- Audio recording synced to notes
- Takes up little storage on your iPad
- Web clips
- Math & chemical equation conversion (editable with LaTex)
- Export PDFs with password protect
- One Page size: A4
- No landscape mode for pages
- No multiple page selection
- Limited organisation levels (two only)
- Few page templates
- You can’t save custom page templates to the app’s library
- In-app purchases in their Notability shop
Pricing & Supported OS
Notability is a handwriting note-taking app for the iPad, iPhone and Mac. It costs $8.99, a universal purchase, and it also has in-app purchases in their Notability shop. The app is a one-time purchase and so are the in-app ones. The Notability shop sells:
- Technology: handwriting recognition & math conversion. To date, these are the only two updates we’ve paid for. All the other in-app purchases are voluntary and you can still use the app without them.
In February this year, Ginger Labs updated Notability’s user interface. They mostly made the icons smaller, more compact and bold. Which look do you prefer? The new, or old one? They also updated the Mac version of the app. Now, both the iPad and Mac versions of the app look the same. We’ll cover the desktop version of Notability on our PC channel, but for now, let’s focus on the iPad version of the app: Notability 10.5.
Creating Digital Notes
Creating a notebook in Notability is a one-step process (tap the icon on the far right corner) on the app’s homepage. Your new notebook’s page template is one you’ve set in the app’s Document settings. This makes it very easy to start taking notes in the app. You can change the Paper template once you’ve created your notebook. Your paper template can either be plain, ruled, squared and dotted. It has 15 colours and 4 line-spacing options. That is all the page customisation you get in Notability. We are still waiting for different page sizes.
The app has four pen tools: ballpoint, fountain, dashed and dotted pens. Each has 12 fixed sizes and 32 default colours. You can add custom colours to the palette using a Hex code or colour picker. You can have up to 64 colours, which is more than enough. You can Edit or Delete your custom colours. It would be better if we could change the default colours, perhaps then, we wouldn’t need to add custom colours. But, they have solved that problem with the Favourites toolbar.
The zoom tool adds tiny handwritten notes to your pages. Most users like it because it makes your handwriting look better. The zoom window has navigation arrows for moving the zoom tool on the page and writing tools on the left. To auto-advance, write on the blue section. You can make the section big or small, depending on your preferences. Manually moving the zoom window also works.
The highlighter has similar options to your pen tool. It has the same types, sizes, and colours. It goes behind your ink/text, which doesn’t your notes. This is the best way to highlight your digital notes.
The eraser erases both per stroke (Whole) or per pixel (Partial). It has 12 fixed sizes. The Whole eraser can rub out the highlighter only. When your notes are highlighted, the app first erases the highlighter and then your notes.
The lasso tool can be freehand or rigid (rectangular) for moving items on the page. It only picks up handwritten sections of your notes (not photos or text), which makes it difficult to rearrange the notes on your page. We should be able to select all the items on our pages.
You can move your selection around the page, even across different pages. Style changes the type of ink (but the fountain pen option is missing), its colour, and pen thickness. You can Duplicate, Cut, Copy, Group, Save or Delete your selection. Grouping would be more useful if we could group our handwritten notes with images and text boxes.
You can rotate and resize your notes simultaneously using the two-finger gesture when using the freehand lasso tool. The rigid lasso tool, however, lets you do one of the two (at a time).
You can save your favourite pens, highlighters, erasers and lasso tools for easier access. The favourites toolbar is mobile and can be on any side of your screen. You can tuck it away when you don’t need it and bring it back up just as easily. Even after you’ve saved them, you can still adjust your favourites’ preferences. To Remove a tool from your favourites toolbar, tap on it twice to bring up the option.
The handwriting experience in Notability is excellent. Palm rejection is perfect and there is no lag with the Apple Pencil. Notability can replicate how your handwriting looks on paper. The app has no resistance when writing. However, there are times when the ink is a bit wobbly. We normally don’t mention bugs because they are mostly fleeting. But this one stuck with us for most of this year, it’s currently not plaguing this particular iPad, but, we’ve experienced it often enough to remember it during this review.
In Notability, you can type freely on the page or on sticky notes. The top of your keyboard gets some extra functions to:
- Add Interactive lists: when you check things off your list, Notability ticks it off, strikes it out and dims it. It makes it easier to differentiate your completed tasks from incomplete ones.
