Our Goodnotes vs. Notability article was most recently updated in August 2023.
The Goodnotes vs. Notability debate has been around for years.
Both apps are powerful tools for students and business professionals who want to use their iPad and Mac devices like a digital whiteboard to capture handwritten notes and compile detailed documents.
So how do they compare to one another, and which one is right for you? We originally reviewed both apps in 2019, and we’ve kept an eye on them every year since.
With so many new features released recently, we’ve taken a fresh look at each app to help you figure out which app can deliver the best notetaking experience in 2023.
Ready? Let's go.
- Goodnotes offers a full-featured app for a yearly subscription or a one-time cost, while most of Notability’s features are locked behind a yearly subscription.
- Notability’s sidebar offers better navigation throughout the app, but Goodnotes’ infinite nesting folders offer more thorough organization.
- Both apps offer similar toolkits for notetaking, audio recording, and sticker insertion, but there are some key differences.
For over a decade, Goodnotes and Notability have been the top two contenders for the best notetaking app. Both are highly rated and include unique features that set them apart from the other competitors.
But the question remains: Which is better?
Let’s break down the differences between these two powerhouses to find out.
#caption#Image: Deniz Kurtoglu / Paperlike
#alt#An image depicting the logo and App Store information for Goodnotes 6.
- Price. Limited free plan available; $9.99/year subscription or $29.99 one-time purchase from the App Store for the full version. $6.99 for Windows/Android.
- Platform. Available for iPad, iPhone, Mac, Windows, and Android.
- Reviews. Goodnotes 6 app currently has 4.8 stars derived from a total of 84,000+ reviews.
Created by Time Base Technology Limited in 2011, Goodnotes was designed to replace paper and pen with a robust digital notetaking experience. It has consistently remained one of the top-ranked apps on the Apple App Store and even won the Apple iPad App of the Year Award in 2022.
This full-featured app includes all the tools needed to jot down and organize your thoughts and ideas, including page customization, nesting folders, flashcards, AI tools, and collaborative capability.
#caption#Image: Deniz Kurtoglu / Paperlike
#alt#An image depicting the logo and App Store information for Notability.
- Price. Free plan available; $14.99 per year for the premium plan.
- Platform. Available for iPad, iPhone, and Mac.
- Reviews. Notability is currently rated 4.7 out of 5 stars on the App Store with 26,000+ reviews.
Notability was created in 2010 by Ginger Labs, Inc. as a notetaking tool for students and professionals. Over the years, it’s become one of the most popular notetaking apps, with thousands of positive reviews.
Features like audio recording, math conversion, and PDF annotation are just a few of the tools that make it easy to capture information during classes or meetings.
#caption#Image: Deniz Kurtoglu / Paperlike
#alt#Image of the icons for both Goodnotes 6 and Notability side by side on a light blue background with a red dot in the upper corner of each.
Recent changes & updates
2023 has been a very busy year for both of these apps. While we have fully updated this article to reflect most of the new changes throughout, we’ve also covered the latest updates in this section.
Notability got a complete redesign, making it more user-friendly, and added some great new tools.
Here’s what’s new:
- New Toolbox. Every available tool is now in the Toolbox for easier access. This Toolbox is also smaller and can now be moved anywhere on the screen.
- More customization. Each tool has its own tray, so you can customize them and save your favorites to the presets.
- Streamlined note creation. Easily create any type of note using the + New button. New template options (ruled, grid, dot, and more) make it easy to get started.
- Two new tools: Ruler and Tape. The ruler allows you to create straight lines when needed. The tape tool lets you cover and uncover content for memorization purposes.
- Audio transcription. Get automated, time-stamped transcripts for any audio that you record.
Goodnotes 6 launched in August 2023, bringing with it a new design, new features, and a new pricing plan.
Take a look:
- New Sidebar. You can find your Documents, Favorites, Shared notes, and the Search bar and Marketplace by clicking on the upper left icon to open the new Sidebar.
- Even more customization. With the ability to customize the size and color of your page templates, you can create something unique. Change the color and add an icon or emoji to your folders for extra organization and customization.
- AI-powered writing aids. Writing aids can spellcheck your handwriting and (coming soon) give you word prompts.
- Intuitive Ink gestures. You can now circle content to lasso it, scribble over text to erase it, and convert math equations.
- New learning tools: Interactive Exam Prep and AI Math Assistance. Download practice materials for SAT and DSE exams to help you study. The AI Math Assistant can correct errors in your math equations.
- Ruler. The ruler allows you to create straight lines and precise angles.
#caption#Image: Deniz Kurtoglu / Paperlike
#alt#An artistic rendition depiction of Goodnotes and Notability facing off against one another.
Display & user interface
The first thing you’ll notice when comparing Goodnotes 6 and Notability is the app layout and user interface. While both apps make search and navigation easy, they each approach this core functionality in a very different way.
#caption#The Goodnotes user interface can be sorted as a list or a grid (shown), and arranged by date, name, and file type. You can’t manually arrange your items, which is why we’ve used numbers to force the sorting of notebooks. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing the user interface for Goodnotes 6.
When you open Goodnotes 6, 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 and organize your notes and notebooks (more on this below), and it makes complete sense. You can also tap on the name of any document or folder to access additional menu items.
You’ll also be able to open a sidebar by clicking on the icon at the top left of the Goodnotes app, which includes the search tool, a place for your shared documents, quick access to your bookmarked note pages (favorites), and the in-app Marketplace, where you can purchase new paper templates, covers, stickers, and more.
