GoodNotes Notes erm ok Long Novel

With my new iPad Pro and Apple pencil I wanted to move into a handwritten note taking program on the iPad. The 2 I evaluated included Notability and GoodNotes. I tried both apps but settled on GoodNotes.

My key requirements are:

  • Ability to include different paper types and custom templates
  • Both iOS and Mac options
  • Good handwriting OCR with my terrible handwriting
  • Not Cloud dependent
  • Update and annotate PDF files

Primary reason for selecting GoodNotes is that I have terrible handwriting. GoodNotes can read my writing at between 85-95% accuracy. As my husband says that’s better than even he can do. Notability was at best about 60% accurate with my scribbles and while I don’t search much within my handwritten notes when I do search I get really frustrated when things I know are there aren’t found.

Initially neither app was able to read my handwriting at a level I considered good. I played with settings and found that in GoodNotes the writing posture options made all the difference. By changing the writing posture default I can change the accuracy of the handwriting recognition significantly. I played with all the variations and found one that isn’t really what I do but works better for recognition. So if you are not getting your writing understood try changing that setting. I found that one notch over from my “real” posture worked better.

GoodNotes had on first glance the best support for adding more paper types and templates but that proved false. Both systems have ways to get templates in. One gotcha that confused me for a long time is that in GoodNotes a template is only a single page. I kept trying to get PDF documents that are multiple pages long in as templates and getting totally frustrated because only the first page would import.

The workaround is to create a folder with my template documents in it. Select the document I want to include, move into thumbnail mode, Select in upper right, then Select All in upper left, Copy then move into the new document where I want to place the item. Go into thumbnail mode, If at the end then just click the + and paste pages. If in the middle of the document select the page either before or after where you want the new template inserted, use the + page at the top and paste pages either before or after as appropriate. Once you get in the habit of doing that it is all fine and dandy but it took quite a while to master as the concept of a template only being 1 page didn’t make sense to me.

I did add a number of one page templates that I use as wells as a number of documents I use as templates. Chief among the one page ones are my Levenger papers and my grazing planning map. I scanned a blank copy of the four major Levenger papers I use, their Cornell notetaker with separate boxes at the top for title and date, their Storyboard paper that I use extensively for screen and database designs in LambTracker, a Cornell style page that has a quarter inch grid instead of lines and one style they no longer make with boxes for topic, date, file under and page number on the top an then a large blank space for drawing pictures and then some lines underneath. That one is especially nice to have as a paper template in GoodNotes as I can no longer get that paper and I nearly out. I also decided to add in the isogrid paper I use only very occasionally.

My grazing map has the major fences as the template and on it I draw where I put the temporary electric nets to subdivide the pasture into grazing allotments. The I write the dates in and out and the number and class of sheep for each segment. That helps me plan recovery periods and also grazing moves through the summer. At the end of the year I can calculate how much forage we grew. I don’t use a grazing wedge system because this is simpler and seems to be good enough for our needs. This year I will also be attempting to add in info from Canopeo photos and their estimates of canopy cover which will show forage available at entry and residual left after grazing. We’ll see how that goes. Canopeo is a new app I am testing.

My multipage “templates” are things like several pages out of the Plan Your Year stuff, some things I’ve adapted for my own 12WY planning, some calendar summaries I like for scheduling SW tasks, some personal testing that I do yearly and so on.

GoodNotes has an acceptable number of pen choices and colors out of the box but I can already see I’ll be playing with that a bit more and adding some of my own. I typically use 3 colors of pens in my normal note writing so I just duplicated that in GoodNotes.

The single paper note focus rather than a file focus takes a bit of getting used to. In a notebook each page can be exported, copied or deleted individually since each page is a separate “note”. I tended to think in terms of a file and this page centric focus is a bit different and took some getting used to. Key for me is that it really DOES duplicate paper notes. Once I made that adjustment I didn’t have any more problems.

Syncing is where everything falls apart but both apps are equally bad at that for my use cases. As everyone here knows I am very cloud adverse. Both apps only provide true sync using iCloud. Both apps can do backup to other places, GoodNotes only does that to Dropbox for cloud services but can also send a zipped backup via airdrop, mail and more. Notability can use WebDAV, Google Docs, Dropbox, One Drive and Box for backups. WebDav would have been my preference but I can live with the other options provided in GoodNotes.

I do a by hand sync of iPad notes by making a backup, sending it via airdrop to my Mac and then importing that backup into the Mac version and using it there. Going the other way is painful. So far I have very few documents I edit on the Mac so when I do I have to remember to send them to the files on the iPad, import as a new document into GoodNotes and then delete the old version. In practice though I typically use the Mac as a read only for GoodNotes and iPad as the generator so I am ok with no true sync. I have put in requests to support for both WebDAV Backup and Sync options.

GoodNotes feels like writing on paper. The undo is a bonus and the ability to quickly move text around using the lasso is both intuitive and simple and a big improvement over pen and paper where I would typically start over on the note if things were in the wrong place.

I’ve used good notes to draw out a simple system diagram, to fill out current quarter 12WY plan documents, to take notes as I am reading a manual or other book, to take notes during a webinar or a Zoom meeting and to draw some potential screen designs and mail them to someone else for their review. For all those cases it works well.

For the money it’s a good addition for handling typewritten notes.

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After seeing @Bmosbacker’s mention, I outfitted my iPad with a PaperLike screen cover. While I rarely use my Apple Pencil, I still like the texture.


I’m also satisfied with the handwriting feeling on the Moshi iVisor AG – creates just the right amount of drag on the Pencil that a graphite pencil on paper would have. Also eliminates the click-click feeling of writing on glass.

(BTW – if ordering a Paperlike, order from their web site. There are long delivery delays in place. It appears that most of the “Paperlike” or “PaperLike” units for sale on Amazon are using that term, but are not made by the Paperlike company. More of the shameless scamming that Amazon lets happen unconstrained on their site.)

Thank you for this detailed write up. Makes me want to try hand writing with a pencil again.

I know that you are a heavy DEVONthink user. Do you integrate goodnotes with DEVONthink in any way?

What size iPad do you have?

GoodNotes cannot handle highlighting text when in dark mode. They’re not prioritising fixing that bug. I’m sticking with Apple Notes for now.

I was tempted by the Paperlike covers, but do they wear down the tips of the Apple Pencil? I’ve seen it as a criticism in the reviews of some of the cheaper textured products.

IMO Dark Mode is the bug. Dark mode is harder on the eyes and much harder to read. We left dark mode behind over 30 years ago! No reason to go back. (How many others remember the orange and green screens of our distant past)

I don’t mind the feel of writing on the glass. Since this device will not be going out into the field with the sheep I don’t need much of a case with it.

I have pulled a few of the pages out as PDFs to put into a project support folder in DEVONThink but not done much else with integrating the 2.

I have the 11 inch iPad pro.