- Best audio recording tool (audio synced to notes).
- Takes up little storage on your iPad.
- Best interactive checklists option
- Web clips
- Math conversion OCR
- Password protect PDFs you export
- One Page size option: 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.
- No multiple instances.
- Sells some features in their Notability shop
Pricing And Supported OS
Notability is a note-taking app that is available for your iPad/iPhone and Mac. It costs $8.99 for all the versions of the app (universal purchase) but it still has in-app purchases in their Notability shop. These are one-time purchases (including the in-app ones), not subscriptions. To date, we haven’t paid for any updates yet. The Notability shop sells the following:
- Features: handwriting recognition & math conversion.
A few months ago, Ginger Labs updated the user interface in Notability. They’d been working on changing the app’s look for months and the last part of their project was to change the icons in the app. A question to the Notability users: do you do like the new look in the app? They also released a major update for their Mac version. For those of you that have been patient, you can now get Notability on the Mac for free if you already bought Notability for the iPad. Patience is a virtue.
Creating Digital Notes
Creating a notebook in Notability is a one-step process. Simply tap the new note icon on the top right corner of your homepage to get started. Notability then creates a new notebook with a page template you’ve set in the app’s Document settings. You don’t have to waste any time customising your notebook.
Notability is primarily a handwriting note-taking app, so we will focus on the writing tools in the app first. The pen tool has four options. It has a ballpoint, fountain, dashed and dotted pen. The ballpoint is thicker and coarser than the fountain one. Each pen option has 12 fixed sizes and 32 default colours. You can add custom colours using the Hex code or colour picker, giving you up to 64 colours. Long press your custom colours to edit or delete them.
You can save your favourite pens, highlighters and erasers for easy access when writing notes in the app. The favourites toolbar is mobile and can go to the top, bottom, right or left side of your screen. It disappears when you’re using the text tool and when you deactivate your Apple Pencil. You can also tuck it away to the bottom left corner of the screen when you close it. You can still adjust your favourites’ preferences after you’ve saved them. To remove a tool from your favourites toolbar, tap on it and Remove (bottom of the popup window).
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. I can write for hours in Notability without tiring.
The highlighter also has a ballpoint and fountain version. It has the same number of sizes and colours as the pen tool. The new highlighter in Notability goes behind the text and it doesn’t dim it. For older Notability users that prefer the older highlighter, you can revert to it. You have to do this for every notebook though. There isn’t a universal setting for this.
The eraser erases both per stroke (whole) and per pixel (partial). Each has 12 fixed sizes. The whole eraser erases an entire stroke no matter how big. A stroke is all the inking done at once without lifting your Apple Pencil off the screen. The partial one erases little sections.
You can also erase just the highlighter only. To do that, select the whole eraser. If the section you are deleting has a highlighter, the app will first erase it alone with your first stroke. Your second stroke will then erase the ink.
The lasso tool has a freehand and a rigid (rectangular) version to move items on the page. It only picks up handwritten sections of your notes, not photos or text. It is difficult to rearrange your notes if they contain other things that are not handwriting.
Once your handwriting is selected, you can move it around, style it (change colour and pen thickness), duplicate, cut, copy, convert to text or delete it. Both lasso tool types will allow you to rotate and resize your notes simultaneously using the two-finger gesture. The rigid lasso tool, however, can let you resize without rotating the notes. You can disable the inking of your Apple Pencil to use it for scrolling through your pages when you don’t want any fingerprints on your iPad screen.
The text tool allows you to type in the app (freely on the page or on sticky notes). The top of your keyboard gets some extra functions, giving you the ability to:
- Add Interactive lists
- Indent your text
- Customise your font:
- Font type: they now have a lot more fonts for you to choose from. Notability also supports custom fonts, which is awesome.
- Font size
- Make it bold, italic and underline
- Quickly access text templates (you can save three at a time)
- Create Lists (numbered & unnumbered)
When you check-off things from your interactive list Notability neatly strikes it out. It makes it easier to differentiate between the tasks you’ve completed and those you haven’t.
Then next, you have two indentation icons for indenting your text. You can save three text favourite styles in Notability labelled A, B and C. Simply tap on one and start typing. This will save you time during meetings or lectures and gives you uniform text in your notes. For example, A could be all your heading, B – your subheadings and C – paragraph text. If you want to change a favourite template, long-press it to access customisation settings. Notability supports custom fonts.