At the top right of your screen, you’ll find icons for a few more handy tools, including settings, bulk editing, and notifications.
#caption#Notability’s user interface is clean, simple, and straightforward. Grid view (shown) gives you an easy way to parse your notes, while list view is more compact. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing the user interface for Notability.
Notability takes a different approach. Opening the app, you’ll see your subjects (folders) on the left sidebar. The notes you’ve housed within those subjects are displayed as either a list or a grid on the right. You can add dividers, which function as collapsible toggles, to help keep your workspace neat and tidy.
Aside from creating new subjects for your notes and dividers to separate your subjects, there’s not much else to see here. It’s a practical, efficient, and effective no-frills approach. That makes it perfect for users who prefer a more spartan or minimalist take on layout design.
You’ll see a few icons across the top of the screen with various functions. On the left side, you’ll find your settings. On the right, you’ll see a More button and the + New button for note creation.
The Notability Gallery, where you can connect with the community, download new templates or documents, and publish your own notes, has been recently relocated (July 2023) and integrated into the left sidebar.
#caption#Goodnotes has a special section for any page or document that you’ve either bookmarked or marked as a favorite. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#Image of the Favorites section in Goodnotes 6.
Goodnotes’ navigation is relatively straightforward. Besides giving you a list or grid view of your folders and notebooks, you can also choose to sort these items by Name, Date, or Type.
The downside to this layout is that you can’t see individual notebooks or notes if they’re nested in folders from the Documents screen. Instead, you’ll have to open the folder, and if you have multiple levels of folders, you’ll have to click through each one to get to the specific notebook you need.
Fortunately, there are a couple of ways around this. Using the sidebar, you can quickly access any of your shared documents or bookmarked documents, so those are always easy to find. You can also use the search function on this menu. Goodnotes has powerful handwriting recognition, allowing you to find any search term throughout both typed and handwritten notes.
#caption#With Notability Plus, you’ll have tabs for Favorites and Shared notes available within the Notes section. (Not available on the free version.) (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#Image of the Favorite Notes section in Notability.
Navigation within Notability is also pretty simple. Unlike the sidebar in Goodnotes, Notability’s sidebar contains dividers. By default, you’ll also be able to see all your subjects within the dividers, but you can collapse any unnecessary dividers to save space.
Individual notes from the subject you have open will take up the right side of the screen, and you click on the More button on the upper right to choose from list or grid view or to sort by Name, Modified Date, or Created Date.
The Notes section on the sidebar contains your Recents, Shared, Favorites, and Unfiled notes as tabs to save space on the sidebar (Notability Plus only).
The search function can also help you find what you need, but you’ll need a subscription to be able to search through handwritten notes.
Notability ekes out the win here, but only if you’ve got a subscription.
While navigation is simple and easy in both apps, Notability’s sidebar offers better access to every divider, subject, and note within the app.
However, if you don’t have a subscription, the lack of visibility for bookmarked note pages and shared notes is a pretty significant disadvantage. While these bookmarks can be accessed from within the original note, you’ll need to find and access that note before you can view those bookmarks.
Goodnotes offers access to favorites on the sidebar, whether you’re using the free or the full version. It has also 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.
#caption#Image: Deniz Kurtoglu / Paperlike
#alt#An artistic rendition of the document management and creation screens facing off against one another.
Document management & creation
Keeping your notes neat and organized can make a big difference, especially if you plan on taking a lot of them.
Notability and Goodnotes handle organization and note creation quite differently, but both get the job done.
Here’s what to expect from each app.
#caption#From left to right: The left sidebar is Notability’s main organizational function. You can also sort your notes by name, modified date, or created date by tapping the More button in the upper right corner. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image demonstrating Notability’s sorting functions and sidebar.
If you’re trying to stay organized using Notability, the app provides two essential tools — subjects and dividers — to help you stay on top of everything. This is helpful when you need to keep track of multiple documents simultaneously or create several notes in a single day.
Overall, Notability’s document management is straightforward: From the main screen, you’ll create a subject on the left sidebar and house all notes within that subject.
You can also drag and drop notes between subjects, so relocating a misplaced note is simple and easy.
Subjects go in dividers, and you can nest dividers up to five layers deep for extra organization.
Strictly speaking, this level of organization isn’t even required due to the sorting capabilities mentioned above. If you’re just creating notes on an ad-hoc basis, you could keep everything in the All Notes tab and access every note that way.
#caption#Goodnotes allows infinite folder nesting - you’ll see the name of the folder you’re in at the top and the contents taking up the main screen. If your current folder is inside another, you’ll see the name of that at the top left. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#Image of how the nesting folders work in Goodnotes 6.
Goodnotes offers a few more options to help you keep your notes neat and tidy.
Goodnotes users can enjoy vertical layers of custom organization thanks to the app’s nested folders (folders inside of folders).
We tested it to 10 layers of depth, which is probably more than anyone will ever need, and Goodnotes would still let us create new folders with no problems. You can also change the color of folders and add an icon or emoji to the cover to help differentiate between types of content.
The Goodnotes workflow makes it pretty clear that notebooks, which are designed for large collections of work, are the preferred way to organize and manage your content.
You can also use the search function to find your notes, which features handwriting recognition in the full version, to locate items. Goodnotes uses optical character recognition (OCR) to read your handwriting and will offer your handwritten notes in search results if you search for written phrases.
