In 2022, there are a lot of different note-taking apps available, but Notability and GoodNotes remain the two most popular options. We’re here to help you narrow down your app options and find the one that best suits your needs. Alternatively, you may be interested in our Editor’s Choice (the iPad app that our team uses for taking notes). Noteful is a much more recent and promising app than both Notability and GoodNotes.
Also, you check out our comprehensive user guides:
Similarities: Notability vs GoodNotes
Notability and GoodNotes are available on the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Unfortunately, it doesn’t appear there are any plans to develop Windows or Android versions of either app at this time. We can’t wait to see which app makes it to other operating systems first. If you are in the Apple ecosystem, you can use either app to sync your documents and continue working on them from any device.
With Notability’s updated page templates, it’s tough to say which app does page customisation better. Both apps have a respectable number of available page sizes and orientations (portrait and landscape). At first glance, it may appear that Notability has a larger collection of page templates. But it doesn’t matter because both apps allow users to import their own templates.
More templates are, therefore, not necessarily an advantage as you might not even use them. The important thing is that you can use the exact template you want (in both apps). Take us, for example, we prefer using our digital notebooks. Both apps make it easy to do so.
Though the apps take different approaches to personalise their pen tools, they both provide a superb user experience. Both apps have fountain and ballpoint pens. As opposed to fountain pens in general, we personally love the GoodNotes brush pen. For drawing shapes and diagrams, you can use Notability’s dashed and dotted pens. Taking notes with them is not very practical, though. I can honestly say that I have never put them to any use.
GoodNotes’s pen measurement in millimetres and Notability’s set pen sizes are equally functional. Both apps also allow you to select unique pen colours by entering a hex code. Notability has a slight edge with its colour picker, but it’s probably not enough to choose it over GoodNotes. Both apps provide a satisfying writing experience with reliable palm rejection.
The highlighter in both apps goes behind your ink and has personalisation options similar to those of the pen tools. Their erasers are pixel- and stroke-specific and can erase the highlighter only (if you want). While GoodNotes only offers three different sizes, Notability has twelve. But do we really need so many different sized erasers? When you’re done using the eraser in GoodNotes, it will be automatically deselected; Notability doesn’t have this feature.
The zoom tool is very popular amongst digital note-takers, and both of these apps have it. In spite of their differences, they share an essential feature: auto-advance. With the addition of a percentage zoom display, zooming in both apps will be much better. Whether you like the zoom tool to improve your handwriting or add more information to a “full page,” both apps have you covered.
To import scanned documents into your notes, you can use either app. Both are compatible with the iPadOS scanning technology. In Notability, you can save your scans as images or PDFs, but only as PDFs in GoodNotes.
Notability and GoodNotes can both draw regular and irregular shapes, arrows, and curved lines. It’s possible to make adjustments to these (in either app) after you’ve drawn them. Both apps can auto-fill your shapes with colours that are different from their borders. However, in GoodNotes, the fill and border of circular shapes use the same colour. The auto-fill opacity is fixed in both apps and cannot be changed.
No matter which app you use, snapping shape strokes is a breeze. When your shape is finished, GoodNotes treats it as a single stroke, but Notability continues to recognise the individual strokes. In the end, it comes down to personal preference; both are useful in different situations.
Notability has a slight edge over GoodNotes. The app lets you adjust your shape borders and can snap them into the grids on your basic templates. The app’s pink guidelines make it easier to rearrange different items on the page. They are also helpful for drawing shapes. Notability also has a ruler tool, which we’re still trying to learn to appreciate. At the moment, we feel it’s still a work in progress.
Both apps have implemented all the fundamentals required for a decent shapes tool in a note-taking app. Their differences, therefore, are not enough to decide on one app.
While GoodNotes only allows you to insert one image at a time, Notability can add multiple images at once. For a digital workflow in 2022, GoodNotes’ process is too much work. GoodNotes, unlike Notability, allows for freehand cropping of your images. Both apps can rotate and resize your photos. GoodNotes does both at once, whereas Notability can focus on one at a time.
