Best iPad Digital Planning App for Beginners: A Comprehensive Guide

Best iPad Digital Planning App for Beginners: A Comprehensive Guide

You just started your digital planning journey, great! However, what digital planning application for the iPad is the best option?

There are countless different planning and productivity applications being marketed towards you, a new and clueless digital planner enthusiast. 

I remember when I first started and naively tried to use my digital planner with a random productivity application. Not only was it not compatible with my PDF planner, but I lost money and hours being confused and frustrated.

Luckily, I will be reviewing three application that was made for digital planning and journaling.

Just to clarify, this blog post is not about finding the best note-taking app, but instead, finding the best application for your digital PDF Planner or journal. 

These are the three most preferred applications for digital planning and the ones you see on the Etsy listings. I will be reviewing Xodo, Notability, and GoodNotes, which are all compatible with your PDF digital planner. 

I will study each application, compare and contrast, and recommend my top pick for digital planning and journaling. Read this until the end where I reveal my top pick! 

Disclaimer: This post is not sponsored. All opinions I express are my own.

 

Criteria

I will be judging the applications based on five criteria:

 

  1. Writing/Text 

A big part of digital planning is using the Apple pencil and writing as you would with a paper planner. I will be looking into the writing and typing features — is it easy to use and are there an ample amount of options?

  1. Adding images/stickers

Using digital stickers is one of my favorite aspects of digital planning. Being able to customize your planner to make it unique is something I find extremely special. Will the application allow me to use stickers? And not only that, will it be easy and convenient to add, move around, resize, etc.?

  1. Flexibility: Moving pages and items around

Something I value in a digital planner app is flexibility. Can I move text, stickers, and pages around easily? I am prone to making a lot of mistakes and can never make up my mind. I am sure there are other people who feel the same and would want to find a forgiving application.

  1. Hyperlinks

Can I use hyperlinks in the app? Hyperlinks are extremely important and make digital planning easier and more convenient. 

  1. Interface

Is the application easy to use and can I find everything I need? Is the workspace tidy and friendly? 

Those are the five criteria. Now that’s explained, let’s start to review the different applications.

 

Xodo

Rating: 4/5 stars on App Store

Cost: Free

Devices Supported: iPhone, iPad, and Android Devices

**To preface, I am reviewing Xodo on an Apple iPad. I heard the Android application was a lot more but I am sharing my experiences as an Apple user.

  1. Writing/Text

You can annotate and write on PDFs. However, there is no pressure sensitivity in your writing. There aren’t many pen styles you can choose from.

One big thing that I found frustrating was that you couldn’t pinch-zoom when you’re in the writing mode. 

For me, I need to be able to zoom when I write. If I can’t, writing neatly is difficult and I have to strain my eyes.

You also cannot use custom fonts in Xodo like you can in GoodNotes and Notability.

 

  1. Adding Images

You can add images, but doing so is confusing; there is no designated image icon. In order to add images, you have to tap down on a spot, select images, and choose from there. 

I was looking through their website for tutorials, but there isn’t a lot of support and easily accessible tutorials for the Apple application.

 

  1. Flexibility

You can reorganize, delete, reorder, duplicate, and rotate pages in Xodo. You can also move elements around, but not as easily as GoodNotes or Notability.

Overall, I found the application to be mostly inflexible and clunky. There were a lot of unnecessary steps in the workflow. 

For example, if I wrote something, I couldn’t proceed to do anything else unless I saved it. This adds more unneeded steps and takes up more time.

 

  1. Hyperlinks

  • Xodo supports hyperlinks. If your planner came with linked elements, you can use it in this application.

 

  1. Interface

One nice thing about Xodo is the organization system. You can add tags, move files, and create different folders.

However, moving on to the working interface, unlike Notability and GoodNotes, it took me a while to learn how to use Xodo. To be honest, I still am confused about what some of the tools do.

Compared to GoodNotes and Notability, the toolbar felt cluttered. As a first time user, I couldn’t figure out what each tool did, whereas, in GoodNotes and Notability, things were crystal clear.

Importantly, the undo button was nested in other tools buttons, making it hard to find and access. This was one of the deal-breakers for me since I religiously use the undo button.

ProsCons
  • Free
  • Compatible with both Apple and Android Devices
  • Comparable to Adobe Acrobat, a leading PDF markup application
  • Cluttered and confusing interface 
  • Inflexible and hard to move elements
  • Hard to find and access the undo button
  • Fewer pen options
  • Unneeded extra steps in the planning process
  • Not a lot of up-to-date support for iOS


Final thoughts

Xodo is a free app and has a lot to offer as a PDF annotating application. However, it is not something I would use for digital planning or journaling on my Apple iPad. I was frustrated by the cluttered toolbar and clunky workflow and digital planning did not feel as intuitive as I would like.

 

Notability

Official Rating: 4.8/5 stars on App Store

Cost: $8.99 

Devices Supported: iPad, iPhone, and Macbook

 

  1. Writing/Text

There are 2 different pens you could use: one with pressure-sensitivity and one without it. There are different pen sizes and colors you can choose from, but some people find it’s not enough for ideal customization.

You can highlight in Notability with the highlighter feature. It was updated in this version so the highlighter now goes underneath the text, just like in GoodNotes.

However, you can’t save different color and size presets for convenience like you can in GoodNotes. 

In Notability, you can type anywhere on your journal/planner. There are different styling options — you can choose different fonts, text size, styles, alignment, etc. You can use your own custom fonts, like in GoodNotes. 

