Notability is a great note-taking app for the iPad. It has some decent PDF-reading capabilities.
- Audio recording synced to notes
- Saves iPad storage (creates tiny files)
- Password-protect folders
- Export password-protected PDFs
- Add GIFs, sticky notes, web clips & links
- Interactive checklist
- Save favourite pen tools
- Terrible page customisation
- No page rotation
- No multiple page selection
- Two-levels of folder organisation
- Limited multitasking
Pricing and supported OS
Notability is a note-taking app that is available for your iPad/iPhone and Mac. It costs $8.99 on iPadOS/iOS with in-app purchases in their Notability shop, $1.99 for the Mac Version. These are one-time purchases, not subscriptions. To date, we haven’t paid for any updates yet.
Creating Digital Notes
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
- 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 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 meeting 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.
NB: Notability supports custom fonts. Learn how to add those to your iPad.
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.
The pen tool has two options. It has a ballpoint and fountain 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, giving you up to 64 colours, using the Hex code or colour picker. Long press your custom colours to edit or delete them.
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.
You can add audio recordings to your notes in Notability. Tap on the microphone icon to start recording. Notability automatically breaks down your recordings into 20-minute sections but the recording is continuous. There is no limit to the length of your audio and the app continues recording even when you exit it and when your iPad is sleeping. So, remember to stop recording when your meetings or classes end.
Audio playback syncs to your notes. The app writes the notes you were writing while recording your audio. The animation is quite exciting and it makes revision fun. You can tune and manage your recordings. Tuning improves your audio playback and decreases the tapping noise of your Apple Pencil. You can speed up playback up to 2X or slow it down to 0.7X and rewind (go back 10 secs). You can skip through playback by taping onto notes on your page (if your animation preview is turned on).
Photos and 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; it 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). Whichever paper template you choose, you can edit it after you have created your sticky note. You can add text boxes in Notability, instead of using the typing sticky note.
Notability finally supports any kind of shape now, 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 like you do with straight lines.
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 5.
The three-dot icon has settings to customise the paper template, scrolling direction, gives you information about your notebook and help with your app. You have 15 paper colours and four page templates (plain, lined, dotted and ruled paper). Except for plain which has no lines, each template has four different widths. Notability has to work on their paper options.
Notability has the worst page customisation in any note-taking app. It is very difficult, not impossible, to use custom page templates in the app. Working with pages in the app is extremely difficult. You can’t select multiple pages in the app. You can’t rotate your pages, and this makes Notability a massive headache.
You can now choose your scrolling direction in the app; vertical or horizontal. Horizontal scrolling is very useful for presentation mode.
The information icon gives you information about your notebook.
- Date modified
- Date created
- Formatted for what device.
- Word Count
- Handwriting Language
- Highlighter (the option to revert to old highlighter).
The last icon on your toolbar previews your document. It displays your pages as thumbnails, which you can view all your pages or bookmarks.
OCR and Handwriting Recognition
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
Newest Features In The App
Notability recognises hyperlinks in PDFs, although it does not create them. You can view two notes side by side using the Note Switcher in the application. This in-app split view allows multi-tasking in the app. Notability also supports dark mode, which at the moment only applies to the app’s user interface. With presentation mode, you can do presentations right from Notability. Your audience doesn’t see your user interface, which some people might find refreshing.
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 you want to delete it; 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
- Manage 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.
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 and dark blue) 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).
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.
iOS Sleep Timer when turned on, Notability ignores the iOS Sleep. 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 9.3.4
Version 8.0: OCR and multi-tasking (Note Switcher).
Version 9.2: Fixed the highlighter!
Version 9.3: Presentation mode.
Version 9.4: Improved mouse support, audio recording, sticky notes and text boxes.
Version 10.0: Notability shop, Favourites toolbar, new pen tools and stickers.
Version 10.1: Adds the first planner to Notability shop.