GoodNotes Vs Notability

Last Updated on January 3, 2023 by Ernests Embutnieks

Without a shadow of a doubt, the best note-taking applications for iOS this year is Notability and GoodNotes. Before we even get started, if you just want a basic note-taking application, Apple Notes is your best bet.

But, if you’d like to shell out some money to be able to get a lot more features, customization, and versatility with your note-taking experience, then both these applications have a suite of utilities that Apple Notes does not have.

So, I’ve done the deed of purchasing both applications, running them through their paces, and will be comparing them quite a lot! To preface, I’ll be using the iPad Pro M1 equipped with the Apple Pencil 2, an Apple Magic Keyboard, and Paperlike’s screen protector installed. 

Before we get started, here’s what we can expect from both GoodNotes and Notability in terms of features:

Free Versions
One Time Paymentx
Taking, Deleting and Editing Notes
PDF Annotation
Undo / Redo
iCloud Synchronization
Auto Backups
Palm Rejection
Importing Images and Documents

Storage and Organization

Notability has really gone through its strides in the past few years in trying to improve its organization. And, they’ve done a great job this time around. The organization hierarchy is as follows:

  • Notes
  • Subjects
  • Dividers

Now, this structure is intuitive and simple. In essence, all your notes go into a particular subject, and these subjects go into dividers. You can lock subjects with a specific password if they contain personal information (locking all your notes within them) and can also color code them for ease of use.

Currently, Notability only allows a maximum of five layers in a single divider. But, it is quite enough for students and professionals as it allows for quite a meticulous amount of organization. You can also view your notes in a gallery / list form, and sort them by date, name, and chronologically.

Notability forces you to become a better organizer. There’s no way to get around it. So, if you aren’t one, the application will either turn you into a file organization maniac or will force you out of its ecosystem. I consider that both a negative and a positive. For instance, through my usage of Notability, I’ve gone through an entire semester of college without losing a single file, a feat rendered impossible on GoodNotes.

GoodNotes features a more traditional style of organization and management. You start off with folders, with each folder either containing a notebook or multiple other folders. You can sort your documents by date, name, or type of document. 

Moreover, you can also switch from a list or gallery view depending on your preference. So, instead of dividers on Notability, you are met with more versatility in folders on GoodNotes which basically leads to the same conclusion.

The winner for the organization is GoodNotes 5. It doesn’t try and reinvent the wheel and stays simple and convenient. While Notability has a more Applesque sort of file management and organization system, I feel like that isn’t really needed and the traditional folder-on-folder approach on GoodNotes 5 is far easier to understand.

Page Customization

Notability lets you change your page’s color scheme, going from Dark to Light depending on your theme. You can also set up a default page template letting you choose how your notes will look like by default. 

You can change the color of any of the basic templates, there are also patterns, spacing adjustments, and tons of other templates. Once you’ve chosen a template, you can choose from a seamless view or a single page view. 

The seamless view in my opinion is better because it doesn’t have any harsh breaks and you can move from one point of the page to the other quite effortlessly. You can also change the default font size, type, and color for handwritten notes alongside spacing between lines.

GoodNotes 5 lets you customize both notebook covers and page covers allowing you to choose between landscape and portrait orientation. You are also able to import any photo and use it as the cover of your notebook. For the paper, you can choose between white, dark, and a pale yellow color.

The templates are quite similar to Notability with different variants of planners, grids, and music sheets also available. However, you can also import your own templates if you want to. The only other thing you can customize in GoodNotes 5 is the location of your toolbar. Sadly, there isn’t an option to change your theme in the app. So, it’ll just match your iOS device’s options.

You can import PDFs in both applications. However, there’s one key difference between both applications. A new note you make in Notability alongside the PDF will automatically match its existing aspect ratio. Whereas, GoodNotes 5 does not do that. So, when you go and make a new page, it may look too small or big depending on the pre-defined template.

In my opinion, Notability definitely wins when it comes to page customization. This is because it just has a lot more options to pick and choose from when it comes to font selections and page options. 

Pens and Notetaking

Now that we’ve understood a few of the differences in terms of organization between the two, let’s talk about the most important part of a note taking application, the note taking itself! And, the tools that define it.

Pens & Colors

Notability offers you a lot of variety when it comes to changing your pens and colors. You can choose from a ballpoint pen that is relatively consistent with the pressure-sensitive pen. The recommended colors are great. But, you can also customize them if you wish to do so.