Notability can wrap text around your images and add formatted captions. Both functions are unavailable in GoodNotes. However, the app can stretch or shrink your photos.
- Both apps don’t have true dark mode, so your pages and ink don’t automatically switch when you turn on/off dark mode. They only change the user interface.
- Scribble works in both apps.
In presentation mode, the app’s interface is hidden so that your audience can focus on your notes. There are four different laser pointer colours available in Notability, but only one in GoodNotes. Both laser pointers can draw trails in your presentation.
Using the Note Switcher, Notability creates a reference page that is hidden from your audience. Multiple instances do the same in GoodNotes. Keeping some notes private during a presentation can be handy.
The GoodNotes Community and Notability Gallery are both places where you can share your notes with others around the world. You can upload your notes for others to download, as well as download other people’s notes and templates for free. Do we even need more social media sites?
As a general rule, we don’t advise uploading your notes to any developer’s servers. It seems Notion really hasn’t taught us anything!
Both apps can export your notes as native files that only open in the respective apps. You can also export PDFs and images, but Notability can also export Rich Text Format (RTF). When it comes to sharing notes between different note-taking apps, PDF is the industry standard. So let’s zero in on that.
Both apps can export selected pages and let you keep the page background. GoodNotes can export PDFs without your personal notes, which is useful for sharing original copies of PDFs with others. In contrast, Notability can add margins and protect shared PDFs with a password. If your document contains any active hyperlinks, you can export them using either app. We’ll fully compare PDF-reading in a different article.
Notability’s five folder levels are reasonable, though GoodNotes’ infinite levels might be preferable. Do any of you guys use more than 5 levels for your organisation? Do tell. Bookmarking your most frequently used files in both apps is a great time saver. You can also access bookmarked pages and folders from the GoodNotes homepage.
Your shared files are readily accessible from either app, and if you’re using GoodNotes, you can use its filters to quickly locate specific files. They come in handy when multiple people are working together on numerous documents. Notability’s layout, with folders in the left column and their notebooks on the right, is the most convenient. There is no quicker way to navigate your notes. GoodNotes requires you to open folders before you can see their contents. You can waste a lot of time doing this.
From the homepage of either app, you can search through all your notes. Your handwritten notes, scanned documents, and PDFs are all searchable. Compared to Notability, GoodNotes does a better job of organising your search results. When you know what you’re looking for, you can jump right to it. Notability, unlike GoodNotes, can search within individual folders.
In contrast to GoodNotes, which only backs up to three cloud services, Notability can back up to five. Those who like Box and WebDAV will probably prefer Notability. A note-taking app should sync and automatically back up your notes. Most of us use at least one of the three cloud storage services integrated into GoodNotes.
Both apps support backing up in native formats and PDFs. We love GoodNotes because you can save both formats at once. We hope more note-taking apps will start offering that option soon. You can also choose to exclude certain folders and notebooks, which is an option you also don’t get in Notability.
- Sync via iCloud, but Notability keeps track of your different versions. You can download these versions, which helps in case something happens to your notes.
- Move the toolbar to the bottom.
What makes GoodNotes better?
When deciding between two similar apps, cost is likely the most important factor. GoodNotes is a one-time, universal purchase for $7.99 with an in-app shop where users can purchase digital stationery they like.
Notability requires a yearly subscription, which may deter many users. Does Notability provide any additional value over GoodNotes for its annual price of $14.99 ($11.99 for the first year)? There is a free demo version of both apps available to help you decide which one is best for you.
Considering that most other note-taking apps are a one-time purchase, it’s hard to see the value in paying a subscription for Notability. Though it is a decent app, it’s not amazing enough to justify that price, especially for new users. Old users might not like the pains of moving thousands of notes to a new app. But even that hasn’t been enough, considering Notability tried to stab us in the back with a forced subscription. So, most have settled for no updates because their apps can work without it.
Those of us who took Notability’s betrayal to heart, stopped using the app altogether. Our team, for example, moved to Noteful. If you’re just getting started with digital note-taking, it’s probably best to avoid paying for a subscription right off the bat. The same goes for digitally transforming educational institutions.