Notability can do the same thing, but it’s a paid feature that’s locked behind the annual subscription.
#caption#Creating a new note in Notability is easy - just click the + New button in the top right corner. If you’d like to start with a specific template rather than the default, tap on Gallery in the sidebar. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#Image of the note creation and template gallery buttons in Notability.
To create a new note, all you need to do is hit the + New button in the top right corner of the Notability interface, and the app will instantly create a new note within the subject you’ve selected on the left sidebar.
And that’s it. Note creation in Notability is fast and simple, without any unnecessary frills or setup. It’s great for users who need to take notes now and want to figure out the rest later.
The velocity of note creation also encourages you to create new notes often. 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 subject, and they’ll always be organized in a simple and logical way.
#caption#Notability offers a wide variety of templates for your notes that are built into the app, with the ability to import even more from the Notability Gallery. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#Image of the template gallery available within Notability.
Notes within Notability do come with a default template, as well as seamless, vertical scrolling. You can change all of these preferences under the Documents tab within the Settings Menu.
The default template is what Notability uses to generate any new note, but you’ll find Rule, Grid, or Dot page options at the bottom of the screen when you open a new note.
You can also tap the More button, then Template Settings, to go to the full template gallery. Notability offers more built-in templates than Goodnotes, such as digital planners, worksheets, recipe pages, etc.
#caption#Inside Notability’s settings, you can change your default templates and default note view. Both of these settings can also be changed on a per-note basis. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing the document settings in Notability.
You can also switch from seamless/vertical to single-page scrolling so that you’ll have to swipe left and right to switch between the pages of your notes. This is great for users who want a little more definition regarding how their notes fill up the page.
However, keep in mind that while these settings are global defaults, they’re just starting points. Much like in Goodnotes, you can change both the template and the scrolling direction on a per-note basis from the Options menu inside each note, which allows you to pick and choose how each note acts based on your needs.
#caption#Goodnotes gives you a ton of options for document creation. Use Notebooks to hold notes and Folders to store your Notebooks and other files. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing document creation types in Goodnotes, including Notebooks, Study Sets, Folders, Images, Scanned Documents, and QuickNotes.
With Goodnotes, document management and creation is a two-part process. When you try to create a new document in Goodnotes, the app will ask what kind of document you’d like to create (notebook, folder, image, etc.) and then guide you through the appropriate workflow.
And this is where things get a little complicated.
What you choose to create determines what options you have. Notebooks and QuickNotes will hold your notes, images, and scanned documents, while folders can hold anything.
But while Notebooks can hold other types of content, like pictures and PDFs, that’s only true if you add those through the notebook submenu.
If you use the image option to import a photo through the document creation workflow, Goodnotes treats that photo as a standalone object.
This isn’t a huge issue, though, because Goodnotes allows you to easily move or combine pages and notebooks. You can drag and drop to rearrange your pages or select one or more pages to move to a different notebook.
#caption#When you create a Notebook using Goodnotes, you need to go through the setup process where you pick a cover and default page layout. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing Goodnotes Notebook creation.
Creating a notebook follows a uniform workflow. Once you choose to create a notebook, you’ll be directed to a setup screen where you can select 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 you create as a separate entity, and all customization options are unique to each notebook — down to the individual page. Within a notebook, you can change themes, colors, and layouts on a page-by-page basis.
You can even create your own custom themes! With the launch of Goodnotes 6, you can create custom page sizes, adjusting the height and width to whatever you desire. You can also change both the background and foreground page colors to create something really unique.
This is great if you’re trying to contain a similar body of work in one place. You don’t have to generate a new note just because you need to change the layout or format of your pages. All you’d need to do is change your paper theme to the selected page.
So if you needed to create a graph on page 17 of your notebook, you could change that page to dotted or squared paper with just a few taps and keep all other pages in your notebook themed to your original preferences.
Notability users can’t do that.
#caption#In Goodnotes, you can change page templates on a per-page basis. Dive into the notebook settings menu (top right) and hit Change Template to change the page you’re working on. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing the notebook modification options in Goodnotes with an arrow indicating the “Change Template” button.
In Notability, all pages inside a note are the same. Adding a new color or changing the page template changes every page in the entire note, which means that you’ll need to create an entirely new note in order to create your graph in ideal conditions.
For Goodnotes users, this level of versatility is a plus, especially because it removes the need for tedious switching between notes as soon as your needs change.
Depends on personal preference.
If you want to treat your notetaking app like a quick place to jot down important notes and ideas, Notability is probably the winner here. The streamlined, no-frills approach is perfect for people who just want to open the app and get started quickly.
With Goodnotes, creating a notebook feels more like a commitment — and that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The app has a great aesthetic, looks amazing, and comes with a ton of features that feel good to use. The good looks and solidly built workflows are among our favorite features of both apps.
Nested folders in Goodnotes are also a huge plus for productivity geeks and organizational wonks who want to organize their workspace based on their own system or workflow.
If you’re likely to be working in the same space for a while, it makes sense to customize everything to your liking before you settle in. Goodnotes comes with a lot of options to make your experience feel unique and personal, which is a nice touch in the long term.
The other factor to consider is searchability. If you’re planning to store notes in either app, you need to be able to find them later.