Here’s the thing, right. Notability can feel quite simple. You only get a limited amount of thickness options and while you can choose any color, the recommended preset is quite limited as well. So, inherently, Notability has set itself to be as simple and as narrowed down as possible. 

On the other hand, GoodNotes 5 provides you with an overwhelming amount of options. You can set three different presets for colors, and can change your thickness down to the mm using a slider, unlike Notability. 

There’s no clear winner here in my opinion, if you like an easy-to-use experience, Notability takes the cake. But, if it’s customization you are after, then GoodNotes make a lot more sense. 


Highlighting in Notability goes above your text. If you keep highlighting, there’ll come a time when you will only be able to see your highlighter.

On the other hand, GoodNotes 5 highlights text properly going behind your actual text. Plus, you can remove highlights only in GoodNotes when using the eraser tool which you can’t in Notability.



Notability features a seamless user interface. You have a choice of 12 different pen thicknesses, four pen styles, and tons of different colors. One of my favorite features about Notability is the favorites toolbar.

Once you have a pen set to the option you like, you can add it to your favorites toolbar adding a set of predefined templates that you can quickly use instead of customizing them all over again. You can move the favorites bar anywhere on the edge of the screen and can even make it disappear completely.

If you use a bunch of different colors while note taking to make things stand out, the favorites toolbar turns into an insanely useful feature in no time. One other tool I really like in Notability is the Lasso tool.

With it, you can duplicate portions of a note, convert handwriting into text, change the styling and font color of the portion, convert the portion into a sticker for later use, delete the selected portion or enlarge, resize, or rotate it. 

Another game-changing feature is Record. This records a professor or teacher walking through a lesson and will let you replay it back in case if you’ve missed something. The feature also replays your notes to show what you were writing at that particular point.

While this feature is great, two issues I found out with this feature was the fact that my iPad Pro’s microphone picked up a lot of ambient noise which really hindered my replaying experience as I couldn’t really decipher what was being said due to the noise. However, you can equalize the noise by using Notability’s vocal boost feature.

All in all. Notability provides a great suite of features that really is second to none. 


GoodNotes 5 features tabs when you open multiple notes at one time. This feature isn’t present in Notability and I actually quite like it especially when I’m working on multiple notes at the same time. 

You can also open notes in split screen, unlike Notability. Granted it does have the feature, but, it doesn’t open separate instances of the application while GoodNotes does. Unfortunately, GoodNotes does not feature a favorites tab which I really miss. However, you can pre-save three pen settings.

Unlike Notability, you also can’t change the size of your erasers with only three predefined settings. But, I’m pretty sure most individuals don’t really care as the sizes are varied enough. You can, however, draw your highlighter in a straight line automatically unlike Notability which makes annotating articles that much better.

One interesting feature is the laser pointer in GoodNotes. You can use the pointer for screen sharing during a Zoom meeting to help narrow in on what you are talking about. Or, maybe explain a math problem to a friend in person, and instead of marking stuff down, just use a laser pointer to quickly explain the problem with the text being erased immediately.

There are a few other unique features that GoodNotes has. You can, for instance, create comments on a note which helps you track progress. Another feature that I really like is collaborative documents. This uploads the document to the cloud and you’ll be able to share this note with friends and classmates. 

The last feature that GoodNotes has that Notability doesn’t is Presentation Mode. You can either choose to mirror your exact screen, or just show the page that you are working on. In my opinion, a combination of the laser pointer plus Presentation Mode leads to this application being used a bit more in professional settings.



Notability was a paid application that cost $8.99. Since then, they’ve updated their payment model to a yearly subscription. Now, there are two forms of subscriptions. The free version (which is very limited), and the Plus version costs $10.99 for the first year and $11.99 for every year after.

If you’ve purchased Notability prior, you’ll retain a Classic subscription which gives you all of the current Notability Plus features but with no guarantee of future features coming to the feature set as of yet. 

GoodNotes 5

GoodNotes 5 also has two versions. A free version that provides you with 3 notebooks and a one-time-only payment of $7.99 presenting you with the Limitless option that unlocks every feature the application has.

There are two reasons why GoodNotes 5 takes the cake over here. Firstly, you gain access to the full application and are able to try it out before you buy it without paying a single cent. Secondly, you don’t need to go for a recurring annual model and instead need to opt for a singular payment to get all the features and consequent updates forever.