While Notability is free for K–12 institutions, it is not a good choice because it requires a paid subscription after students graduate. School admins must choose apps and software that your student can afford on their own once they’ve graduated. We cannot emphasise enough how crucial that is.
In both apps, the lasso tool can make edits to rotate, resize, copy, delete, and even change the colour of your notes. It can also drag and drop items between apps. In Notability, you can also duplicate as well as change the pen thickness and type for your notes, something you can’t do in GoodNotes.
A good lasso tool, for a note-taking app, must (at least) pick up everything on a page. Notability finally added that to the app recently. The lasso tool in GoodNotes can selectively pick your handwriting, text boxes, images, and comments only (or any combination you want). It can also take screenshots of your selections that you can export out of the app.
The only limitation for the lasso tool in GoodNotes is that it doesn’t move selections across the pages in your notebook. The workaround for it is painful. Notability, on the other hand, has no trouble moving items across your pages.
Notability+ has a collection of stickers that are freely available in GoodNotes. Obviously, GoodNotes’ library isn’t as comprehensive as Notability’s, but stickers aren’t worth a subscription (which is what Notability is trying to sell to its users).
Both apps allow you to make your own stickers, so it doesn’t matter if one has a larger sticker collection. Even though you can now pick up everything on a page, you’re still limited to creating stickers only from handwritten items in Notability. In GoodNotes, you can make stickers from text, images, handwriting, or any combination you like.
In GoodNotes, you can insert links, which will be underlined and appear dimmer than the surrounding text. When you tap on a link, you can choose to open or edit it. For digital notes, GoodNotes is a better option for adding and interacting with web links.
In Notability, you can import web clips that behave like images. This makes them difficult to open. You can also just copy and paste links into your notes, which is better than web clips. Strangely, despite Notability adding the feature first, GoodNotes handles web links better.
In both apps, selecting multiple pages lets you copy, rearrange, or delete them. Notability also lets you duplicate, save a bookmark, or clear all the notes. GoodNotes has proper page rotation that rotates your ink. It’s important to note that Notability can only rotate PDFs, not page templates. And, annotations do not rotate along with the pages. Those restrictions are infuriating.
GoodNotes has an outline feature, which Notability does not. An outline is a table of contents that helps you navigate lengthy documents. The app can display either the default contents page for your document or the custom one. The contents page will be included when you export your notes out of the app.
With both apps, you can open multiple copies of the same notebook at once using multiple instances. They also both support in-app multitasking, although in different ways. The Note Switcher in Notability divides your screen either vertically or horizontally. You can only have a maximum of two notebooks open at the same time. GoodNotes has tabs that can open as many of documents as you like. At any given time, GoodNotes can open more documents than Notability.
GoodNotes allows for two-way collaboration, whereas Notability only shares read-only notes. Once you’ve shared your link, your collaborators will be able to see the most up-to-date version of your notes. GoodNotes alerts you when others make changes to the notes you’re sharing. For further discussion, you can comment on shared documents.
When you share a link to your notes in Notability, even people who don’t have the app can view them in any web browser. However, they can’t interact with them in any way, except download them. The app also has a restriction that prevents you from sharing files larger than 100 MB. Notability does not have two-way collaboration.
What makes Notability better?
Notability has a more minimalist user interface. It doesn’t look as cluttered as GoodNotes (especially with multiple tabs open). You also get some themes in Notability that can change your UI, which you don’t get in GoodNotes. It’s not a big enough perk to justify subscribing to the app, but it’s nice to have.
Notability also packs away its settings in one place, unlike in GoodNotes. Though you can easily access many settings from your workspace in GoodNotes, it feels like too much is going on. Notability’s approach makes more sense and probably contributes to the app’s minimalist look.
GoodNotes can only save 3 pen sizes and 3 colours on the toolbar for easier access. Notability’s pen tools are easier to access than those in GoodNotes. Yet, Notability still went a step further to add a favourites toolbar that can house up to 12 tools. These could be pens, highlighters, erasers, or lasso tools. It makes it even easier to quickly pick the tools you frequently use in Notability.
