Notability vs. GoodNotes: Best Note Taking App for iPad

Although Apple provides their own Notes app with iPadOS, it’s only intended to provide a simple and basic functionality. there are other notepad applications developed specifically for use on the iPad Pro. Notability and GoodNotes 5 are two of the leading note-taking applications for iPad. 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.

Notability vs. GoodNotes, which notes app is best for you?

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Notability vs. GoodNotes: Features Breakdown

FeatureGoodNotes 5Notability
Import documents, images and more
Global Search Functionality
Convert Handwriting to Text
PDF Annotation
iCloud Sync
Audio Recordingx
Left-hand support
Sharing & Collaboration
Auto-backup to Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropboxx

GoodNotes has everything you want for taking notes, including the ability to switch between typing and writing. Plus, you can choose from several built-in note layouts and templates, as well as import your own. Notably, GoodNotes 5 lets you adjust the sensitivity and palm recognition of the pen to match your writing style. This is perfect if you’re like me and tend to press very hard when writing.

Notability offers a delightful writing experience, yet it also makes it easy to embed images, annotate PDFs, and even record voice memos. Sketching and drawing in Notability is easy and downright delightful. Being able to doodle and quickly sketch out illustrations is one of our favorite things about taking notes on paper.


Notability vs. GoodNotes: Display & User Interface

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, and it makes complete sense.

Notability takes a different approach. Opening the app, you will see a two-column layout with the right side featuring the various categories of notes taken, including recent notes, writings, and archive. On the other hand, your notes are arranged in a column based on the date they were opened. Additionally, you can also sort the recent notes out by using the filters provided such as name, date of creation, or last modified date. It’s a practical, efficient, and effective no-frills approach.

Notability vs. GoodNotes

Notability vs. GoodNotes: Note-taking Experience

The GoodNotes toolbar offers a pen, eraser, highlighter, shape tool, lasso, photo library and camera access, and a text box. The pen can be set to fountain pen, ball pen, and brush pen, and each of the main tools can be set to any custom color or width (with three quick access colors and sizes in the toolbar itself). The highlighter only lets you toggle the ability to draw in straight lines.

Notability’s tool bar consists of a text box tool, pen, highlighter, eraser, lasso, and microphone for recording audio. Geometric shapes, photo library, and camera access are available via an additional plus button menu, along with GIFs, web clips, and stickies. The pen and highlighter have two shapes (comparable to the fountain pen and brush pen in GoodNotes) and feature a drop down menu that offers 12 sizes and any custom color.

The Pen Tool

GoodNotes has a fountain, ball or brush pen. You have fine control over stroke width and can choose from 15 standard colors. It’s easy to create custom colors, and you can access your 3 favorite colors and stroke widths from the toolbar.

The eraser tool has three sizes. You can erase just part of a stroke, the entire stroke, or just the highlighter. 

GoodNotes Pen Tool

Notability’s pen and highlighter tools have two stroke options similar to GoodNotes’ fountain and brush pens. Each begins with 32 standard colors and you can easily create custom colors. It limits you to 12 stroke widths.

Notability limits the eraser to 12 widths and you can erase parts or an
entire stroke.

Paper Styles

GoodNotes includes several categories of paper:

  • “Essentials”: standard blank, dotted, squared, ruled narrow and ruled wide sheets
  • “Writing Papers”: eight varieties of columned paper including Cornell, single, two and three column layouts
  • “Planner”: basic layouts for accounting, to-do lists, monthly, and
    weekly layouts

Notability handles paper very differently because of its “continuous” sheet layout. It provides the standard blank paper and four variations of ruled, squared and dotted paper. All in portrait orientation. Whatever layout you choose, you can pick from 15 different background colors including a purple polka dot. 


The search comes as a handy feature in both GoodNotes 5 and Notability.

GoodNotes 5 now offers ways to search globally which means you can now be able to explore throughout your notebooks. Opening the Search tab from the Documents view presents a search field, recently searched keywords, and recently opened documents. Typing a query into the search field searches handwritten notes, typed notes, and the names of folders, notebooks, and notes. Results are helpfully divided into sections like Titles, Typed Notes, and Written Notes to indicate their origin.

GoodNotes 5 Documents

Notability searches from the main screen. It returns a list of title and “content” matches. Content matches show any notes that contain your search term but does not display the actual results.

Tapping on any result takes you to the note and opens a pane along the right-hand side of the screen showing any matching terms highlighted in yellow. This is the same behavior as when you search within a document.

Handwriting Recognition

OCR implementation is both on GoodNotes and Notability. But remember you have to set your preferred language under general settings. Which means you will still have trouble using this feature typing in more than one language.

Audio Recording

Audio recording is one feature that is not available in GoodNotes yet.

Notability’s audio recording feature comes handy when you want to record audio while taking some notes. In Notability, you can adjust your audio by speed and also back by 10 seconds. Plus, you can also animate your audio and your text at the same time.

Notability vs. GoodNotes: 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 vs. GoodNotes

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. 

GoodNotes only supports an iCloud sync.

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.

Notability vs. GoodNotes: Pricing & Updates

On pricing, GoodNotes will set you back by $7.99 while Notability will cost you $2 USD more. Both apps are:

  • a one-time purchase
  • available (for a separate purchase) on iPadOS, iOS, macOS
  • don’t have a Windows version. It’s a shame really. That’s a market with untapped potential. 


  1. Prices may vary depending on your AppStore’s country (due to taxes).
  2. 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.

Notability vs. GoodNotes: Popularity Comparison

Deciding Which Notes App is Best for You

GoodNotes is for writing enthusiasts who value the quality of their work more than anything else. On the other hand, Notability serves more casual purposes.

Notability works best at home, whereas you can use GoodNotes for professional purposes. Both apps can make good notes depending on the setting. Go for the app that will serve you without inconveniences.

Though the needs for each note-taker may vary, we think Notability will be the preferred app for most users.

Bonus: A Comparison Chart of the Best 10 Note-taking Apps for iPad

NameNotabilityGoodNotesOneNoteMyScript NeboMarginnotePDF ExpertWhinkNoteshelfApple NotesEvernote
PDF Annotation×
Handwriting/Text Recognition×××
Handwriting to text conversion×××××
Audio Recordings××××
iCloud Sync××
Varied Paper Types××××
Apple Pencil Support
Mind Map×××××××××
Export FormatsPDF, RTF, No’tePDF, imagePDFTXT, PDF, HTML, DOCPDF, Anki, DOCTXT, PDF, HTML, DOCPDFPDF, imagePDFnone
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