GoodNotes 5.3.3 review: Taking the best iPadOS has and making it better

Using Apple Pencil with GoodNotes on an iPad Pro
(Image: © iMore)

By now, you've probably heard of GoodNotes, the note-taking app that is specifically geared toward handwriting. It's one of iMore's favorite note-taking apps and is always an impressive program for it's many and robust features. GoodNotes got a big update alongside iPadOS 13 that takes iPadOS's multiple window support and runs with it. You can view and work in one notebook while the other is open and waiting for you. It also, of course, supports Dark Mode, which makes the entire experience on the new iPad operating system an absolutely pleasant experience.

What is GoodNotes?

GoodNotes 5: The features

Multiple window GoodNotes on iPad

(Image credit: iMore)

GoodNotes is a note-taking app, but it's nothing like note-taking apps you're used to using. It isn't meant to be used for typing (though you can type, but it's within text boxes). It's specifically designed as a handwriting app so you can use your Apple Pencil or another stylus.

There are dozens of paper styles, including lined paper in a variety of sizes, dotted paper, grids, column pages for accounting, and more. There are monthly planner pages and music scores. You can change the paper color between white or yellow and use either landscape or portrait positioning.

There are also about five dozen different notebook covers, so you can really show off your personal style.

You can create sketches for presentation, annotate PDFs that you've imported, and even search all of your notes — handwritten, typed, or imported as a PDF.

You can organize notebooks into folders and favorite them to move them to the top of your list where they're easier to find. Creating a new folder, note, or Quick Note, which is a single-page note using the default paper, which you can add to a specific notebook later on.

You can also turn your iPad into a digital whiteboard using Presentation Mode. This makes it possible for you to mirror your iPad (or iPhone) to a big-screen TV or monitor. You can either hide the interface from others or allow them to see everything you see. There is even a laser pointer.

With the update to version 5.3.3. on iPadOS 13, GoodNotes now supports OCR scanning, so you can quickly import paper content to your digital notebook. When you tap the add button, one option is to "Scan document" which will ask for access to your camera, and then take pictures of the paper you're importing. GoodNotes will then analyze the text of the note and make it searchable/

Also exclusive to the iPad and iPadOS 13, you can open GoodNotes in multiple windows. You can have two different, or even the same two, notebooks open side-by-side, plus a third notebook open in a hovering tab.

Pro multitasking

GoodNotes 5: What I like

Multiple window GoodNotes on iPad

(Image credit: iMore)

I'm going to focus here on features exclusive to iPad because it's the iPadOS 13 update that has helped make this a reality. Just like with any app, you can open GoodNotes in two windows side-by-side. You can drag the app from the dock at the bottom of the screen and off to the left or right to bring up multi-window mode.

But GoodNotes takes this a step or two further by integrating additional ways you can trigger multi-window mode on your iPad. And this works in both landscape or portrait iPad positioning, but the way.

You can open GoodNotes to your main dashboard and drag a notebook to the left or right to open two windows side-by-side. Then, feel free to drag a third notebook over into the tab view. The tabbed window will kinda be in your way and doesn't really look that good, but you can have three notebooks open at the same time. In fact, you can have the same exact notebook open in three different windows, all on the same page, edit in one window, and watch your edits appear across all three windows.

The OCR scanner is absolutely invaluable. I've started importing my electric bills, just so I have a digital copy of them. They're completely searchable, so if I want to know which bill came to $112 last year, searching will help me find it quickly. Since they're now in digital form, sending copies to someone for reference is no longer a total pain.

why no type?

GoodNotes 5: What I don't like

I realize that GoodNotes is designed specifically for note-taking, but sometimes, I just want to type in a notebook instead. There is an option to add a text box, which allows you to type, and it even adjusts to how much you type (the box grows in size as you add more words). This is a great option if you want to create a notebook with pictures or annotations because you can manipulate the typed text however you want the box to be, including copying the box and pasting it onto another page.

What I want, though, is the option, when I create a new notebook, for it to fully be a typing booklet — complete with formatting options like the Notes app. I want to create bulleted lists and things I can check off. I want to have headers and be able to make tables just by typing and selecting whatever formatting tool I want.


GoodNotes 5: The conclusion

Multiple window GoodNotes on iPad

(Image credit: iMore)

For less than the price of three 100-sheet spiral notebooks, you can have an unlimited amount of digital notebooks for everything you might possibly need, including taking notes in class or meetings, balancing your books, creating graphs and charts, planning your daily events, and more. And you only have to carry one iPhone or iPad with you. Much more convenient than trying to remember where you last left that notebook you used three months ago.

GoodNotes is designed to be used as a handwriting app and works beautifully with Apple Pencil. Because of this, using GoodNotes to quickly type up notes isn't quite the revolutionary experience that the handwriting aspect is. If you're hoping for a notebook that works like Apple's built-in Notes app, well ... you're better off with the built-in Notes app.

With the update to iPadOS 13, you can really see how multiple app windows can shine on an iPad. I absolutely love how easy and intuitive it is to open and edit multiple notebooks on the same screen. Now that GoodNotes has an OCR scanner, I can also keep track of paper documents with a fantastic organizational system.

Lory Gil

Lory is a renaissance woman, writing news, reviews, and how-to guides for iMore. She also fancies herself a bit of a rock star in her town and spends too much time reading comic books.  If she's not typing away at her keyboard, you can probably find her at Disneyland or watching Star Wars (or both).