Students, Studying

Notability vs Goodnotes, which is the best for students?

Why do you need a good note-taking app?

A good note-taking app that works efficiently can save you seconds, which add up to minutes, that add up to hours. And losing hours of your life because of a useless note-taking app is just ridiculous. 

Digital note-taking has revolutionised the way I study, and whilst I still use paper for some aspects of revision, such as making mind maps, a large part of my study system revolves around the fact that I can take hand-written notes, digitally. 

Before getting my ipad, I would listen to lectures with the powerpoint open on my laptop and I would write any extra information in the notes section of the powerpoint. I would then go through the powerpoint after the lecture and put all of the information into a long word document for each module or lecture series. I would then make physical flashcards on paper from the word document. Looking back that just sounds like a ridiculous amount of work, so much wasted time. 

Now, I import the lecture slides as a PDF to a note taking app, to annotate directly. I don’t make the long word document anymore, I make digital flashcards directly from the lecture slides (because I lose a step, there’s also less chance of information being lost in translation). 

When I first got my ipad I downloaded Notability, and more recently I have got Goodnotes 5 as well. After using both apps for around a month, I feel like I can now make a judgement on the two apps.

User interface

Aesthetically, Goodnotes is amazing, it just looks a lot more professional to me than Notability does. It’s just a lot cleaner and has a lot more tools readily accessible than Notability does. Goodnotes allows you to change the scrolling direction from horizontal to vertically, whereas Notability only allows you to scroll vertically. This isn’t a big deal to me as I prefer to scroll vertically anyway, but it’s always nice to have more choice.

Winner: Goodnotes

Levels of organisation

Notability has three levels of organisation, each ‘note’ can be organised into a folder, which can be organised under a toggle. This might be more than enough for some people, as you could use a ‘note’ per lecture, the folder could contain a module, and then the toggle could reflect the year group. However, for those who want more organisation, Goodnotes offers seemingly limitless levels of folders. This allows me to further organise modules into ‘lectures’ and ‘tutorials’ and then lectures can be organised further in to topics such as ‘blood’ and ’embryology’. Whilst this means that I might spend a bit longer navigating through the folders, I know exactly where the notebook I want to find is.

Winner: Goodnotes

Ease of use

Goodnotes has a range of cool features that I will go into later on, but with this there’s a small learning curve, and even after using it for about a month, I still feel like I’m not using all of it’s features correctly. For those who want a quick and easy note-taking app, Notability may be the better option. It’s extremely self explanatory and really easy to navigate.

Winner : Notability

Writing experience

Probably the most important feature of a note-taking app is the writing tools. Both apps have tools for writing, highlighting and erasing, as well as a way of typing notes and a ‘lasso’ tool to move text. Notability has 12 set sizes of pen and highlighter, with the option of selection any colour possible. Goodnotes has three ‘pre-set’ sizes available, but when you click on these sizes you can actually choose the size of the pen width for each pre-set. I like this because I found that I preferred a pen width in between that of the small and medium sizes. For some reason I prefer using the pens on notability, I don’t know if that’s just because I used that app first and so got used them first?

Goodnotes also has a zoom window that has an auto-advance feature so when you’re writing across the screen it moves the page automatically so you don’t have to keep moving the page along. I absolutely LOVE this feature! Unfortunately Notability doesn’t have a feature like this.

Winner: Goodnotes

Audio recording

Notability has a great feature where you can link audio recordings to your annotations or notes, this is really useful if you’re taking notes during a class and want to record an explanation or even if you want to record your own explanations after the lecture. Because the recording is linked to a specific part of your notes, you don’t have to listen to really long recordings to hear the section that you want to know. You can also playback the recording at different speeds. Goodnotes doesn’t have this feature.

Notability Audio Recording feature

Winner: Notability

Flashcard feature

Goodnotes recently brought out a flashcard feature where you can make digital flashcards, with a question and answer and then use them to test your self. By selecting the ‘study flashcards’ option, the app cycles through the flashcards in that document allowing you to test yourself. After revealing the answer, you can rate how hard the flashcard was, and then the next time you study that set of questions, the app will order them based on which ones need reviewing the most. This is absolutely amazing for those that study using active recall and the app even suggests when you need to review that set of questions again, great for those who used spaced repetition. This is a relatively new feature for Goodnotes, but Notability doesn’t have anything like this.

Winner: Goodnotes

Search feature

When you come across a topic and you know you’ve written something about it before but can’t seem to find where, a search feature is invaluable. Both Notability and Goodnotes allow you to search within documents, but to search for handwritten notes in Notability, you have to buy a £2.99 extension, whereas in Goodnotes, this is included. It’s not a massive expense but if one app offers it for free, I know which one I’d prefer.

Winner: Goodnotes


Unfortunately in life, very few things in life come for free, and these two apps aren’t some of them. There’s a very slight difference in price, Notability is £8.99 whereas Goodnotes is £7.99.

Winner: Goodnotes

The Verdict

Goodnotes: 6, Notability: 2

I’ve spent just short of £16 on note-taking apps, but to be honest, both apps have their strengths, and I actually still use both of them. I use Goodnotes for studying and I use Notability for all my PDF planners. I think the best app depends on what exactly you’re going to be using it for, but for me personally, I have space in my life for them both.

Let me know your thoughts and whether you have a favourite note-taking app!

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