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 version now fall under one universal purchase. Notability sells the handwriting recognition feature for $2.99. 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 Mac 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:
- a one-time purchase
- don’t have a Windows version
And so far, we haven’t paid for any updates for either apps.
|Price||$8.99 on iPadOS/iOS|
Bubblegum Pack $1.99
|$7.99 on iPadOS, iOS & macOS|
|Developer||Ginger Labs||Time Base Technology Limited|
|Type of app||Handwriting note-taking||Handwriting note-taking,|
|Supported OS||iPadOS, iOS, macOS||iPadOS, iOS, macOS|
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, by 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 relevant. 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 handle on paper templates 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 and rotate them. Or edit them however you like. 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 have different paper templates in one notebook. Different colours, sizes, grid lines or colours.
|Different page sizes||✘||✔|
|Different page orientations||✘||✔|
|Number of paper templates||4||22|
|Add custom paper templates to app library||✘||✔|
|Multiple page selection||✘||✔|
|Different page templates in one notebook||✘||✔|
Notability and GoodNotes are primarily handwritten note-taking apps. In these apps, you will mostly be handwriting your notes with your 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.
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 you get from either app comes down to your personal preference; 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 types||Ballpoint, fountain||Ballpoint, fountain, brush|
|Pen size||12 fixed options||0.1-2mm variable, save three at a time|
|Colours||32 defaults, add custom||3 saved on toolbar, add custom|
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. Auto-advance in Notability is terrible. You can avoid using it 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.
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 notes in your currently opened folder 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 input options||2||1|
|Text box customisation||★★★||★★★★★|
|Text box rotation||✔||✔|
|Support for custom fonts||✔||✔|
|Save favourite text formats||✔||✘|
|Lists (numbered & unnumbered)||✔||✘|
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.
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.
|Erase highlighter Only||✔||✔|
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.
|Resize section, cut, copy, delete, change colour, rotate||✔||✔|
|Select handwriting only||✔||✔|
|Select text box only||Tap on text||✔|
|Select images only||Tap 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||✔||✘|
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, weblinks and web clips.
In iPadOS, both apps support scanning documents into your notes and searching through them.
|You can add:||Notability||GoodNotes|
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.
|Save as PDF||✔||✔|
|Save as image||✔||✘|
Notability and GoodNotes can both draw regular and irregular shapes. GoodNotes also supports arrows. Neither supports 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, gives you the ability 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.
|Auto-fill similar to border colour||✔||✔|
|Auto-fill different from border colour||✔||✘|
|Adjust auto-fill opacity||✘||✘|
|Adjust shape after drawing||✔||✘|
|Snap to other strokes||✔||✔|
|Snap to page lines & grid||✔||✘|
|Adjust border thickness||✔||✘|
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.
|Resize & Rotate||✔||✔|
|Drag & drop||✔||✔|
|Wrap text around photos||✔||✘|
- Vertical Scrolling for Noteshelf
- What’s new for the Files App in iPadOS 14?
- What’s new for Apple Reminders in iPadOS 14?
- What’s exciting about iPadOS 14?
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).
|Vertical & horizontal||✔||✔|
|Automatically add new pages||✔||✘|
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.
|Maximum number of notes open at once||2||More than 2|
|Open same note twice||✘||✔|
|Number of active windows per session||1||Both instances|
|Access to other notebooks||10 most recently opened||All notebooks in the app|
|Slide over windows||✘||✔|
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.
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.
|Deactivate hyperlinks when using the Apple Pencil||✔||✔|
|View annotated pages only||✔||✘|
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.
|Convert handwriting to text||✔||✔|
|Replace handwriting in one tap||✔||✘|
|Search through handwriting||✔||✔|
|Search through imported scans||✔||✘|
|Search text on images||✔||✘|
|Organisation of search results||✘||✔|
Both apps have false dark mode. It only converts the user interface and not the pages or ink in the app.
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.
|Hide user interface||✔||✔|
|Laser pointer||Red, blue, green, yellow||Red|
Special features make an app stand out amongst others in the same category. These are unique features that, in most cases, define an app.
- GoodNotes has a two-finger selecting gesture for quickly selecting and deselecting multiple documents on the homepage.
- The audio recording tool remains Notability’s trump card. It is an excellent feature for note-taking. The audio files are very small, taking up negligible storage on your iPad. Notability has just revamped the audio recording tool giving us some cool editing features within the app.
- Notability can lock folders. It supports Face/Touch ID, depending on the device you are using.
- GoodNotes can create outlines, to ease navigation through your notes. You can then export them with hyperlinks.
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
- 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 images.
|Formats||PDF, Images (jpeg/png), Note, RTF||PDF, Images, GoodNotes|
|Select specific pages||✔||✔|
|Attach audio recordings||✔||✘|
|Add margin around PDF||✔||✘|
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
|App size||205.2 MB||297.3 MB|
|No of documents||379||20|
|Documents & data||166 MB||531.8 MB|
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.
|Organisation levels||2 folder levels||Infinite|
|Bookmark documents & folders||✘||✔|
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.
|Search through handwriting||✔||✔|
|Organise search results||Title and content matches||Titles, PDFs, outlines, typed notes, handwritten notes|
|Search specific folder||✔||✘|
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.
|Native + PDF||✘||✔|
|Backup specific folders||✔||✔|
|Backup specific files||✘||✔|
|View backup queue||✘||✔|
Both apps can:
- Sync via iCloud
- Move toolbar to the bottom
GoodNotes 5 added auto backup, finally!