- Indent your text
- Customise your font:
- Font type: the app has now organised your fonts for faster navigation. You can now search the font you’re looking for. It saves a lot of time. Notability also supports custom fonts, in case the app doesn’t have the fonts you like. Learn how to add custom fonts to your iPad.
- Font size
- Make it bold, italic or underline
- Save three favourite text formats, long press to customise them.
- Align your text if its in a text box. Alignment doesn’t work when your notes are typed directly on the page. Let’s hope we will be seeing this feature outside of text boxes. It would be lovely if we could Justify our text to straighten out both sides of our paragraphs.
- Adjust your line spacing from three options: 1.0, 1.5 or 2.0
- Create Lists (numbered & unnumbered): both support three types of bullets/numberings.
It’s important to know how to use text in Notability. Technically, there is a right and wrong way to use text in Notability, depending on what you’re trying to achieve (of course). Selecting your text lets you Cut, Copy, Highlight, Speak, Define, Learn or Replace the text. Highlighting uses a default yellow colour, which you can change. Learn only appears on the text the app can’t recognise. You can add it to the app’s dictionary for the app to learn the new word.
The features above your keyboard are customisable, meaning you can choose what you prefer showing. You can remove or add some features. The app limits you to about 16 features, after which trying to add more displays a warning that you can’t add more features.
When mixing your handwriting with text, it’s best to put them in a text box. Make sure you tick the Draw option so you can quickly create text boxes with your Apple Pencil. Avoid your handwriting overlapping on to textboxes because it sticks. When moving the textboxes, the handwriting moves too.
Your text box has a transparent background. You can change the paper template or add colours instead. Once you make these changes, you can’t go back to the transparent background. Let’s hope our developers can give us that option in the future. Your colours can be any of the colours on the colour palette. We would love to see some borders for text boxes in Notability. It’s not really a box if it does not have a border, is it? You can then:
- Style to edit the text in your text box.
- Turn on Round Corners
- Disable Text Wrap
- Customise Paper
Notability supports any kind of shape (regular and irregular). It has a very simple way to add shapes, which doesn’t involve selecting and deselecting a shapes tool. Just draw your shape and long-press to transform it. Notability also supports curved lines and arrows, though your arrowheads are always closed. We look forward to having open arrowheads in the app, or even options for different types of arrowheads and tails.
Styling the shape lets you change the stroke thickness, colour and Fill. We are still waiting for opacity options for our shapes and their fill. For now, we are still relying on the highlighter tool for translucent shapes. You can Duplicate, Cut, Copy, Save and Delete the shapes. You can resize and even rotate them. In Notability, you can change a shape after you’ve drawn it.
The pink snapping guidelines make working with shapes in Notability pleasant. It helps when you want to align items on the page. Ignoring it is quite simple, so you won’t need the option to disable them.
Adding Items To Your Notes
You can add audio recordings, synced to your notes. This is Notability’s most impressive feature, one no other app has been able to replicate. To start recording, tap on the microphone icon. The app continues recording even when you exit the app.
When you’re on a call/meeting, you can’t record audio in Notability. It seems conferencing apps use the same resources Notability uses for audio recording and they take preference. That problem you don’t have on the macOS version, though.
Audio playback animates your notes when you have Note Replay turned on. Turn it off and the animation stops, which is obviously boring. Turning on Animation Preview displays a dimmed preview of your notes. This shows you notes that have audio recordings synced to them. The preview helps when skipping to specific parts in your notes. You can turn the preview off, which is handy when you’re trying to learn something new.
Your audio timeline shows the different audio recordings in your notes. You can speed up playback up to 2X or slow it down to 0.7X and rewind back 10 seconds or fast forward 10 seconds. The timeline can also help you skip through the playback.
Fine Tuning Playback
Tuning improves your audio playback to decrease the tapping noise of your Apple Pencil. Playing around with the frequencies under Equalizer can dramatically improve your playback. The best way to do that is to listen to the audio while playing around with the settings. Voice Boost also helps focus on different voices that were in the room. Earphones or AirPods help reduce surrounding noises during your recordings.
