Best iPad Notetaking App: Goodnotes vs Notability

The GoodNotes vs Notability debate has been around for a while.

Both are powerful tools for students and business professionals who want to use their iOS devices like a digital whiteboard to capture handwritten notes and compile detailed documents.

How do they compare to one another, and which one is right for you?

Let’s take a look!

Goodnotes vs Notability: The Breakdown

As you can see, both GoodNotes and Notability offer similar features when it comes to note-taking.

From a global search function to palm rejection and text conversion, you’ll find most of the features that you want in both apps.

The difference is in the implementation of those features and the interface that you’ll be working with on a daily basis.

1. Display & User Interface

The first thing you’ll notice when comparing GoodNotes 5 and Notability is the app layout and user interface.  Though both apps make it easy to find and navigate content, both apps handle this core functionality differently.

When you open GoodNotes 5, you’ll be treated to either a list or grid layout (your choice), which displays all of your notes, folders, and notebooks in a quick and easy-to-read format.  This has to do with the way GoodNotes wants you to create notes (more on this below), and it makes complete sense.

Notability takes a different approach.  Opening the app, you’ll see your folders on the left side and the notes within those folders displayed on the right.  Aside from creating new subjects (folders) for your notes and dividers to separate your subjects, there’s not much to see here.  It’s a practical, efficient, and effective no-frills approach.

Both methods are easy to follow and can help you manage multiple documents with ease.  Thanks to global search functionality, it’s easy to find any content you need quickly from the main screen.  Just tap the magnifying glass on either app and start your search.

The Verdict

GoodNotes 5 takes the win here, purely on aesthetics.

While navigation is simple and easy in both apps, it’s obvious that GoodNotes has put a bit more effort into “dressing up” the document management process, and both the navigation display and user interface benefit from those design choices.

2. Document Management & Creation

With Notability, document management is straightforward:  From the main screen, you’ll create a subject and house all notes within that subject.  

It’s simple, easy, and almost instantaneous.  

This kind of organization isn’t even required — although we do recommend keeping your notes organized if you’re trying to keep track of multiple documents at a time.

With Notability, every note comes equipped with endless scrolling, which makes note-taking and categorization easy.  Create a note for every classroom session or every meeting, take notes until you’re done, and start a new note next time.  Keep your notes in the right heading and they’ll always be organized in a simple and logical way.

With GoodNotes, document management is a part of the creation process.  When you create a new document in GoodNotes, the app will ask what kind of document you’d like to create.  You can choose between a notebook, a folder, an image, and a few other options.

Creating a notebook is the typical GoodNotes approach.  From there, you’ll be directed to a setup screen where you can choose your notebook cover and the type of paper you want to use.  After you make these choices and give your notebook a name, a new note will open and you can start jotting down your handwritten notes.

GoodNotes treats every single notebook like an actual notebook.  You can add pages with ease. While this is great if you’re trying to contain a similar body of work, you lose some navigational features in the process.  

With Notability, exiting a note at the end of a session and creating a new note serves as a breakpoint between sessions and makes navigation easy.  Using GoodNotes, you’re forced to either rely on the search feature or scroll through endless pages inside a notebook to get back to old content. This won’t always be ideal when you’re trying to find things quickly.

It’s worth pointing out that you CAN use a folder and the GoodNotes “QuickNote” feature to create a layout structure similar to what Notability provides, but it’s not intuitive.  The GoodNotes workflow makes it pretty clear that notebooks, which are designed for longer bodies of work, is the preferred way to do things.

The Verdict

Notability, for practicality alone.

For the record, we like the GoodNotes interface a lot.  It’s got a great aesthetic, looks amazing, and comes with a ton of features that feel good to use.  They’re some of our favorite features from both apps.

However, at the end of the day, this is a note-taking app.  These apps are designed to help you annotate PDFs, take handwritten notes, and keep track of these smaller documents.  

Neither of these apps has the artistic power you’d see in an app like Procreate or Photoshop and, while we love the premise behind notebooks, it seems impractical to use either of these apps for projects were more graphical prowess or better document control would be required.

3. Taking Notes

Without a doubt, both GoodNotes and Notability provide a robust toolkit for taking notes and both companies have spent a lot of time figuring out what works best for their users.

Ironically, that’s why many of the features offered by both apps are so similar.  Both apps take advantage of the digital workspace, allowing you to customize your environment to suit your style and preferences.  

You can change the color and design of your paper, as well as the size, color, and functionality of your tools without breaking a sweat.  With both apps, you’ll get a selection of important tools, including a pen, a highlighter, an eraser tool, a lasso tool, and a shape tool.

GoodNotes shines in this area by providing a larger variety of pen types along with sliders for precise adjustments when choosing your stroke width.  While Notability does allow users to pick how large or small lines should be, it lacks the fine-grained control you’ll find in GoodNotes.

On the other hand, Notability offers a unique audio recording feature for note-takers.  Using Notability, users can record audio files while taking notes. When playing back audio, Notability will animate when the text was added to the page during the recording so that it’s easy to know what prompted you to write something down.