It’s important to know how to use text in Notability for the best user experience in the app. Technically speaking, there is a right and wrong way to use text in Notability.
In Notability, when you tap the text icon on your toolbar, you can tick the Draw option that will allow you to create quick text boxes with your Apple Pencil. Drawing a text box in the app is as easy as dragging your Apple Pencil across the screen. By default your text box has a transparent background, which you can change to add paper templates or colours. You can do the following with your text boxes in Notability:
- Style to select the text in the text box for editing.
- Turn on Round Corners.
- Disable Text Wrap
- Customise Paper to add a paper template (from the ones you get in Notability for your notebooks) or add a colour (from your pen colour options in the app). This removes the transparent background and you can’t reverse this process.
- Text alignment: this feature is now working well in Notability, but for now, this is strictly limited to text boxes only. Let’s hope we will be seeing this feature outside of text boxes. It would be lovely if they could allow us to Justify our text to straighten out both sides of our paragraphs.
Notability finally supports any kind of shape (regular and irregular), all without a dedicated shapes tool! This is the simplest way to add shapes offered by any note-taking app. You don’t have to select and deselect a shapes tool. Just draw your shape and long-press to transform it. You can also draw curved lines and arrows. Your arrowheads are always closed though. We look forward to having open arrowheads in the app.
Tap on the shape with your finger to style it. You can then adjust the stroke thickness, colour and choose the fill colour for the shape. I hope we can change the opacity for the fill colour in the future. In the meantime, if you want a transparent shape, you can just use the highlighter tool. You can duplicate, cut, copy and delete the shape. You can adjust its size and even rotate it. Notability officially has a better shapes tool than GoodNotes.
Adding Items To Your Notes
You can add audio recordings that are synced to your notes in Notability. This is Notability’s most impressive feature. To start recording, tap on the microphone icon on your toolbar. There is no limit on the length of your recordings and the app continues recording even when you exit it and when your iPad is sleeping. So remember to stop recording when you finish your meetings or classes.
Recording During Online Classes
2020 forced us to move most of our meetings and classes online. Unfortunately for Notability fans, this audio recording feature only works when the audio source is external. You can’t record audio from your Zoom meeting when using one device for both Notability and Zoom. The only way to ensure Notability keeps working is to have your Zoom meeting on another iPad or on a laptop.
Audio playback syncs to your notes and you can turn this off in the audio recording settings. When you turn off Note Replay, you stop the animation and get to only listen to the audio. You also have the option to turn off the transparent preview of the animation on the Animation Preview. When Note Replay is on, Notability app writes the notes you were writing while recording your audio. The animation is quite exciting and makes revision fun.
Your audio timeline shows the different audio recordings in your notes using stamps to indicate when a different recording has started. You can speed up playback up to 2X or slow it down to 0.7X. You can rewind back 10 seconds or fast forward 10 seconds. To skip through the playback, slide on the audio timeline or tap a section of your notes (if your animation preview is turned on).
Fine Tuning Playback
Under your audio settings icon, you can tune your recordings. Tuning improves your audio playback and decreases the tapping noise of your Apple Pencil.
Editing Your Recordings
You can rename your audio recordings for better organisation and catalogue (tap the audio wave icon). We requested, they delivered. You can rearrange or merge your audio files. Tap on 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, which you can merge into one.
Photos & GIFs
The plus icon adds photos (from photos or the camera), scanned documents, GIFs, web clips, stickers and sticky notes to your notes. You can add multiple images at once. Simply tap to select all the photos you want to add to your notes. You will have to rearrange them though. The app doesn’t organise them at all, but just piles them on top of each other. Notability can drag & drop photos, which is more comfortable than using the plus icon. The app supports PNG images.
You can add captions, wrap text, crop, cut, copy or delete your image. You can rotate them too. If only they could add rotation for pages. You can add GIFs to your notes. These are useful for journaling.
You can scan documents directly into your notes; an addition that came with iPadOS 13. These files tend to be big and they make your notebooks bigger. It is much better to use a scanning app for all your scanning needs.
You can add web clips to your notes with drag & drop or copy & paste from Safari. An update to this tool now takes you out of the app to add web clips to your notes. Notability made this change because Apple changed their policies (which affected this tool). Still, the app can store web links in your notes, which a few apps can do.
