GoodNotes is a paid app, costing $7.99 for all versions of the app. It is now a universal, one-time purchase for your iOS, iPadOS and macOS. Apple Notes is free and comes pre-installed on your Apple devices. It has a web version that works on any operating system, as long as you have an Apple ID. GoodNotes doesn’t have a web or Windows version.
|Size||299 MB||21,8 MB|
|Developer||Time Base Technology Limited||Apple|
|Type of app||Handwriting note-taking, PDF reader||Handwriting note-taking|
|Supported OS||iPadOS, iOS, macOS||iPadOS, iOS, macOS, web app|
Creating new notes
Both GoodNotes and Apple Notes can create new notebooks with a single tap. GoodNotes has a QuickNote icon. Apple Notes has a new note icon (which is the only way to create notes in the app). In GoodNotes, you can dedicate more time to creating a new notebook. The app has many paper templates. It supports different:
- Page sizes: A7-A3, GoodNotes Standard, Letter and Tabloid.
- Paper templates: essentials, writing papers, planners and music.
- Page orientation: portrait and landscape.
- Colours: white, yellow and dark.
- Notebook covers: simple, solid, black & white, enclosed, bright, celebration, brown, plain, patterns.
A notebook, in GoodNotes, can have pages of different colours, sizes, grid lines and orientations. If you don’t like any of the templates in the app, for both pages and covers, you can add custom ones.
Apple Notes has three paper templates: plain, grids and lines with three line-spacing options. Your pages are vertically infinite with fixed widths. They continue extending downwards for as long as you keep writing. It’s difficult to get a sense of their [pages] sizes in Apple Notes. Exporting your notes out of the app is, thus, difficult. All your pages in Apple Notes have one colour.
In GoodNotes, you can select multiple pages in a notebook to edit them. You can rotate, copy or move them around. Apple Notes doesn’t have the option to rearrange your pages in the app; since you only have one page.
Apple Notes automatically generates a title for your notebook from the first words in your notes (handwritten or typed). Every new notebook in Apple Notes has a unique title. You can edit the title if you’re not happy with it. In GoodNotes, your default notebook title is Untitled Notebook. You have to rename every notebook you create to avoid any confusion.
|Page customisation||GoodNotes||Apple Notes|
|Different page sizes||✔||✘|
|Different page orientations||✔||✘|
|Number of page templates||22||3|
|Add custom paper templates to app’s library||✔||✘|
|Multiple page selection||✔||✘|
|Different page templates in one notebook||✔||✘|
|Automatic creation of notebook titles||✘||✔|
Apple Notes has a mobile toolbar. You can move it around the page or minimise it, depending on what you are doing. GoodNotes’ toolbar is fixed at the top or bottom of the app, depending on whether you are right or left-handed.
GoodNotes has three pen types, a fountain, ballpoint and a brush pen. Your pen sizes are measured in millimetres from 0.1mm to 2.0mm. You can decide the exact thickness you want for your pens in GoodNotes. The app gives you a wider range of pen sizes than Apple Notes. However, your toolbar only accommodates three thicknesses and colours. Each time you want a new thickness that’s not already on your toolbar, you have to replace one of the three, which can be a bit uncomfortable.
Apple Notes has one pen and one pencil tool. The pen tool has a ballpoint feel to it. For both writing tools, you can adjust their opacity and thickness. They both have five fixed sizes only, not a wide variety. Apple Notes measures opacity in percentages that show on the tools as you customise them.
Each tool has five default colours at the end of the toolbar. You can’t change these, which you can in GoodNotes even though it only displays three colours at a time. In Apple Notes, you can add custom colours to a secondary colour palette. You can add as many colours as you need. GoodNotes does not have a pencil tool, and you can’t adjust the opacity of your pen tools.
