libraries.

Notability vs Apple Notes

iPadOS 14 has added more features to Apple Notes. Can this app ever replace third-party note-taking apps?

Price

Notability is a paid app. It costs $8.99 for the iPadOS/iOS version. The macOS version is a separate purchase for $4.99. Notability also sells the handwriting recognition feature for $2.99. This feature is essential for searching through your handwriting in the app. Handwriting recognition is a must-have in 2020, you will need to purchase this feature. It brings the total cost for Notability to $11.98. This is a one-time purchase, you get to use the app for a lifetime. Both the iPadOS and macOS versions are currently on sale at the moment. You can also buy themes in Notability but those are optional. Updates for Notability are free.

Notability’s iPadOS version is currently on 25% off sale and the macOS version is on 80% off sale.

Apple Notes is free. It comes preinstalled on all your Apple devices. It also has a web-based version that works on any operating system, as long as you have an Apple ID. 

FeatureNotability Apple Notes
Price$8.99 on iPadOS/iOS
$4.99 macOS
In-app purchases:
OCR $2.99
Themes
Bubblegum Pack $1.99
Summer $0.99
Fall $0.99
Spring $0.99
Winter $0.99
Free
Size215.3MB12.8MB
DeveloperGinger LabsApple
Type of appHandwriting note-taking Handwriting note-taking
Supported OSiPadOS, iOS, macOSiPadOS, iOS, macOS,
web app
Comparing Notability and Apple Notes

Creating digital notes

Both Notability and Apple Notes create new notebooks in a single tap. 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. Notability supports a lot of paper colours though (15).

Compared to Apple Notes, Notability’s paper customisation options are great. Which says a lot about the options you get in Apple Notes. Notability has the worst paper template options in any third-party note-taking app. Adding custom paper templates to the app’s library is difficult, but at least we can.

Apple Notes has three paper templates: plain, grids and lines and three line-spacing options. An additional, narrower line-spacing option would be greatly appreciated. Apple Notes has no colour options for your pages. 

The pages in Apple Notes are vertically infinite but have fixed widths. The page continues extending downwards for as long as you keep writing. Notability gives you the impression of a vertically infinite page even though it has fixed page sizes. Which is better for exporting your notes. 

See: How to add custom pages to Notability.

Apple Notes automatically generates a title for your notebook from the first words in your notes (handwritten or typed). You can edit the title if you’re not happy with it. In Notability, you can set a default title for your notebooks. All the notebooks you create will be named the same (with the option to include date and time) unless you edit them. Apple Notes creates unique titles for your new notebooks that are relevant to the information in your notes. That is surely a better approach to naming your notebooks. 

For both apps:

  • All your pages are in portrait mode. 
  • You can’t rotate your pages.
  • Your whole notebook has the same page template (down to the colour).
  • Don’t have multiple page selection.
FeatureNotabilityApple Notes
Different page sizes
Different page orientations
Number of page templates43
Page colours151
Add custom paper templates to the app’s library★★
Multiple page selection 
Different page templates in one notebook
Page rotation 
Automatic creation of notebook titles
Comparing page customisation options in Notability and Apple Notes

The toolbar

The toolbar in Apple Notes is mobile. You can move it around the page or minimise it, depending on what you are doing. Notability’s toolbar is fixed at the top or bottom of the app, depending on whether you are right-handed or left-handed.

Writing tools

Pen tools

Notability has two pen tools (ballpoint and fountain pens). It has 12 fixed pen sizes, 32 default colours and you can add 32 more custom colours to your colour palette.

Apple Notes has one pen and one pencil tool. The pen tool has a ballpoint feel to it. For both writing tools, you can adjust their opacity and thickness. They both have five fixed sizes only. Apple Notes measures opacity in percentages that show on the tools as you customise them. 

Each tool has five default colours are the end of the toolbar. You add custom colours to a secondary colour palette. You can add as many colours as you need. Notability does not have a pencil tool, and you can’t adjust the opacity of your writing tools.

While Notability uses vector ink, Apple Notes uses raster ink. In Apple Notes, your ink loses its resolution as your zoom in (it doesn’t in Notability).