You can edit your Web Clip as you do any image in the application. To visit the website you have clipped, tap on image > Edit clip > tap URL on the top of the popup window. That is a lot of steps just to link to a website. It is better to copy & paste URLs into your notes. When you tap on them, a popup window appears on your screen prompting you to Open in Safari.
You can add sticky notes to your notes (blank, lined, grid or typing). For customisation options, sticky notes work much like text boxes. Whichever paper template you choose, you can edit it after you have created your sticky note.
Don’t confuse these with sticky notes. You purchase some stickers from the Notability shop, but sticky notes are all free. Stickers are PNG images and so all their editing options are similar to those for your images. You can:
- Add captions
- Wrap text around them
- Cut, Copy & Delete
- Save your favourite stickers for easier navigation.
Notability has both OCR and handwriting recognition. You can convert your handwritten notes into text and you can search through them. Notability will search through your:
- Text in your PDFs and other typed notes
- Text in your pictures
- Text in documents you scan into the app
You can use Scribble only to write in text boxes in Notability. You have to tick convert handwriting into a text box under your Text tool icon so that when you use Scribble, the app creates a tiny text box. The text box is always too small to write anything in it, so you have to enlarge a bit. When this option is turned off, you can’t use Scribble in Notability. When you chose Draw in your text tool settings, you have to draw the text box first before you can use Scribble.
Notability has partnered with My Script, the developers of Nebo, to bring us Math conversion as a paid feature in their Notability Shop. It costs $3, just like the handwriting recognition feature. These are all the rules and symbols supported in math conversion.
Notability can convert your math equations and chemical elements into high-resolution scalable images. You can change the colour of your equations under Style and your image has all the other features you get for interacting with your images in the app. You can resize the image, rotate it and wrap text around it. This conversion is impressive as long as the app is converting your equations accurately.
The moment there is a mistake, you have to start writing the equation from scratch because you can’t edit mistakes on an image. With handwriting conversion, sometimes the OCR engine makes a few mistakes, which you can correct in the conversion window. For math conversion, unfortunately, you can’t do that. Let’s hope our developers will find a way to support real text when converting our math equations. That way, we don’t have to rewrite everything when the OCR engine makes mistakes.
Notability does not support multiple instances. It only has a Note Switcher for in-app split view. You can only open two notes side-by-side within the app. This was amazing when they first introduced this feature, but now with multiple instances in iPadOS, this feature is no longer that impressive.
With the Note Switcher, you can access the ten most recently opened notes in your app without leaving your current notes. Simply swipe to the right on the left side of your screen to bring up the Note Switcher and choose a notebook to open. Tapping on a note will quickly replace your currently opened one. You no longer need to exit your working space to open the note you were reading two minutes ago.
On the Note Switcher, each note has a three-dot icon that gives you the option to view the notebook to the left or right side of the current notebook. Should you make a mistake, like I usually do, you can easily switch the two notes with the Note Switcher.
Accessing Notebooks In Your App
You can search all your notebooks on the Note Switcher and Notability will organise your results according to Title Results and Content Results. You can choose to open each result on the right or left side of the currently opened notebook. You can also create a New Note with the Note Switcher without going back to the homepage.
The blue bar in the middle of the split-view lets you resize your sections 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, while the right one has vertical scrolling. At any given time, only one of the two windows is active (shown by a blue border around it). To activate a window, simply tap on it.
The in-app split-view in Notability means the split windows share the same user interface because the app is not opened twice as you get with multiple instances. The apps’ tools therefore can only work in the active window only. For example, when you search for something, Notability only searches through the active window, eliminating any confusion that could arise from searching the two opened documents. This is awesome because you know the document you’re searching.
When you split-view your iPad screen with other apps, the in-app split-view within Notability is not affected. You can have a maximum of three documents open on your iPad when using Notability. It was impressive before we had multiple instances.
Notability 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 the dark paper templates in the app and also white ink. These don’t switch colours when you switch your iPad between light and dark mode.
Mouse Support Improvements
The mouse pointer supports the different tools in Notability, which makes tutorials easier to follow. When we are talking about the eraser, you can see it. The mouse pointer is responding much better as well, but we are not sure that’ll be useful for end-users.
The three-dot icon has settings for the following:
- Help connects you to the developer’s website for their user guides.
Under Paper, you can change your notebook’s page template. You get 15 paper colours and four templates (plain, lined, dotted and ruled paper), except for plain paper which has no lines. Each template has four line spacing options.