To that end, the lack of handwriting recognition on Notability’s free plan cripples the app’s search functionality. We feel that this is an essential feature in an app that currently offers so little by way of organization. Without it, old notes will be more difficult for both avid and infrequent users to find compared with Goodnotes.
But it’s also worth pointing out that while Goodnotes offers more functionality in their full version, their free plan also lacks handwriting recognition.
With all of that in mind, the question for users is pretty simple: How much time do you plan to spend in the app, and how much customization do you really need to get the job done?
#caption#Image: Deniz Kurtoglu / Paperlike
#alt#An artistic rendition of the notetaking screens from Goodnotes and Notability facing off against one another.
Without a doubt, both Goodnotes and Notability provide a robust toolkit for taking notes. Both apps have a lot to love, and both companies have spent a lot of time figuring out what works best for their users.
Ironically, that’s also why many of the features offered by both apps are so similar. Each app takes advantage of the digital workspace, allowing you to customize your environment to suit your style and preferences.
(Although, from our last section, it’s safe to say that Goodnotes offers a little more flexibility in both organization and styling).
But what about actually taking notes?
#caption#Both Goodnotes and Notability offer a robust selection of tools and customization options on their toolbars. (Image: Goodnotes / Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image depicting the toolbars in Goodnotes and Notability.
Tools & toolbars
Within each app, you’ll see a similar set of features and tools to help you get your thoughts and ideas onto the page.
Regardless of the app you use, you’ll be able to change the layout, color, and design of your paper.
You’ll also have access to a similar toolkit. Both Goodnotes and Notability include each of the following tools for your immediate use:
- Lasso Tool
- Text Box
Each app also has some unique tools to help them stand out. For Goodnotes, the big highlight is the Elements Tool, while Notability has a new Pencil for sketching.
Despite the similarities, both apps offer slightly different configurations for their toolkits — and there are upsides and downsides no matter which app you choose.
#caption#Goodnotes offers a handful of pens and customization options, including preset and custom colors. You can also adjust the size of the pen tip to a remarkable degree. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing the pen tool and related selection menus in Goodnotes 6.
Goodnotes provides three pen types, while Notability only has two. They both include a ballpoint and a fountain pen, but Goodnotes also adds a brush pen - designed for more artistic sketches, drawings, and lettering.
In Goodnotes, all three pen types offer the same sliders for precise adjustments when choosing your stroke width, and you can adjust the pressure sensitivity.
#caption#Notability’s Pen Tool offers two pen types, plus dotted and dashed lines. You can also create custom color selections if you’re on the Plus plan. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing the Notability Pen Tool selection menu.
On the other hand, Notability gives users the ability to create dashed and dotted lines with its Pen tool, something that Goodnotes doesn’t offer at all. Notability’s Pen also has a slider for stroke width, but it doesn’t allow you to adjust the sensitivity in any way.
The Pencil tool has its own icon, and you’ll see basically the same options, minus the bar with pen types.
#caption#Notability recently added the Pencil Tool, which has its own icon on the toolbar. It has the same slider for stroke width and color options as the Pen. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image of the Pencil Tool and associated selection menu.
The new Pencil Tool from Notability is a pretty great recent addition for a few reasons:
- It uses vector-based ink, which means (without getting too technical) that you can easily resize your drawings without any loss of quality.
- It’s pressure sensitive, so the harder you press, the darker your lines and vice versa.
- It has tilt-activated shading, allowing you to both sketch and shade without switching tools.
Goodnotes doesn’t have a pencil tool, and their brush pen just doesn’t compare when it comes to sketching and drawing.
#caption#The highlighter in Goodnotes is limited, but Notability’s highlighter has all the same settings as its Pen and Pencil Tools. (Image: Goodnotes / Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#Image comparing the settings menus for the highlighter in Goodnotes 6 and Notability.
Eraser & highlighter
Goodnotes has a few options for the Eraser, but you can also use your Apple Pencil to scribble out any mistakes (Goodnotes 6 only) to automatically erase them.
The Highlighter tool is only offered in three sizes: small, medium, and large. That’s fine most of the time, but it’s frustrating when you’d like a larger tool or more fine-grained control over these modifications.
Meanwhile, Notability offers the same selection options for its eraser and highlighter that it does for its pen, giving users a wider selection overall.
#caption#Add your favorite colors for each tool to the presets in either Goodnotes or Notability (Image: Goodnotes / Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing the color presets in both Goodnotes and Notability.
Favorites & colors
Notability used to provide a Favorites Bar, but they recently (July 2023) eliminated this in favor of streamlining their toolbar.
With this change, you can no longer save your favorite pen type or width, but you can still add your favorite colors to the preset options, and you’ll get up to eight slots for this purpose.
This isn’t much different from Goodnotes, which gives you seven slots for your favorite colors, but Goodnotes also allows for unlimited custom colors. With Notability, custom colors are only available as part of the premium plan, though this feature is permanently unlocked for users on the Classic Plan.
#caption#Goodnotes’ Shape Tool takes hand-drawn shapes and snaps them into perfect shapes. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#Image of the Shape Tool in Goodnotes 6.
Lasso & shapes
Both apps also feature a selection tool (Lasso) to select and move anything on the page. This feature is similar in both tools, and both tools offer a variety of options regarding what you’d like to do with your selected text.
However, with Goodnotes 6, the lasso tool has basically become obsolete because you can now select anything simply by drawing a circle around it with your pen and tapping on the circle.
