Can The iPad Cut It As A Note Taking Device?

Now that the non-Pro version of the iPad supports the Apple Pencil – the company’s high-tech $145 stylus – you might be tempted to finally ditch the paper and pen and move to a fully electronic note-taking tool. So, I’ve been taking a look at apps that make the iPad into an electronic notepad. The first one I’m playing with is Notability – a $14.99 app that simulates the look of a notebook but adds some nifty high-tech features.

The basics

I’ve been using Notability, which is developed by Ginger Labs, on a 10.5-inch iPad Pro – but that’s overkill for many people now that the recently released iPad adds Apple Pencil Support at a “discount” of over $500. Set up started with the usual visit to the iOS App Store.

Like many iOS apps, there’s an iCloud sync feature so you can use Notability across multiple devices but there’s also a handy backup feature that sends PDF versions of all your notes to cloud services such as Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive and others. It also supports a local WebDAV server if you don’t trust the cloud.

With the notes you create, you can choose from 12 different coloured “papers” and nine different page styles including lined pages and grids.

When writing on a page – you can use a finger if you don’t have an Apple Pencil or are using an iOS device that doesn’t support the Apple Pencil – there are 16 different ink colours, 12 pencil thicknesses and you can choose between ballpoint and fountain pen nibs.

There’s also an eraser, highlighter pen with lots of colour and thickness options and you can type notes, record audio, take photos, insert pictures from your Camera Roll and even insert GIFs from GIPHY.

Using Notability

Testing the full capability of Notability is something that would take many weeks and, frankly, I suspect it’s one of those tools like Microsoft Word where most people use a fraction of what it does – it’s just that we all use a different fraction.

For me, the primary use-case was around replacing the scraps of paper and notepad I have by my desk while I’m working.

So, I’ve been using it to take notes during phone meetings, managing my daily to-do list (I write notes in black pen and use red to cross them out) and record interviews while I take notes.

For that final task, I’ve been using Evernote for ages and have hundreds of recorded interviews and the associated notes there. But, despite spending several hours in front of a screen and keyboard, I can still write faster than I type. In particular, it’s the ability to quickly draw a picture or make a list that makes scribbling on paper much easier for me.

On that score, Notability offers great benefits over Evernote for me.

I can record an interview, scrawl down notes and add diagrams far more easily and keep the audio with the notes.

Interestingly, the other night while my wife and I were chatting about some organisational stuff around the house, I found myself grabbing the iPad and using Notability to draw a picture to explain something we were discussing. My wife is very much a visual person and the ability to draw something, pass the iPad back and forth and update the picture in tandem was an unexpected benefit.

If you receive a PDF via email, you can also send it straight to Notability where you can highlight and scribble on it and then send it back to the original sender.


When you factor in the cost of an iPad (entry level price is $469), the Apple Pencil ($145) and a cover or case it’s clear the iPad doesn’t stack up as a replacement for a traditional notepad and pen. Heck – even an expensive Moleskine notebook and a fancy four-colour pen and a pack of highlighters will cost less than a decent iPad case or cover.

But given the iPad, by virtue of a bunch of serious productivity apps like Microsoft Office, lots of communications and collaboration tools, and plenty of entertainment apps, is all the computer many people ever need. That’s not to say the iPad will remove the need for the traditional PC as we know it – but a desktop or notebook computer is no longer the default choice for everyone.

Notability adds another dimension to the iPad and further increases its usefulness.

I try out a lot of applications and this one is staying on my iPad.

Do you use a different note-taking app that you recommend?

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