libraries.

Notability vs GoodNotes

Price

Notability is a few dollars more expensive. It costs $8.99 while GoodNotes costs $7.99.  For Notability, iOS/iPadOS and macOS versions are sold separately. For GoodNotes, all versions now fall under one universal purchase. Notability sells the handwriting recognition feature for $2.99 in their Notability shop. This feature is essential for searching handwritten notes. Handwriting recognition is a must-have in 2020, you will need to purchase this. That brings the total price to $11.98 for Notability. The macOS version is currently on 80% sale for $1.99. You can also buy themes in Notability. These are optional, and you don’t have to purchase them.

Both apps are:

  • one-time purchase
  • don’t have a Windows version

And so far, we haven’t paid for any updates for either apps. 

AppNotability GoodNotes
Price
$8.99 on iPadOS/iOS
$4.99 macOS

In-app purchases in the Notability shop.
$7.99
Size272.5 MB304.1 MB
DeveloperGinger LabsTime Base Technology Limited
Type of appHandwriting note-taking Handwriting note-taking,
PDF reader
Supported OSiPadOS, iOS, macOSiPadOS, iOS, macOS
Comparing Notability and GoodNotes.

Creating digital notes 

Notability creates new notebooks in a single tap. GoodNotes has a similar QuickNote option. You can also take more time to create new notebooks in GoodNotes, customising your cover and page templates.

Notability supports one paper size: A4. It supports only four paper templates: plain, squared, lined and dotted; each with four line-spacing options (where applicable). All your paper templates in Notability are portrait mode. You can’t rotate them. Notability supports a lot of paper colours though (15), but unfortunately, all pages in one notebook use the same template, down to the colour. You can’t have different page templates in one notebook in Notability. 

Notability has the worst paper templates options we have seen in any note-taking app. They’ve ignored this for years. We are curious to see how much longer they’ll keep getting away with this. You can’t even select multiple pages for editing in Notability. Second, only to handwriting experience, paper templates are the most important feature in a note-taking app. If they can’t give us the paper templates we need, they should at least let us add custom paper templates to the app’s library. No, that my fellow humans, they have made almost impossible. Adding custom paper templates in Notability is extremely difficult.

GoodNotes has great paper templates options. It supports many page sizes: (A7-A3, GoodNotes Standard, Letter and Tabloid). It has plenty of paper templates, twenty-two in total! They can either be in portrait or landscape mode. In case you change your mind about their orientation a bit later, you can select multiple pages to rotate or edit them (copy or move them around). GoodNotes supports fewer colours for your paper templates (yellow, white and dark). That doesn’t even matter because you can save custom page templates to the app’s template library. Talk about convenience! You can also have different paper templates in one notebook; different colours, sizes, grid lines or colours. 

Page customisationNotabilityGoodNotes
Different page sizes
Different page orientations
Page colours153
Number of paper templates422
Add custom paper templates to the app’s library
Multiple page selection 
Different page templates in one notebook
Page rotation
Comparing page customisation in Notability and GoodNotes.

Pen tools

Notability and GoodNotes are primarily handwritten note-taking apps. In these apps, you mostly handwrite your notes with an active stylus. Notability has two pen tools (ballpoint and fountain pens). It has twelve fixed pen sizes, 32 default colours and the ability to add 32 more custom colours to your colour palette. In Notability 10.0, you now get dashed and dotted brushes for your pen and highlighter tool.

GoodNotes has an additional brush pen to the ones in Notability. It has a millimetre-pen size system. You can precisely choose the thickness you want for your pen, between 0.1-2mm. On your toolbar, however, you can only save three pen sizes and colours at a time. Notability and GoodNotes have different approaches to their pen tool, and both are functional.

The handwriting experience in these apps comes down to your personal preference. It’s like choosing a pen in a stationery shop (some pens work for you, others simply don’t). GoodNotes’ inking experience has improved dramatically in iPadOS.

