Notability complete review (2022)

PROS

  • Minimalist
  • Creates the smallest documents of all note-taking apps (saves storage on your iPad)
  • Convert & edit Math and chemical equations
  • Export PDFs with password protect

CONS

  • Subscription
  • Few big updates for a subscription app
  • Limited page rotation (no ink rotation)

Rating: 8.0/10

Pricing & supported OS

Notability is a handwriting note-taking app for the iPad, iPhone and Mac. It costs  $2.99/month or 14.99/year to access it on all your devices. You get a discount for your first year at $11.99, which renews at the normal price.

Apple now supports family sharing for subscriptions; subscription apps should all offer this option. It’s easier to justify a subscription you can share with 5 other people (even if it costs slightly more). That, however, would not make Notability worth subscribing to considering the number of non-subscription note-taking apps on the market:

Notability has a free trial, so you can try it before signing up for the subscription. This review focuses on the subscription version of the app. Notability is first an iPad app, with some useful Mac features that you can also access on your iPhone. We’ll therefore mostly focus on the iPad version of the app because it makes the most sense for handwritten notes.

Creating digital notes

New notebooks

In Notability, you can either create a new notebook with native or custom templates or import digital notebooks into the app. Whichever device you pick up, creating a new notebook can be a single-tap process. The app looks familiar on different operating systems, making it easy to switch between the devices as you work. We’ve increasingly been hearing complaints about syncing issues with Notability lately, though (so tread with caution).

With a bit of time on your hands, you can choose a template, its size, grid spacing, orientation and even page colour for your new notebook. If you’re unhappy with these templates, and Notability has plenty of them, you can add custom templates to the app’s library. These can pretty much be from anywhere. You can also browse the Notability Gallery for some free ones.

For digital notebooks, you have to import those. We prefer using our digital notebooks in any note-taking app. You can also bring in PDF documents to read and annotate them in Notability. PDF annotation is quite an effective note-taking method.

Writing tools

The app has two pen tools; a ballpoint and fountain pen. The dashed and dotted pens are not very practical for handwritten notes. They are, however, cool to have for drawing diagrams and perhaps, creating other things we haven’t figured out yet.

All your pens have a decent range of fixed pen thicknesses and default colours. We’ve always loved the fixed pen thicknesses in Notability; they simply work! You can add custom colours to the palette with a Hex code or colour picker. Those are the best options to make sure you pick the exact colours you want. You can have up to 64 colours in the app. We would need less if we could edit or delete the default colours. But, more is better than less.

Rearranging, editing and deleting colours from this palette is limited to your custom colours. It seems the minimalist in me grows stronger every day. There are 32 colours I absolutely don’t need that force me to scroll the colour palette to use my custom colours.

The handwriting experience in Notability is excellent; palm rejection is perfect and there is no lag when using the Apple Pencil.

Highlighter

The highlighter has the same customisation options as those for the pen tool. It goes behind your ink/text, with the option to bring it to the front. We’re not sure why the developers have kept this option. Does anyone prefer a front highlighter that dims their notes? Do tell!

Eraser

The eraser, in Notability, erases both per stroke and pixel. It also has 12 fixed sizes. Notability can erase the highlighter only, without a dedicated option for it. The developers’ dedication to minimalism has always been very impressive.

Zoom tool

The zoom tool can help you add tiny notes to your pages, especially when you’ve run out of space. However, over the years most users seem to prefer using this tool to improve their handwriting. It has auto-advance, so you don’t have to manually move it around. It saves time, which is awesome.

Lasso tool

In 2022, it is unacceptable to for a note-taking app to have a lasso tool as limited as the one you get in Notability. Cheaper and even free apps can pick up everything on the page. If we can’t customise what to pick up, we should at least be able to pick everything. Rearranging your notes in Notability is tedious. You can only select handwriting alone, images alone, etc. It is a lot of work.

You can style your selection to change the type of ink (and we still can’t choose the fountain pen), its colour, and pen thickness. You can also:

  • Duplicate, cut, copy, group, save or delete your selection. We still can’t group handwritten notes with other items on the page; images and text boxes.
  • Rotate and resize your notes simultaneously or do them one at a time. The rectangular lasso tool is specifically for resizing and rotating.

Favourites toolbar

In Notability, you can save your pens, highlighters, erasers and lasso tools on the favourites-toolbar for easier access. You can move it around to any side of the screen and tuck it away when you don’t need it. The toolbar can house a maximum of 12 tools at a time. Beyond that, you’ll have to remove some tools before replacing them. Or you can make changes to the tools without removing them.