Notability has the worst page customisation in any handwriting note-taking app and it is challenging to use custom page templates in the app. Notability supports only A4 paper sizes and in one orientation (portrait). That is very limiting for a note-taking app and the developers haven’t done anything about it in years.
You can now choose your scrolling direction in the app. Seamless is vertical and Single Page is horizontal. Horizontal scrolling is very useful for presentation mode and planners.
The information icon gives you information about your notebook:
- Date modified
- Date created
- Formatted for what device.
- Word Count for your text only.
- Handwriting Language, which you can easily change by tapping your currently selected language.
- Highlighter has the option to Revert to Old if you want your highlighter behind your ink.
- Apple Pencil: Disconnect if you want to use your fingers or passive stylus to write in Notability.
The last icon on your toolbar previews your document. It displays your pages as thumbnails, which you can view under all your pages or bookmarks.
You can share your notes with non-Notability users using the new Link Sharing feature. We contacted our Notability developers to ask why we need to create accounts to use this feature. This is the response we got – Notability has introduced account creation to:
- Support users in the event that they lose control over 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 now view Notability’s files on any device. If you ever wanted to view your Notability documents on Windows or Android without converting them to PDF, you can now. That is very exciting but for now, we are limited to just 10 documents at a time. What are the chances you’ll need to view more than 10 documents?
We are not really sure what Notability is aiming for here: collaboration or cross-platform accessibility. It’s difficult to say because both features require writing tools to fully function. But at the moment, we can only view our notes with zooming in and out capabilities.
As far as collaboration is concerned, this is a view-only type of collaboration. You are the only one with the ability to edit your notes and when you do, you can update the shared link for the notes. We are curious to see where Notability is going with this.
Downloading The Notes
People can download the Note or PDF versions of your notes. The PDF version has a background but at the moment, your audio recordings are not exported. You can manage your accounts to logout of your Notability account at any time.
Presentation mode only activates when you mirror your screen (Airplay), connect your iPad to an HDMI cable or when you record your iPad screen. In Presentation mode, your audience doesn’t see your user interface allowing them to focus on what’s important.
Your Notability user interface goes into dark mode to differentiate it from your canvas. Your audience can’t see all the dark areas of your screen. You get all the tools you usually use in your app and another extra tool; the laser pointer. It appears on your toolbar after the scrolling icon when you activate Presentation mode. You have 4 laser pointer colours: red, blue, green and yellow. When you turn on Hold Laser Tail you can write with your laser pointer. It becomes a temporary marker you can use during your presentation to write additional information on your screen. The writing disappears a few seconds after you finish or stop writing.
In presentation mode, Notability’s in-app split view is terrific. It allows you to have a presentation window (for your audience) and another one for your eyes only. This gives you the ability to look at some notes you need for your presentation but don’t want your audience to see. You can easily switch between the windows whenever you want by deciding to present the Left Note or Right Note. Presentation mode is completely changing the way we do presentations.
Notability’s homepage divides into two columns. The left smaller column has folders and the bigger one notebooks. Notability has a two-level hierarchy system (Dividers and Subjects). Dividers have folders (subjects), and subjects (notebooks).
Editing Your Notebooks
Edit (top left corner) allows you to edit your files in the application. You can select notes for editing, giving you the ability to delete or duplicate them (icons on the left side). You can also rename your notebooks by merely tapping on their title. Still in the editing mode, tapping the settings icon on your dividers and subjects gives you some editing options for them. You can do the following to your subject folder:
- Choose a colour
- Lock (password protect it).
WARNING: 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.
When deleting a subject, the app asks you to confirm that you want to delete it. This is useful in case you make a mistake. Lastly, under Edit you can move folders around to rearrange your notes as needed. You can move subjects into or out of a divider. Tap Done when you’re finished.
Next to Edit is the Export icon. You can export multiple notes to other apps or share them with other people. Select the notes you want to share and tap export. In Notability, you can share your notes to:
- Google Drive
- Other Apps (there are plenty to choose from).
You can send as a PDF, Note, Image or RTF.
|Read-only format |
Good for sharing with computers and non-Notability users.
|Note||Notability’s native format |
Editable in Notability only
Best for backup and sharing with other Notability users.
|Image||Read-only format |
Good to share to any platform, application or device that supports photos.
|RFT (Rich Text Format)||Exports text and recordings only |
Does not export handwriting or PDFs
Next to Export is the Plus icon for creating new Subjects and Dividers.
