Notes on notes on… Notability

before we hand notabilityI am a notetaking fiend. Ever since junior high, I’ve had either a stack of pens in various colors or (my fave) the Bic retractable 4-color pen. I would use red ink for  vocabulary words & names of important concepts, blue ink for explanations, green ink for things that struck a chord with me, and black for general info. I also drew pictures & diagrams to help drive concepts home. Yes, my notes were epic. I admit, I do still use those 4-color pens when I’m forced to deal with hardcopy items. Sure, I’ve grown up a little, but I still want the flexibility of using pretty colors & putting awesome pictures in my notes.


Enter Notability.

I first stumbled upon Notability through this Cult of Mac post, which was sent to me by @JohnWilson. At that point, I’d been using GoodReader to read & annotate PDFs. I liked GoodReader well enough (and still have it), but I felt a bit restricted in what I could do. I think Notability (iTunes link) was on sale for $0.99 at the time, so I jumped right on it.


Love at first swipe

I’m not a “read the instructions” type of person. I like to push buttons and poke at things until I figure out how they work. That’s exactly how the Notability welcome file is set up, FTW! \o/ (There is a read-only version that gets more in-depth. You can still practice with it, but your changes won’t save.) Check out this nifty promo!



What Notability does for me

Class notes are never lost. Remember those giant, multi-subject spiral-bound notebooks? Remember how the page you accidentally ripped out always contained the most important notes? Remember how you never had enough room for handouts in those flimsy folder/dividers? Well, as long as I keep up with my iPad, my notes are never disappear. Heck, even if I don’t have my iPad on me, I have access to my notes via Dropbox. With Notability’s built-in folder setup, I can add as many “notepages” as i can fit on my iPad – including pictures & scans of handouts! And it even syncs to Dropbox using those same folders, so I don’t have to set things up in advance!

Screenshot of me using Notability

Took a pic of a book she recommended. I added a caption w/ link to it on Amazon.

ADD management.
(Oh, look! A red balloon!)
My propensity for tangents is impressive. I do actually have valid relationships for most of them, however. Notability helps me manage my random linkages by allowing me to drop them right into my notes. If a prof shares something that I want to follow up on, I can hit the giant plus sign at the bottom left of my note, navigate to a related link, take a web snapshot & drop that in right next to what the prof said. No more random tabs open out of context!

Multi-format input. I can type when I want to, draw or write by hand, and doodle or make highlights & underlines on PDFs (or within any note, for that matter). Also, if I am so inclined (or feeling lazy), I can record audio from the lecture I’m attending and listen to it in iTunes. The recording stays attached to the original note, although you can set the sync settings not to include recordings if you wish.


A great listener. Ginger Labs’ tech support is awesome via Twitter! I’ve asked a question or two and sent in a few requests and suggestions. They always get back to me swiftly and usually with great news! For example, autosync only used work if you had made changes to the note you had viewed immediately before returning to the main screen. I asked Ginger Labs to fix the autosync so that you don’t have to do that or to add a force sync, so they said to be on the lookout. I’m happy to say autosync stays up-to-date regardless of whether you make edits. \o/


Every relationship has its challenges

As much as I love Notability, there are definitely a few things I wish were different..

  1. In GoodReader, I can get a summary of all my PDF annotations. Notability is lacking this, but they said they were looking into it when I asked about it on Twitter. (*does techno dance to please the eGods*)
  2. Links are not active in Notability. This could actually be a good thing, as it means you won’t accidentally pull up Safari while you’re trying to move about your note. At the same time, my dexterity leaves much to be desired, so I have a hard time selecting just the right copy to paste into Safari. I have found that using a stylus is the way for me to go. It also helps with drawing (I mean, most of us draw with pencils & the like, don’t we?)
  3. There’s no document history, so if you hop around between documents, remember where you’ve been!
  4. If you want to change the autosync format, Notability creates duplicates of everything in the new format. This is not helpful if you’re near capacity on Dropbox. I’m actually in the midst of returning to PDF format as I write. I see that Dropbox is only updating the PDFs instead of duplicating them, so that’s great. But I had to go through and delete the RTFs when I switched formats last week.
  5. PDFs are not searchable. This is almost a deal breaker, but since I do still have GoodReader, I will open my PDF there if I desperately need to search for something. Then I navigate to the appropriate page in Notability (by typing it into the page counter) to make whatever edits.


The whole is more than the sum of its parts

Overall, Notability is an excellent app. It meets the needs of all learning styles: aural (recordings), visual (typing, images, colors), and kinesthetic (drawing, manipulations). Dropbox is not the only sync option; you can also save files to, iDisk, or WebDAV.

BONUS: Not only have I used Notability for notetaking for class, but I’ve also used it to sign & email important documents. I LOVE that I don’t have to print, scan, re-compile, save, then send multi-page PDFs. I just sign right on the line & export via email. And once I’m done with the file, it automatically syncs to Dropbox. Awesome.

There’s much, MUCH more I could share, but Notability is what YOU make it, so head on over and try it out!

READ NEXT: Thinking of getting a stylus for taking notes? Read what to look out for when buying a stylus for academic work, and what stylus is the best for handwriting and drawing conceptual maps.

About today’s Guest Lecturer: Amanda Michelle Jones considers herself “a Connector of People & Resources” and “a Supernerd, with an extra dose of personality for balance.” Amanda Michelle has dedicated her life to facilitating justice for youth experiencing unstable housing; something she feels is connected to fighting for social justice overall, because all youth need strong communities to support their development. Having been trained and tested in designing, managing, and evaluating social services programs, she is currently working on a Ph.D. in social work; exploring methods to help homeless youth successfully transition to adulthood. Keep up with her academic and professional exploits and tweet her at @AmandaMichelle.

Disclaimer: 4 colour pen image by Video by notability. All images by academiPad.

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  1. Hi All!
    Just got word that the newest Notability update (4.4) has really boosted the app! Check it out ~>

  2. Harry says:

    Wow, this is amazing! Thanks for sharing

  3. Jo says:

    Thanks so much for sharing your notes on notability here, Amanda! After reading your post, I downloaded it and gave it a try. I am a huge sceptic when it comes to applying the notebook metaphor on the iPad (hence the relative absence of posts on this topic – so glad you stepped in!), but I must say that notability does a good job. Pretty smooth ink, and its (limited) zoom function clearly puts this app above and beyond penultimate!

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