Notability: The Best Note-Taking App Ever?

When it comes to taking notes, there are several different options for your iPad, including some big names such as OmniOutliner and Evernote. But what if there was a note taking app that could also record messages, while providing a clean interface that was easy to navigate?

Well that’s the plan here with Notability, an app that acts like a notebook for your iPad, complete with custom images, recordings and everything else you could hope for. But is it all that or does it try to pack too much into one app? Let’s find out after the break.

The Basics

The thing about taking notes on an iPad is that you always seem to be missing one component or another. You can’t freehand sketch a picture on the iPad in combination with your notes, or you don’t have the ability to record your lecture while simultaneously writing. The goal with Notability is to do all that and then some, making it as versatile as possible.

The main view allows you to see all of your notes in one place.

The main view allows you to see all of your notes in one place.

That’s a lot of stuff to cram into one app, but Notability seems to do it pretty well. When starting a new note, the first thing you should do is hit the little plus sign up by Subjects on the left side of the screen. This is where you enter in the subject for your particular note, or alternatively, you can just tap on a subject you’ve already done and go from there. Once you’ve chosen your subject, hit the writing icon in the top right corner and you’ll be ready to start your first note.

Taking Notes

The note taking screen pops up the keyboard right away, letting you get down to business immediately, with the date and time conveniently stamped in the upper right corner. Now you could just hammer away on the keyboard and get your note in place, or you could hit the red button on the top of the screen and start recording. Once the timer pops up, you’re ready to type, no questions asked.

Take notes, record and draw pictures at the same time.

Take notes, record, and draw pictures at the same time.

Now that’s a pretty awesome deal, if you think about it.

Suppose you’re sitting in school, and you need to take notes for that Chem 101 class that you’ve been failing since week 2. Hit the record button and let the iPad record the lecture while you simultaneously take notes on the screen.

Now if you miss a section of the talk (you know, because who can stay awake during that class), you can play it back and follow up later. That’s killer.

Adding Notes to Your Notes

You can also add images to your notes, and they come from one of two sources. Either you draw them on the go with the built-in graphics editor, or you can also insert images from your photo library if you want. Now I did this test on an iPad 1, but should you have an iPad 2 handy, imagine the bonus that would give. Now you could take pictures of the chalkboard with your iPad (or iPhone, frankly) and put those pics in your notes. By the time Chem class is over, you’d have as much information as possible – it would be difficult to fail.

Text wraps around pictures just like in Pages.

Text wraps around pictures just like in Pages.

Organizing Your Thoughts

So now you’ve got all of your notes in line, the big issue is how to make sure you can find your notes once you’ve stopped writing them. That’s why there’s a search field mixed up in all of this as well. Once you’ve got a decent array of notes running through that Subject column on the left hand side of the screen, just hit the magnifying glass in the top right hand side and enter in your search term.

You can search just by title or by the contents if you like, making it easy to find anything you need.

Need help? There's an extensive help system in the app as well.

Need help? There's an extensive help system in the app as well.

The Verdict

So why isn’t Notability the perfect note taking app? Because so far, it would seem like this was the best app on the planet to use for taking notes.

Well, it’s pretty close frankly, but the problem is the learning curve. It took me a certain amount of time and practice to input everything the way I wanted to, and little things irritated me from the start. For example, I couldn’t change the subject once the note was written, which was frustrating and a little less intuitive than I figured it should be.

Now that doesn’t mean that it’s bad. Once I got past the curve, I was using the app quickly and efficiently without any problems, and I found that it was extremely versatile. At the end of the day, this is one of those apps that, for me, took a few minutes of fidgeting before I could get comfortable using it from that point forward. And now that I have it under control, it’s one of my go-to apps for the iPad. Now if only I had a lecture to attend…


Summary

An excellent app for taking notes - add recordings, sketches, and pictures!

9
  • http://stephenmdixon.com Stephen Dixon

    I still prefer Notes that comes with every iOS device.

    • Me

      Stephen… No one cares.

      • http://stephenmdixon.com Stephen Dixon

        Clearly someone does. :)

  • http://enselsoftware.blogspot.com Saikat

    Notability is more like a word processor. It just lacks the creation of tables. A shortcoming of Notability is that if your document contains graphics, you can edit it in Windows as it does not support RTFD format.