Adding items to your notes

Text

Unless you have a keyboard for your iPad, typing text makes more sense on the Mac version of the app. You can add body text which goes directly on the page or add text boxes. Whichever setup you go for, your text options are the same. You can:

  • Add interactive check lists for to-dos you add to the app. As you complete them, Notability ticks them off, strikes out and dims them. It is the best interactive check list feature we have seen in any note-taking app.
  • Add numbered and unnumbered lists. Notability has 3 bullet point and numbering types for creating hierarchies in your lists.
  • Customise your font to change its type. You can search a font to work faster. Notability supports custom fonts, which is good. Learn how to add custom fonts to your iPad. You can also change the font size and colour.
  • Format to make your text bold, italic or underline. It’s faster to use the keyboard shortcuts for these.
  • Save three favourite text styles that you can easily update or change any time you like.

Text alignment is limited to your boxes; it does not work on body text. We’re still waiting for the option to Justify text to straighten both paragraph edges. You can also adjust your line spacing for your text. In Notability, you can also highlight your text in Notability. Changing the highlighter is fairly simple. The app can also learn new words it can’t recognise.

Text boxes

To mix your handwritten notes with text, you’ll need text boxes. Your text box can have a transparent background, solid colour or a paper template. We now finally have a way to return to the transparent option, we’re glad to see that! We’re still waiting for would text box borders in Notability. A text box can have squared or rounded edges. You can also wrap text around it.

Shapes

You can draw regular and irregular shapes in Notability; as well as curved lines and arrows. We still haven’t warmed up to the closed arrowheads. Notability handles arrows well, though (even though they are closed).

You can change your shape after you’ve drawn it. You can also change the border thickness, colour and auto-fill. There are a lot of features we’re still waiting for in Notability; which is frustrating for a subscription app. Opacity options for shapes are not too much to ask for, considering Noteful (an app that’s less than a year at the time of this writing) has it. We love the snapping guidelines, though. They help align items on the page when you need them, but are also easy to ignoring if you don’t want to use them.

Ruler tool

With Notability+ you get a ruler for measuring items in your notes. Not sure why they didn’t add that to the toolbar. It seems to have plenty of room for one more tool. We assumed the ruler measures in centimetres. The cool thing is, no matter how zoomed in you’re on your page 3cm is still 3cm. Not sure how I’d explain that to children who haven’t learnt scaling yet. For drawing accurate, scaled diagrams, this is a useful feature. This is the only significant update Notability has released since it went subscription in November 2021.

Audio recordings

You can record audio that syncs to both your handwritten and typed notes. It still remains Notability’s most impressive feature and the most compelling reason to consider using the app. The animated audio playback is the only feature I miss in Notability since I stopped using the app. It’s not enough for me to return to the app, though.

You can choose to turn off the animation and even the preview. Options are always a good thing. Notability’s audio playback options cater for everyone, we love that. Tapping on your notes will help you skip through the playback. You can also rewind or fast forward 10 seconds at a time. Playback speed is now an industry standard, but it’s worth mentioning. You can speed up playback up to 2x or slow it down to 0.7x.

You can improve your audio playback in Notability by playing around with some settings. You can also rename your audio recordings; rearrange, merge or split them. We hoped to have a better splitting setup by now. To be fair, considering this is a note-taking app, this works.

Photos & GIFs

You can add photos to your notes from Photos or take one with your iPad camera. We love apps that can add multiple photos at a time, it saves time. You can also drag & drop them from other apps. You can:

  • Crop, duplicate, cut, copy or delete
  • Add formatted captions whose font, size and colour you can determine. You can also make them bold, italic or underline.
  • Wrap text round the image
  • Resize or rotate your image (captions still don’t rotate with the image).

You can also add GIFs to make your notes, in Notability. They have similar features as your images, only you can’t round their corners or add captions to them. We still can’t appreciate GIFs in notes, but, some people do. It’s fascinating. 

Scans

You can scan documents directly into your notes, using the iPadOS scanning technology. We don’t recommend it because these scans tend to be huge files. Notability saves your scans as PDFs or images.

Web clips

Since we now have to drag & drop web pages into Notability, perhaps the developers should consider removing the feature from the list of items you can add to your notes. The new setup just doesn’t make sense! It is better to copy & paste web links. Your web clips have editing options similar to those for your images, so they are not web links at all. This is probably the worst feature in Notability for 2022.

Sticky notes

You can add sticky notes with different paper templates that you can write on. What you write actually sticks. You can also add sticky notes for typed notes. You can change the look of your sticky notes anytime.

Stickers

Stickers in note-taking apps have taken the digital note-taking community by storm. Notability has several collections that you can access with the Notability+ subscription. So far, it feels like Notability is just selling us stickers and planners for a subscription.

