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…


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