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Notability: Everything you need to know in 2020

Creating notes in Notability

The back arrow on the top left corner sends you back to the homepage of the application. Next to it is the Exporting icon. Next to it the Undo button. When long pressed, it pops up the Redo button. 

The text tool

The text tool allows you to type in the app (freely the page or on sticky notes). The top of your keyboard gets some functions when you tap to start typing:

  • Interactive list
  • Indentations tools
  • Font customisation tools
  • Font
  • Font size
  • Text colour
  • bold, italic and underline
  • Text templates (you can save three at a time)
  • Lists (numbered, unnumbered and interactive ones)

Interactive lists

When you check-off things on your to-do list, Notability neatly strikes it out. Interactive lists are handy in a note-taking app. 

The next, we have these two indentation buttons. Then font settings; font, size, colour, bold, italic, and underline. You can save three text favourite styles. They are labelled A, B and C. Simply tap on them to select a style when typing. Long press to customise the settings.

NB: Notability supports custom fonts. Learn how to add those to your iPad here. 

You can add bullet points and numbered lists to your notes. You can’t select different text alignments in the application though. 

Pen tools & handwriting

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 template colours. You can add custom colours, giving up to 64 colours, using a Hex code or the colour picker. Long press your custom colours to edit or delete them. 

The handwriting experience in Notability is excellent. The palm rejection is perfect, and there is no lag with the Apple Pencil. In Notability, you can replicate how your handwriting looks on paper. The app has no resistance when writing. I can write for hours in Notability and not feel a thing.

Highlighter

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, it doesn’t dim it.

Eraser

The eraser erases both per stroke (whole) and per pixel (partial). Each has 12 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.

Selection tool

The lasso tool has a freehand and a rigid (rectangular) one to move items on the page. They only pick up handwritten sections; not photos or text. 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 the selection. In addition to all of those functions, the rigid lasso tool resizes sections of your notes. Both tools can resize and rotate simultaneously, using the two-finger gesture. 

To disable the inking of your Apple Pencil, tap the hand icon.  You can then navigate your pages using your Apple Pencil. For those that don’t like using fingers their screens.

Audio recording

Tap on the microphone icon to start recording. Tap on it again, to stop recording. Audio playback syncs to your notes. You can tune and manage your recordings. Tuning improves your audio playback and decreases the tapping noise of your Apple Pencil.

Notability automatically breaks down your recordings into 20-minute sections, even though the recording is continuous. The app continues recording when you exit it, even with your iPad sleeping. So remember to stop recording when your meetings or classes end.

You can speed up playback, up to 2X  or slow it down to 0.7X and you can rewind (go back 10 secs). You can skip through playback by taping onto notes on your page (if your animation preview is on). 

Photos and GIFs

The plus icon where you can add a photo (from photos or the camera), scanned document, GIF, web clip and sticky note.  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. 

Scanning documents

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.

Web clips

&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, asking you to Open in Safari.

Sticky notes

You can add sticky notes to your notes (blank, lined, grid or typing). Whichever you paper template you choose, you can edit after you have created your sticky note. You can add text boxes in Notability, instead of using the typing sticky note

Shapes tool

Notability finally supports any kind of shape now, all without a dedicated shapes tool! It 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 and colour. You can 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

Page customisation

The three-dot icon has settings to customise the paper template, scrolling direction, gives you information about your notebook and help your app. You have 15 paper colours and 4 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: 

  • Handwriting
  • 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, though 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. Though at the moment, it 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 in your audience might find distracting.

The homepage

Organisation

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. It gives 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: 

  • Rename
  • choose a colour
  • Lock (password protect it)
  • Delete

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 the subject, the app asks you to confirm you want to delete it. Which is useful in case you make a mistake.

Lastly, under Edit, you can move folders around. Rearranging your notes as you need. You can move subjects into or out of a divider. Tap Done when you’re finished.

Exporting options

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, tap export. In Notability, you can share your notes to:

  • Email
  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • OneDrive
  • Box
  • iTunes
  • Print
  • WebDAV
  • Other Apps (there are plenty to choose from).

You can send as a PDF, Note, Image or RTF.  

PDFRead-only format
View anywhere
Good for sharing with computers and non-Notability users
NoteNotability’s native format
Editable in Notability only
Best for backup and sharing with other Notability users
ImageRead-only format
View anywhere
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
Exporting options in Notability

Next to Export, is the Plus icon for creating new Subjects and Dividers.

Universal search

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). It will search through your handwriting, text and text on scans.  

Your search results are organised into: 

  • Title Matches
  • Content Matches

Importing and creating new notes

Next to Search is the Import tool for adding documents into Notability. You can add them from: 

  • Files
  • Dropbox
  • Google Drive
  • Box
  • WebDAV
  • Scanning

To create a new note in Notability, tap the Pen & Paper icon, next to the Import icon.

Recycle Bin

The Bin icon is at the bottom of the sidebar, on the far right corner. Notability permanently deletes notes, unless recovered, after 30 days. Within those 30 days, you can recover them by simply tapping on them.

App settings

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
  • iCloud
  • Themes
  • Document
  • Typing
  • Handwriting
  • Password
  • iOS Sleep Timer
  • Text-to-Speech
  • Web Clip

Auto backup

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. You can choose the subjects you want to backup and the format for it. 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.

Syncing

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 update across all of them, as long as you have an internet connection. 

Themes

Themes are responsible for how your app looks. You get three free ones (light, dark and dark blue) and seven other ones 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 defaults

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. It becomes easier 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 defaults

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: 

  • Font
  • 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

Handwriting, lets you choose your handwriting language for better handwriting recognition. 

Shapes

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 your shape connected. 

Writing and 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. 

Passwords

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 could not recover your password if you lost it. Guard it well, lest you lose all your valuable notes.

Miscellaneous

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, in Notability, 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

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