GoodNotes uses vector ink for all its pen tools. Apple Notes use raster ink which loses its resolution as your zoom in on your pages. The vector ink in GoodNotes doesn’t pixelate as you zoom in. The handwriting experience in either app comes down to your personal preference. Both apps have accurate handwriting representation and have no lag. It feels natural writing in both GoodNotes and Apple Notes.
|Writing tools||GoodNotes||Apple Notes|
|Pen tool||Ballpoint, fountain, Brush||Ballpoint|
|Writing tool sizes||Variable 0.1 -2.0 mm||5 fixed sizes|
The zoom tool lets you fit more information on a page. For some, it can even improve your handwriting. In GoodNotes, your zoom tool lets you add a margin to your page. When using auto-advance, the zoom tool will move to the next line and start from the margin. Auto-advance in GoodNotes is a bit difficult to get used to. Once you do, though, it’s pretty easy to use. You can turn off auto-advance to use the navigation tools on the right of the zoom toolbar. If you want to navigate your page yourself, this is a good option to have.
Apple Notes doesn’t have a zoom tool, neither can you zoom in and out of pages. It is a massive limitation for digital note-taking. In GoodNotes, you can zoom in and out of your pages.
|Pen tools on toolbar||✘||✘|
|Pen tools on the toolbar||✔||✘|
GoodNotes just improved their text tool. A text box appears around your text while typing and it disappears when you stop. The app has ten preset text box options. If you don’t like them, you can create custom ones by changing:
- Background colour
- Border colour
- Border thickness and padding
You can add a shadow to your text box and make the corners rounded. You can Save as Default the settings of your selected text box under the Text Styling icon. You can also rotate and resize your text boxes.
The biggest difference between the text tools in GoodNotes and Apple Notes is that, in Apple Notes, your text does not mix with the handwritten sections of your notes. You can’t write comments, with your Apple Pencil, next to any text. It limits the notes you can create in the app because you can’t rearrange different items on your page.
In iPadOS 14, both Apple Notes and GoodNotes support Scribble. We will get into the details when we talk about OCR. Both apps now have two text input options; Scribble and the traditional keyboard.
Apple Notes has one font for your text and presets for your titles, headings, subheadings, body and monospace. You can’t change them, they are set. You can’t even change the colour of your text in Apple Notes, but you can in GoodNotes.
GoodNotes supports custom fonts, in addition to the many fonts, the app already has. Since iPadOS 14 custom fonts haven’t been working in both Notability and GoodNotes. GoodNotes fixed that in their latest update. You can’t save favourite text templates, in GoodNotes, only three colours on the toolbar. But the newly added Text Styling icon indicates our developers are working on adding this feature to the app. With your text, you can:
- Make it bold or italic. GoodNotes just added underline and Strikeout features to the keyboard toolbar. You also have navigation arrows on it too.
- Change colour
- Choose alignment
- Adjust line spacing
In Apple Notes, you can make your text bold, italic, underline or strikeout. You can also create interactive checklists, numbered and unnumbered lists. Your completed tasks can move to the bottom of your list as you check them off. The app doesn’t strike out your checklist though. Striking out completed tasks gives you a sense of accomplishment. It’s always a great option to have for interactive checklists.
Apple Notes has four bullet point types; essential for creating hierarchies in your lists. Numbered lists only have one numbering type, not very useful. GoodNotes doesn’t support any lists in the app.
|Text tool||GoodNotes||Apple Notes|
|Text input options||Keyboard, Scribble||Keyboard, Scribble|
|Text format||Resize, recolour, bold, italic, underline, strikeout||Bold, italic, underline, strikeout|
|Text box customisation||✔||✘|
|Text box rotation||✔||✘|
|Support for custom fonts||✔||✘|
|Saved favourite text formats||✘||Presets for title, heading, subheading, body, monospace|
|Lists (numbered & unnumbered)||✘||✔|
|Adjust line spacing||✔||✘|
Both apps’ highlighters go behind your ink. They have the same size and colour options as your pen tool. The highlighter in Apple Notes looks like a paintbrush, which is very unique. Even at 100% opacity, it doesn’t dim your notes. You can decide how intense you want your highlighters to be in Apple Notes. Both apps can highlight in straight lines.