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  • http://www.hammyhavoc.com Hammy Havoc

    Notability is nice, but it has nothing on OmniOutliner. The Omni Group are truly brilliant when it comes to intuitive UIs.

  • Wvit

    This is a very good software for taking note. Apart from the build-in note, I have try Moleskine, UPAD, Ghostrider Note (which I does not like), pages and a few more. UPAD and Notability is the only 2 apps that I use. Upad is extremely great if you want to capture with pen, it is the best. However, when in the meeting or class, I think notability is best. You can record radio, draw diagram and type text at the same time. One of the inateresting feature, not mention in the review, is the screen capture, web capture. You can writ your note on top and you can crop it, too. And about not able to editing title, it can.

    However, when in the insert figure, i do not know how to erease.

  • popo

    Does it backup to the cloud? Does it sync between devices? Can I access my notes from any web browser?

    No?

    How is this even in the ballpark?

    • Steve

      Uhhh … it syncs through DropBox and iDisk (as well as email, print etc in a number of formats).

      So, yes … you can. :)

    • Lover of Notability

      This now does everything that you have said that it doesn’t, this might be because I have the latest release about a year on from when this was first posted.

  • Kumar

    Perfect and powerful app for note taking and loaded with features. It can record voice, take handwritten or typed notes, insert all sorts of objects including various geometrical shapes, web pages, special handwritten boxes, etc. For $0.99 this is such a bargain. I have tried Penultimate, Note taker HD, Notes Plus and a few others. None of them have the total package offering and ease of use as Notability. Rock On!

  • Lars

    I prefer Mental Note – it has the same features. But Notability has no Evernote Synch so I won’t use it.

  • Eric

    Guys:

    I am no Microsoft fan, but none of these apps even hold a candle to OneNote? How come this never gets mentioned??

    Evernote is great for capture of bits and pieces, but not for handwriting.

    Have you tried handwriting on the new Samsung Slate PC? It rocks!!

    Eric

  • Paul

    On my side I have an Ipad since day 1, have been using a lot Evernote for its syncing capabilities but it lacks meetings oriented feature such as actions, to-do and follow-up.
    I’m always looking for a replacement App as I think we could gain a lot of time if it was done correctly.
    I’ve tested nearly every notes / todo app on the Appstore in 2 years, I have to admit I’m still amazed how difficult they are to use in a work environment.
    I just discovered http://www.beesapps.com/beesy-ipad-to-do, an iPad To-Do app , that seems to have understand note taking from a business perspective. I tried it for a few days and for the moment I’m quite thrilled, even a bit too powerful at the beginning. You were mentionning the learning curve, you need to spend some time as well given the feature set
    I particularly love the fast and nice Icons to add different kind of notes / actions and the instant meeting minutes you can send.
    Another great thing I’ve been appreciating: it reuses my notes / tasks from the meeting in the To-Do manager. Huge time saver.
    Only drawback so far: the lack of iPhone sync at the moment but the devs at http://www.beesapps.com said they’re on it for a future release.

  • Leova

    I liked Evernote during a long time but the lack of features to accommodate tasks, to-do and make monitoring.
    So i was seeking an alternative application to save time during meeting
    I just discovered Beesy thanks to a friend. http://www.beesapps.com/beesy-ipad-to-do/
    A good tasks management and ToDo list.
    People really seems to like it and so do I :)

  • philhuber

    I just wanted to thank all who made replies. You have been very helpful to the unknowable world that may be out there. Thanks

  • Diane

    What is the maximum amount of time for the record feature? can it actually record an entire 2 hour lecture?

    • Steve McClure

      There is no record limit…it will record until you have no storage left on your Ipad. there is not a pause button, but you can press stop for a bit and it will pick up when you press record again. it will segment it like Part 1, Part 2, and 3. you can also tune the recording so that you get rid of other background noises.

  • joanna

    i would like to get something easier than bamboo ..i wanted to draw too and draw on top of other images..not just take notes..and i use windows 7 on labtop…what do you suggest..this seems to be ipad driven. thanks

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