Notability vs GoodNotes for PDF-reading

Before we get started, Notability has updated its app to add a pencil tool. I love pencil tools. They’ve also changed the icon for the pen tool and also its tab. That is all we got for Notability 12.0.

PDF annotation 

All note-taking apps have decent PDF reading tools for PDF annotation. Their pens, highlighters and text boxes are great for basic PDF reading on the iPad. In both apps, you can long-press the text in your PDF to highlight it. You can also change the highlighter colour in both Notability, and GoodNotes, but it’s easier to use the highlighter tool. Choosing a colour for it is also much easier.

You can also copy the text, look up its meaning and even have the iPad read it out loud. GoodNotes’ read-out feature sounded better. Notability was too fast, despite the speed setting being at normal. It could just be a bug. In GoodNotes, you can also strike out your selection; an option you do not have in Notability. Notability, however, supports true dark mode, which makes reading PDFs at night a breeze. Both apps can work with column text very well.

PDF navigation

GoodNotes recognises PDF outlines or contents pages. These are important for quickly skipping to the exact part of the PDF you need. They will save you plenty of time. Unfortunately, Notability doesn’t recognise them. 

When your document doesn’t have an outline, you can create one in GoodNotes! The app can then let you choose to navigate the outline you created or the one that came with the PDF. Notability relies on bookmarks for easing your navigation. It’s not as good as an outline, but it works. The page thumbnails give you a quick preview of the pages, making it easier to find what you’re looking for. You can also choose to view your annotated pages only, which is handy. GoodNotes’ bookmarks are similar to what you get in Notability, but it doesn’t have the option to view only the pages with notes on them.

Hyperlinks are another way to ease your navigation through a PDF. Both GoodNotes and Notability can recognise and deactivate them when you’re using your Apple Pencil. It makes both apps great for using digital notebooks (like ours) and planners. Neither app can create these hyperlinks, though. They can only open already existing ones.

At any given time, GoodNotes opens more documents than Notability because it supports multiple tabs. Tabs are ideal for research. You can jump from one PDF to another with just a few taps. Notability can open two documents, one above the other. This setup is great for comparing text. Coupled with multiple instances, you can compare up to four PDFs at once! Only you can decide which setup is best for your workflow.


GoodNotes has two-way collaboration, which is very important when you work in a team. Notability only shares a copy of your notes that others can only read, without editing them. The document can’t be more than 100 MB, which is another limitation you have to deal with. In GoodNotes, on the other hand, your whole team can comment and annotate any PDF together in real-time. This is such an amazing feature that makes GoodNotes an amazing PDF reader.


Notability can lock folders to protect sensitive documents. The app can also protect your PDFs with passwords when you share them. GoodNotes has no way of locking your PDFs. Both apps can let you choose the pages you want to export, and export active hyperlinks. Your documents remain easy to navigate, wherever you export them to it.
You can also share a document without annotations, in GoodNotes.


Only you can decide which features are crucial for your workflow. Both apps offer some impressive PDF-reading experiences on the iPad.

Scroll to Top