Both apps also feature a selection tool (lasso) to select and move anything on the page, but they differ in creating shapes.  In GoodNotes, you’ll need to select the shape tool in order to have shapes automatically snap together when you draw them on your page.  With Notability, this feature is built in. Simply draw a shape anywhere on the page and the software will snap everything together into smooth, straight lines.

Notability also shines when working on multiple documents.  While GoodNotes supports document tabs (think of tabbed browsing when surfing the web), Notability allows users to open two notes side by side in a split-screen view.  This makes comparing notes much easier.  

With iPadOS now supporting a multiple window feature, you can create similar functionality by opening two instances of GoodNotes at the same time on your iPad.  But it’s not the same as the native integration that Notability has supported for years.

Last but not least, both apps support using the Apple Pencil 2 or a 3rd party stylus for the iPad, so you can use your favorite drawing and sketching tools to create handwritten notes.  The built-in palm rejection and left-handed support provided by either app make using your Apple Pencil 2 a no-brainer.  

You can even add in a Paperlike screen protector so that the surface of your iPad feels like real paper!

The Verdict

This was a tough one for us, but we have to give it to Notability for the audio recording and multiple note support.

GoodNotes is a formidable tool, especially with the added functionality around pen features and line stroke width, but the recording feature is one of our favorite perks, and it’s just too good to pass up if you’re taking notes in a business meeting or during a lecture.

4. Storage & Backup

By default, both GoodNotes and Notability use Apple’s iCloud sync to back up your notes.  

This is standard for most iOS devices, and it makes sense here since both apps also have an iPhone version and a Mac app.  Using iCloud sync, everything automatically updates on all other Apple products.  

Notability allows users to back up their files to 3rd-party storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive using the Auto-Backup.  With Auto-Backup, users can select the service of their choice and create a secondary, one-way backup on that service. The iCloud sync still takes place unless separately disabled.

GoodNotes only supports an iCloud sync, but that doesn’t mean that your documents are locked away forever!

Remember, this is only for file backups.

Both apps also allow users to export files to share with other devices.  This is helpful if you have a PC or Android device that you need to use to access your data.  In this case, you’d either email or export your note as a PDF file to one of the offered services and send it on its way.

If you’re sharing notes with another GoodNotes or Notability user, you could also send the GoodNotes file or Notability’s “Note” file so that the file can be imported directly to another user’s app.

The Verdict

This is a tie.

While Notability’s Auto-Backup feature does provide an additional way to keep things protected, Apple’s iCloud system is rock solid.  It even has a file recovery system if your files somehow managed to get lost.

Since it’s possible to export content as PDF files or as native GoodNotes files and/or Notes files, there’s really no major advantage in choosing one app over another.  You should be able to get your information wherever you need it without a problem.

5.  Pricing & Updates

It’s worth discussing price and updates before we wrap up, and this is where the GoodNotes vs Notability debate takes a distinct turn.

Both apps cost under $10 on the iPad app store, and both apps require you to make an additional purchase on the Mac App Store for use on the Mac.   If you want to use the Mac App and the iPad/iPhone version, you’ll have to shell out the cash for both versions.

However, going with Notability will probably cost you less in the long run because GoodNotes requires users to purchase the new version of their software upon each major release.

Recently, GoodNotes launched GoodNotes 5, an upgrade to GoodNotes 4.  Even though the company has offered an upgrade bundle so that GoodNotes 4 users can buy GoodNotes 5 for a lower cost, it’s still a purchase that users will have to make before support for GoodNotes 4 is discontinued.

Notability users don’t have this issue.  Buy it once and you’re done. The company has never forced users to pay for major updates or new versions — they just update the older version of the app and move on.

The Verdict

Notability, hands down.

If you’re looking to save on cost while staying up to date, Notability is the way to go.  Though it amounts to pocket change over several years, you can still expect to pay for an updated version of GoodNotes while your cost for Notability doesn’t increase.

Whether you choose Notability or Goodnotes ...

... one sure way to improve your note-taking on your iPad is to get a Paperlike: The first screen protector made for the Apple Pencil.

Ali Abdaal - Tech/Student Youtuber

"The sensation of writing and drawing feels very much like paper. This is as close to a perfect screen protector for my treasured iPad as I can imagine."
- Ali Abdaal - Tech/Student Youtuber

GoodNotes vs Notability: Our Choice

We went into the GoodNotes vs Notability debate completely blind, and we didn’t look around to see what everyone else said before making our decision.  

Based on what we see and how we think we (and our readers) would use this app, we believe that Notability is the better fit.

Here’s why: As we mentioned earlier in the article, both GoodNotes and Notability are designed to be note-taking apps.  They aren’t designed to be sketching programs or powerful artistic apps (although we agree that it’s possible to draw and sketch inside each app).

We considered each app on its merits based on how it approaches the task of note-taking.  GoodNotes 5 has some incredible features and, overall, the document creation workflow and user interface feel more complete.  

The problem is that the features GoodNotes provide almost seem over-engineered for the task at hand.  While we do love their attention to detail, the streamlining and practical features that Notability brings to the table swept us away.

That wraps it up for the GoodNotes vs Notability debate.  Did we miss a major point that you think we should mention?  Keep the conversation going and let us know on Facebook or Instagram! Or simply send us an email. 

Until then, happy note-taking!