To get clean shapes, Notability offers shape detection, where you draw the desired shape with your Apple Pencil and hold it in place. As soon as the app recognizes the attempted shape, it redraws it using uniform lines and dimensions.
Goodnotes offers the same thing and also offers a Shape tool that you can use to fill shapes with color and/or snap shape lines together.
#caption#Notability offers a ruler for both free and premium users, making it easier to get straight lines. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#Image of the Ruler tool in Notability.
Ruler & tape
Two new tools released this year are a Ruler and Tape.
The Ruler is now available in both Goodnotes and Notability for free and premium users (it was originally only available to subscribers). This tool makes it easier to get straight lines in your notes. You can rotate it to whatever angle you need and then just slide it off the page when you’re done with it.
The Tape tool was recently added to the Notability toolkit (April 2023). It allows you to temporarily hide your content by covering it with a piece of digital tape. Simply drag it over any of your notes to hide the text and tap on the tape to remove it. If you’re trying to memorize something, this is a particularly useful tool to help you study.
#caption#The Elements tool inside Goodnotes works in a similar way to the stickers in Apple Messages. Tap the category (at the bottom), then tap the element you want to add to your note, and you’re all set. You can also create your own sticker groups. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing Back To School stickers in the Goodnotes Elements tool.
Stickers, images, and gifs are another big thing that has taken the digital notetaking space by storm in recent years. Both Goodnotes and Notability support this multimedia to some degree.
In Notability, stickers are built into the app and can be downloaded via the Notability Plus menu (subscription required).
If you’re looking to import custom stickers, you can use the Media tab inside a note. You’ll end up importing them through your Photos app on your iPad, and Notability will treat them like an image. Afterward, you can save the image as a sticker and reuse it across all your notes, but you can only add stickers one at a time, which can be a bit of a pain.
Goodnotes integrates stickers and other media by way of the Elements tool. This feature allows you to avoid endless copy/pasting and importing by creating a collection of elements for fast and easy duplication. Once you create your collection, you can select items from the Elements tool and add them to your note in seconds.
The best part: This works with any collection of images and makes it ridiculously easy to import third-party sticker packs for your notes.
#caption#Goodnotes text conversion pops up to a window where you can copy and paste your test. It also distinguishes between upper and lower case letters. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image demonstrating text conversion in Goodnotes 6.
Both Goodnotes and Notability support using the Apple Pencil (2nd generation) 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 both apps make using a stylus seamless and easy.
You can even add our Screen Protector so that the surface of your iPad feels like real paper!
If your handwriting is sloppy and you prefer to keep your notes neat and organized, both apps support handwriting to text conversions, too. To do this, you can highlight your handwriting with the selection tool and select Convert.
However, in Notability, this feature requires a subscription. For Classic Plan users, you can also purchase text conversion from the in-app marketplace (only necessary if you purchased the app after Jan 1, 2020).
Both apps will provide a preview window so that you can verify the conversion. In Notability, you can tap the Convert button, and the converted text will drop onto the page in a resizable text box. In Goodnotes, you’ll have to follow an odd workflow where you copy the converted/typed text from the conversion window and then manually paste it back onto the page — which is annoying.
One of the cool features that you’ll only see in Goodnotes 6 is AI-powered writing aids. These aids allow Goodnotes to learn and generate text in your handwriting. Right now, it can spellcheck and will correct errors in your own handwriting style (or pretty close), and (coming soon) it can also suggest words as you write.
These are on by default, but you can turn them off by tapping on the pen icon and then Writing Aids.
After testing out the spellcheck, we found that it’s much like a Word document, with a dotted red line appearing under any words with errors, and it takes a little bit of time to show up. Still, having an app that can spellcheck handwriting is something that you definitely won’t find anywhere else, and it’s a handy little feature.
#caption#In Notability, you can display two notes side by side without using Apple’s multitasking feature. Swipe from the left to bring up the Note Switcher, then decide how you want to display your notes on the screen. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing in-app multi-note functionality within the Notability app.
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 multiple windows with Split View, you can create similar functionality by opening two instances of Goodnotes at the same time on your iPad. But it’s clunky because it’s relying on iPadOS’s multitasking feature rather than offering the app-based, native integration that Notability has supported for years.
This one was a tough one for us, but we feel like Notability takes the prize.
In the past, Goodnotes offered a lot more customization for their tools as far as sizing and styles, but Notability has stepped up to the plate and made some improvements to their toolkit.
Not only do they now offer sliders to adjust stroke width, but they’ve also added new tool types, such as the Pencil, Tape, and Ruler tools, to allow users to get just the right tool for the job.
But that doesn’t mean that Goodnotes is lagging far behind. In recent years, Goodnotes has added a fair amount of additional flexibility around how the app handles things like page customization, sticker importing, and shape snapping that Notability just doesn’t have.
If customizing your notetaking experience is the most important thing for you, then Goodnotes is the better choice.
#caption#Goodnotes 6 offers the same tools and toolbar to markup PDF documents. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#Image of a highlighted PDF file in Goodnotes 6.
Writing down notes may be the main focus of digital notetaking apps, but there are plenty of other features that can be extremely helpful.
Both Notability and Goodnotes share a few of these features, such as PDF annotation, audio recording, and presentation mode, but they also each have unique features that could be helpful for students.
If you need to import and annotate a PDF, image, or document, the ability to do so is similar between the two apps. Both offer access to the full toolkit for markup, including the pen/pencil for writing in the margin and the highlighter.