The handwriting experience in either app comes down to your personal preference. Both apps have accurate handwriting representation and no lag. It feels natural writing in Notability and Apple Notes.

Writing toolsNotabilityApple Notes
Pen toolBallpoint & fountainBallpoint
Pencil tool
Writing tool sizes12 fixed5 fixed
Ink typeVectorRaster
Adjust opacity
Comparing the writing tools in Notability and Apple Notes.

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.

 Apple Notes doesn’t have a zoom tool, neither can you zoom in and out of pages. This is a massive limitation for digital note-taking. 

Zoom tool NotabilityApple Notes
Pen tools on toolbar
Auto advance
Margin tool
Navigation tools
Comparing the zoom tool in Notability and Apple Notes

Syncing and auto backup

Both Notability and Notes sync your notes via iCloud. They both do a smashing job. Notability also allows you to auto-backup your notes to five different cloud services.

Organisation

Notes supports folders within folders, giving you more organisation options than the one you get in Notability. The two-level folder organisation system in Notability is crippling. The app has dividers and subject folders only.

Dark mode

Notability has what I am calling false dark mode; Notes has true dark mode. No third party app has true dark mode yet. Only Apple Notes can adjust your notes’ colours accordingly to the mode you have on your iPad. When in dark mode, the default ink colour is white, the background black. These colours automatically reverse when you switch to light mode.

Shapes tool

Drawing shapes with a ruler? Seriously? I love the ruler in Notes; just seeing it as a decoration, not using it! Drawing shapes in Notability is much more pleasant. In Notes, you can only draw shapes with corners since you have to use the ruler tool to do it. That is too much manual labour in digital note-taking. Very limiting for a note-taking app.

Scrolling

Both apps have vertical scrolling. But in Notes, pages have no defined sizes. It makes exporting notes out of the app complicated. Each time I try to export my notes, they get cut off at the most inconvenient places. In Notability, it very easy to see where new pages start.

Exporting options

Notability has more exporting options. You can decide the format you want to export from three available options and select pages to export. You can turn off the paper template background and add a margin around your notes.

Notes has limited options. You can save an image without the paper background. The app had no choice to keep the paper background if you wanted it. Exporting a PDF in Notes is possible only through the printing option. When exporting to Notability, the exported file is by default a PNG image. You can’t choose the exported format. The Notes app is ideal for someone who doesn’t plan on exporting their notes, ever!

Split view

Both apps support in-app split view. Only the one in Notes is superior. You can open the app in multiple windows, with different apps. You can even open the same notes twice.
Notability’s split view doesn’t support opening the same notes twice. You can’t open the app in multiple windows either. It’s a shame; I was looking forward to that.

Photo Editing

Adding photos to Notes is a bore! Once you’ve inserted an image, you can’t adjust its size, position or orientation. You can’t even crop the image! All options which you have in Notability.

PDF annotation

Notability supports PDF annotation. You can work on PDFs with hyperlinks, and your PDF can stand alone as a unique file. In Notes, a PDF is a file you attach to your notes. It is an insertion like photos and web links. You open it independently in the markup window for annotation; not the best way to annotate PDFs.

Unique features

Apple Notes supports videos! Notability doesn’t. I have been obsessed with videos in notes lately. If you can have videos in your notes, why not?

Notes has a pencil tool and a ruler. Notability has neither. I love the pencil, but it is not for serious note-taking. It’s excellent for drawing, though, if you use diagrams. It is very accurate with impressive pressure sensitivity.

Notes supports collaborations. You can add people to your notes/folders so you can work on projects together. You can allow them to view or make changes to the content you share.

The audio recording tool in Notability is a winner! The ability to record audio, synced to your notes is Notability’s trump card.

What app should you choose?

Notability is one of the best handwriting note-taking apps on Appstore. If you’re into serious note-taking, and your handwriting is cursive. You want to give Notability a try.

The Notes app is best for quick rough notes. It is always handy to jot down random ideas running through your head. But I’d say try Apple Notes first; it might work for you. If it does, you won’t be spending money on a note-taking app.

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