One of my favorite Mac apps is the built-in Notes app. Not that it’s packed with features– a word processor it is not– but Notes has just enough functionality to be useful, and it syncs up and plays nice-nice with Notes on iPhone and iPad, so it kinda sorta goes everywhere you go.
What Notes does not do well is handwriting and drawing, which seems to be an art we’ve lost in the digital age. It does it. But not very well. Annotation is one thing. Actual writing by hand and sketching out notes is another. But maybe it’s time for a resurrection of sorts. For a few years I’ve used the popular Notability app to take sketch notes, but last year I began to use the GoodNotes app. Both notes apps run on Mac, iPhone, and iPad. Both do handwriting, drawing, sketching, and annotations.
GoodNotes is simple to use thanks to the obvious tools in the obvious toolbar at the top. For the Mac, navigating files and folders is easy thanks to the sidebar area. Click on a folder of notes and they’re displayed instantly in the main window.
Drawing tools are nothing to write home about and won’t damage Adobe Illustrator’s reputation, but there are more than enough options to sketch better than pen and ink on a napkin or piece of paper. The Mac version uses the same so-called digital ink that’s used on iPhone and iPad, with the only caveat that drawing on the Mac’s screen is not like drawing or writing notes on the iPad. I’ve never found drawing on the Mac’s trackpad to be anything but a bit cumbersome. Your mileage may vary.
One Mac feature that is particularly useful is Time Machine. GoodNotes saves multiple versions of a notes document so it’s easy to go back and look at earlier handwritten notes or drawings and sketches. As to documents and annotations, whatever you create gets saved via iCloud sync, and PDFs are easily annotated as if you were using Preview. It even imports PDF files.
Oh, and check out GoodNotes backups in Time Machine.
Again, the basic tools in GoodNotes are obvious and intuitive.
- Select Tool – Highlight or strikeout selected text in PDF documents
- Edit Tool – Move, scale and change object color
- Text Tool – Create text objects
- Pen Tool – Pen drawing
- Highlight Tool – Highlighter drawing
- Eraser Tool – Erase lines
As useful as the Mac version of GoodNotes is, and it is, it’s even better on the iPad, but a bit less on the iPhone– unless you’re using a stylus. Steve Jobs wouldn’t use a stylus even if he could be resurrected.
The iPad’s screen is just a more intuitive way to sketch out ideas, add some handwriting, and create notes the old fashioned way. By hand.
Maybe the coolest feature of all is that aforementioned Digital Ink. That means you can draw and write using vector graphic ink rather than bit map. That also means both drawings and handwriting can be easily moved on screen, and resized up or down and still keep the same sharp resolution.
That alone is worth the price of admission to GoodNotes. What I would like to see is a built-in storage option for Dropbox or OneDrive or Google Drive or Box because the iCloud sync is oh so crazy slow. GoodNotes, like Notability, is an intuitive app that harkens back to the days of yesteryear when we actually wrote notes and made sketches the old fashioned way. By hand.