After years of being shallow and unreasonable, we have finally got over our dislike of the ZoomNotes’ user interface. ZoomNotes is a note-taking app that is available on iPadOS and macOS and it costs $7.99 on each of these platforms. These are one-time purchases and we haven’t paid for any updates yet. This app has the worst user interface of any functional note-taking we have seen. Please ZoomNotes developers, improve this user interface. We are begging you on our knees. With all the amazing features this app packs, how hard could it be to just improve the icons?
Creating notes in this app is a lot of fun because ZoomNotes has a lot of capabilities most apps can only dream of. To create a new document, tap the Plus icon on the top left corner of the homepage. You can:
- Create Document from scratch.
- Import document from a number of places (Photos, iTunes, Cloud Services, Clipboard and Files).
- Scan document from camera.
- Create Folder
When you choose to Create Document, you can select a page template from the few ones in the app or customise your page by tapping the Custom icon to:
- Name your document
- Turn on the cover for your notebook, determine its colour and the colour for the title area.
- Turn on Digital planner if you want to create a digital planner in the app.
- Customise your Page Template by choosing its:
- Size (A4, US letter or Custom). For a custom page size, you can choose the dimensions for the page’s width and height. They are measured in millimetres, inches or points. Points are not a very intuitive unit for measuring page sizes. We’ve encountered millimetres, inches and pixels but never points. You can also Set size to match screen – a useful feature.
- Padding is supposed to add some space around your page but adjusting it doesn’t make any visible change to your page so it’s difficult to see exactly what it does.
- Page orientation: Portrait or Landscape.
- Rounded corners: you can turn this option on and get to decide the Radius for your corners.
- Paper colour: ZoomNotes has many systems for picking your colours. The colour above Mixer is the one you’ve effectively selected. They don’t support the HEX code though.
- Surrounds colour is the colour for your canvas, the one your pages are superimposed over.
- Line colour and you have the same colour options for these too.
- Margin Colour: in ZoomNotes, a margin is only available for lined paper. Squared paper has margins too, I hope we can get margins for squared paper. Generally, note-taking apps don’t support margins. We’ve forgotten what it feels like to have margins on Notebooks.
- Page style: Blank, Lined, Squares, Music, Isometric and Graph.
- Line weight makes your lines lighter or darker.
- Dots: you can turn them on and off.
- Line spacing can be wide, medium, narrow or custom if you don’t like the presets already saved in the app.
You can turn on Infinite whiteboard mode to have an infinite page to write on. Show vertical markers adds two vertical lines to mark the width of the page in the middle of the infinite canvas. This is not very useful because horizontal markers are also necessary to mark finite pages making up the infinite canvas. LiquidText does this very well. Horizontal markers are necessary when you want to export your notes out of the app.
ZoomNotes lets you create the exact notebook you want to create. Everything in your notebook is customisable and that is impressive.
In ZoomNotes, your pages are superimposed on a canvas and that gives you the ability to rotate your pages and move them around as though you are moving a piece of paper on a desk. It also makes it easier to zoom in and out of your pages. This means you can’t swipe on your screen to navigate through your pages because that only moves the page around. You can navigate through pages using the next page and previous page icons.
Just like your page customisation, almost everything in the app’s user interface is customisable. You can change the:
- Colours and icon sizes
- Icons appearing on your toolbars; their order and location.
ZoomNotes is very complex but you can simplify it as much as you want. It caters to both minimalists and those who are not. The user interface in the app is dynamic, unlike other apps like GoodNotes and Notability. You move toolbar icons around. The app doesn’t have a reset button to reset the user interface. That would make both our lives much easier, for reviews and tutorials.
ZoomNotes has five pen tools (Draft, Felt tip, Italic, Gel and Nib). It also has a pencil, highlighter and watercolour in the same toolset. For all these pen tools you can style, customise and save favourites.