Editing Your Recordings
You can rename your audio recordings for better organisation (tap the audio wave icon). We requested, they delivered. You can rearrange them or select multiple audios to Merge or Delete them. Edit to split the audio and cut out sections you don’t want. You can playback the audio in this window to see the sections you want to be excluded. You then get split one and split two to exclude sections you don’t want either at the beginning or end of the audio. The audio recordings in Notability are very small, they won’t use up much of your iPad storage.
Photos & GIFs
You can add photos (from Photo Library or Camera) to your notes. Select all the photos you want and Add. The app bunches them together and you then have to rearrange them. Notability also supports drag & drop, it’s a faster way to insert images into the app. The app supports PNG images. You can:
- Add captions and format them by choosing the font, size and colour you want. In Notability, you can now make your captions bold, italic or underline. That is a lot of text styling for your captions.
- Add Round Corners
- Wrap text
- Crop, Cut, Copy or Delete
- Resize or rotate your image. It would be better if the captions rotated too.
- Add GIFs to make your notes fun.
You can scan documents directly into your notes; an addition that came with iPadOS 13. These scans tend to be big, which makes your notebooks big too. It is better to use a scanning app, but if you must, Notability lets you save your scans as a PDF to add them as pages to your notes. Or you can save them as Images in case you want to write around them. In that case, though, it’s better to take a photo instead of a scan. Scans taken in note-taking apps are unnecessarily huge.
You can drag & drop web clips into Notability. You can also copy & paste web links from Safari. Edit Clip lets you update the link if you want to change it. Your web clips have editing options similar to those for your images and that makes it difficult to interact with them as web clips. Opening them is simply too much work, it is better to use web links instead. Notability should find a way to open web links in a single tap.
You can add Stickies with different paper templates; blank, lined, grid or typing. What you write on your sticky notes, in Notability, actually sticks. For customisation, sticky notes work much like text boxes. Whichever paper template you choose, you can edit it after you have created your sticky note.
You can purchase stickers from the Notability shop. They are PNG images, meaning they have image options. Even better though, we can now create our own stickers in Notability, it only works for handwritten items. It does not work on images or text and we’re hoping they will extend it to those in the future.
Creating your own stickers is great when you have diagrams that you use constantly. All you have to do is draw them once, and Save them to your sticker collection. Next time you want to use the same diagram, just add it to your notes. You can still Style the sticker to change the pen thickness and colour. You can Ungroup to erase some parts and redraw them. Once ungrouped, your sticker is as good as newly drawn.
We hope our developers can add some organisation to this feature. Finding a diagram from hundreds of stickers will soon be a huge pain if we can’t organise these stickers in any way.
Notability has both OCR and handwriting recognition. You can convert your handwritten notes to text and you can search through them; that is handwriting recognition. Handwriting conversion now keeps the colour of your ink, a very recent update. Notability will also search through text in scanned documents; this is OCR (optical character recognition). Searching through images in Notability has been hit-and-miss for years now. It worked for a second when they first introduced it but, it’s not worked for a while. So we’ve concluded Notability can’t search through the text in your images. The app does search through the images you scan into the app, though. Hopefully, in iPadOS 15 we will be able to search through the text in any image if our developers manage to harness the power of live text.
Scribble is no longer limited to text boxes, you can write anywhere with Scribble now. To use it on the page, turn off the Draw and Scribble options first. Scribble has dramatically improved since its introduction, especially in Notability. With Scribble this good, is handwriting conversion still useful? Perhaps only for searching through your handwriting. Certainly not for converting your handwriting to text. For that, Scribble is faster and becoming more pleasant. The one thing Scribble doesn’t cover yet is Math Conversion.
Notability partnered with MyScript, the developers of Nebo, to bring us Math conversion. It is a paid feature in their Notability Shop. It costs $3, same as the handwriting recognition feature. These are all the rules and symbols supported in math conversion.
Notability can convert your math equations into high-resolution scalable images. The app can also convert some basic chemical structures, but this still needs a bit of work. You can Style to change the colour of your equations and now you can edit the LaTex code in case the app conversion is incorrect. You can resize the conversion image, rotate or wrap text around it.
Notability now supports multiple instances, finally! It also still has its Note Switcher which works on both instances. It seems once our developers figured out how to open the same notebooks twice, they could introduce multiple instances.