Pen toolNotabilityGoodNotes
Pen typesBallpoint, fountain, dashed & dottedBallpoint, fountain, brush
Pen size12 fixed options0.1-2mm variable, save three at a time
Colours32 defaults, add custom3 saved on toolbar, add custom
Comparing the pen tools in Notability and GoodNotes.

Zoom tool

The zoom tool in Notability is very basic. It has your writing tools on the left side of its toolbar and navigation tools on the right side. You can avoid using auto-advance by minimising this blue section and not writing on it.

Auto-advance in GoodNotes is better than the one in Notability, once you understand how it works. In GoodNotes, the toolbar doesn’t have writing tools on it. It has margin tools instead. Then navigation tools on the right. 

Zoom tool NotabilityGoodNotes
Pen tools on toolbar
Auto-advance
Margin tool
Navigation tools
Comparing the Zoom Tool in Notability and GoodNotes

Text tools

In Notability, you can type directly on the page or use text boxes. In GoodNotes, while typing, a text box appears around your text which disappears when you stop writing. GoodNotes uses the text box approach only. We do not recommend adding text directly on the page in Notability when you want to mix your handwriting with text. 

Since both apps have text box options, we’ll look at that first. In Notability, you can use your Apple Pencil to draw a text box when your text tool is selected. Or you can add your text box from the plus icon on the toolbar. In GoodNotes, you just start typing. 

In Notability, your text can have paper textures or colours (from your pen tool colour palette). To effect any changes to your text box in GoodNotes, you have to select some text. Can’t we just start editing our text box since it’s selected? You can change your background colour, add a border, determine its thickness and padding. You can set your customisations as default, so you don’t have to go through all of this next you want to create a text box in the app. Notability doesn’t have borders for your text boxes. It makes the feature feel a bit incomplete. Borders are necessary to create boxes. For both apps, you can rotate your text boxes.

Both apps support custom fonts. See how to add custom fonts to your iPad.

In Notability, you can save three favourite text formats. These preset your font, style (bold, italic or underline), size and colour for the text. You can save presets for your headings, paragraphs and emphasis. When typing notes, during a meeting or lecture, you don’t have time to customise your text. Tapping on a favourite changes your text format immediately. GoodNotes only offers you three saved colour templates on the toolbar. In Notability you can create: 

  • interactive checklists 
  • unnumbered lists 
  • numbered lists

The interactive list tool in Notability is one of the best on the market. Notability checks off, dims and strikes out completed tasks. It makes them easy to differentiate from tasks you’ve not done yet. Notability has an indentation tool, GoodNotes does not. But it does have text alignment options, which Notability doesn’t.

You can access the notes in your currently opened folder from within Notability’s workspace when using the text tool. Ever wanted to go back to another notebook to add a quick note or check some information? You can do that in Notability. You can even customise the tools on your keyboard toolbar.

Notability has the superior text tool. This is GoodNotes’ worst feature in the app. The developers really need to improve the text tool in the app.

Text toolNotabilityGoodNotes
Text input optionsKeyboardKeyboard, Scribble
Text box customisation★★★★★★★★
Text box rotation
Support for custom fonts
Save favourite text formats
Interactive lists
Lists (numbered & unnumbered)
Indentation tool
Text alignment
Comparing features offered by the text tools in Notability and GoodNotes

Highlighter 

A hundred years later, Notability finally fixed their highlighter! Perhaps updating the code for a highlighter is harder than we thought. They eventually moved it to the back of the ink. Both apps now have the highlighter at the back of your ink.

Notability still has the option to bring the highlighter to the front, for users that prefer that. You have to do this for each notebook though since the app doesn’t have a universal setting for it, at the moment. The highlighter, for Notability, has the same size and colour options as your pen tool. For GoodNotes, however, you can set different templates for your highlighter. Both apps can highlight in straight lines.  

Eraser

The eraser in both apps can erase per stroke & pixel. They can both selectively erase the highlighter only. Notability has twelve fixed sizes for your erase, GoodNotes only has three. GoodNotes can auto-deselect the eraser when you finish using it. After erasing something, the app automatically switches back to the tool you were using before. Notability doesn’t have this feature, apparently many users prefer it. 

