Review of MarginNote 3 on iPad and Mac

Summary: Overpriced for an app that fails in many ways.

I came across MN through a discussion about working Paperless - it was quite well recommended as an iPad app and I have to agree to some extent that the iPad app really does work well and it’s rather nice to use. However… Considering it’s price tag (especially the Mac version’s hefty price tag) it does not measure up compared to other apps in the same price range or for much much less.

Many people use things like Goodnotes and Noteshelf as iOS apps for annotating PDFs. These apps are a few dollars or pounds (or whatever currency, they are cheap) and can import PDFs from iCloud, OneDrive, etc, sync with Mac versions (which are also very cheap) as well as export to several formats.

Moving away from the cheap apps, I compare MN3 to something of very similar price and that is ‘PDF Expert’ by Readdle. The huge difference between the very able iOS version of PDF Expert os that the user does not need to have it’s Mac version installed on a Mac to view the annotations made in the iOS version because it saves the annotations to the original PDF rather than creating it’s own version of the file that has to be synchronised.

So the workflow in PDF Expert is: You save a PDF to OneDrive, DropBox, iCloud or wherever (PDF Expert can read from just about anywhere), open the PDF in PDF Expert, edit, annotate etc and then close the document. The document immediately saves the PDF back to the original source including the edits and annotations. The edited / annotated PDF can be opened anywhere the user wishes to open it.

MN3 still cannot even import from OneDrive for goodness sakes and many people have OneNote - especially people who have a Microsoft Office 365 subscription as it comes with a hefty chunk of cloud storage space.

MN3 can’t successfully do an upgrade from MN2 on the Mac (I tried that and it failed multiple times - not succeeding at all) despite being able to activate a 14 day trial and - I’m sure - it would allow me to buy it at the full price rather than the upgrade price!

MN3 sync is terrible and 24 hours after editing a PDF I am still yet to see that file appear in MN3 on my Mac - that in itself would have any user rushing for the refund option! We don’t buy any app to be told by support to “hand tight, an update is coming”.

I have closed the apps, reopened the apps, clicked anything I can that mentions ‘sync’ and still no sync!

An annotated PDF exported from MN3 is enormous. I did a test with a 17 page PDF and it was almost 16MB another 6 page PDF came out at 8.2MB whereas any decent PDF compression would get this below 2MB (which I confirmed myself by compressing the 8mb file to 1.8mb.
I dread to think how huge an annotated book would be when exported as a PDF!

Sorry but I will not be persisting with the app at all. I’ll keep it on my iPad now that I have purchased it but as for the ability to sync between the ‘reasonably priced’ iOS version and the ‘insanely and unjustifiably overpriced’ Mac version, it’s something I will no longer stress myself over or “wait we have an update coming”. It is one of the worst apps I have come across for some time.

I completely agree. I upgraded from 2 to 3 because they promised that the sync would be sorted out.

Lost many hours of note taking and trying to sync.

They need to do something about sync.

MarginNote does more than just annotate PDFs. Indeed, the starting point of MN has been stated to be that you can create and work with study notes. In this respect, the comparison with PDFExpert and the like is misplaced in what is left out. The better comparison is and will remain to be with LiquidText.

For me, the two biggest features of MN are its abilities to create self-contained, hand written annotations and to tag annotations. PDFExpert will do neither of these by comparison.

That said, I agree that MN is in serious need of being saved from its own badly done developments, with the iCloud sync problems being the main one. The extent to which the developer will address the other issues that you raise (incompatibility with other PDF formats and sync to other cloud services) will tell whether MN chooses to remain locked away in its own world view or not.



Hi @martinkoss ,

New Sync Tech. is on the way.

Thanks @DrJJWMac to point out our world view. The documents, no matter it’s PDF or Epub, are just a basic material for MarginNote. MN3 created a new expanding note space for the traditional book which you referred to as PDF. MarginNote nearly does nothing with PDF. Just use it to create notes in MarginNote Database, which we called excerpts. These excerpts do not save on PDF format. Everything you do like annotation, highlights, or something else is all in the database, which originally exports as marginpkg notebook files format.

If you want PDF export, it means to transform the notebook database into PDF. That’s why you got pretty big files and wait so long a time to do so. Our transforming engine is working within that waiting time.

I hope this could help you understand MN’s world view.


This is your strength and your weakness. The strength is that you can use your own internal format for annotations to do much more than other annotation apps. The weakness is that your annotations in your internal format cannot be shared with any other app.



I really appreciate that the annotations are in the MN-specific database and not directly in the PDFs. It allows me to mark up my documents extensively and then still be able to send completely “clean” copies to other people. For example, when I’m teaching a graduate seminar, I may read and mark-up an article, but still want to send an unmarked copy to my students to read.

Also, my marginalia will occasionally get a little salty! They’re just for me, after all.

Many thanks for your support. You do provide a different perspective to see the internal annotation in MarginNote. We are glad MarginNote can leave you “clean” PDFs to share with others. And now we know one man’s meat is another man’s poison^_^

Support Team