iPhone and iPad

Go Back to School Paperless With Notability for iPad & iPhone

Bakari Chavanu 06-09-2013

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 7 Apps That Will Help You Use Your iPad For Writing Projects Read More and notebooks Make Your iPad A True Writing Tool With These Notebook Apps For me, the iPad is the ultimate device for paperless reading, writing, and photo viewing. The comfortable viewing size of the iPad makes it a perfect electronic notebook for reading ebooks, PDFs, typing short emails,... Read More 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.

Notability dividers

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 [Broken URL Removed] 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 Stylus Showdown: Back To School Review and Giveaway It's Back-To-School month, and all through the month you've had chances to win great back-to-school items such as the ASUS VivoBook X202E touchscreen laptop, the Timbuk2 Power Q laptop backpack and a custom-made budget gaming... Read More 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.

Notability pen styles

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 What Is Dropbox? The Unofficial Dropbox User Guide What is Dropbox and how do you use it? Our Dropbox user guide will explain everything you need to know to get started. Read More , Google Drive How To Organize Your Research With The Power Of Google Drive There are certain advantages to using Google Drive for your research work. It's free and available from everywhere of course. Everyone with a Google account has it by default. Tied to your Google account, it... Read More , 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.

Notability 3

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.


Go Paperless

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 How To Make Your iPad a Laptop Replacement In an interview, Apple CEO Tim Cook said he no plans for developing an iPad that transforms into a laptop. But that certainly doesn't keep many iPad users from using the device as a notebook... Read More , using an external keyboard so that you can type faster during class lectures.

Mini 9 main hero


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.

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  1. Bailey
    September 9, 2013 at 8:37 pm
  2. Peter S
    September 7, 2013 at 4:19 pm

    This app looks great. I have a question: is there a ddrawing or notetaking app which allows an image imported into the app to be traced, where the overlaid tracing becomes the saved image and the background image can be deleted?

    In programs such as CorelDRAW this can be done either by using the Trace tool or by physically drawing on the layer above the image, before deleting it.

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 7, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      Peter, the Adobe Ideas includes layers which allows you to import an image as a layer and then add another layer on top of it. I don't Notability has that feature.

  3. Andrzej W
    September 7, 2013 at 10:48 am

    I would rather use digital notepad.

  4. Bluebird
    September 6, 2013 at 5:39 pm

    I rather buy a Windows laptop or tablet thats far more functional. Any suggestions?

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 6, 2013 at 7:36 pm

      Bluebird, I don't much about Windows laptop or tablets. I ran a search of the topic on our site, and came up with this one: //www.makeuseof.com/tag/asus-vivobook-x202e-windows-8-touchscreen-laptop-review-and-giveaway/. Sorry I couldn't be of more help.

    • Jerome I
      September 6, 2013 at 7:38 pm

      Yeah. Getting a portable Windows 8 laptop would be a lot better. Higher specs, more apps available, more functional, more responsive, more customizable. However it's more expensive as well xD Looking for those on malls and shops would be best imo, but you could start searching for windows 8 touchscreen laptop reviews on the web. I also remember some laptops featured here in muo but I can't remember which >.<

    • Scott Hicks
      September 8, 2013 at 2:16 am

      So Bluebird..

      I am a Mac user and I bought a Microsoft Surface Pro not too long ago.. recently sold it on eBay. For note taking that is multiplatform and just about the same as this app, check out Microsoft OneNote. It is available for free in the Windows Store, the iOS App Store, and the Google Play Store. It is also included with Office365/Office 2013 and there is a free version at http://www.outlook.com that is part of Skydrive. You can sync and edit notebooks from Windows 8, Windows Phone 8, Android, iOS, or SkyDrive for no cost and it works pretty well. I myself prefer other things but I've done a really good family Recipe book using it. There is also Evernote of course and it's many plugins and custom versions that work on all of the above platforms as well as OS X.

  5. Jerome I
    September 6, 2013 at 2:38 pm

    any good alternatives for android? I'm not an Apple user but I'd like to see a similar app. It would also be great if the app is compatible for small screens like the phone I have: Samsung Galaxy Y. :)

    • Fabricio
      September 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      Same here, any good app for android?

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 6, 2013 at 7:17 pm

      Sorry, Jerome, I not as familiar with Android apps as I would like to be. I checked out our Android App List page (//www.makeuseof.com/pages/best-android-apps) Have you tried doing a search for Android notebook apps?

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 6, 2013 at 7:33 pm

      Jerome, two of my fellow staff writers suggests Evernote for Android. Have you tried that?

    • Jerome I
      September 6, 2013 at 7:48 pm

      wow, thanks for the best android app list. Time to fill up my RAM and storage with fancy looking apps. And yeah, Evernote seems useful. I'll give that a shot. Thanks :3

  6. JeMhUnTeR
    September 6, 2013 at 2:33 pm

    if only all teachers would allow students to take down notes digitally, school life would've been so much easier :/

    • Bakari Chavanu
      September 6, 2013 at 7:12 pm

      Wow, assumed that teachers were allowing digital note taking. I'm now wondering just much teachers are not using the digital technology available to them? Thanks for the feedback, JeMhUnTer.