EraserNotabilityGoodNotes
Per pixel/stroke
Eraser sizes123
Erase highlighter Only
Auto-deselect 
Comparing the Eraser in Notability and GoodNotes

Lasso tool

Notability has two types of lasso tools in the app; a freehand and rectangular one. The freehand lasso tool lets you move items on the page. You can resize and rotate your selection simultaneously, using the two-finger gesture.

The rectangular lasso tool lets you resize and rotate your selection independently. You can do one or the other, at a time. The lasso tool can change the thickness of your notes. It only picks up your handwriting. You can’t select everything on your page in Notability. You don’t need the lasso tool to select text boxes and images, though, just tap on them. The lasso tool in Notability can duplicate your content.

In GoodNotes, you can take a screenshot of your selection for exporting out of the app. You can selectively pick your handwriting, text, images or everything. The lasso tool in GoodNotes can’t move objects across pages of the same notebook. If you want to move items to the next page, you have to cut & paste.

In both apps, you can resize, cut, copy, delete, change the colour of your selected notes. You can also drag & drop items out of the apps.

Lasso toolNotabilityGoodNotes
Resize section, cut, copy, delete, change colour, rotate
Change thickness
Select handwriting only
Select text box onlyTap on text
Select images onlyTap image
Select everything (handwriting, text and images)
Take a screenshot of selection
Convert to text
Drag & drop
Move selection across pages in the same notebook
Duplicate
Comparing the lasso tools in Notability and GoodNotes

Adding things to your notes

For both apps, you can add images, scans, and import documents. In Notability, you can also add audio recordings, GIFs, sticky notes, stickers, weblinks and web clips. In iPadOS, both apps support scanning documents into your notes and searching through them. 

You can add:NotabilityGoodNotes
Images
Scans
Import PDFs
Audio recordings
GIFs
Sticky notes
Stickers
Weblinks
Web clips
Videos
Comparing all the items you can add in Notability and GoodNotes

Scanning documents

When you scan a document in Notability, you can insert it to your notes as a scan or an image. Images will take up a smaller section of your page and thus will create smaller documents. If you’re concerned about saving space, you can save the scan as a photo. You can search through your scans.

GoodNotes uses the same iPadOS scanning tool but it only saves scans as PDFs. You can search your documents, only if you do not rotate them. Avoid rotating your scans in the app. 

ScanningNotabilityGoodNotes
Save as PDF
Save as image
Search scan
Comparing Scanning documents in Notability and GoodNotes.

Shapes tool

Notability and GoodNotes can both draw regular, irregular shapes, arrows and curved lines. GoodNotes also supports arrows, but not curved lines. Both apps can auto-fill your shapes. Unlike in GoodNotes, your shape border can have a different colour from its fill, in Notability. While the auto-fill in GoodNotes is translucent, the one in Notability is opaque (unless you use the highlighter to draw your shape). For both apps, you can’t adjust your auto-fill opacity

In Notability, you can adjust the thickness of your shape border and its shape, after you’ve already drawn it. This works most effectively for irregular shapes, allowing you to completely change your shape.

Both apps support snap to other strokes, for automatically snapping edges of your shapes together. GoodNotes just happens to have a dedicated setting for it. Notability’s shapes and lines also snap to the grids on your paper templates. It makes for a pleasant shape drawing experience. 

Shapes toolNotabilityGoodNotes
Regular shapes
Irregular shapes
Arrows
Curved lines
Auto-fill similar to border colour
Auto-fill different from border colourYou can change the auto-fill colour afterwards.
Adjust auto-fill opacity
Adjust shape after drawingNow you can
Duplicate shapes
Snap to other strokes
Snap to page lines & grid
Adjust border thickness
Comparing the shapes tool in Notability and GoodNotes

Photos

Both apps support PNG photos (photos without a background). You can drag & drop images into the apps or add them using the photos icon. You can crop your images. In GoodNotes, you can crop them with freehand too.  For both apps, you can rotate and resize your photos. In GoodNotes you do both simultaneous, but in Notability, you can do one at a time. In Notability, you can add captions and wrap text around your images. 

