GoodNotes 5 vs Notability vs Noteshelf 2 – Is There a New Best Note-Taking App?

Here is my review of the newly released GoodNotes 5.

Since 2017 I was waiting for this day to come! The release of Goodnotes 5! Back in 2017 I started my paperless journey using GoodNotes 4 on my iPad Pro 12.9 (2017) and an Apple Pencil and at the same time my YouTube Channel where I showed you all the experiences I made with those different note-taking apps. I tested ALL of them but eventually settled on five that are in my eyes the best note-taking apps available for iOS, iPad (Pro) and the Apple Pencil. Those apps were Notshelf2, Notability, GoodNotes4, Notes-Plus In my eBook “Paperless Note-Taking Like a Pro” I was going in depth explaining the advantages and use cases for each of those five apps.

No Auto backup

Auto backup was one of my favorite features that GoodNotes4 had to offer compared to Noteshelf2 or Notability, as it was easily syncing with loads of different cloud services (e.g. GDRive or OneDrive). Not only was it backing up your notes, but also optional it was saving it as PDF versions. This way, I was able to write in my GoodNotes4 note-taking app and saw nearly in real time the updates on GDrive on my windows PC. This also allowed me to access my notes from any operating system I liked to use. Even more, it also conserved the hyperlinks available in PDFs that I annotated but also converted handwritten hyperlinks into clickable hyperlinks in my PDF, saved via Auto backup.

In GoodNotes5 however, this feature is gone! All there is now is iCloud Backup and a Manual Backup! Guys….a manual backup in 2019? So for this reason only, I don’t recommend switching from GoodNotes4 to GoodNotes5 if you were using the Auto backup function in the past.

The looks

GoodNotes5 looks a lot like GoodNotes4. Compared to Notability and Noteshelf2 it still feels outdated. The UI and the grey color scheme just isn’t as modern as seen in other apps.

Handwriting recognition

Like in GoodNotes 4 it remains the same in GoodNotes 5. You have to set the language of your handwriting recognition in the general settings that will be used for every new document you create. However, you can also switch languages within your note when you want to convert it. For example, in Noteshelf 2 you are being asked what language you want to use for text conversion just after selecting and starting the conversion. Many of you won’t affect this I guess, however, for me as a multilingual note-taker (English + German) it is bad to have to choose between languages that I have to stay within my documents.

Collaboration feature in GoodNotes 5 is missing

Although the company behind GoodNotes 5 was hyping this feature to be unique compared to other note-taking apps, it is not available in GoodNotes 5. Nothing was stated from

Vertical AND Horizontal scrolling in the same note-taking app

One great feature in GoodNotes 5 is, that you can choose if you want to scroll vertically or horizontally through your notes! This really takes GoodNotes 5 apart from other note-taking apps that allow only vertical (Notability) or horizontal (Noteshelf 2) scrolling.

Repositioning your toolbar

GoodNotes 5 also allows repositioning the toolbar on top or bottom. This is also a great feature I have only seen in Notes Plus so far. That you cannot choose left or right, might be due to the templates. Because having those options in addition to the top or bottom, there would be more templates needed that also will fill the size of the screen once the toolbar is away and leaves a horizontal gap.

No double tap customization for Apple Pencil 2 in GoodNotes 5

With the new Apple Pencil 2 that comes with the iPad Pro 2018, a double tap feature was added. This allows you in apps, like the native note-taking app from Apple (Apple Notes) to switch between the pen and the eraser just by double tapping with your finger on your Apple Pencil. However, in GoodNotes 5, all it does, is opening the color pallett for the selected tool. No options are available to customize this. In Noteshelf 2, you have the options to use “System Default”, “Last Used Tool”, “Eraser”, “Color Palette”, “Shapes” or “Favorites Toolbar”. So you can see, it is possible to add such functionality and the developers behind GoodNotes 5 decided not to implement it for some reason.

The search function is awesome

The new search function in GoodNotes 5 is awesome! It has global search like Notability offers. This makes it easy to search for keywords across all of your notebooks in GoodNotes 5. However, I think the really nailed it here, because the search results are split into “Written Notes” and “Typed Notes”. This way you will not get a mix of your handwritten notes and imported PDF files for example. However, as you have to set your language in the general settings, it will convert and index your text in the background with this language selected. This also means I have to stay in the specific language I set up in the first place for each notebook in order to receive correct search results.

Still best highlighter in a note-taking app

If you follow me, you know that one tool that really makes or breaks a note-taking app in my eyes is the highlighter. I want the highlighting to stay behind the text. In Notability, for example, it covers the text when highlighted, which makes it less readable and, in my opinion, is rather “low lighting” the text. Noteshelf 2 has a good highlighter to which stays behind the text, however, there, if you highlight twice and overlap the highlightings, they will add up whereas in GoodNotes 4 and now in GoodNotes 5, the highlighting stays consistent no matter how often you overlap the highlightings. Another new addition to the highlighting tool is, that it seems to recognize if I want to highlight some text in a straight line, as it will straighten the drawn line for me without the need to switch to the shape tool. Awesome!

GoodNotes 5 has the best eraser

Why do I mention the eraser in particular? Because GoodNotes 5 got it just right! And if companies nail a feature, I feel the need to tell you about it! The eraser in Notability, for example, will delete full lines online. So you cannot delete portions of a drawing for example. Noteshelf 2 is the opposite, where you can only delete portions but never full lines. In GoodNotes 4 and now in GoodNotes 5 too, you choose the behavior of the eraser, if it should erase entire stroke or just part of it. However, the added now also the feature, that you can selectively delete the highlighter only! This makes it the best eraser I have ever seen in a note-taking app! Although to make it the ultimate eraser, they should have added, either more eraser sizes or the automatic size adaption Noteshelf2 offers, where the size of the eraser depends on the speed you move your pencil. So if you want to delete large portions of your note, you just go faster with your pencil.


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