Apple Notes vs Noteful (2023): ultimate comparison


Apple Notes and Noteful don’t have a lot of features in common. But it’s important we highlight them before we focus on their differences.

User interface

Both apps have a minimalist user interface, with mobile and customisable toolbars. In Apple Notes, only the toolbar for writing tools is mobile. It is much thicker than the toolbar in Noteful, and we don’t like that it gets in the way when writing in the app. In spite of that, Apple Notes looks more minimalist than Noteful, which has one toolbar that you can put on any side of the screen.

Customising your toolbar is more flexible in Noteful where you can choose to remove all the tools on it to leave just the colour palette and page navigator. Apple Notes lets you remove only four tools in the app. Another striking feature about the two apps is that they don’t have too many setting options to play around with. Surprisingly, Apple Notes has more settings than Noteful. These differences though, don’t add or subtract from your user experience in either app.

Highlighter tool

In both apps, the highlighter goes behind the ink and does not dim your notes. Where Apple Note has opacity options, Noteful has a millimetre gauge for the size of your highlighter. Custom colours are also easier to access, which we are grateful for.

Lasso tool

The lasso tool in Noteful can selectively pick different items off the page using the tool’s settings. So you can pick up handwriting, images, text boxes and highlights only. Apple Notes’ lasso tool can pick up everything on the page, and individual items if you like. It’s not as easy as it is with Noteful, though, but it’s possible. Another limitation is that you can’t pick highlights only in Apple Notes.

You can, however, create space between sections of your notes in Apple Notes. It’s an obvious advantage that the app has over Noteful. But, Noteful can resize your selection, which can create extra space if you need it. Apple Notes can’t resize or rotate items you select. It can only rotate some individual items, one at a time. Noteful can easily rotate anything you select. The handwriting-straightening feature in Apple Notes is not very useful when you can just use lined or squared paper templates.

Web links

Web links in both apps are simple. In Apple Notes, you can preview the web link before you open it. However, at the end of the day, you want to open the link and quickly go to the website, right? In Noteful, it’s simple and straightforward.


Not many note-taking apps have folders and universal tags for organising your notes. These are the only two apps we know to have this (so far), and we love them for it. In Apple Notes, tags are more like filters for quickly finding the notes you need in the app. And you can pin notes for easier access in both apps.

With almost every feature, Noteful seems to take the organisation a step further than Apple Notes, though. It not only pins notebooks but also pages of your notebooks that you can then access on the homepage. Its folders support an infinite number of organisational levels (whereas Apple Notes only supports five). You can also create levels with your tags, in Noteful but not in Apple Notes. Tags in Noteful are more than just filters. They are like folders that you can use for organising your notes.

The only reason Noteful can’t win this round against Apple Notes is that Apple Notes has smart folders, that you can create using several filters to automatically organise your notes in the app. Apple Notes is the only note-taking app we know to have smart folders.

It’s difficult to be excited about locking notebooks in Apple Notes because it doesn’t let you lock all the important notes you’re likely to want to lock. Any notebook with attachments can’t be locked in the app, which defeats the whole purpose of the feature.

Pricing and supported OS

Noteful is the cheapest third-party note-taking app to take decent digital notes. But it still doesn’t compare to Apple Notes, which is free to use on all your devices. Noteful, on the other hand, works on your iPad and iPhone, but its use on the Mac is limited. It only works on MacBooks with M-series chips because it doesn’t have a native macOS version.

Creating notes

Apple Notes has such limited page customisation options. It is one of the things we dislike about the app. Both apps have line-spacing options, but Noteful also lets you choose your page size, colour and orientation. You can even save PDF documents as templates in Noteful, which we love because we prefer using our digital notebooks. Noteful gives you full control over the types of notebooks you can use in the app.

Quick Notes are a fast way to start taking notes in Apple Notes from anywhere on the iPad. They are easy to bring up, which makes them especially handy when doing online research. Or any research for that matter.

If you’re interested in learning how to use either of these apps, subscribe to our other channel, Paperless Humans, for slow, step-by-step tutorials for different apps, or check out these app user guides here.

Pen tool

Both apps have three different pen tools. You have a ballpoint in both apps. Noteful then has a fountain and brush pen, whereas Apple Notes gives you a calligraphy pen and a watercolour brush. We prefer the pen tools in Noteful firstly because their ink doesn’t pixelate when you zoom in on your notes. Secondly, you have more customisation options in Noteful than in Apple Notes. Your pens have a wider range of thicknesses (0.10 – 5.0mm) than the five fixed options in Apple Notes. Custom colours are easier to use, and you can save your favourite pen tools for easier access on the toolbar in Noteful. Apple Notes’ pen tool has fewer advantages. It has opacity options, which I have never used. It has a pencil tool, which I love, but I never use it to write serious notes.

Zoom tool

You can’t zoom in on your pages in Apple Notes. It can be frustrating when you want to fine-tune a diagram or add some small comments to your notes. Noteful has one of the most impressive zoom range we have seen in a note-taking app. The app also has a zoom tool that supports left-handed and right-to-left writing. Noteful has the most customisable zoom tool we have seen so far.