PhotosNotabilityGoodNotes
PNG
Freehand cropping
Resize & Rotate
Drag & drop
Add captions
Wrap text around photos
Comparing the photos feature in Notability and GoodNotes

Scrolling

Both apps now have vertical and horizontal scrolling. Vertical scrolling in Notability is seamless. Pages are like one continuous canvas, separated by a thin horizontal line. Your handwriting can overlap across pages; giving you a ‘continuous’ canvas to write on. Vertical scrolling in GoodNotes is not seamless. A small gap separates the pages in your notebook. Your handwriting can’t overlap across pages.

Horizontal scrolling for both apps displays one page at a time. Notability automatically adds a new page when you start writing on the last page in your notebook. In GoodNotes, you have to add the pages yourself (using gestures or the plus icon on the toolbar).

ScrollingNotabilityGoodNotes
Vertical & horizontal
Vertical Seamless
Automatically add new pages
Comparing scrolling in Notability

Multitasking

Notability has in-app split view for opening two different notebooks, side by side, using the Note Switcher. Both notebooks share the same workspace. Your tools, thus, can only work in one view at a time (the active window). You can activate a window by tapping it, before writing. Notability’s note switcher only shows the ten most recently opened notebooks in your app. In-app split view was awesome before iPadOS 13

GoodNotes supports multiple instances. You can open the app twice, side by side. Each instance is a fully functional app; you can open the same notebook twice. Both windows are always active. You can access all the documents in the app from any instance. You can also open more notebooks in slide over and multiple tabs in each instance. At any given time, GoodNotes can open more documents than in Notability.

Multi-taskingNotabilityGoodNotes
TypeNote-switcherMultiple instances
Maximum number of notes open at once2More than 2
Open same note twice
Number of active windows per session1Both instances
Access to other notebooks10 most recently openedAll notebooks in the app
Slide over windows
Multiple tabs
Comparing multitasking in Notability and GoodNotes

PDF annotation 

All note-taking apps can annotate your PDFs because they have the tools for decent PDF reading (pens, highlighters and text boxes). That alone, however, is not enough to make a good PDF reader.

Of the two apps, GoodNotes is a better PDF annotating app. It recognises PDF outlines, which are contents pages. The last thing you want for a digital workflow is navigating through every page in a document, one by one. Contents pages let you skip to the exact part of the PDF you need. It saves a lot of time. Notability doesn’t recognise these. 

Hyperlinks are another way to ease navigating a PDF. Both GoodNotes and Notability recognise hyperlinks and they can automatically deactivate them (when you’re writing with an Apple Pencil).

You can create outlines in GoodNotes, your own contents pages. You can do that for your notebooks too. If you create huge notebooks to have all your information in one place, a simple navigation system is necessary. Otherwise, you’re better off just creating small documents. That comes with organisation problems of its own. 

For both apps, you can bookmark pages in your PDFs. In Notability, this is one of two ways to simply your PDF navigation because you can choose to view only your bookmarked pages. You also have the option to view your annotated pages only. That is very handy. 

You can export password-protected PDFs out of Notability. Useful when you have sensitive information you don’t want falling in the wrong hands. Like those secrets that are better off kept in your head, but you just feel the urge to write them down anyway. And of course, you must share them with your best friend. So you password-protect them. 

PDF annotationNotabilityGoodNotes
Recognise hyperlinks
Deactivate hyperlinks when using the Apple Pencil
Create outlines
Bookmarks
Tags
View annotated pages only
Password-protect exports
Comparing PDF annotating features in Notability and GoodNotes

OCR 

Optical Character Recognition, OCR, in these two note-taking apps has two parts. It has handwriting recognition & conversion and text character recognition (found in PDF readers).

In Notability, you can convert your handwriting to twenty-three languages. Text replaces your handwritten section in one tap. GoodNotes supports seventeen languages. After converting your text, you must copy & paste it in your notes, then delete your handwritten section. GoodNotes needs to make this a one-step process.

