iPad App Review: Notability

In the midst of my newfound love affair with my iPad, I’ve been doing the app shuffle. I have, of course, loaded it up with the apps essential to my research practices (Evernote, Sente, iAnnotate, Pages, etc.), appropriate music (songs from my iTunes and Pandora), travel apps (Tripit, American Airline’s app, etc.), and other travel entertainment apps (Netflix, some movies, and more). I’ve also loaded some other note taking and productivity apps to test out in the classroom and beyond. One gem that I had the pleasure of using throughout my grad class tonight was Notability

Notability is an awesome note taking app that, in just a few hours of usage, has fundamentally changed one aspect of my teaching: student presentations. Notability lets you take notes, draw figures, insert photos and web clippings, and record audio — all from within the app. Once you’re done, you can export the notes in the format of your choosing (including options that retain the audio) to Dropbox, email, iTunes file sharing, and elsewhere. The app lets you make lists (numbered or bulleted), change the font and size of text, and indent text. You can also search within the text of a note for particular terms.

So in taking notes on and grading my students’ presentations tonight, I created a new note for each student, started recording right before they began speaking (which also gives you a clock counting up, so you know how long they spoke for), typed my comments on their presentations, and took pictures of their moments of brilliance. When I got home, I reviewed the notes for spelling errors, then emailed them to each student. So basically, what would haven taken me four apps and a camera to do with my MacBook Pro took me one app to accomplish with my iPad.  That, my friends, is what I call streamlining.

For all of it’s awesomeness, however, Notability isn’t perfect. The iPad keyboard, while generally good, takes a little getting used to. This isn’t Notability’s fault, of course; but I still long for the day when I quit pressing the ‘s’ when I intend to hit ‘a’ and quit hitting return when my muscle memory makes me hit an apostrophe for a contraction.

One thing that Notability could fix is the spellchecking. I most apps, if you misspell a word that autocorrect doesn’t catch, the word gains a squiggly red underlining. For some reason, this app doesn’t tap into that feature. Second, I wish the photo insertion worked like it does in other apps. Notability only gives you the option of choosing a photo from your library/camera roll. Other apps, however, give you the option to “take a photo” or “choose from library.” Adding that choice would enhance the app and save a step in integrating photos realtime.

Despite those minor insufficiencies (things I won’t be surprised to see fixed in a future release), Notability truly is a game changer for my work and I would recommend it strongly to any teacher who assigns student presentations. Furthermore, I imagine it would be marvelous in classes (as a student), public lectures, and conference presentations where recording is allowed.** I can’t wait to use it in my undergrad class next semester.

Hope that review and info helps. Please let me know if you have any questions or comments and stay tuned for more info on how I’ve got the iPad setup for my upcoming research trip.


**NOTE: Obviously, you’d want to make sure that recording a class or presentation is allowed before you go and do it.

7 thoughts on “iPad App Review: Notability”

  1. This is a very good review! I appreciated seeing some different ways you could use Notability app! I was have been searching for a good note taking app for the iPad. One thing about the keyboard that you might want to check out. I have been using a keyboard called the ZaggMate, I am using it to type this comment right now. I am not affiliated with the company at all, I have just been using this accessory for a couple of months. It makes the iPad very useful for creating documents and blogging. You might find it helpful as a teacher.

  2. Thanks, Philana. You’re probably the 10th person who has recommended the ZM to me. If I have some grant money left over, I’m definitely going to look into it.

  3. You may consider purchasing the Origami Workstation by InCase (http://www.goincase.com/products/detail/cl57934) along with the Apple Bluetooth keyboard (not the keyboard that is made specifically for the iPad). Some reviews have complained about the small size of the Zaggmate keyboard so they have opted for the Apple Bluetooth keyboard instead. You may be able to purchase the Origami Workstation at a local BestBuy. If you do a search on YouTube for Origami Workstation, you’ll get a good understanding of its features.

  4. Version 3 looks nothing like the photos above, and infact is quite awful. I have emailed the developer my feedback and have been ignored, so i posted to the Facebook page, and my post was deleted.

    The new Aqua/candified interface of v3 makes the app look like something most suitable to a 5 year old’s xylophone, circa OSX 10.0

    I appreciate that one can change the colours, but the whole candy interface is still an eyesore (as compared to refined, subtle, classy and mature textured tan leather look of version 2. Even the app icon has changed from leather book to candy blue). Even the file browser names are much bigger font (and cannot be changed) and the bubbles around each folder are massive. I don’t need a fluorescent yellow cartoon/icon next to each subject group, surrounded my fluorescent yellow highlighting with fat psychedelic colours around it. Each item now resembles the windows7 start menu.

    Furthermore the forced page breaks are a disaster also, they cannot be disabled, I have been happily storing documents that i had written in macjournal, and exported to RTFD.  They have a combination of pictures and text, your forced page breaks are a disaster to my photos, I can only fit 2 photos per page, and the next photo cannot follow (across a page break) hence the text is messed up, and the photos are all messed up (and cannot be resited across hard page breaks).

    Do not update to version 3 !

    1. Thank you for the warning, Matt. Your experience with the developers seems odd to me — as they were very responsive to my questions, criticisms, etc. On the other hand, perhaps that’s just because I was saying nice things.

      Please be sure you post your review up on the App Store because that may be the best way at this point to get your concerns heard.

      I trust that they will address some of your concerns (as they appear to be common, judging by the other comments on the App Store) in due time. Until then, you might consider reverting to your old app version. Here’s a short tutorial on how that works: http://www.tuaw.com/2011/01/28/ipad-101-reverting-to-an-older-version-of-an-application/

      Good luck and thanks again for the heads-up!

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