Notability Review: An Excellent Note-Taking, PDF Annotation Tool
Let’s be honest, taking notes probably wasn’t one of the possible uses that got you most excited about getting that new iPad. It’s easy for productivity apps like Notability to become overshadowed by all the great gaming, photography, music, and entertainment apps that litter the App Store… But some of us are interested in taking things to the next level when it comes to getting the most out of our tablets, and that’s when something like Notability can’t be ignored. It might be drab on the outside, but spend a few minutes learning the power of this note- taking tool, and I think you’ll quickly deem it worth the asking price.
I ﬁrst realized my need for a tool like Notability after taking a new job. My ﬁrst few weeks were spent studying for certiﬁcation exams, with all the necessary information being provided to me in the form of long PDF documents. Staring at a computer screen for hours on end looked daunting, especially when I knew I was going to be needing to re-read and do some extensive noting and highlighting… Enter Notability: the app is perfectly suited for creating new notes and annotating PDFs, which made it the ideal candidate for making my studies just a bit more pleasurable.
Though the note creation of Notability is incredibly useful (and blows the built-in Notes app out of the water), let’s start by talking about the annotation features. Once you get a document imported into the app–which can be easily accomplished using Dropbox or the “open in” feature–you’re all set to start making colorful notes and highlights, or even adding sections of typed text. All the icons are located in a toolbar at the top of the screen (which can be hidden to maximize document visibility), and changing the width or color of your writing implements is accomplished with a double tap. When a writing tool is selected, navigating the PDF document is done by scrolling with two ﬁngers or opening up the page view represented by the stack of papers on the right side of the screen… For the most part, the process is intuitive and easy to navigate, though you’ll probably ﬁnd that your efﬁciency won’t meet it’s potential till the navigation becomes second nature and you stop accidentally marking up the document.
With the ability to annotate tucked in your back pocket, it’s time to turn to the creation of new notes. At the risk of getting preachy, I’ll share another ﬁrsthand example of how Notability can be used… I’m writing this review from inside the app, and let’s say I want to insert a hand drawn ﬁgure (such as a graph or a funny illustration). All it takes is a few taps before I’m taken to a blank slate. After the drawing is done, I’m taken back here to the text where I can tap to insert (Side note: stylus or not, making marks is fluid and accurate). Notability offers great options for resizing such hand-drawn objects, and the text wrap works wonderfully… Similarly easy processes are used for inserting things like web clips or photos. With the basics under your belt, you can blow the roof off your productivity by getting familiar with more advanced features like audio recordings and the zoom feature… While the potential for creativity and variation in your notes is endless, the app doesn’t position itself as a pure text creation tool–meaning it’s more useful for dynamic note-taking that can change direction at any moment (with the end result being packaged as a PDF).
Now that you’re aware of what Notability can do, it’s time to offer a word of warning: Don’t be turned away by the app’s lack of ﬂair…Yes, it’s pretty plain and doesn’t boast any of the appeal or style of an Apple app, but that has no bearing on how it can expand your productivity once you get through the slight learning curve. Notability is one of those App Store gems that is worth your investment of time and money even though it doesn’t get much time in the spotlight. Pick it up now and discover a great example of what you COULD be doing with your iPad in the classroom or workplace.
Our Score: 4 Out of 5