GoodNotes is an excellent note-taking and PDF-reading app for the iPad.
- Creates outlines
- Exports active hyperlinks & outlines
- Infinite levels of folder organisation
- Great page customisation
- Create Flashcards (experimental)
- Creates massive documents
- Cumbersome handwriting conversion process
GoodNotes is a note-taking app that is available for your iPad, iPhone and Mac. It costs $7.99, one-time purchase for all the apps. A few weeks ago, Time Base Technology Limited, made GoodNotes a universal purchase. For $7.99, you get the app on all your three devices. Just when some developers are going for subscriptions, others are trying to find ways for us to pay less for their apps.
On the homepage, you can arrange your documents according to name or date. Your documents display as thumbnails or lists. The selection tool (top left corner) selects multiple documents. It takes you to a new window with options to export, duplicate, move or delete the selected notes.
GoodNotes exports notes in four formats: PDF (flattened/editable), images and GoodNotes. PDFs and images export your notes to other apps and non-GoodNotes users. The GoodNotes format only opens in the GoodNotes; it is, therefore, suitable for sharing with GoodNotes users.
PDF exports can prevent anyone from editing your PDF annotations. Flattened PDFs deactivate hyperlinks in your notes but editable ones keep them active when exporting your notes. You can export your PDFs with or without page backgrounds or annotations.
Page template options
Next to the Selection tool, is the Settings icon. Notebook Templates takes you to the page templates in the app. The app has the following page templates:
- Single column mix
- Single column
- Three columns
- Two-column left
- Monthly planner
- Weekly planners
- Guitar tablature
- Music paper templates
GoodNotes supports many paper sizes (A3-A4, Letter, Tabloid and GoodNotes Standard). It has three paper colours (white, yellow and dark). These templates come in portrait and landscape modes. You can rotate your pages if you choose the wrong orientation. These paper templates might not work for everyone, which is why the app allows you to import custom paper templates into the app’s template library. GoodNotes also gives you notebook covers; for beautiful thumbnails on the homepage.
On the Settings icon, under Settings, you can customise the following:
- Handwriting recognition
- Document Editing
- Stylus & Palm Rejection
- iCloud Settings
- Email to GoodNotes
- Backup Data
- Automatic Backup
- Searching Index
You can set the default language for handwriting recognition in your app under Handwriting Recognition. GoodNotes supports 17 languages (English, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese, Russian, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Thai, Traditional Chinese, Turkish).
Under Document Editing, you can prevent your iPad from locking the screen automatically. When you turn this off, your iPad does not sleep when GoodNotes is open. It will drain your battery life.
Turning off Status Bar hides the time and battery level on your iPad. It gives the app a minimalist look. Pull to add page is a shortcut for adding new pages (with the previous page template) to your notes. When turned off, you have to add new pages using the plus icon. The gesture is faster. You can choose the position for your toolbar: top/bottom.
For the zoom window, you can turn on auto-advance. The app automatically moves your zoom tool as you write and you don’t have to do it yourself. I always struggle with the tool when trying to move onto the next line. The app doesn’t show your previous line in the zoom window, which is why I don’t use this feature.
Automatically open new imported documents does exactly what it says when turned on. Open Documents as New Tabs lets you open your documents in new tabs. If you turn it off, the app replaces your opened notes with the new note you open from the homepage.
Styluses & Palm rejection gives you options to choose a smart stylus and customise your Apple Pencil (Single Finger Panning, sensitivity and writing posture). Under smart stylus, GoodNotes only supports the following styluses:
- Apple Pencil 1st generation
- Apple Pencil 2nd generation
- Logitech Crayon
- All non-Bluetooth capacitive styluses
Single finger panning allows you to scroll through your pages with one finger (when your Apple Pencil is connected and active). When you turn it off you can only scroll with two fingers. You can set the sensitivity of palm rejection in the app. There are three levels: high, medium and low. For the best handwriting experience, high sensitivity is best. You can also choose your writing posture. The app has eight possible positions.
You can enable iCloud to sync across your devices. GoodNotes syncs all your documents without a problem. Though sometimes you have to wait a few seconds when you open the app if any documents need syncing.
You can auto backup to Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive. This is an update GoodNotes added a year after its release.
Search Indexing lets you allow GoodNotes to index your PDFs and handwritten notes. GoodNotes gives you the option to turn this off when really it is not up to you. When disabled, you can’t search through your documents (they will not be searchable). Troubleshooting lets you restore default templates and regenerate missing thumbnails.
Most apps just call it one or the other but GoodNotes calls it both! The Trash Bin lets you restore your documents you’ve accidentally deleted. You can import data from GoodNotes 4. Moving from GoodNotes 4 to GoodNotes 5 is a walk through the park. That was very thoughtful. You can rate the app and read about it.
The homepage now has a new shortcut icon for auto backup. It gives you details on your last backup (date and time) and lets you pause or see progress details of ongoing backups.
At the very top of your documents, the plus icon New lets you:
- Create a new notebook, folder or QuickNote.
- Add an image, scan or photo (from the camera).
- Import documents from Files.
GoodNotes supports folders within folders. You can have an infinite number of folders in GoodNotes, making you highly organised in the application. To quickly annotate an image, import it from photos or just take one with your camera. It is very useful for lectures and meetings.
At the bottom of the homepage, you can view your documents or favourites. The documents section of your homepage is what we have been discussing up to this point. Under favourites, you can selectively view your favourite
- Pages only
- Folders only
- Any (all your favourite documents)
Universal search lets you search all the documents in your app; both handwritten and text. Searching through the app organises your search results, saving you a lot of time. Your search results are organised into:
- Written notes
- Document outlines
- Typed notes
Creating digital notes in GoodNotes
We will go through all the icons on the toolbar from left to right, starting with the top bar icons followed by the lower bar. The arrow on the far left corner takes you back to the homepage. It’s your exit button out of the workspace.