 

  1. Adding Images

You can add images and GIF files, which is a unique feature out of the three applications. Furthermore, you can crop, resize, and rotate the images.

Adding images and resizing them and moving them is easy, which I appreciate after testing and using Xodo. 

 

  1. Flexibility

The application allows you to reorganize, add, delete pages. You can also undo any mistake you make, and move elements.

With the Scissor tools in GoodNotes, you can move elements by drawing around whatever you want to move.

All in all, I would say that Notability is flexible is forgiving to mistakes.

 

  1. Hyperlinks

Notability supports the hyperlinks in your planner. You can also hyperlink objects you add in Notability. 

 

  1. Interface

I appreciate the simplicity of Notability’s user interface. The undo button is clear and accessible and I quickly became familiar with the different icons and tools. 

In Notability, your files are organized like a binder — there are dividers/sections that files go into. It’s functional, but not my favorite organization system for digital planning. I feel like this organization system is more suited for note-takers. As a former paper planner, I still like to see my notebook covers laid out.

ProsCons
  • Can view as a single page (horizontal scroll-like GoodNotes) or seamless vertical scrolling. 
  • Great user interface
  • Fewer paper options
  • More expensive
  • Binder organization system

Final thoughts

Notability is a good app with nice features and support. I see myself using this application for studying, taking notes, and annotating slides, notes, and readings. However, although it is highly capable, it isn’t my first choice for digital planning. 

 

GoodNotes

Rating: 4.8/5 stars on App Store

Cost: $6.99

Devices Supported: iPad, iPhone, MacBook

 

  1. Writing/Text

GoodNotes gives you a nice variety of options for writing, highlighting, and typing.

There are three writing tools: a brush pen, a ballpoint pen, and a fountain pen. The brush pen and fountain pen are pressure-sensitive and the ballpoint pen isn’t. You can choose any color to write with and save presets for the colors you use the most.

GoodNotes’s highlighter tool works seamlessly and effortlessly. The highlighter goes behind the text and you can choose any color. There are also 3 highlighter sizes: small, medium, and large. You can also save highlighter color presets for quick use. 

Regarding text, you can type wherever you want on the page. Like the other applications, you can change the font, size, color, alignment, style, and more.

 

  1. Adding Images

You can add images, crop them, resize them, and more. GoodNotes has a designated image button that makes it easy and quick to add photos. You can also take a photo with your iPad camera and insert it in your planner. 

 

  1. Flexibility

I personally find GoodNotes to be very flexible. You can reorganize, move, add, and delete pages anywhere. 

You can also easily undo or redo actions and move, resize, and rotate elements. The marquee tool easily allows you to move text, writing, images, shapes, and other elements you added in GoodNotes. 

 

  1. Hyperlinks

GoodNotes supports hyperlinks. If the planner you bought or downloaded includes hyperlinks, you can use them in GoodNotes. However, unlike Notability, you can’t add hyperlinks in your PDF in the GoodNotes application itself.

 

  1. Interface

Goodnotes’ intuitive and friendly interface has been complimented by many. When I first used it, I wasn’t overwhelmed or frustrated like I was with many other applications. I found this app to be friendly for beginner digital planners, but competent for more advanced users.

I didn’t have to figure out what each of the icons stood for. When I tapped on it, it’ll tell me upfront.

Although the meaning of each icon might come easy to experienced users, it’s actually quite hard to grasp as a complete beginner. I commend GoodNotes for including the labels so I wasn’t confused like I was when I used Xodo.

Another thing I appreciate about GoodNotes is the efficient organization method. Your files on GoodNotes is organized using folders, similar to web browsers. You can see your different digital planners and notebooks laid out, just like you would with your paper planners/journals.

ProsCons
  • Convenient color presets (3 options) for efficient journaling
  • Vertical or horizontal scroll options
  • Different paper choices: full range of templates for music, different sizes, Cornell notes that you can import into your document. 
  • Intuitive organization system – folders and subfolders where you can store images, PDFs, documents, notes, and more. 
  • Uses a little more file space
  • Can’t add hyperlinks in the application
  • No GIF support

 

Verdict

After researching and testing these apps, I strongly believe that GoodNotes is the best application for digital planning and journaling purposes. 

Why?

  1. Most pre-made/custom-made digital planners are designed with GoodNotes in mind. The products are often tested in GoodNotes and optimized for it.
  2. GoodNotes is easy to learn. It is the perfect app for beginners and planners of all levels.
  3. There are hundreds of GoodNotes sticker books and other Digital planning accessories being sold on Etsy and other shops.
  4. The organizational system is top-notch. GoodNotes uses a language we’re familiar with, which is our laptop browsers and folders, and you can search for notebooks quickly.

Best of all, if you’re stuck and don’t know how to do something, there are hundreds of tutorials and videos online. If you’re looking to get started, you can refer to my blog post on the key features to know for digital planning blog.

There is also an active GoodNotes subreddit you can refer to. On the subreddit, you can ask questions and find answers to other people’s questions. 

GoodNotes embraces and adapts for your need for flexibility, change, and customization

It is also a great multi-purpose application for note-taking, annotating PDFs, and more, but that’s beside the point of this blog post.

GoodNotes is the application I use and swear by for digital planning and journaling and I do not regret my choice.

Are you ready to start digital planning? Let me know in the comments if you have any questions!

 

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