There is really only one difference that we found between the two: How the two apps handle highlighting is quite different.
In Goodnotes, you need to manually highlight your document, just like you would if it were a printed copy. The highlighter appears exactly as you draw it, but you can turn on Draw in Straight Line in the highlighter menu to help you keep it neat.
In Notability, PDF text highlighting is faster and smarter. When you tap and hold on the text, Notability’s highlighter snaps the highlighter onto that text, and you can drag your stylus down to wherever you’d like the highlighting to end. It takes a little getting used to, but once you’ve got the hang of it, highlighting becomes a quick and easy process.
You can also do something similar in Goodnotes, but you have to use your finger rather than your stylus. Press and hold to select your text, and choose Highlight from the pop-up menu.
#caption#Notability’s audio recording feature draws the text as it plays the audio back to you. As the recording completes, the rest of the faded text will be filled in. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image demonstrating Notability’s audio playback synced with the words, “The Quick Brown Fox Jumps Over the Lazy dog!”
Until very recently, Notability offered the most unique and useful audio recording feature for notetakers. When using the in-app recording tools, Notability’s audio is synced in real time with the notes as you’re writing them.
During playback, Notability will highlight the text as it was written during the recording so that you can better understand what prompted you to write something down. For many college students, this audio syncing is a dream come true, especially when prepping for an exam!
Goodnotes has also seen the popularity and usefulness of this feature and added it to their own app in January 2023. Audio recording and playback functions almost identically to what you’ll see in Notability, syncing the recording to the notes during playback.
In October 2023, Notability also introduced audio transcription. With this new feature you can get automatic, time-stamped transcripts for any audio that you record. You can then copy and paste the most vital information directly into your notes, rather than having to write it out yourself.
A great feature that you used to only get with Notability is its math conversions (subscription only).
The app will recognize common mathematical expressions, elements, and rules. This includes Greek symbols, chemical elements, rules, and mathematical notation. If you use a lot of equations in your notes, you really can’t beat this feature.
GoodNotes 5 could already convert basic mathematical functions (addition, subtraction, etc.) to text, but character recognition would fail quickly if it got too complicated. However, Goodnotes 6 changed all that, and math conversion in this app is now comparable to what you’ll find in Notability.
#caption#Goodnotes 6’s Study Sets allow you to easily create flashcards. Open a new Study Set and add your question to the Question card and your answer to the Answer card. When you start your flashcard review, Goodnotes will prompt you with the question. Tap to reveal the answer and tell Goodnotes how you did. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image demonstrating the Study Sets within Goodnotes 6.
One of the unique features that you’ll only find in Goodnotes is a flashcard maker.
This works by allowing you to create cards using your digital notes by writing the question on the top half of the page and the answer on the bottom half. This used to be pretty clunky, but Goodnotes added Study Sets in February 2023 that streamlined the process, making it quick and easy to start studying.
But don’t worry, if you already had flashcards previously, you can still use them. Just tap on the More button in the upper right corner (three dots) and scroll down to Convert Flashcards to Study Set.
These Study Sets integrate with the app’s Smart Learn function. Using science-backed learning techniques, Study Sets help you study more efficiently by customizing each session to focus on the flashcards that you’ve missed and notifying you when it’s time to come back and study them again.
It’s not the most convenient or easiest flashcard maker (more options available here) on the market, but it’s nice that it’s built into the Goodnotes app, so you don’t have to buy a separate app to study.
#caption#Goodnotes 6 introduced Interactive Exam Practice courses to help students prepare for important exams. (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#Image of the available Interactive Exam Prep offerings in Goodnotes 6.
When Goodnotes 6 launched in August 2023, it introduced two new learning tools specifically for students.
The first is Interactive Exam Practice. This is a great concept, and it allows you to download SAT and DSE math prep courses (more coming soon) to practice in the app.
Unfortunately, accessing these materials isn’t very intuitive because you have to download them from the Marketplace. To do this, open the Sidebar and tap Marketplace. From there, you’ll need to navigate to the Education tab at the top of the page.
You’ll see a variety of options, including revision notes and practice courses. Once you find the one you want, you can download it to the app and access it from the Documents screen.
The other new tool you can check out is AI Math Assistance. When you’re working through a math problem, Goodnotes 6 can catch any mistakes or wrong equations.
This only works when you’re working in one of the prep courses, and at this time, it can only check for errors. Goodnotes has plans to turn this into a full-fledged AI tutor in more STEM subjects in the future.
We have to give Goodnotes the win here.
Here’s why: In previous iterations of this article, we felt that Notability won out due to the audio recording and the math conversions.
However, Goodnotes has added both of those features recently, and they’re on par with what you’ll find in Notability. On top of that, Goodnotes 6 offers extra features and tools that really elevate the app.
Study Sets are a much more useful feature for all students and even some business professionals who may need to memorize information. And the new learning tools and AI-powered writing aids are something that you won’t find in any other app.
#caption#Image: Deniz Kurtoglu / Paperlike
#alt#An artistic rendition of the storage and backup screens from Goodnotes and Notability facing off against one another.
Storage, backup, & sharing
You can’t beat the convenience of digital notes over paper, especially with the ability to easily store, sync, and share your notes across devices.
Goodnotes and Notability handle these areas similarly, except that Notability requires a subscription for most of them.