The document thumbnail icon give you a glance at your document (page thumbnails, favourite pages and document outline). In this window, you can select multiple pages for copying, rotating, exporting and deleting. This lets you edit your notes quickly and painlessly. The ability to edit multiple pages at once makes GoodNotes 5 a great app for document editing.
Your favourite pages are those pages you have bookmarked in the app. You can also bookmark each page by simply taping the ribbon icon on the top right corner of the page thumbnail.
Outlines displays the contents of your document, particularly useful for PDF reading. This section will, of course, be empty if your document doesn’t have an outline. You can also create an outline for your PDFs and notes in GoodNotes.
Each page thumbnail has a down-facing arrow with editing options for individual pages. You can:
- Add a page before/after the current page.
- Duplicate the page
- Add the page to the outline
- Export the page
- Open that page in a new instance/window.
- Delete the page (move to trash)
You can search your notes in the workspace. GoodNotes searches through your handwritten notes, PDF, text and scans (if scanned in the app). The bookmark icon lets you bookmark favourite pages. When it is red, that page is bookmarked.
The export icon lets you export the current page or all pages. You can export specific pages out of GoodNotes as well. It is also the icon with settings for your presentation mode and for printing your notes (for when you are required to submit physical paperwork).
In the middle of the top toolbar, is the title for your notebook. Tapping on lets you edit the name. This section also contains document info (location, last edit and number of pages). You can move the document to a different folder. Next, on the left corner are undo and redo buttons. Next to them is a plus icon that lets you:
- Add pages to your notebook (before/after current page or after the last page of the document).
- Add images from Photos.
- Scan documents into your notes.
- Add photos from the iPad camera
- Import documents from Files.
The next icon is the Apple Pencil icon. When the pencil icon is crossed, the Apple Pencil is activated. You can handwrite your notes in the app. When encircled, the Apple Pencil is deactivated and you can tap hyperlinks in your document. Hyperlinks don’t respond to your fingers’ touch when the Apple Pencil is activated. The last icon on the top toolbar is the three dots icon with options to:
- Copy page
- Rotate this page
- Add this page to the outline
- Change template
- Go to page (skip pages in your document)
- Clear page
- Some settings on (as those found on the homepage):
- Scrolling direction
- Stylus & palm rejection
- Document editing
The first tool on the lower toolbar is the zoom icon, for adding tiny handwritten notes to fit more information on your page. The zoom window has navigating tools (arrows), on the right side, for moving the tool while writing your notes. The icons on the left create a margin for your page. When set to auto-advance, the app automatically moves the zoom window as you take your notes.
GoodNotes has three different pen types (fountain, ball and brush pen). The handwriting experience is GoodNotes has improved dramatically since iPadOS 13. Writing in the app feels great. There is no lag and palm rejection is excellent. You can customise your pens at the end of this toolbar to change their colour and size. GoodNotes saves three colour and three size templates for your pens on the toolbar. Let’s hope we can save more in the future. The pen sizes in GoodNotes are in millimetres (from 0.1mm to 2.0mm). You can adjust these to exactly the width you need.
One tap on the eraser selects it for use it in the app. Another tap on it again (once already selected) selects it for customisation. You can clear page which erases everything on your page (annotations, text boxes). You can customise the eraser in GoodNotes to:
- Erase entire stroke
- Erase highlighter only
When you turned on auto deselect, GoodNotes automatically switches back to the tool you were using before the eraser. At the far right side of the toolbar, you can select the size of your eraser from the three available options.
The highlighter goes behind your ink which pops out your notes. You can straighten your highlights by turning on the draw in a straight line option. Straight highlights to look neater.
The shapes tool in GoodNotes supports regular and irregular shapes, as well as arrows. It can fill colour your shapes with the same colour as the shape. The fill is translucent and you can’t customise any options of your fill. Snap to other strokes snaps edges of your shapes together when drawing your shapes. They have dramatically improved their shapes tool in their 5.6 version.
The lasso tool can selectively pick up your:
- Handwriting only
- Images only
- Text boxes only
- All three at once
You have this much control over what your lasso tool, which is great! Once you have selected a section, you can:
- Take a screenshot to share with other apps.
- Resize the section.
- Convert handwriting to text.
- Change the colour of your notes.
- Cut, copy or delete the section.
While resizing your section, you can also rotate it. GoodNotes has some preset colours to choose from when changing the colour of your notes. You can also choose custom colours.
Handwriting recognition for converting your handwriting to text in GoodNotes is good. You can select your language from the lower right corner of the popup window. GoodNotes supports seventeen languages. Once your section has been converted, you can export it to other apps or copy & paste it into your notes. GoodNotes doesn’t automatically replace your handwritten section with the converted text. You even have to manually delete the handwritten section after pasting your conversion.
You can insert a photo from Photos. Once added, you can resize, rotate, stretch or shrink it. You can crop your image (as a rectangle or freehand). You can share the image; just the image.
The text tool is GoodNotes’ worst feature. A text box appears around your text when typing and it disappears when you stop. You can select your text to make it bold, italic or underline. The app can read out the text when you tap Speak Sentence. On the far right side of the toolbar, there are some colours options, formatting tools (bold and italic) and styling options for:
- Alignment options
- Font size
- Font type
- Text background colour
- Text box border colour
- Text box border thickness
- Text box padding
Version 5.2: presentation mode
Version 5.3: iPadOS 13 support
Version 5.4: auto backup
Version 5.5: collaboration feature
Version 5.6: improved shapes and text tool
Version 5.6.2: experimental flashcards feature