Notability for Mac harmonizes writing, drawing, and recording

Ginger Labs' Notability is one of the best note-taking apps for iOS thanks to the way it harmonizes writing, drawing and recording audio. Does the Mac version follow suit?

If you're a visual thinker, prone to doodling or sketching ideas using paper and pen, you owe it to yourself to check out Notability. It's easy to type with, easy to draw with, and easy to embed recordings with, making it a versatile and truly intuitive note taking app for the Mac.

Here's what you're presented with when you open Notability for the first time. A three-pane interface with a sidebar on the left showing you your notes and thumbnails associated with them, so you can figure out which note you want to open at a glance.

Notes are the basic mode of collecting thoughts, images and audio files together. Notes can be collected into subjects, with dividers used to differentiate them. So you can create a divider called "School," for example, with subjects for each class, perhaps, then individual notes for specific lectures or lessons.

The navigation bar gives you access to note taking tools including text editing, handwriting and highlighting markers, an eraser tool and a selection lasso and a marquee tool to select what's on the page.

The right side of the page is bordered with tool palettes specific to whatever input method you're handling at that point; text formatting options, pen and highlight colors and more.

Writing in Notability is a linear affair; position the cursor where you want, it'll flush left on the page. You can style text with different fonts and colors, add bold, italics and underline and select three different list styles: plain, bulleted and ordered (by number and letter if you use multiple indents; bullet lists change formatting as they indent as well). Text also reflows around images you've embedded in your notes.

The handwriting and highlighting tools should be familiar to Notability for iOS users; this is really where the app made its bones on the iPad and iPhone. Of course, handwriting and visual input isn't quite so straightforward on the Mac, but if you're lucky enough to be working with pen tablet (or skilled enough with a mouse), then you can combine your written notes with sketches, highlights to text and other visual embellishments.

Drawing and highlighting tools include a palette of 16 different colors, pen and highlighter width adjustment, and pen style (uniform, which paints an even line, and variable). The erase tool will step back actions you take using the highlighter and pen tools.

You can import images and PDF files, editing them using the pen and highlight tools. Pinch and zoom works as you'd expect it to. You can also import Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Excel content after a fashion (using Google Drive as a bridge), along with RTF files, and Note files.

Clicking the mic button attaches an audio file to the note, recorded from your Mac's microphone. You can start and stop recording at any time; each audio file is indexed. The files can be easily scrubbed during later playback, to make it easy to find that segment of the lecture or conversation you found particularly illuminating. You can slow down and speed up playback as well.

If you already use Notability on your iOS device, getting the Mac version is as close to a no-brainer as possible. Notability for the Mac integrates with iCloud to provide really seamless workflow with your iOS Notability data. Quite frankly, this is where Notability really shines: Taking notes, sketching and doodling on the iPad is effortless, then bringing it to the Mac to take further notes or edit what you've done is very simple, straightforward and intuitive.

Notability sports an "AutoBackup" feature that works with Dropbox and Google Drive, putting files in a new Notability folder. iCloud is also supported, and this makes it simple to sync Notability files between Mac, iPad and iPhone.

If you've already invested in the workflow of another note-taking tool for the Mac like Evernote or OneNote, adjusting to Notability may be more trouble than it's worth. But if you haven't had any luck finding a note app that you've been happy with, I strongly recommend giving Notability a try.

Peter Cohen