
★★★★★★★★★★
Shapes tool★★★★★
InsertionsPhotos, images, scanned documents, GIFs, Web Clips, Sticky notesPhotos, images, scanned documents, GIFs, PDF documents, videos, tables
Zoom tool✔️
Integrated browser✔️
Hyperlink support✔️
PDF annotation✔️
Unique featuresAudio recording synced with notes• True dark mode
• Video support
• Table insertion
• Has a ruler tool
• Collaborations
Worst features• No page rotation
• No multiple page
selection
• One paper size support
• Difficult to determine
page size
• No image editing
features
Presentation modeYesNo

Before iPadOS this comparison was pointless. We never bothered with Apple Notes because the app was just pathetic. However, iPadOS has breathed some new life into the app. So now we must give it the attention it deserves.

Price

Apple Notes is free on all Apple devices (on your iPhone, MacBook and iPad). It is not exactly the same as having the actual app running on your PC, but the app has a web version for Windows users. I wouldn’t rely on it though. It still needs a bit of work; some notes don’t display properly. I hope Apple improves it.

Notability has a one-time purchase fee for $9.99 on mobile devices (iPadOS/iOS). The app also has a macOS app for $4.99. Each is purchased separately. No Windows version. I hope they develop one.
Now has a separate in-app, one-time purchase for Handwriting recognition (only for new users).

Note: prices may vary depending on your Appstore’s country (due to taxes).

Both apps are not very customisable. Settings for Apple Notes are located in the system settings. There’s not much to customise for a better user experience in the app.

Notability has more customisation for the user interface. I keep telling myself that I’ll purchase their paid themes but I actually never do. You also get a wider variety of paper templates than you do in Notes. Notability has more colours and one more spacing option. Notes has only 3 line spacing options. Notability also has dotted papers, an option missing from Notes.

See: how to add custom pages to Notability.

Notability clearly has better page customisation. Which is shocking because Notability has the worst page customisation in any third party handwriting note taking app. I guess, things could be worse.

Syncing and auto backup

Both Notability and Notes sync your notes via iCloud. They both do a smashing job. Notability also allows you to auto backup your notes to 5 different cloud services.

Organisation

Notes supports folders within folders, giving you more organisation options than the one you get in Notability. The two-level folder organisation system in Notability is crippling. The app gives you dividers and subject folders only.

Dark mode

Notability has what I am calling false dark mode; Notes has true dark mode. Actually, no third party app has true dark mode yet. Only Apple Notes can adjust your notes’ colours accordingly to the mode you have on your iPad. When in dark mode, the default ink colour is white, the background black. These colours automatically reverse when you switch to light mode.

Writing tools

Notability has superior writing tools. The pens in Notability look better. They, therefore, produce better results. The inking tools in Notes make it ideal for rough notes. That is how I am using the app. I can’t see myself using the app to create any serious notes just yet.

Writing in the app feels great though. Notes has a great handwriting feel. Second only to Noteshelf 2.

Notability is the master of handwriting on the iPad. The app has managed to strike a healthy balance between accuracy and comfort. It has a ballpoint pen and a fountain one; with far more pen sizes that those offered in Notes.

Shapes tool

Drawing shapes with a ruler? Seriously? I love the ruler in Notes; just seeing it as a decoration. Not actually using it! Drawing shapes in Notability is much more pleasant. In Notes you can only draw shapes with corners since you have to use the ruler tool to do it. That is too much manual labour in digital note taking. Very limiting for an note taking app.

Scrolling

Both apps have vertical scrolling. I love it. But in Notes, pages have no defined sizes. It makes exporting notes out of the app difficult. Each time I try to export my notes, they are cut off at the most inconvenient places. In Notability, it very easy to see where new pages start.

Exporting options

Notability has more exporting options. You can decide the format you want to export from three available options and select pages to export. You can turn off the paper template background and add a margin around your notes.

Notes has limited options. You can save an image without the paper background. The app had no option to keep the paper background if you wanted it. Exporting a PDF in Notes is possible only through the printing option. When exporting to Notability, the exported file is by default a PNG image. You can’t choose the exported format. The Notes app is ideal for someone who doesn’t plan on exporting their notes, ever!

Zoom tool

You can zoom in and out of your pages in Notability. Never thought I’d appreciate this function until I didn’t have it in Notes. Notability even has a zoom tool, letting you add more information on a page in smaller handwriting. Handy for note taking.

Split view

Both apps support in-app split view. Only the one in Notes is superior. You can open the app in multiple windows, with different apps. You can even open the same notes twice.
Notability’s split view doesn’t support opening the same notes twice. You can’t open the app in multiple windows either. It’s a shame, I was really looking forward to that.

Photo Editing

Adding photos to Notes is a bore! Once you’ve inserted and image, you can’t adjust its size, position or orientation. You can’t even crop the image! All options which you have in Notability.

PDF annotation

Notability supports PDF annotation. You can work on PDFs with hyperlinks and your PDF can stand alone as a unique file. In Notes, a PDF is a file you attach to your notes. It is an insertion like photos and web links. You open it independently in the markup window for annotation. Not the best way to annotate PDFs.

Unique features

Apple Notes supports videos! Obviously Notability doesn’t. I have been obsessed with videos in notes lately. If you can have videos in your notes, why not?

Notes has a pencil and a ruler. Notability has neither. I love the pencil but it is not for serious note taking. It’s great for drawing though, if you use diagrams. It is very accurate with impressive pressure sensitivity.

Notes supports collaborations. You can add people to your notes/folders so you can work on projects together. You can allow them to view or make changes to content you share.

The audio recording tool in Notability is a winner! The ability to record audio, synced to your notes is Notability’s trump card.

What app should you choose?

Notability is one of the best handwriting note taking apps on Appstore. If you’re into serious note taking, and your handwriting is cursive… you definitely want to give Notability a try.

The Notes app is best for quick rough notes. It is always handy to jot down random ideas running through your head. But I’d say try Apple Notes first, it might work for you. If it does, you won’t be spending money on a note taking app.

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