The eraser in both apps can erase per stroke and pixel. GoodNotes has three fixed sizes and it can Erase Highlighter Only. Apple Notes’ eraser varies depending on how you hold your Apple Pencil. It gets bigger as you tilt your Apple Pencil. You can’t selectively erase the highlighter only, in Apple Notes (you can in GoodNotes). GoodNotes can Auto-Deselect the eraser. Your selected tool automatically goes back to the tool you were using before selecting the eraser.
|Eraser sizes||3 fixed||Variable|
|Erase highlighter Only||✔||✘|
The lasso tool in both apps can selectively pick your handwritten notes only. Your notes in Apple Notes are already disjointed, it makes sense that the app can only pick up your handwriting.
In GoodNotes, you can selectively pick your handwriting, text and images only or everything. You can take a screenshot of your selection for exporting out of the app. The lasso tool in GoodNotes can’t move objects across pages of the same notebook though. We hope GoodNotes developers can fix this soon. You have to cut and paste items across pages. It’s a workaround but a limitation. In GoodNotes, you can resize the selection, convert to text or Take Screenshot. All things you can’t do in Apple Notes.
Both apps can cut, copy, delete and change the colour of your selections. You can’t resize or rotate sections of your notes in Apple Notes. You can Duplicate your selection, Copy as Text or Insert Space Above, though. All things you can’t do in GoodNotes. You can move your handwritten sections to other handwritten sections in your notes in Apple Notes. Even if it means skipping some text blocks between them.
In iPadOS 14, Smart Selection lets you select your handwriting as though it were text. Smart selection is better than the lasso tool. You can just use your finger to long-press or double-tap words for selection. The gestures are faster and more convenient than the lasso tool.
You can create space between sections of your notes in Apple Notes. For a digital note-taking app, this is awesome. Not many note-taking apps have this feature and many users seem to like it. It can only work in apps that have an infinite canvas, with seamlessly connected pages.
|Lasso tool||GoodNotes||Apple Notes|
|Resize section, cut, copy, delete, change colour, rotate||✔||Does not resize or rotate sections of your notes|
|Select handwriting only||✔||✔|
|Select text only||✔||✔|
|Select images only||✔||✔|
|Insert space between notes||✘||✔|
|Convert to text||✔||✘|
|Drag & drop||✔||✔|
|Move selection between pages in the same notebook||✘||✔|
|Smart selection in iPadOS 14||✘||✔|
Things you can add to your notes
|What you can add to your notes||GoodNotes||Apple Notes|
|GIFs||✘||✔ & ✘|
Both apps use the native iPadOS scanner for scanning documents. For both apps, you can choose how your scan looks; coloured, grayscale, black & white or you just leave the photo as it is. For Apple Notes you can do this after you have saved the scan, in GoodNotes, only while taking the photos for your scan. You can rotate and export your scans, for both apps. Exporting the scan out of GoodNotes is not as straightforward as it is in Apple Notes.
|Save as PDF||✔||✔|
|Save as image||✘||✘|
|Search scan||✔||Only titles|
|Crop||Before adding to notes||Before and after adding to notes|
|Export scan only||✔||✔|
GoodNotes and Apple Notes can both draw regular, irregular shapes, arrows & curved lines. GoodNotes has a dedicated shapes tool, which after their latest update, you don’t need anymore. Both apps straighten out your shapes when you draw and long-press on the screen.
In Apple Notes, once you’ve drawn your shapes, there’s not much you can do with them. You can’t rotate, modify or resize them. All things you can do in GoodNotes.