Eraser tool

Both apps can erase per stroke and per pixel, using one of five fixed sizes for the eraser tool. The pixel eraser in Apple Notes is smoother, though. Noteful lets you erase the highlighter only and is selective for erasing shapes. You can also choose to auto-deselect your eraser, all options you do not have with Apple Notes.

Text tool

Apple Notes supports body text that goes directly onto the page. This feature comes with the ability to add simple tables to your notes, which makes up for the fact that body text does not mix with handwriting. You can also add lists to your text, all features you don’t get with Noteful.

Both apps support text boxes that can mix handwritten notes with text. The text formatting capabilities in the two apps are similar. They can both change the font, alignment and formatting. Noteful also has a line spacing option, with Apple Notes does not. You can also customise your text boxes to add background colour and adjust border thickness and style, as well as their opacity. All these options are not available for your text boxes in Apple Notes.


Though Apple Notes does not support irregular shapes and the ruler tool is annoying, the app’s shapes tool clearly wins against the one in Noteful for several reasons. Apple Notes supports arrows and can adjust the opacity of all different parts of your shape. Noteful’s opacity option works on the whole shape. You can draw any shape in Noteful, even irregular ones. However, the lack of sharp arrows and one colour for our fill and border is a bit limiting.

Photos, videos and scans

Both apps support PNG images that you can resize and rotate. Noteful does more than Apple Notes. The app can crop your images, add a frame, and even adjust their opacity. Apple Notes can add videos in the body text of your notes. Not many note-taking apps support videos. You get playback options to speed up or slow down the videos. You can also scan documents to add them to your notes. Noteful adds scans as PDF pages to your notes. It gives you a better interaction with them than what you get in Apple Notes.

Audio recording

You can add audio files to your notes in Apple Notes. These will open in a separate window where you can listen to them. It’s not the same with audio recording within the app, especially if it can sync your recordings to handwritten notes. Not only is the animation cool, in Noteful, but it also helps organise your notes and makes finding parts easier when you tap your synced notes.

Page layers

Apple Notes does not have page layers. In fact, not many note-taking apps do. In Noteful, you can use layers to trace diagrams. Put your diagram on one layer, trace on another, and then remove the original diagram. You can use it for active recall to put different parts of your notes on different layers and then reveal them as you need. Layers have a lot of applications, and we love Noteful for having them.


PDF reading experiences in the two apps are very different, but the most striking feature is the lack of outlines in Apple Notes. Noteful can recognise the outlines of your PDF documents. The app can even edit them. So, you can create outlines for any notebook you create in the app from scratch. This outline can even have levels that nest some pages together.


If outlines are too complicated for you, simply use bookmarks. You can rename and rearrange them in Noteful. Apple Notes does not have bookmarks to ease navigating long documents.


Both apps don’t convert your handwriting to text, but Apple Notes still has some impressive OCR capabilities, which you won’t find in Noteful. You can search through your handwriting, scans and images in Apple Notes. Live Text can interact with text in images, scans and videos alike. Lastly, you can copy your handwritten notes (in Apple Notes) to paste them as text.

Data detection

Both apps can recognise dates, numbers, emails and addresses so you can take action on them without leaving the app. Where Noteful can only do this with text, Apple Notes can also do it with your handwriting and images.

Page editing

Because Apple Notes doesn’t have fixed page sizes, you can’t edit your pages in the app. In Noteful, you can add pages between those already in your notebook. So your notebooks in Noteful can have different page templates, an option not available in Apple Notes. You can select multiple pages to edit them in your notebooks in Noteful, which you can’t do in Apple Notes.

Apple Notes has only vertical scrolling for your pages. Noteful, on the other hand, supports vertical and horizontal scrolling.

Search tool

Apple Notes has the better search tool of the two apps, which can search through handwriting. Noteful’s search tool is limited to text. Noteful presents search results better, though. The sidebar that popups with all the found terms is a faster and easier way to navigate search results than what Apple Notes offers. You can also search through all the notes in your app in Apple Notes, with some comprehensive filters to narrow down what you’re looking for. Noteful only searches through your titles on the homepage. It can’t search through the contents of all your documents at once, which is a bit limiting.

iPadOS support

  • Apple Notes supports true dark mode, but Noteful only has false dark mode—only your user interface changes when you switch between light and dark mode in Noteful.
  • Both apps support multiple instances, but Noteful has better multitasking capabilities because it also has tabs that can open many more documents at any moment.
  • Both apps support Scribble and text scan.

Exporting notes

Apple Notes has no export options, and its lack of fixed page sizes makes it difficult to export your pages. Your notes get cut off in the most inconvenient places. You won’t encounter that problem in Noteful, which has fixed pages. It’s easy to see where pages end, making exporting PDFs easier. You also get some decent exporting options to give you more control over what you’re sharing.


When you work in a team, sometimes you want everyone to contribute to the same document in real time. For some workflows, collaboration is better than exporting. Apple Notes has a functional collaboration tool that gives you permission to control what different people can do in your notes. Noteful does not support collaboration.

Which app do you think is right for your workflow?

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