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With mobile apps like Notability, it’s a lot easier to go paperless when it comes to recording lectures and taking notes, annotating documents and keeping your digital files organized.
I’ve reviewed in the past several writing apps and notebooks for the iPad, but newer apps like the best selling, stylishly designed Notability (currently $2.99) seem especially geared to students. The app allows users to mix handwriting with typed text, highlight and annotate scanned or imported documents, complete worksheets, add images, and record lectures.
Like A Paper Notebook
Notability, for both the iPad and iPhone, can be used like a paper notebook in which you create dividers and subjects for notes and other contents.
Individual subjects can be custom color coded, and you can change paper styles (line or graph) or background color of individual notes. Notability also makes a collection of additional paper backgrounds available on its site for different purposes (including sports game plays, cursive writing guides, storyboards and music staves) that you can download directly to your Dropbox account and then import into Notability.
Notability contains tools for typing and handwriting text. Unlike many apps that contain pen and pencil tools, Notability’s pen tool is smooth and responsive to the Jot Pro Stylus pen I use. The pen tool can be used for sketching and writing.
You can tap on the typing tool and place text boxes anywhere on a notebook page. The default font style, size, and color can be set up in Notability’s Settings, but you can also long press on the pen tool to change the ink size and color.
Note: When you first start using Notability, you might get distracted by accidentally adding unwanted pen markings in your notes. To prevent this from happening, use two fingers to scroll through pages. There’s also a palm rest feature that aims to protect notes from stray markings.
In addition to the marker, eraser, and Undo/Redo utilities, the Notability menu bar also contains a scissor tool useful for cutting, copying, moving, rotating, deleting and changing the style of content on the page. For serious digital note taking, this tool is very handy. For more detailed sketches you can use the zoom tool to write text.
The menu bar also includes an audio recording feature useful in school for recording lectures. You can link the audio with typed text, which is useful for reviewing lectures. As an example, when your instructor starts to define a concept, type a word or two in your notes and the recorder will bookmark an audio link to those typed words. Notes that contain audio recordings get marked with a microphone icon for easier recognition.
Syncing, Importing & Sharing Notes
Notability is a universal app that you can sync content between your iPhone and other iOS devices using iCloud. You can also import and export content to your Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, and WebDAV accounts. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have support for importing documents from Evernote, but you can export content in Notability to Evernote and other installed apps.
These sharing features are useful for getting scanned and PDF documents into Notability. The app also imports plain and rich text documents, and it uses Google Drive to convert and import Word and PowerPoint formatted files, which can be annotated but not edited.
You can also use Notability to take photos of class handouts and use the text tools to write and mark them up. In addition, the app includes a handy web clipper for importing webpages into notes. Unfortunately, there’s no way to directly import webpages as web archives and edit them as you can with Evernote.
Using Notability certainly beats toting around notebook binders. The digital app allows for more flexibility where you can access content on and offline, and you can organize and edit notes a lot easier. To use Notability most effectively, you’ll probably need to set up your iPad like a laptop, using an external keyboard so that you can type faster during class lectures.
The iPhone version of Notability will also come in handy for reviewing and adding quick notes. The format of the app is smaller on the iPhone, but the user interface is exactly the same. Making use of a good scanner app like Lemon or JotNot can be useful for scanning handouts and pages from textbooks into Notability via Dropbox or another supported storage service.
There are several other similar notebook apps for the iOS platform, but for academic purposes, I find Notability easy to use with a clean interface and modest price.
Download: Notability ($2.99)
What do you think of Notability? Do you use an iPad for school? Is digital note-taking the way forward? Let us know in the comments, below.