GoodNotes can auto-fill your shapes. The border of your shape can have a different colour from its fill. Initially, though, when you first draw a shape, its border and fill colour are the same. The auto-fill is translucent making it a bit difficult to appreciate. You can’t adjust the opacity of your auto-fill, let’s hope that is something our developers will add for us in the future.
You can’t change the thickness of your shape’s border but you can change the shape after you’ve already drawn it. It works better for irregular shapes. For regular shapes, you will only be resizing them. Circles in the app are a bit different. We are not sure if this is a bug or the app’s design. Your circles can’t have a different fill colour and you can change their shape.
Both apps support the snap to other strokes feature that automatically snaps the edges of your shapes and arrows together. In GoodNotes, you can draw your shapes with multiple strokes. Once your shape is completed, the app will treat it like any other shape instead of recognising individual strokes. GoodNotes treats the shape as a whole. Drawing a shape with multiple strokes in Apple Notes is a daunting task.
Since Apple Notes doesn’t support all shapes yet, the ruler tool can be useful to draw those shapes that you can’t draw with your shapes tool. The experience is unpleasant, to say the least.
|Auto-fill similar to border colour||✔||✘|
|Auto-fill different from border colour||✔||✘|
|Adjust shape after drawing||✔||✘|
|Snap to other strokes||✔||✔|
|Snap to page lines & grid||✔||✔|
|Adjust border thickness||✘||✘|
Both apps support PNG photos (photos without a background). You can drag & drop them into the apps or add them via the photos icon.
In Apple Notes, your images display as big or small thumbnails, both unusable sizes. Photos in the app are also in a block of their own, away from handwriting. Kind of makes it pointless to add photos in your notes, doesn’t it? You can do the following to your images in GoodNotes:
- Crop (rectangle or freehand).
- Rotate and resize: all things you can’t do in Apple Notes.
You can only annotate your images in a separate window in Apple Notes. While in this window, you can navigate through all the images in your notes. Saves you the time you’d otherwise waste going back and forth looking for images.
|Resize & Rotate||✔||✘|
|Drag & drop||✔||✔|
|Wrap text around photos||✘||✘|
GoodNotes has vertical and horizontal scrolling. Vertical scrolling in Apple Notes is seamless. In GoodNotes, it is not. A small gap separates pages, therefore, they are not continuous. Your handwriting can’t overlap across pages. Apple Notes has seamless vertical scrolling of the continuous canvas. It doesn’t have distinct pages so you don’t know where pages end or new ones start. Horizontal scrolling displays one page at a time. Apple Notes does not support it.
Both GoodNotes and Apple Notes support multiple instances. You can open both apps twice, side by side (each instance a fully functional app). You can open the same notebook twice. Both windows are always active. In GoodNotes, you can access all the documents in the app from any instance. Slide over and multiple tabs let you open more notebooks. At any given time, GoodNotes can open more documents than Apple Notes.
In Apple Notes, you can access all the documents in the app from only one instance, though (the main window). It can be a bit limiting. The new instances only have the option to Close (with no navigation options). You can also open more notebooks in slide over.
|Type||Multiple instances, multiple tabs||Multiple instances|
|Maximum number of notes open at once||More than 2||More than 2|
|Open same note twice||✔||✔|
|Number of active windows per session||Both instances||Both instances|
|Access to other notebooks||All notebooks from either instance||All notebooks in the app from one instance|
|Slide over windows||✔||✔|
Of the two apps, GoodNotes is the better PDF reading app. In fact, GoodNotes doubles not only as a note-taking app but also as a good PDF reader. It recognises PDF outlines, and contents pages. Contents pages let you skip to the exact part of the PDF you need, without scrolling through each page. It saves a lot of time.
Apple Notes doesn’t recognise contents pages. It creates a thumbnail from the first page of your PDF when you add one to your notes. The thumbnail can either be large or small. Apple Notes attaches your PDFs to your notes. It then opens it in a separate window as it does with photos.