#caption#Without upgrading to a subscription, you won’t have access to automatic backups or iCloud syncing with Notability. When we tested this, there was no option for manual backups. (Image: Notability)
#alt#An image comparing the different features included in Notability’s free and subscription plans.
Storage & backup
In the past, both Goodnotes and Notability used Apple’s iCloud sync to back up your notes. This is standard for most Apple devices since the sync will automatically update documentation across all devices and is particularly useful since both apps have an iPhone version and a Mac app.
For Goodnotes users, nothing has changed. For Notability users, iCloud sync and any form of automatic backup now require a subscription.
Assuming that you have the subscription (or are on the Notability Classic Plan), syncing works the same as it always has.
Both apps allow users to back up their files to 3rd-party storage services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive using the Auto-Backup. Notability has a few more options (Box and WebDAV), and the backup process is roughly the same between both applications.
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.
It’s important to note that if you don’t have Notability Plus, you won’t have a backup of your work — which is a little terrifying to think about.
#caption#To share in Notability, tap the More button and then Share Options. An account is required to share links but not to view them after they’ve been shared. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing Notability’s Sharing menu. Options include: Share Note, Email Note, Print Note, Connect Cloud Services, Publish to Gallery, and Share Link.
Both apps allow you to export and share your content, but they handle these aspects differently.
With Notability, you can use the link sharing feature to create publicly accessible links that anyone can use to view your notes in any browser or on any device. Collaborative editing isn’t possible using this feature. While you do have to create an account in order to share content, viewers aren’t required to register with Notability in order to view it.
You can also publish your notes to the Notability Gallery for others to read and edit. While this isn’t the same as being able to collaborate on the same piece, it does allow you to create a template, notes, or anything else for someone else to use.
#caption#Goodnotes allows you to share individual notes or entire notebooks. Keep in mind that links shared through Goodnotes can only be accessed by other Goodnotes users (and they can edit your notes). (Image: Goodnotes / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing the share and export options in Goodnotes 6.
Meanwhile, Goodnotes has gone in another direction.
The Goodnotes app doesn’t allow non-users to view notes outside of their platform. Viewers must have an updated version of the app on their own devices, but you can share across platforms (iOS, Windows, Android, and Web).
However, using shared links, multiple Goodnotes users can collaborate together on the same document, and you can even sync your view with a collaborator’s for real-time collaboration — something that just isn’t possible with Notability.
If you aren’t planning to pay for Notability’s subscription, Goodnotes is the clear winner.
Both allow you to safely back up your content using both iCloud and 3rd-party syncing, but Notability requires a subscription to do it. The export tools for each app are on par with one another.
Notability’s link sharing is more convenient if you need someone to look over your notes who doesn’t have a notetaking app, but Goodnotes’ collaborative ability far surpasses anything Notability has to offer.
#caption#Image: Deniz Kurtoglu / Paperlike
#alt#An image showing the price difference between Goodnotes and Notability.
Pricing & updates
Before we wrap up, it’s worth discussing pricing and updates since this is where both apps greatly diverge from one another.
Both Goodnotes and Notability offer a free version, but they serve different purposes.
While you can use the free version of Goodnotes for as long as you want, it’s essentially just a free trial that never expires, because you only get three notebooks to use. To fully take advantage of this app, you’ll need to buy it. Aside from the limitation on notebooks and a few minor things like handwriting recognition and importing documents via email, everything is unlocked.
On the other hand, while Notability’s free plan is very usable for casual notetakers who don’t need all the bells and whistles, it comes with some notable restrictions around saving, storage, and backups.
We’ve done our best to differentiate between what you get on both the free and paid plans offered by each company.
Here’s the pricing as it currently stands:
- Goodnotes 6 offers a free trial version with an upgrade to the full version via either a one-time, in-app purchase for $29.99 or a subscription for $9.99 per year. The Windows/Android version costs $6.99.
- Notability offers a free version and a premium subscription for $14.99 per year as an in-app purchase.
But here are a few other things to consider if you’re shopping based on price:
- Notability and Goodnotes both offer a free version, so you can try out the basic features at no risk and choose to upgrade if you wish.
- Prior to the switch to a subscription model in 2021, Notability never charged for updates to their app. However, the company did offer a few in-app purchases over the years to expand the app’s capabilities.
- Goodnotes’ free version is more of a perpetual free trial, but you can choose to pay the full cost of the app up front as a one-time purchase when you decide to upgrade or choose a subscription plan.
- Goodnotes 6 (2023) is the sixth version of Goodnotes, and GoodNotes 5 users were forced to repurchase or subscribe when the latest version launched. Although Goodnotes offers a discount for this, it’s possible that new versions will require similar expenditures. This is especially true for users who upgrade using the buyout option rather than the subscription model.
- If you want to send your Goodnotes content back and forth from Mac/iOS to Windows/Android, you’ll need to subscribe to the platform in both environments. Expect to pay roughly $17/year (combined subscription costs) for that.
- Any educational institution using Apple School Manager will have full access to both Goodnotes and Notability for free.
If you’re looking for a great notetaking app without paying for anything, Notability is a great entry-level contender.
Keep in mind that the free version of Notability actually limits the number of edits that you can make to your documents per month, but the company is vague on exactly how many edits you can make.
#caption#If you’re on the Notability Starter plan, you’ll have a limited number of edits that you can make in a month. Currently, Notability doesn't disclose how many edits you can make. (Image: Notability / Screenshot by Lindsay Armstrong / Paperlike)
#alt#An image showing the monthly edit limit counter on the Notability Starter plan.
