Monday, July 30, 2012

GoodNotes, a Great Note-Taking App to Use as a Whiteboard

For several months now, I have been trying a number of apps to use as a whiteboard.

My requirements are:

  •  Ability to annotate PDFs
  • Zoom box for fine writing
  • Smooth ink
  • Easy in and out zooming
  • Ability to hide controls while projecting
Like many others, I have tried many note-taking, whiteboard and PDF annotation apps, and while they all have something I like, there hadn't been one that made me feel like I'd found "the one". Until recently.

For the past couple of months I have been using GoodNotes ( and I have been very impressed.

My projection set-up is an Epson projector plus an Apple TV for wireless projection of my whiteboard. I use an iPad 3 (somehow "the new iPad" doesn't feel like the right name!).

With GoodNotes, I can easily import PDFs to annotate during class, so my Powerpoint presentations have been converted to PDF for this purpose, and I have scanned some textbook chapters as well. Since my Dropbox account is linked to GoodNotes, transferring files from my computer is a breeze.

GoodNotes has a nice bookshelf look, where all my "notebooks" appear neatly arranged.

The app's controls are easy to use and highly intuitive.

The zoom box for fine writing is what first caught my eye in GoodNotes. With recent updates there are two options to open up the zoom box, you can either do a long tap and then select the icon, or simply select the icon on the toolbar.
As for smooth ink, it hadn't been GoodNotes' strong suit, the ink was just average. But the developer has been hard at work and much-improved inking is coming soon! I'm excited to say I got to try it in beta today and it is simpy amazing. You can choose between a fountain pen or a rollerball pen to suit your preference.
Now, the features that make this app a winner in my book are its zooming capabilities and PDF rendering. Even with large PDFs and the iPad 3's demanding retina display, you can zoom in to see a lot of detail in your PDF or make really small notes, and the app performs perfectly. This is a great plus when using the app as a whiteboard in class. There's no noticeable lag or blocky re-drawing of the PDF as I have seen with other apps (I used to like Remarks, but after the last update PDF performance was significantly affected and it hasn't been fixed; I wish Notability also performed better in this regard, but PDF rendering is very poor in my opinion).
This shows a zoomed-in version of the same table shown above.

For the last point in my list of requirements, easy to use with a projector, with controls being hidden on the projected image while still present on the iPad screen, GoodNotes also gets high marks. My students don't have to see when I'm picking a new color or line width, all they see on the screen is the final uncluttered image while I retain full control on my iPad.

GoodNotes also allows you to type, import pictures, highlight, select and move annotations.

And lastly, something that really makes a big difference for me: this app has an outstanding developer. He's very responsive to user requests, keeps the users in the loop through his blog and tweets ( and is constantly working on developing his app.

So, when I'm back in my Teacher Training classroom in a few weeks, GoodNotes will be there with me, without a doubt!

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