Hyperlinks ease your navigation through PDFs. Both apps can recognise hyperlinks and automatically deactivate them when you’re using your Apple Pencil. It’s surprising Apple Notes recognises hyperlinks, considering it has the simplest PDF reading capabilities we have seen in any note-taking app.
You can create outlines in GoodNotes, and custom contents pages. You can even modify existing contents pages in your PDFs and notebooks. You can also bookmark pages in your PDFs and view them under Favourites.
|PDF reading||GoodNotes||Apple Notes|
|Deactivate hyperlinks when using the Apple Pencil||✔||✔|
|View annotated pages only||✘||✘|
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) in note-taking apps includes handwriting recognition (sometimes conversion) and text character recognition. You can search your handwriting in both apps and the results are easy to find.
You can convert your handwriting to text in GoodNotes. This multiple-step process now feels a bit useless in GoodNotes with iPadOS 14. It’s much faster to just use Scribble. That’s if you are an English or Chinese speaker. Scribble supports those two languages only, at the moment. GoodNotes’ handwriting recognition supports 17 languages. It seems Scribble won’t be replacing handwriting recognition just yet.
Apple Notes does not convert your handwriting to text. It only copies for pasting as text in other apps. The app converts your handwriting to create headings for your notes, though. Too many inconsistencies right?
GoodNotes searches through documents you scan directly into the app. Apple Notes doesn’t search through your scans. It converts some text on your scan to create headings for your scanned attachments. It doesn’t even matter if the document has handwritten or typed notes, the app will pick it out accurately.
Data detection is a cool on-device intelligence, in iPadOS 14, that lets you interact with your notes by recognising addresses, numbers, emails and dates. Both handwritten and typed. You can take actions on them.
Scribble lets you handwrite directly into text fields. On-device, real-time conversion converts your handwriting to text. It also has useful gestures to help you take notes faster. At the moment, however, it only supports English, Traditional and Simplified Chinese. It works both in Apple Notes and GoodNotes. In GoodNotes, make sure to write inside your text boxes. You might need to enlarge them to create enough space for handwriting inside them. We are curious to see if Scribble will change the way we take notes on the iPad, even with typing apps. Do you find Scribble useful?
|Convert handwriting to text||✔||✘|
|Supported languages||17||System language|
|Search through handwriting||✔||✔|
|Search through imported scans||✘||✘|
|Search text on images||✘||✘|
|Organisation of search results||Notes, outline||✘|
GoodNotes has False dark mode. It only converts the user interface and not the pages or ink in the app. For a true dark mode experience, you have to use dark paper templates and white ink. Apple Notes supports True dark mode to help prevent eye strain. The app automatically switches the colours of your paper templates and inking. Dark mode in Apple Notes doesn’t work on attachments, though.
- GoodNotes has Presentation Mode for presenting your notes without the distracting user interface of the app. You get a laser pointer for pointing at what you are talking about during your presentations.
- In GoodNotes, you can create outlines to ease navigating through your notes. You can export your PDFs with active hyperlinks and outlines.
- GoodNotes just added an experimental feature for creating flashcards with spaced repetition.
- In Apple Notes you can add tables to your notes. A few note-taking apps support this feature. In just one single tap, you can add a table. Adding columns and rows or deleting them is also very simple.
- Add videos to your notes in Apple Notes. You can only add text below them. Videos are in their own isolated blocks. At least the app supports videos, even if they can only come from the Photos app. Let’s hope in the future we’ll be able to add videos from other apps.
- Add web links in Apple Notes.
- Add a widget for Apple Notes, in iPadOS 14, to access notes faster from the homepage of your iPad. You can also decide what folder you want to display in your widget.
- Create a new note from your iPad’s locked screen, in Apple Notes. It is the quickest way to start taking notes in the app.