You can search through your handwriting. Both apps will highlight the searched term in your document. They are easy to find. GoodNotes will organise your search results according to notes and outlines. For searching page titles, outline results are handy. 

The other aspect of OCR for these note-taking apps is searching through scanned documents. Both will search through documents that you scan directly into the apps, but Notability also searching through imported scans. It can also search through text in your images.

OCRNotabilityGoodNotes
Convert handwriting to text
Supported languages2317
Replace handwriting in one tap
Search through handwriting
Search through imported scans
Search text on images
Organisation of search results
Comparing OCR in Notability and GoodNotes

Dark mode 

Both apps have false dark mode. It only converts the user interface and not the pages or ink in the app. 

Presentation mode

Presentation mode lets you present your notes without the distracting user interface of the app. In Notability, your screen goes into Dark Mode, giving you a helpful contrast. The dark mode parts represent everything your audience can’t see, that is, your user interface.

You have a laser pointer for pointing at what you are talking about. Notability has four colours for it (red, blue, green and yellow). You can use it to draw items during your presentation when a pointer is not enough. You can display parts of your pages or full single pages. The Note switcher allows you to open notes side-by-side. You can decide which notes you present and use the other ones for your reference only. 

GoodNotes has similar options. Your screen doesn’t change dramatically as it does in Notability, though. You only have a red laser pointer. It at also points and draws. You can present parts of your pages or full single pages. In split view, you can choose which window you show your audience and you can switch between them very easily. One split view will be for your presentation, while the other one is for your reference. Just like in Notability.  

Both apps have the option to display everything you see as a presenter (including your user interface). It defeats the purpose of doing a presentation in the first place, especially because the laser pointers only work on the pages, not the apps’ user interfaces. 

Presentation modeNotabilityGoodNotes
Hide user interface
Laser pointerRed, blue, green, yellowRed
Reference window
Comparing presentation mode in Notability vs GoodNotes

Special features 

Special features make an app stand out amongst others in the same category. These are unique features that, in most cases, define an app.

Exporting options

Notability exports four formats: PDF, Note, Images (Jpeg or PNG) and RTF. PDF is the best way to share read-only notes out of any note-taking app. That’s what we are going to focus on. You can:

  • Choose specific pages to export
  • Keep paper background
  • Attach audio recordings 
  • Password-protect
  • Add a margin 
  • Preview the PDF

A margin around your PDF gives you extra space around the notes, more room for annotating later. Notability does not zip images when you export them out of the app. 

GoodNotes exports PDF, Images and GoodNotes formats. You can: 

  • Choose specific pages for exporting.
  • Keep page background 
  • Exclude annotations
  • Export active hyperlinks

The ability to exclude annotations is useful when you want to share the original documents you imported into the app. You don’t have to worry about removing all your annotations before exporting. Super useful! GoodNotes has the option to export images as zip files or as individual imagesThe app has also added collaboration features to the app. You can work on documents with colleagues that also use GoodNotes.

Exporting optionsNotabilityGoodNotes
FormatsPDF, Images (jpeg/png), Note, RTFPDF, Images, GoodNotes 
Select specific pages
Page background
Attach audio recordings
Password-protect PDF
Add margin around PDF
Exclude annotations
Export hyperlinks
Zip images
Individual images
Comparing exporting options in Notability and GoodNotes

GoodNotes 5 creates and exports hyperlinked PDFs. 

User interface

Even though they come as an in-app purchase, the themes in Notability do offer you options to customise your user interface. The themes are beautiful. That, plus the minimalist user interface in the app, makes Notability a better-looking app. It looks cleaner and less cluttered. GoodNotes doesn’t have any themes. It’s two toolbars and tabs make the app somewhat chunky.

App size & storage consumption

GoodNotes is a bigger app that creates bigger files than Notability.

Storage consumptionNotabilityGoodNotes
App size205.2 MB297.3 MB
No. of documents37920
Documents & data166 MB531.8 MB
Comparing storage consumption

Organisation

GoodNotes remains the better app for organising your notes. It supports folders within folders, giving you an infinite number of organizational levels. You can also bookmark your favourites and filter them to view your documents, pages or folders only.