On the right side, the first icon is the Search tool. Universal search will search through all your notes and documents in the app. Notability has OCR (Optical Character Recognition) that can search through your handwriting, text and scans. Your search results are organised into:
- Title Matches
- Content Matches
Importing & Creating New Notes
Next to Search is the Import tool for adding documents into Notability. You can add them from:
- Google Drive
To create a new note in Notability, tap the Pen & Paper icon next to the Import icon.
The Bin icon is at the bottom of the sidebar on the far right corner. Notability permanently deletes notes after 30 days unless recovered. Within those 30 days, you can recover them by simply tapping on them.
The bottom of the homepage has a few icons too. The first one is the Settings icon responsible for the following customisations:
- Auto backup
- Managing Accounts
- iOS Sleep Timer
- Web Clip
Auto-Backup lets you select a Cloud service for backup. You can choose from these: Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box and WebDAV. You can also Turn Backup Off.
Once you have chosen your cloud service, you can select a Destination for your backups, that is, the folder you want to save your notes to. You can choose the subjects you want to backup and their format. You can backup as Note, PDF, PDF + Recording, RTF or RTF + Recording.
Note: Backing up your notes with recordings as PDF or RTF will make you lose the sync they have with your notes.
Manage Accounts lets you sign in to your Cloud service. You can 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). Any changes you make on one device gets automatically updated across all of them, as long as you have an internet connection.
Themes are responsible for how your app looks. You get three free ones (light, dark, dark blue and jet black) and seven others for a small in-app purchase. They each cost a dollar, and the bubblegum pack costs $2. You can turn on the option for your app’s theme to Match iOS Appearance. That way, when you switch in and out of dark mode you don’t have to worry about any other settings.
Document sets a default template for new notes. You can choose a default name for all your notes. I just left that unchanged; Note is a decent default name for unnamed notes. You can choose to add the date and time of creation to ensure every note is unique and easy to find. You just have to remember the date you created it. Your planner or calendar might have that information readily available. You can choose a default note paper: colour, lining (plain, lined, grid or dotted) and line spacing (there are three options). You can also turn on Rounded Corners for your default media options.
Typing sets default options for your text in the app. If you don’t want to customise your text every time you have to type something, this is where you make those changes. You can set the following default settings:
- Style (bold, italic or underline).
- Font size
- Turn on check spelling
- Allow to Tap anywhere to start typing on that line.
When Tap anywhere is on, tapping the middle of the line causes the cursor to appear at the beginning of it, not where you tapped.
Handwriting lets you choose your handwriting language for better handwriting recognition.
I recommend turning on Straight Lines. When you draw a straight line keep holding your finger or stylus down, the straight line automatically straightens out. Shapes Detection works the same way straight lines work. Notability recognises any shape you draw in the application, as long as it is closed with both ends of the shape connected.
Writing & Palm Rejection
Tap and hold to enter zoom mode while handwriting. Turn this option off and you will need the zoom icon to enter zoom mode. I turned mine off because this tool tends to activate when I don’t need it. It is disconcerting. Left-handed mode moves the toolbar to the bottom of the application for left-handed people.
Palm Detection lets you rest your palm anywhere while writing. You can never have too much palm rejection in a handwriting app. I suggest turning this on. It’s mostly useful for third party styluses. The Apple Pencil works just the same, even with this option turned off.
Password allows you to set a password for protecting your folders in the application. You only need one password for all your folders. You can turn on Touch- or FaceID instead 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 iOS Sleep when iOS Sleep Timer is turned on. I recommend turning this off because it drains your battery. There are times I forgot to exit the app and came back to find my iPad Pro screen on with my battery drained.
Text-to-Speech customises the speed your iPad reads out your text for you. It ranges from slower to faster.
Web clip lets you add a password to restrict access to Web Clips.
Next to the Settings button, there is a little Question mark icon that takes you to Notability user’s guides.
The Information button tells you about Notability. We are currently on version 10.2.1
2020 Wishlist Update
For our 2020 wish list, we had nineteen requests. Our developers, managed to do five and half. Here’s what they delivered in 2020:
- Saving favourite pens
- Renaming audio recording
- Deactivating hyperlinks when we’re using the Apple Pencil. This was part of our request for improved hyperlinks.
- OCR support for math equations is costing us $2.99 in their 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.
Now, what do we do? Keep asking for more or give up?