Styling your pen tool
Under Style, you can change the thickness of your pen by swiping to the right and left along the pen stroke. You can also choose a colour for your pen. This Style section is for quick customisation.
Customising your pen tool
For more detailed customisation options, go to Customise if you prefer a calibrated pen thickness. You can also change the opacity of your pen. Each pen tool has something unique about it which you can adjust in your Customise settings. Your Draft and Felt tip pens can be dashed and you can adjust the Nib angle of your Italic pen, for example.
Despite having five pen types to choose from, finding a pen tool that works for me in ZoomNotes was difficult for many years. Many hours have I spent, as a human, searching for the right pen in ZoomNotes! That has changed over the years because ZoomNotes is the most updated note-taking app on the market. The developers have constantly worked on improving the inking engine in the app and it has paid off.
What the pens look like
The Draft pen looks like a ballpoint pen, it helps to stick to familiar terms. The Felt tip pen looks like a faded ballpoint pen. None of us likes this look. The Italic pen is a calligraphy pen and the Gel pen has a fountain feel to it. The Nib pen has a fountain pen option you can turn on.
Any app with a pencil tool is amazing in my books! For your pencil tool, you can adjust its thickness and opacity. You can also make your pencil lead hard to make it lighter or soft so it becomes darker.
ZoomNotes is the first note-taking app we have encountered with watercolours. When using the watercolour, each time you lift your Apple Pencil from the screen, the stroke glitches. When writing a lot of things, it’s a bit annoying. Besides that, the tool behaves just as watercolours should.
Saving writing tools to favourites
After you have finished customising your pen tool, you can save it to favourites. You can group your favourites for different purposes and dock one group to the lower bottom of the side toolbar for easy access. On this dock, you can quickly adjust the opacity, thickness and colour of the selected pen tool.
The handwriting experience in ZoomNotes is great. The app has no lag, as you’d expect from such a sophisticated note-taking app. Palm rejection is perfect.
The highlighter in ZoomNotes can either go behind or in front of your ink. You can decide that in the app’s settings of the app. You can adjust the thickness of your highlighter, its opacity and make the ends squared. Even at maximum opacity, the highlighter does not dim the ink in your notes.
ZoomNotes does not support multiple instances, but I doubt you’ll be missing them with all the multitasking capabilities you get in the app. First of all, ZoomNotes supports multiple tabs. The cool thing about multiple tabs in the app is that the app remembers the tool you’re using in each tab. So you can be using a highlighter in one tab, a pencil in another and a pink pen in a different tab and the app will use those different tools for each tab. And you don’t need to keep switching tools. That is fantastic!
You can also split-view your screen within the app. You can have vertical split view and horizontal split view. You can change the split ratio to anything you like and you can open the same document twice. Unfortunately, split-view removes your tabs so when split-viewing, you’re only limited to two documents at a time. But when you exit split-view, your multiple tabs are still there waiting for you. You can easily switch back and forth from the split view to multiple tabs.
Customising your user interface
- Create custom paper templates from scratch
- Has infinite canvas options
- Customisable user interface
- Integrates Apple Reminders & Apple Calendar
- Ugly user interface
- Overwhelming & difficult to learn (too many features)
- No multiple instances
To be continued…
28 thoughts on “ZoomNotes for the iPad: beginner’s guide”
I am using ZoomNotes, and I have tried many alternatives. One the most important features is the possibility of having layers, which I could not find in other apps. It is very useful for presentation to have a layer, then block it, and be able to write on top of that on another layer, and erase here and there without erasing the layer below. It seems to me that this feature is not there in GoodNotes and other similar apps (am I right?).
Anyway I agree that the documentation could be improved and the interface is sometime not so easy to interpret. But that’s the price you have to pay for something which is so powerful. I even think that the price is very convenient for what you get, if you are wiling to put on with some efforts.
Thanks for your review, from which I learned something…..
You are welcome, Maurizio.
