Is it really GoodNotes vs Notability?

I have been using both GoodNotes and Notability for a bit now. Both purchases were made after recommendations and some research. Most people seem to pit these two against each other as if they are rivals. But I beg to differ. I’ll tell you why at the end.

What really attracted me to GoodNotes is the Zoom Window feature. It is second to none in its class. A zoomed in view bar of the selected line section of your page appears from the bottom. Here you can write as you normally do in quite comfortable large handwriting. What appears is a smaller version of your handwriting looking very neat. As you reach the end of the window line a greyed-out window appears at the beginning (left-hand side) showing you the end of your writing. To continue just write in the grey area. This means you can write continuously without breaking your writing speed. Very neat.

This implementation is better than Notability’s version of the Zoom Window in which the greyed-out area (right-hand side) is already there and into which you write. After a long enough pause the writing moves to the front. It is this pause which breaks your writing speed. Notability’s version isn’t bad but GoodNotes’s implementation is just better if not the best.

With this point said I would like to point out that even though they use the a similar kind of handwriting input system their purposes are different.

There are several feature differences between GoodNotes and Notability which make them different beasts (like tigers and lions). Firstly, GoodNotes has a TV-out AirPlay ‘hide use interface’ feature for projectors and TV screens. This is a strange feature to have for a so-called “note-taking” app. Sure you want to use it for annotating research PDFs but do you do it on-screen? Hardly.

For me this feature is what I use most for for filling in answers in textbook gap-fills or for highlight important parts of the textbook for students to see. In other words my students can focus on what I want them to focus on. But because the handwriting input system is so good I can use it as a whiteboard as well.

In short, the handwriting input system and on-screen mode are the selling points for GoodNotes.

So what about Notability? As I said they are like lions and wolves (as ferocious as each other but one is felid, the other canid). The core design to Notability are the Library and Notes Views. The Library View is designed to let you organise and navigate your notes easily and quickly. Looking rather like a folder window on your desktop even down to the collapsable divider tree makes visualising how you organise your notes easy to understand. Limited to three “tiers” – divider, subject and notes – it is more than enough and keeps things uncomplicated. That only the divider tier is collapsable makes organising subjects easy. And that only notes go into folders means things are found quickly and organised neatly. notice also your notes are notes and not notebooks. This makes a huge difference to your thinking and approach to them. One no longer sees a need to fill in an entire notebook with that pretty cover but that they can be as long or short (more often short) as you want them. They are like loose leaf pages to be put into subject “folders” when necessary.

So coming to notes as I said they are like loose leaf pages. The input method can be either handwriting and/or keyboard. Whereas GoodNotes aims to be handwriting input based Notability aims to be keyboard based. Why I say this is because this is where it excels. The entire page of a note can be used for continuous typing. This is unlike GoodNotes which uses only text boxes. Not only that the other objects (images, figures, webclips, stickies, etc) automatically work around – or rather wrap around – the text. In other words the text dominates the landscape with other things working around it. This is highly intuitive for digital text and is something well implemented by Notability. The fact that Notability chose to force the app to use the entire width of the iPad screen means Notability was never concerned with looking at the entire page as if it is some kind of PDF but as a note-taking tool.

This is thinking outside the box on the parts of both Notability and GoodNotes. GoodNotes is, in my opinion, suitable for projector/TV presentation-based of content effectively, while Notability is suitable for serious note-taking that keeps people focused on that. This is evidenced by the difference in their concentration of text input methods (handwriting vs. keyboard) and in the difference in uses (on projector screen vs. on tablet screen). Both are same but different, but both are just as effective and as deadly in the killer-app sense.

Conclusion … use them for what they do best
These two apps were designed to serve different purposes. GoodNotes is great for on-screen productivity. While Notability is great for not-taking. They are both good at what they do and shouldn’t thought of as doing the same work. GoodNotes fans will tell you it is great for handwriting and they are right. Notability fans will tell you it is great for taking notes and they are equally right. But whether you want to do your note-taking in handwriting or keyboard is the question. Personally I don’t really need my notes to be handwritten. But I do love being able to handwrite on-screen all over my digitalised textbooks and workbooks so GoodNotes is my app of choice for classroom teaching productivity. But equally I do love the organisation and ease of note-taking with Notability so that is my app of choice for research productivity. No one ever said I had to either use GoodNotes or Notability. Why not use both for what they do best and not what you are told they are intended for.

[note: the original has been corrected from “… as tigers and lions …” to “… as lions to wolves …”. Both tigers are and lions are feline. Again I get this mixed up as I did as a child.]

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5 responses to “Is it really GoodNotes vs Notability?”

  1. Hi mike. It depends on what you want to do. If you want to wow your students in class with a great digital whiteboard, then GoodNotes. If you want to take notes for a class or meeting, then Notability.

    They are both capable apps but they serve different purposes.


  2. Which one do you recommend first?


  3. The best comparative review I’ve seen, thank you! Having used both Notability and GoodNotes extensively, I completely agree with your conclusions.


  4. Glad someone is paying attention. Thanks, David.


  5. David Frederick Attenborough

    lions and tigers are both felids…whereas a wolf (for example) is a canid…


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