You can create your own stickers from handwritten items only. It does not work with images or text, which is limiting. If like me, you’re not artistic, you can browse the Notability gallery for some free stickers.

OCR

Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is a technology that recognises text from scans & images, as well as converts handwriting to text. Notability has both. You can, therefore, convert your handwritten notes to text in 22 languages. In case there are some errors, you can fix them before replacing the handwriting with the converted text. The text copies the font size and colour of your handwriting, which is awesome!

Notability also converts math and chemical equations into high-resolution scalable images. To edit any mistakes, you need to know LaTex code. As images, you can resize, rotate or wrap text around the converted images. You can check out all the rules and symbols supported for math conversion. OCR in Notability also searches through the text in scanned documents (PDFs or images) and handwriting.

Scribble

Scribble is Apple’s technology that offers Instant Character Recognition (ICR) which converts handwriting in real-time. It can’t, however, convert Math equations yet. Whether you use OCR or ICR, the accuracy of handwriting conversion is similar.

You can easily change the paper template for your notebook. Notability supports one page template per notebook, which is very limiting for digital note-taking. More so considering the app has no proper page rotation. You can’t rotate the ink on your pages and rotation is limited to PDFs, not native page templates. Technically, Notability still doesn’t have page rotation.

The app supports both continuous vertical and paged horizontal scrolling. You can view your document’s pages as thumbnails. and choose to see all the pages, bookmarks only or pages with notes only. or search your notebook.

You can cut, copy, clear or delete a page. You can even create templates from different pages in your notebook. Selecting multiple pages simplifies your workflow; it’s better than editing one page at a time.

iPadOS support

  • Notability supports multiple instances and the app also has a native screen-splitting feature called the Note Switcher. If you’ve ever wanted a vertical split view on your iPad, you’ll love the Note Switcher. It’s really cool, especially when your iPad is in portrait mode.
  • Are we ever going to have true dark mode in Notability? Yes we are! Turning on dark mode only switches the colours of everything on your page.
  • The mouse pointer supports the different tools, which makes tutorials easier to follow. When we are talking about the eraser, you can see it. We are not sure this is useful for most end-users though.

Presentation mode

Presentation mode hides your user interface from your audience so they can focus on what you’re presenting. You get four colours for your laser pointer, which can either be a tiny dot or a trail. The Note Switcher can split view your screen to give you a presenting window (seen by your audience) and another one for your eyes only. If your presentation has notes you don’t want your audience to see, you will love this.

Sharing notes

You can share your notes with non-Notability users when you have a Notability account to create a link that you can share with anyone. Your shared notebook opens in any web browser, meaning you can view your notes on Windows or Android. We can now share up to 100 notes, but each is still limited to 100 MB.

Notability gallery

You can share your notes with your community in the Notability gallery. We are curious to know, how many of you are using the gallery. Publishing your notes is simple, minimalist and straightforward. A word of caution: as much as possible, avoid uploading your notes to developers’ servers (for any reason, no matter how convincing).

Exporting options

You can export your notes to other apps as PDF, Note (the native Notability format), Image or RTF. Each format you choose has some specific options that you can select before exporting your notes to other apps. Any good note-taking app should have export options for your notes. Notability can even lock your PDFs when you share them, which is awesome!

Homepage

Notability’s homepage divides into two columns; your folders on the left and notebooks on the right. You can create folders within folders for up to 5 levels. Notability can lock your terminal folders if you have some sensitive information you want to protect. You can quickly access your recently opened notes, shared and favourite ones.

Your notebooks can now display as lists or thumbnails and you can arrange them according to name or date (modified/created). In Notability, you can quickly rearrange your documents by dragging and dropping them between folders.

You can search all your notes in the app (handwritten, styled-text or scanned) from the homepage. Notability searches both your titles and notebook contents. The app then organises your results into title and content matches.

Recycle bin

Notability permanently deletes notes after 30 days, unless recovered earlier. A recycle bin is a must-have for a note-taking app.

Final verdict

To understand the app settings and what they each mean, check out our comprehensive user guide for Notability here. Notability remains one of the best note-taking apps for the iPad in 2022. We recommend the app if you:

  • Don’t mind paying the subscription for it
  • Do a lot of audio recording that you need to edit later
  • Need to use body text (like the one in Microsoft word)

However, even for those reasons, there is definitely a cheaper (one-time or free) alternative.

We always turn down sponsorships from developers who try to compromise our unbiased evaluations. Above all else, we treasure objective and honest reviews to help you pick the right tools for your digital transformation. Support Paperless X, from as little as $1 – it only takes a minute. If you can, please consider supporting us with a regular amount each month. Thank you.

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