Notability has a two-level folder system (dividers and subjects). A divider contains multiple subject folders. The subject folder then contains individual notes. You haven’t much control on how you organise your notes in Notability. 

OrganisationNotabilityGoodNotes
Organisation levels2 folder levelsInfinite
Bookmark documents & folders
Filter bookmarks
Comparing organisation options in Notability and GoodNotes

Universal search

Both apps support universal search. You can search all your documents (including handwritten notes) on the homepage. GoodNotes organises your searched documents into titles, PDFs, outlines, typed notes and written notes. Notability organises your search results into title and content matches only. Notability can search through specific folders, which GoodNotes can not.

Universal searchNotabilityGoodNotes
Search through handwriting
Organise search resultsTitle and content matchesTitles, PDFs, outlines, typed notes, handwritten notes
Search specific folder
Comparing universal search in Notability and GoodNotes

Settings

Auto backup

Notability backups up to Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, Box and WebDAV. You can decide which subjects to backup and in what format. Note is Notability’s native format. It is the best way to backup your notes. 

In GoodNotes you can only backup to Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. You can decide which folders/notes to backup by including/excluding specific words/phrases in the names of your documents. GoodNotes is the native format for the app, therefore, the best way to backup your notes.  GoodNotes also lets you backup in two formats: GoodNotes and PDF. There’s an advantage to having both. 

In GoodNotes, you can see the documents queueing for backup. You can pause or cancel your backups

Auto backupNotabilityGoodNotes
Dropbox
Google Drive
OneDrive
Box
WebDAV
Native formatNoteGoodNotes
PDF 
RTF
Native + PDF
Backup specific folders
Backup specific files
View backup queue
Pause/cancel backup
Comparing automatic backup in Notability and GoodNotes

Both apps can:

  • Sync via iCloud
  • Move toolbar to the bottom

The battle between Notability and GoodNotes is a never-ending one. Which app do you prefer for your digital note-taking?

GoodNotes 5 added auto backup, finally!

2 Comments
  1. I wish these two apps would just get married.
    Notability:
    – I love the 8 pen/favorites floating toolbar they have. AWESOME. I use a million colors when writing so this is a lifesaver. The puny 3 you get in GN can be a nuisance – I spend more time tapping, tapping, tapping, to change pens.
    -I love the ease of mixing typing and writing. I like to emphasize things with text boxes so being able to throw them in there and add bullet point and all that jazz is really awesome. And I love being able to tilt and rotate text boxes (if I can do that in GN I haven’t figured out how). I will say that text boxes can be like little mini prima donna’s in Notability – very uncooperative at times.
    – I do NOT love the organization system. Boo, is all I can say to that.
    – Paper styles suck as you so aptly pointed out. Not that I use a ton of different ones in GN, but I do like just plain old untextured paper.
    – I do like writing in Notability slightly better – who knows why – but just seems smoother to me.
    – I do like the side by side notes; if it’s not a recent note it’s easy enough to search for it. Stinks that I can’t have 2

    GoodNotes:
    – LOVE the organization levels, papers, journal covers and all of that
    – Love being able to add Outlines to huge notebooks (and they do get huge) – my only problem is remembering to do it.
    – Text is improved with the update – but still limited.
    – PLEAAAAAAAASE let me have more pens saved on the tool bar!!!! Ugh.
    – Like the ease of inserting photos and all that jazz – I find it goes a bit faster here than in Notability.
    – I do NOT like having to pull down to start a new page – very disruptive and annoying.

    I could go on. I have been using Notability for the most part lately after using only GN for a long time. Now my eyes are starting to wander towards GN again. Sometimes I use a hybrid where I write in Notability but export to GN so I can organize things with some level of sanity. I do find Notability to be more glitchy, but has more features from a strictly writing standpoint. GN just has more in terms of organization and searching and working with PDFs.

    Like I said, marriage is in order.

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