The favourites-toolbar is mobile, you can put it anywhere you want. It is also easy to tuck away when you don’t need it and bring it up just as quickly. When you love using a lot of tools, this favourites-toolbar will help you work faster in Notability.
Notability supports body text where you type directly on the page, or you can use text boxes. In GoodNotes, you can only use text boxes. The body text in Notability is so impressive that, when you use the app’s basic page templates, it aligns with your line spacing (even when you adjust it). Learn more about how to correctly use the text tool in Notability.
Notability saves 3 favourite text styles, whereas GoodNotes only saves 1 text box style. In Notability, you can create all kinds of lists: interactive, numbered, and unnumbered. The app even has hierarchy options to change the bullets or numbering when you indent your list items.
The interactive list tool in Notability is the best we’ve seen in a note-taking app and we love it. The app checks off, dims and strikes out your completed tasks. GoodNotes doesn’t support lists of any kind. You can also customise the tools on your keyboard toolbar, in Notability. Another feature you don’t have for your text tool in GoodNotes.
You can use custom fonts in both apps, and you can also align your text in text boxes. GoodNotes does more for your text boxes though. It has a wider range for line spacing than Notability, which only has three. In GoodNotes, you can also do the following for your text boxes:
- Change the background and border colours
- Determine the roundness of your corners, border thickness and padding
- Add a shadow to the text box.
- Save one text box style
Notability doesn’t have borders for your text boxes, and the only thing you can change is the background colour or type. Though the app has limited text box styles, it does offer more text functions than GoodNotes.
Both apps have continuous vertical and paged horizontal scrolling. Vertical scrolling in Notability is seamless. In Notability, pages look like a continuous canvas separated by a thin horizontal line (with vertical scrolling). Your handwriting can even overlap between pages, which looks good in the app until you export your notes. In GoodNotes, a small gap separates the pages in your notebook. Your handwriting, thus can’t overlap across pages.
Notability automatically adds a new page when you start writing on the last page in your notebook, while in GoodNotes, you have to add the pages yourself. It’s nothing to cry about though.
Adding items to notes
Notability can add more items to your notes than GoodNotes. For both apps, you can add images, scans, stickers, and import documents. In Notability, you can also add audio recordings, GIFs, and proper sticky notes, which you can’t do in GoodNotes.
Notability has the most sophisticated audio recording tool we have seen in any note-taking app. Audio recording syncs to your handwritten and typed notes. It has several playback options for your notes preview and the audio recording itself. You can also merge or split your audio recordings. For easy step-by-step tutorials on how to use the different features in these apps, check out the user manuals on our website:
Both apps can convert your handwriting to text. Notability converts your handwriting to 22 languages, whereas GoodNotes only converts to 13. GoodNotes’ workflow for handwriting conversion is more cumbersome. It requires several taps, whereas in Notability it only takes one. Notability also copies the font size and colour for your conversion, which GoodNotes does not.
You can also search through your handwriting and scans (native & imported) in both apps. Notability also has math conversion that converts maths and chemical equations into high resolutions scalable images. You can edit any mistakes in the conversion with LaTex code. GoodNotes does not have this feature.
GoodNotes’ app size has dramatically reduced over the years. The developers have worked very hard on that, reducing the app from more than 450 MB to 361,6 MB. We hope they can work on the file sizes as well. On average, a GoodNotes notebook with very few notes is about 28 MB. In Notability, a notebook size averages 5.6 MB (at least 5 times less than what GoodNotes creates). When you have an iPad with a small storage, this matters a lot.
Notability’s subscription makes us sceptical to recommend it to individual end-users. Subscriptions work better for businesses especially because there are a lot of note-taking apps that are one-time purchases:
- Noteful: $4.99 (Editor’s choice)
- Nebo: $7.99 (Editor’s choice for handwriting-to-text conversion)
- GoodNotes: $7.99
- CollaNote: free
- Noteshelf: $9.99
- ZoomNotes: $7.99
- Apple Notes: free
GoodNotes is a better option for anyone who doesn’t want to add a subscription to their monthly bill.
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