Writing Experience

Disregarding both feature sets and just focusing on the writing experience in terms of fluidity, both applications are really great. But, GoodNotes 5 just feels a tad bit better. I can’t really pin down what the exact reason to be fair with you.

But, my handwriting on GoodNotes 5 just looks neater (even though it really isn’t), and the experience just feels slightly more fluid. 

GoodNotes 5: Exclusive Features

Now that we’ve gotten our hands dirty with what makes the applications so similar, let’s talk about the unique exclusive feature that makes GoodNotes 5 a better pick.

Collaborative Notes

Perhaps the best feature about GoodNotes 5 is the ability for you to invite other individuals to collaborate on your notes. While the web application feature is still quite buggy, the feature works really well in instances where you want multiple GoodNotes users to work on the same notes.

Flash Cards

You can create flashcards in GoodNotes 5 for studying. The benefit of creating flashcards in GoodNotes is that you aren’t limited by what you can write. You can easily add images or draw out what you need. Your flashcards are presented based on whether you find them easy or hard.

It then uses an algorithm to decide what flashcard to show next based on your previous answers. This allows you to absorb information quickly and is a quick and intuitive process. There is no such feature in GoodNotes.

Now, here’s a quick look at all the exclusive features that the applications offer:

Favorites Toolbarx
Collaborative Notesx
Audio Recording Playbackx
Flash Cardsx
Password Protected Subjectsx
Tabular Documentsx

Tabular Documents

Unlike Notability, you can create virtual tabs within a document itself to move from one page to the other. I find this feature especially useful when creating or using digital planners. You can link an image inserted into a page to perform a specific action such as head to a next page, or go to a particular one.


With Elements, you can lasso a particular piece of handwriting and save it to a particular collection. You can now add that particular piece as a sticker from your elements collection to another page versus copy and paste it from another page in Notability. 

Notability: Exclusive Features

As you are going to soon find out, Notability focuses on more of the finer things in life and is meant for a student more so than a professional. Here are all of Notability’s exclusive features:

Favorites Toolbar

The Favorites toolbar is my personal favorite exclusive feature out of any in this entire piece. I mean, the fact that you can add multiple colors, styles, and thickness variations in a toolbar makes it very convenient to switch from one style to another making notetaking that much more enjoyable.

Audio Recording Playback

Notability lets you record audio and synchronize it with your notes. In essence, you’ll be able to playback audio and your notes will tally up and come on the screen in accordance with when you wrote them. This allows you to play them back and ensure that you haven’t missed anything over time. 

Password Protected Subjects

A sucker for privacy? Password protecting your subjects helps ensure that no one else will be able to view your subjects other than you. You will not password protecting the entire application, just specific subjects. 

What Application Should You Choose?

There’s no real winner to the GoodNotes 5 vs Notability debate. It all depends on your use case. However, to make things simpler, I’m going to talk about why you should be choosing GoodNotes or Notability.


Notability features a very Apple aesthetic. It has tons of writing features and customization options that simply trump GoodNotes at its current stage. If you don’t want to work on collaborative documents, and need the Favorites toolbar and an overall intuitive experience, this app is a great choice.

Plus, in my opinion, it is great for annotating presentations, lectures, textbooks, and eBooks.


If you require a more professional tool that also includes options for presentations or really need a collaborative setting, GoodNotes 5 is more your style. Plus, the pricing option of GoodNotes 5 is a more lucrative option compared to the yearly subscription Notability throws at you.

All in all, while both applications are great options, I’d say GoodNotes is great for more professional situations whereas Notability’s annotations and record feature alongside the ability to quickly choose between various pen options lead it to be a better choice for a classroom setting.


Notability and GoodNotes 5 are both excellent applications for note-taking. However, GoodNotes 5 just has more presence and, due to its decent sum of updates, keeps the lead. In fact, there’s only one State in the entire United States that prefers Notability over GoodNotes.

But, that doesn’t mean Notability isn’t bad. In fact, I find it to be a better tool for students or serious annotators. And, with the Favorites toolbar, it certainly has its aficionados. 

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I love tech and all about it. I'm interested in finding ways how they can make my life more productive, and I share my knowledge with my blog readers. I'm an iPad Pro, iPhone, MacBook, and Apple Watch user, so I know a thing or two about these devices and try to write helpful content around these topics.