Image: ALife/iStockphoto

iPad users have many choices when it comes to taking, editing, and sharing notes. Apple’s Notes program provides a range of features and functionality, as well as iCloud backup and synchronization, but third-party tools offer additional capabilities, including numerous templates, multiple import and export options, and shape-creating assistance.

Notability and GoodNotes 5 are two of the leading note-taking applications in the Apple App Store. In fact, the two apps own the number one and two spots, respectively, for most popular applications within the Productivity category. Which app is best for you depends on your personal needs and preferences.

GoodNotes claims to make note-taking on an iPad as natural as writing on paper, and the app certainly comes close. Apple Pencil integration is flawless, and an easily accessed stylus menu, which includes colors and pencil thickness, simplifies jotting down notes, drawing shapes, and creating diagrams. iCloud synchronization ensures notes remain current across all your iOS devices, while numerous notebook covers and paper templates ensure you’re ready for a wide range of note-taking situations, including training sessions, classes, meetings, and when brainstorming.

SEE: The Apple Developer Program: An insider’s guide (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

The category’s number one-rated app, which is also the winner of an Editor’s Choice award, is Notability. The program enables creating, signing and sharing documents, creating freehand sketches and notes, converting handwriting to text, and dragging-and-dropping handwritten notes, typed text, and other elements easily from note to note.

GoodNotes packs a time-saving Shape Tool (Figure A); this feature accelerates creating numerous and consistently sized shapes. Notability works to read the shapes you’re drawing and automatically convert them to standardized figures.

Figure A

Erik Eckel

GoodNotes and Notability share many commonalities, too. Both note-taking apps leverage iCloud for backup and synchronization. Also, both apps permit searching text within notes, importing data from a number of sources, and exporting notes to a variety of sources.

Notability, for example, supports importing material from documents, presentations, images, and PDF files, while GoodNotes does the same, minus images. Notability exports and shares notes via AirDrop and to Box, Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive (Figure B). GoodNotes exports and shares notes to PDF, an image, or a GoodNotes file.

Figure B

Erik Eckel

Using the two programs over 10 days revealed a few discoveries. I found GoodNotes boasts an easier, more accessible interface, as well as more template options. Using the app and changing text colors and drawing thickness is quick and easy–just tap the selection you wish to use from the displayed toolbar. GoodNotes also makes adding images and shapes easy. Marking frequently used notes as favorites, using the supplied bookmark icon, speeds accessing those notes later. And while there are only three export options in GoodNotes, the program’s broader selection of notebook styles and paper types won me over.

Notability, not to be outdone, battles back with light and dark themes, speech-to-text functionality, and multi-note capability, which permits working with two notes simultaneously. Additional themes will set Notability users back anywhere from $1.99 to $3.99. The in-app upgrade proved mildly disappointing, as the app itself was $11.99 compared with just $7.99 for GoodNotes 5.

Ultimately, the note-taking app that becomes your favorite will depend upon which interface and feature combination most appeals to you. One thing is certain: Both Notability and GoodNotes are excellent iOS-based note-taking options that can help you get organized, plan outlines, and capture and share your notes with others using minimal effort.