With multiple instances, you can open the app twice. You can open Notability in multiple windows with different apps and even in slide over. The Note Switcher could now simply be a faster way to switch between notes, in Notability. It displays your ten most recently opened notes. You can also search your app for notes you need or even Create new note. This ‘create a new note’ feature is very buggy. Sometimes it appears, at other times it doesn’t. Generally, this year has been Notability’s buggiest year since we first discovered the app. We hope our developers can fix the app for us.
You can choose where you want the second notebook to open, View on Left/Right or Switch the notes. You can also resize your splits to any ratio within the 25-75% range. Your split windows can have different scrolling directions. That is, your left window could have horizontal scrolling and the right vertical.
Notability still does not support true dark mode. It can only switch the colours of the app’s user interface. For a true dark mode experience, you have to rely on dark paper templates and white ink, which don’t switch when you go back to light mode.
Mouse Support Improvements
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.
The three-dot icon has settings for the following:
- Paper to change the paper template for your notebook.
- View to change your scrolling direction. Seamless is for vertical and Single Page for horizontal scrolling.
- Info gives you information about your notebook:
- Modified Date
- Created Date
- Formatted For what device
- Word Count for your text only.
- Handwriting Language for your handwriting conversion.
- Highlighter has the option to Revert to Old if you want your highlighter infront of your ink.
- Apple Pencil: Disconnect if you want to use your fingers or passive stylus to write in Notability.
- Help connects you to the developer’s website for their user guides.
The last icon on your toolbar previews your document. It displays your pages as thumbnails. You can see all your pages & bookmarks, or search through your notebook. You can easily Add Page or Copy Background to copy page templates. When you Copy Background, the app doesn’t copy what’s written on the page, just the template only. You can, of course, paste it as much as you need. This is not the best way to add custom templates to the app, but it simplifies it for us… just a little.
We still need the ability to select multiple pages for editing or moving around in the app. After years and years of asking for more page customisation, our requests are falling on deaf ears. How hard could it be to add page rotation to a note-taking app?
You can share your notes with non-Notability users using the new Link Sharing feature, you must create a Notability account though. To do that, you have to be 16 years old or older. Our Notability developers say we create accounts so they can:
- Support us if we lost control of the sharing of a note (e.g., lost device).
- Monitor data usage as Link Sharing continues to roll out with a 10 note limit.
- Enable future capabilities.
You can share a notebook if it is less than 100 MB and it can be viewed on any device in, a web browser. If you ever wanted to view your Notability documents on Windows or Android without converting them to PDF, you can do that now. However, you can Create Public Links for only 10 documents at a time.
We are not sure what Notability is aiming for here: collaboration or cross-platform accessibility. But at the moment, people can only view your notes with zooming capabilities. You are the only one who can edit them (in Notability) and update the shared link. Sharing itself takes time, you’ll be waiting a few seconds each time you update your notes.
People can download the Note or PDF versions of your notes when they have your link. The PDF version has a background that you can’t remove. It also does not download audio recordings. Note downloads only work in Notability and they work better on the iPad. Downloading them on the Mac gave you a folder with a lot of fragmented files, which definitely don’t translate to a .note file you can open in the Mac version of Notability. If you’re using a desktop, it’s best to stick with the PDF download.
Presentation mode automatically activates when you mirror your screen (Airplay) or connect your iPad to an HDMI cable. In Presentation mode, your audience doesn’t see your user interface (all the black areas) so they can focus on what’s important. You get four colours for your laser pointer. It can either be a tiny dot or trail. It’s like a temporary marker for your presentation, anything you write/draw disappears within a few seconds.
The Note Switcher can split view your screen in presentation mode, 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.
Notability’s homepage divides into two columns. The left smaller column has folders and the right bigger one –notebooks. The app has a two-level organisation system (Dividers & Subjects). Dividers contain folders and subjects – notebooks. Your notebooks can now display as lists or thumbnails. You can then arrange them according to Name, Modified Date or Created Date.
Editing Your Notebooks
Edit lets you edit your documents in the application. You can select multiple notebooks to delete or duplicate them. You can rename your notebooks by tapping on their title. The settings icon on your dividers lets you rename them and for your subjects, you can:
- Choose a colour
- Lock Subject: there is no way to recover your password if you forget it. Make sure you remember it. Otherwise, you won’t be able to open or delete the subject.
- Delete This Subject to delete all the notes it contains (naturally).
- Move subjects to different folders.