Since ZoomNotes is so complex, we will continue working on this review as it is clearly still incomplete. And yes, that layers feature is not found in any note-taking app we have reviewed so far, only Procreate (which is a drawing app with note-taking capabilities)
Interesting, but Procreate is too much oriented to drawing things, where it excels, and layers are of course absolutely needed for drawing, as we know. It does not seem to be a competitor to ZoomNotes.
True, Procreate is a drawing app. But I couldn’t help but wonder if it could work for note-taking too. And it is definitely not in competition with ZoomNotes because they are in completely different categories.
I am evangelical about ZN – there is nothing else on the market that comes close in terms of versatility. Regarding the initial experience of the user interface being overwhelming, I found Rebecca Bennett’s YouTube tutorials to be invaluable when customising the user interface to suit my needs. Once I’d realised that I could adapt it so that it worked for me, it was a game changer.
The unofficial zoomnotes help Facebook group is brilliant because the wealth of knowledge and experience of the members is so helpful, not to mention that the app developer is really quick to respond to queries and suggestions within the group.
Zoomnotes is the only app I’ve found which is able to keep up with the demands I put on it – and this is because it is constantly evolving new functionality in response to user needs.
The simpler apps (I’ve tried them all and am a beta-tester for a few) just can’t keep up with what ZN offers.
That is very true, everyone can make ZoomNotes work for them by choosing what features work for them and that makes the app absolutely amazing.
I have been using ZoomNotes for a while now and got used to the interface, and not been able to swipe, just because I love sooo many features it has, and they keep updating it with even cooler features, first app that the developer takes notes of what its users ask for, I was switching between goodnotes and ZoomNotes and definitely stayed with the later. Layers and been able to manipulate images more did it for me.
Layers are definitely game changing and developers that pay attention are always the best 🙂
My absolute favorite part of zoomnotes is the integration of my iCal in my digital planner. I am finally using my planner daily!
That is definitely a cool feature!!
I would love to see what this looks like in a screen shot!
A very interesting read, I can’t wait to see what you think of the calendar sync, by far the best part of this planner editor. As a person who makes and sells PDF planners, this is my absolute go to for building and using on a daily planning basis. I have found the interface similar to Microsoft Word to learn and manoeuvre around. The big bonus with ZN’s is that you can choose your own icons. Initially, I changed the icons to mirror GoodNotes, however I very quickly realised it has so much more to offer. I would definitely recommend to anyone that asks, as you can personalise ZoomNotes to your own personal needs. On a very positive note, the developer is so helpful and always puts himself out to support you using the application, can’t say that about so many other apps I have purchased. Most definitely worth the £8 I spent on it.
That is very true!! customising your app is the best part about ZoomNotes.
I like your review/beginners guide, but I am sad to see that you felt the need to slam ZN in your very first comments. I understand that you need to mention it but having read many reviews I feel that this is something that could have been added to the end…like a “in my opinion….” kind of a statement…I have used ZN for many years and just don’t understand all the complaints about the interface. Saying it is the worst is a matter of opinion… smh.
I am sorry you feel that way. We try to objectively evaluate every app we encounter and we have a systematic way that allows us to break down an app for a complete review. We could move that around but having seen hundreds of apps in the past 3-4 years, there is a general trend on how modern apps look like and ZoomNotes doesn’t suit that criteria. It is a very striking feature which I understand you might not get seeing you’re used to the app now. We’ll see if it’s possible to move that around or tone it down a bit I guess.
I have long been looking for an app where I can write my notes and link to the pdf files. zoomntes is the only app that I can see can do this. so it is absolutely the app that I want to use freely even though it is annoying to scoll in.
Thanks for starting a zoomnotes guide. It’s the most versatile and powerful note taking app I’ve ever used. You can start small and on your way you can explore so many functions. The most powerful feature is events. It’s just amazing.
The ui is full for beginners but once u use it it is great.