GoodNotes exports the following formats: PDF, Image and GoodNotes. PDFs are the standard format for sharing and exporting notes out of any note-taking app. For your PDFs, you can:
- Choose the pages you want to export
- Include page background
- Include annotations
- Export active hyperlinks
Excluding annotations is useful when sharing clean, original documents. GoodNotes can export images as zip files or as individuals. Whatever format you export out of GoodNotes, your pages are easy to understand.
Exporting out of Apple Notes is a bad idea. You have no control over the format you export out the app. You can’t keep the background of your paper template. Even though you can add different attachments to your notes, the app exports them as individual files/pages. Notes created in Apple Notes, are best left in Apple Notes.
|Exporting options||GoodNotes||Apple Notes|
|Formats||PDF, Images, GoodNotes||PDF, PNG|
|Select specific pages||✔||✘|
|Attach audio recordings||✘||✘|
|Password protect PDF||✘||✘|
|Add margin around PDF||✘||✘|
Collaborating on Notes
For both apps, you can collaborate on your notes. In Apple Notes, you can collaborate with anyone who has an Apple ID, even if they don’t have an iPad or MacBook. Apple Notes has a web-version of the app that anyone with an Apple ID can use. Changes update automatically and instantaneously. You can also highlight the different changes to know who did what.
You can Manage Shared Note in Apple Notes. Different highlighters code different users’ changes to the document. If you and I were collaborating on some notes, I could be responsible for the pink changes and you the orange ones. You can turn off the option to Highlight All Changes and Hide Alerts to not receive notifications your shared notes are updated.
GoodNotes just recently added the collaboration feature to the app. To collaborate you have to enable link sharing. You can’t invite people to your notebook via email. The app also doesn’t highlight who made what changes. The collaboration feature in GoodNotes is especially great for reviewing other people’s work. Like teachers marking students’ homework or proofreading a paper. Anything that doesn’t require working on in real-time because changes take a few seconds to update.
|Invite via email||✘||✔|
|Share a link of your notebook||✔||✔|
|Highlight changes made||✘||✔|
|Receive notifications when someone changes your document.||✘||✔|
|Collaborate on folders||✘||✔|
GoodNotes has two toolbars and tabs that make the app chunky. It has more functions, clearly. Therefore, we ought to cut it some slack. Apple Notes has a more minimalist user interface. The mobile toolbar, in Apple Notes, adds some flexibility to how you work in the app. In GoodNotes, your toolbar can either be at the top or bottom.
Apple Notes is the smaller of the two apps. However, it creates generally bigger files/notebooks. Most of my notes in Apple Notes are text. Text files are tiny documents but somehow Apple Notes manages to make them big files.
GoodNotes is a bigger app and it makes bigger files than Apple Notes. GoodNotes developers have tried to decrease the file size created by the app. So far they haven’t been successful.
|App size||GoodNotes||Apple Notes|
|App size||304.4 MB||21.8 MB|
|Number of notebooks||22||79|
|Documents & data||540 MB||299.9 MB|
Apple Notes doesn’t back up anything. Backup and syncing are very different and they serve different purposes. Every note-taking app must have both.
GoodNotes you can auto backup to Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. You can decide which folders/notes to back up by including/excluding specific words/phrases in the names of your documents. GoodNotes is the native format for the app, therefore, the best way to back up your notes. The app lets you back up in two formats: GoodNotes and PDF. There’s an advantage to having both.
When backing up, the app shows you documents queueing/lining up for backup. You can pause or cancel your backups in GoodNotes.
|Auto backup||GoodNotes||Apple Notes|
|Native + PDF||✔||✘|
|Backup specific folders||✔||✘|
|Back up specific files||✔||✘|
|View backup queue||✔||✘|
|Pause/cancel back up||✔||✘|
Both apps can:
- Sync via iCloud
- Set default paper templates for new notebooks.
- Keep your deleted notebooks for 30 days before permanently deleting them.
GoodNotes has more setting options for enhancing your user experience in the app. In Apple Notes you can password-protect folders in your notes.