If you find the idea of limited edits off-putting, and you’re not planning to become a notetaking power user, something like Apple Notes (review here) might be a better solution.
The other thing to consider is how the app operates across multiple environments.
With Goodnotes, you’ll get the app for your iPad, iPhone, and Mac without any extra purchases required. And with Goodnotes 6, you’ll even be able to get a Windows and Android version (separate purchase required). This means that Goodnotes users can enjoy the app on all of their products and devices without additional costs.
With Notability, while you can get both the iOS and Mac apps, iCloud syncing doesn't work without a paid subscription. Your ability to work across multiple devices will be severely hindered unless you pay the subscription fee.
As far as updates are concerned, Goodnotes still appears to make all content and updates available for every user inside Goodnotes 6, with the main limitation for free users being restrictions on the amount of content you can create inside the app rather than the features available for use.
Notability has said that new features may be locked behind the subscription requirement, depending on the feature and how expensive it is to maintain. With that in mind, it’s difficult to say how the company will select what features reach the free plan and what stays in the paid tier.
If you’re looking strictly at costs, Goodnotes is your still your best bet (even with the new subscription plan). The subscription cost is less than Notability’s, and you’ve also got the option to make a one-time payment to save money if you’re planning to use the app longterm.
But keep in mind that $14.99 per year for a Notability subscription equates to about $1.25 per month. That’s a small price to pay if Notability is an app that you think you’ll really love.
#caption#Image: Deniz Kurtoglu / Paperlike
#alt#An image displaying Goodnotes and Notability on separate iPads.
Goodnotes vs. Notability: Final verdict
When we first created this guide, 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.
In the past few years, we’ve watched both apps grow and evolve. As a result, our position has shifted.
Based on what we see and how we think we (and our readers) would use these apps, we believe Goodnotes is currently a better value for most users.
However, we still believe that Notability is a more practical notetaking experience. It’s still a great tool for someone who just wants to take notes and get work done — especially on an “as needed” basis.
If you’re opening up your notetaking app for a specific purpose, and you’re not planning to spend much time with it after the fact, the tools and features that Notability provides are probably a great fit.
But Goodnotes feels nicer to use, especially over the long term. The app has some incredible features, and, overall, the document creation workflow and user interface feel more complete.
When you’re just jotting down your thoughts, creating a sketch, or looking for a dedicated workspace that you can truly call your own, the customization and functionality that Goodnotes offers makes you feel more comfortable and in control.
And that’s hard to ignore.
#caption#Image: Deniz Kurtoglu / Paperlike
#alt#An image showing Notability and Goodnotes beneath a question mark block representing the FAQ section.
Is Goodnotes or Notability better for college students?
Either app can work for college students, and the one you choose will depend on your specific needs and budget.
Notability offers some pretty great features, including a ruler, tape, and a pencil tool for sketching, that you won’t find in Goodnotes.
However, some of these are only available with a premium subscription. For college students who are on a budget, this may not be feasible.
Goodnotes has a smaller subscription cost and the option of a one-time fee that’s much more affordable and has all the features most students will need and then some. It offers more customization, better organization, has a flashcard maker, allows for collaboration, has AI-powered writing tools, and has exam prep materials, making it a pretty strong choice for college students.
Keep in mind that both Notability and Goodnotes are free for any educational institution using Apple School Manager, so the cost may not be a factor if your school is a participant.
Are these apps worth paying for?
Goodnotes has a subscription plan, but you can also choose to pay a one-time fee for full access to the app and all its features. If you plan to take a lot of notes, it’s more than worth the cost.
Notability Plus requires a yearly subscription, which is a commitment. If you like or need some of the unique features, like the ruler, tape, and pencil tool, and you prefer the simplicity of the app, it may be worth the investment.
Can you make templates using Goodnotes and Notability?
With the release of Notability’s Gallery, they also made it possible for users to create their own custom templates to use in the app. You can read all about the Notability Gallery and how to make templates right here.
While you can’t really create custom templates inside of Goodnotes (other than changing the page size and the colors), you can create a template from an existing page. You can also import custom templates into the template library for future use.
How do Goodnotes and Notability handle imported objects like PDFs?
Both apps allow you to import PDF files, images, and more. This is one area where the two apps are pretty similar.
While the Goodnotes user interface when annotating imported objects is more intuitive, Notability offers the same tools and ability to markup your documents.
What hardware do I need in order to use these apps?
Notability is available on Mac, iPad, or iPhone.
Goodnotes is available on Mac, iPad, iPhone, Android, and Windows.
Regardless of platform available, we recommend the iPad and an Apple Pencil, as that makes the most sense for notetaking purposes.
Can I sync my notes and apps across all platforms?
The answer depends on your hardware setup.
Both Notability and Goodnotes 6 users can sync notebooks and information across all Apple platforms (macOS, iPadOS, iOS) with no problems.
Goodnotes 6 users can also sync without issues across Windows/Android devices.
However, cross-platform syncing for Goodnotes isn’t currently available. This means that users who want to sync notebooks between Apple and Windows/Android environments are out of luck for now.
Goodnotes says you can share notes across platforms, but you can’t sync your entire notebook library.
#alt#An image depicting the Paperlike for iPad screen protector. An Apple Pencil bearing one of the Paperlike Pencil Grips is mounted to the side of an iPad in its charging position.
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