The most amazing thing about this app is it’s developer! He is amazingly responsive and there are constant updates and features being added. For instance there are now 8 pen tools, 8 image tools and 8 drawing tools. The layers function is incredibly smooth and works perfectly. The app also has bookmarks, so navigation is easy, and a pointer that one can use to do presentations or teaching videos! And now there is a planner function where you can create your own digital planner and import your calendar events. You can also insert little previews of other pages, that update when you edit the previewed page! The “Unofficial ZoomNotes Help” page on Facebook has all the info you need to know regarding use of this app. It has been beyond helpful for me.
If all you did was use the Transparency function it would be worth the cost 10 times over! The most recommended app requires a yearly subscription that is more for just one year than ZoomNotes’ one time cost!
I’ve seen several mentions of not liking the scrolling??? That confuses me because it can be set to scroll smoothly or a page at a time… either vertically or horizontally by swiping??? What am I missing here?
You can create beautiful color palette by simply dragging an image and dropping it to the palette area.
You can draw round or normal tables.
And about the interface… come on… you can make it as simple to use as you want! A stripped down version like other note taking apps is available with the download. But why??? Make it so you have accessed to some of the most valuable features on the market then take as much time as you like learning the extras. It is totally unfair to judge ZN’s interface to any other note taking app because it replaces AT LEAST TEN other kinds of apps. If you purchase all the apps that ZNs replaces think of the combined learning curve and the constant need to go in and out of each instead of having everything just a click or two away.
Then of course you have the symbols (aka Stickers) and the built in Symbols folders that can be access with just one tap… no more need for separate “sticker books”.
What I have learned over time is never make a definitive description of what ZoomNotes doesn’t have or doesn’t do…9 times out of ten you will be wrong.
I could go on and on but I would be writing far more than you did.
Please, don’t let me stop you 🙂
It’s so true when you think it’s not possible… chances are you very wrong. We tend to look at an app as a whole and the user interface of an app is very important. At first glance, ZoomNotes gives the impression that it’s an outdated app that hasn’t received updates in years. So, they really should do something about their user interface.
Hi, allow me jump into the ongoing discussion.
1. Yes ZoomNotes has vertical and horizontal scrolling, but it has to be activated.
2. ZoomNotes receives very often updates and enhances its features, especially of you are beta tester.
Just some example vertical and horizontal splitting, a clipboard, tableofcontents with links, pens that are associated to layers were features I proposed and were implemented very quickly.
That is very true, ZoomNotes is constantly updating their app. It is the most updated note-taking app on the market.
Hi, thanks for the nice and balanced review. I wrote my comments on the Youtube channel, but maybe here it is more useful. I started to use my iPad Pro, 3 years ago, for my research and teaching using at first GN and Notability but I got disappointed by their lack of features. Notes Plus was much better but very unstable, its frequent crashes caused me data loss, and the handwriting was quite terrible. ZN had even more features, its handwriting was so much better and the support was not only fast (compared to say Nebo) but it was also efficient. The lead developer had no problems implementing among other things asked for, the split view you described. Things you (still) did not describe: vertical and horizontal scrolling does exist but must be activated, moreover ZN posses a clipboard for recent copies, revision control, table editor, table-of-contents with links; sub-documents, and layers. Layers together with bookmarks allow you to generate a dynamic presentation similar to Powerpoint, but much more original since you can have a pen delivers a Harry Potter effect by dynamically writing the text you want to discuss. I am thinking of making a video to describe this feature.
Hello Uwe Brauer,
ZoomNotes has a lot of features. The most challenging task we currently have is how we can put all of it in an easy-to-understand way for everyone.
And you’re right, this comment is actually more useful here than it is on YouTube. Thank you.
Is there a way to add pages vertically and to be able to scroll through easily without hopping from page to page? I can’t figure it out and there don’t seem to be tutorials online
Yes, there is: look for the view tools and choose the one with Pan and Zoom tool, tap on it to choose vertical scrolling under Scroll direction. Then turn of Paged scrolling for a smooth scrolling experience.