April 21, 2010: While the iPad is unquestionably best for content consumption, if one’s creation needs are limited to quick and relatively simple tasks, the tablet can also become a viable productivity device. From the moment I began thinking about the iPad and potential roles users would have it play, note-taking was an obvious standout.
The iPad should be perfect for this, right? Snippets of text can be entered with the onscreen keyboard. Its Internet connection can make quick work of grabbing images, documents, links and other content from the Web. The onboard mic records audio in lectures and meetings. And the multitouch interface is ideal for pulling these elements together into a useful and highly-customizable visual presentation.
With this in mind, I set out to find the ultimate note-taking app for the iPad. My first selection was Ginger Labs’ Notability [iTunes Link], a commercial iPad-only app aimed primarily at students.
I’ve spent the last ten days with the application, using it in my daily work and putting it through its paces. Let’s take a closer look.
The main interface in Notability is the Session screen. Fields can be created in which text, onscreen drawings (Figures) and web screen grabs are contained. You can also record audio with the iPad’s onboard microphone, creating inline entries for later playback and labeling.
New fields are stacked in a vertical chain, displayed in order from old to new. Text notes are customizable with three fonts, a few colors, decoration (bold, italics and underlined) and size. You can also draw notes with your fingers or iPad-friendly styli; these elements are called Figures. The Web note feature provides quick, in-app access to the web, with shortcuts to Google, Wikipedia and Dictionary.com. Once you reach the desired page, a screenshot is taken and added to your notes chain.
You can search existing notes for specific words or parts of words. Notes can also be shared with anyone connected to your Wi-Fi network, viewable in a web browser pointed to the correct IP.
As currently offered, Notability provides few of the features I want in a note-taking app, and limits even those.
The Web note feature, which should be the app’s most versatile, is hobbled. The default function creates a screenshot of the page you select, not of specific page content. And while you can copy-and-paste text from the web, you can’t copy-and-paste images (attempting to do so pastes image tag data as text). If you copy text from the web and you want to paste into a Text note, the app still creates a screenshot of the source page, which you then have to delete. There’s also no screen selection (or cropping) tool for grabbing selected snippets of web content.
With existing notes, there’s no way to customize their presentation. The order of entries is locked down, and there’s no corkboard-style interface for moving content around the screen. Audio recordings cannot be trimmed or exported.
Sharing notes, while a thoughtful feature, is also limited. Notes can be shared in browsers, but appear with little formatting, and hyperlinks are often not clickable.
Notability does have some nice features. The Text note function is polished and limited mainly by the iPad’s data entry shortcomings. The iPad keyboard’s button sounds (if enabled), are muted in Notability as not to disturb classmates if you’re in a crowded room. There’s an equalizer for customizing your audio playback experience, and an in-app volume slider helps you find the right level for playback without using the hardware controls.
Notability was released alongside the iPad, which means it was first developed without tablet in hand. This being the case, I’m sure it will improve over time. But as it stands, the app is limited, unpolished and overpriced ($8.99).
Its developers are onto something; the iPad could be a kick-ass note taking appliance with the right app powering the task. But out of the gate, Notability is notable for very little.
Editor’s Note: This app was provided by the developer for review.