Notability

Click to learn.

Click to learn.

The new iPad's Retina display is genuinely stunning, the best I've ever seen, but it has spoiled me. Apps that haven't been updated for it just don't look right. Noteshelf, unfortunately, is one of them. The problem is that Noteshelf had become a crucial element of my workflow over the last few months. I kept waiting for its developer to release an update, but started watching its competitors as well. Last week, one of them came through.

Notability, by Gingerlabs, has been around for a while, and earned a reputation as a solid productivity tool. Its latest update brought with it full support for the Retina display, and made it the single best notetaking app I've ever used.

I think it's imortant to explain why I need a dedicated notetaking app. I'm sitting in class sessions for a good chunk of every week, listening to lectures that I'm expected to remember. A lot of my classmates try to retain information by typing it into their computers or iPads for future reference. I've done so myself, but the problem is that when I take notes that way, I'm doing it so that I can come back to them later. I'm not actually learning when I do that; I'm making appointments to learn later.

That's not the purpose of taking notes, at least not for me. To steal Field Note's tagline, I'm not writing things down to remember them later; I'm writing them down to remember them now. For me, typing doesn't equal retention, and no matter how detailed my notes may be, I always have to come back to them to understand the lecture I've just sat through.

When I take notes by hand, I'm much more selective about what I write, and can recall it much more easily later. I remain engaged in the lecture as I hear it, and walk away from it with a greater understanding of the material. It's a system that works better for me, but the problem with it is that I hate keeping track of notebooks. That's why Noteshelf was such an appealing solution, and it's why Notability works so well for me now.

Notability's flow and responsiveness make my stylus feel like a fountain pen. It's digital ink is second to none, on par with Fifty Three's Paper app. It's wonderful to use and adaptable for a variety of contexts. It's also a great tool for marking up PDFs - something I have to do quite often, thank you HBR readings. Most of all, it does what all great iPad apps do - it gets out the way and lets me do what I need to do. It makes the device invisible, leaving only the experience, and for that, I love it.

Notability is available on the App Store. If you're someone who prefers the experience of taking notes by hand but wants to cut paper out of your life, give it a try.