You can export multiple notes to other apps or share them with other people. In Notability, you can share via:
- Cloud services: Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, Box & WebDAV
- Other Apps (there are plenty to choose from).
You can send it as a PDF, Note, Image or RTF. These are the same export options you get in the app’s workspace.
|Read-only format |
Good for sharing with Windows PC and non-Notability users.
Password protect PDF
Add margin around your notes
Include recordings (in zip file)
|Note||Notability’s native format |
Editable in Notability only
Best for backup and sharing with other Notability users.
|Image||Read-only formats: PNG/JPEG |
Good to share to any platform, application or device that supports photos.
Add margin around your notes
|RFT (Rich Text Format)||Exports text, images and recordings |
Does not export handwriting or PDFs
Universal search searches through all your notes in the app (handwritten, styled-text or scanned). Your search results are organised into:
- Title Matches
- Content Matches
Long-press on a result to do the following:
- Browse through the notebook’s iCloud Version History
- Show in Note List to open the folder it’s in
- Move to Trash
You can import documents into Notability from:
- Google Drive
- Scan them
Notability permanently deletes notes after 30 days, unless recovered earlier. A recycle bin is a must-have for a note-taking app.
You can save some default preferences in your settings.
Auto-Backup has options for Cloud service automatic backup to Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box, WebDAV or Turn Backup Off. You can then choose a Destination (folder) for your backup, Subjects to Back Up and the File Format you want (.note is the best format to backup your notes in Notability because they remain editable). Backing up your notes with recordings as PDF or RTF loses the sync they have with your notes. Learn more about syncing and backing up your digital notes.
You can sign in to your cloud service under Manage Accounts and the app lets you sign into multiple cloud services at once. This is also where you sign out of your Notability account.
iCloud lets you turn on (or off) iCloud Syncing. It syncs your notes across all your devices (iPhone, iPad and Mac). You can also see the last time your app synced and the history versions of your updates in the app. In case you want to revert to older versions of your notes, this is a cool feature to have.
Themes are responsible for how your app looks. You get four free ones (light, dark, dark blue and jet black). The rest are in-app purchases in the Notability shop. You can turn on Match iOS Appearance so the app’s user interface changes when you switch between light and dark mode. Turning this off keeps your user interface when you switch back and forth. Colourful Subjects makes your subjects colourful, if you love colour, you might like this.
Document sets default preferences for new notebooks. You can choose a default name, Include date and time to make every notebook unique. Pick a Default Note Paper: template and line spacing. You can also choose a default scrolling direction for new notebooks and turn on Rounded Corners for your media.
Typing sets default options for your typed notes in the app:
- Style (bold, italic or underline)
- Line spacing
- Turn on Check spelling
- Turn on Tap anywhere to start typing on that line. Turning it off is not changing anything.
Handwriting lets you choose your handwriting language for better handwriting recognition. You can also turn on the following:
- Straight lines
- Shapes Detection
- Zoom Mode
- Tap and hold Zoom Mode: turn it on if you use the zooming feature a lot.
- Left-handed mode
- Palm Detection
Password lets you set a password for protecting your subjects (folders) in the application. You get one password for all your folders. You can turn on Touch- or FaceID and reset your password if necessary. The app keeps a record of when you created your password. It can help you remember the password if you forget it. You cannot recover your password if you lose it. Guard it well, lest you lose all your valuable notes.
Notability ignores the iPad’s sleep mode when iOS Sleep Timer is turned on. We recommend turning this off because it drains your battery if you forget to turn off your iPad screen. Text-to-Speech customises the speed your iPad reads out your text for you; from Slower to Faster.
2020 Wishlist Update
For our 2020 wish list, we had nineteen requests. Our developers managed to do about seven. Here’s what they have delivered so far:
- Saving favourite pens
- Renaming audio recordings
- Deactivating hyperlinks when we’re using the Apple Pencil.
- OCR support for math equations, costing us $2.99 in the Notability shop. It’s not a feature for everyone though.
- Horizontal scrolling
- Text alignment: though it’s limited to text boxes, we’ll take it.
- Multiple instances
Notability is still one of the best note-taking apps for the iPad in 2021. Lately, it’s been very buggy and we can’t help but feel like our developers are neglecting the app, just a little bit. We still have a lot of requests on our wishlist and we hope they’ll give it another look. If audio recording is a big part of your work (students and educators especially) you must certainly give Notability a try.