Productivity tools have risen from humble beginnings to being a crucial aspect of many businesses administrative infrastructure. It is an ever growing and competitive marketplace that is evolving quickly as software companies try to grab a share of this lucrative market.
In this article we set out to compare two of the most popular apps, Notion and Airtable. They are both tools that are designed to help teams collaborate and organize and both have taken different approaches to how they have tackled this.
What is Notion?
Notion is an organizational tool that has the aim of being a flexible platform that doesn’t just manage a team’s workflow but is essentially a complete toolkit for just about any purpose. Using a ‘Block’ architecture users can build any element they like from a webpage, to a wiki, to a complete team management system.
In essence it is a multi-tool for your business.
What is Airtable?
Airtable is an organizational tool that combines the complexity of a database with the simplicity of a spreadsheet. It has the aim of simplifying workflow by allowing teams to collaborate with custom ‘bases’ that can be tailored exactly to their purpose. Within Airbase you can build your own app or use custom apps that are available to download, by this means airbase also becomes an incredibly flexible tool.
These are two highly flexible apps, the approach they have taken to achieve this flexibility differs greatly. Both methods have pros and cons to consider, in this section we will look at some of the pros that Notion has to offer.
The underlying unit of organization within Notion is the block, a block can be anything from a task list to a gallery and can be manipulated and organized whichever way the user chooses.
Using these blocks users can build complete systems that can be anything from a company wiki to a webpage.
Because of its flexible method of building, Notion can be used for just about any administrative, team workflow and collaboration purpose. From budgeting to to-do lists to word processing and fully featured Note taking app, there isn’t much that Notion can’t do.
Although it is limited to one user, the free version of Notion is still a useful tool for personal use and for people like freelancers. It is limited in certain features like file upload limits but is still a powerful suite. You can also share with 5 other users.
There is also a paid version of Notion Personal, which unlocks a few more features, which is reasonably priced at $4 per month.
Lots of Templates
It can be quite daunting when starting out with Notion, its flexibility does mean that there is some setting up to do. However, there is a huge range of templates to help you get started. Many are available form within the app and there are many more available online, some are designed by the Notion team and others have been designed by members of the Notion community.
As an example of how this can help you get started, let’s say you want to set up a system to monitor Product management. Simply by clicking the template icon you can select Product Management and be presented with templates for such items as a Product Roadmap, Product Wiki and Meeting Notes amongst others.
And of course, if you don’t find one for your purposes just click the more templates link and you are taken to the online resource where there are thousands more to choose from.
Other Pros of Notion
- Mobile App – An app is available for Android and Apple devices.
- Multiple Views – Select how to view your data, database, calendar and Kanban are amongst the options.
- Great Note System – Fully formattable note system allows you to create highly functional notes.
Airtable is also a highly flexible system but uses a different development ethos to achieve this. In this section we are going to look at some of the pros of Airtable.
Easy to Use.
Just about everyone has used a spreadsheet, and Airtable is, at its heart, a spreadsheet. Not only that it is a spreadsheet that sets out to have the power of a database, yet still remain easier to use than a typical spreadsheet application.
It relies on a simple and visual interface for users to interact with the app, this allows all the useful features to be no more than a click away. The end result is that there is virtually no learning curve for users.
Another great feature is the option to view your data in multiple ways depending on your requirements and goals. Views are changed with a simple click and particular views can be shared with clients and/or team members.
Add apps for Flexibility.
Whereas Notion has blocks that can be used to design systems, Airtable has a range of apps that can be used to add functionality to Airtable. There are over fifty to choose from and can be used for anything from simple data manipulation to designing pages.
You can also build your own apps for custom purposes.
Great for Integrations.
Airtable has a powerful and robust API for building integrations with your existing software stack, it also integrates with hundreds of apps including: –
- And many more.
Other Pros of Airtable
- Free Version – Airtable has a great free version that is remarkably well featured.
- Mobile Version – Check your progress on the move with apps for Android and iOS.
- Templates – Like Notion Airtable has a huge library of templates to get you started.
Both these apps offer a lot in the way of features and functions. Notion’s ‘Swiss Army knife’ approach is particularly flexible, but it does come with some downsides. Here are some of the cons of Notion.
Tricky to Set Up
In order to be as flexible as possible, Notion has produced a product that in the right hands can be an incredibly powerful tool. However, one downside of this is that it isn’t a plug-and-play solution.
To fully utilize the potential of Notion does involve a bit of tinkering to get started and this process isn’t always as intuitive as it could be. There is also the potential for it to become messy if users aren’t kept in the loop about how the system functions.
Limited Free Version
While this is also listed as a pro, it is only really a pro for personal and extremely limited business purposes. For any serious workflow organization and team management purposes then the personal version lacks most of the required features.
The pro version is the only option, which costs $8 per user, per month.
This can be unreliable at times, for it to work successfully, Notion must be up and running on the intended recipient’s computer or the notification doesn’t appear. Email alerts are also sent, but one of the purposes of the app is to reduce dependency on third party apps like email.
The mobile app does have most of the features of the desktop version. However, it can b clunky and slow to respond and often will need prompting to perform a sync. Some users have also reported that it is too easy to accidentally delete pages from the system from within the app.
Searching on Custom Tags
One great feature that Notion has is the ability to assign custom tags to blocks or pages. However, this is rather let down by the lack of a feature to allow you to filter your data using these tags.
Airtable is definitely a simpler system to use than Notion, however this simplicity has created its own set of cons. In this section we look at some of the cons of Airtable.
Can Quickly Become Expensive
There is a free version of Airtable available, but when you outgrow this the application can quickly become expensive. With a pricing structure that starts at $10 per user per month, it is more expensive than Notion. For more features the cost rises to $20 per user per month.
For larger teams this price structure can quickly make the platform very expensive to use.
No Inter Base Linking
Within Airtable you can set up separate bases for different functions or projects. However, there is no ability to link these bases together.
Limited Formula Functions
For those used to spreadsheet apps like excel, the limited formula functions within Airtable will come as a disappointment. For any serious formula manipulation of data, the only way to achieve it is to extract the data through the API and process it in other software.
The mobile app is okay for looking at your bases, but not much more. And even then, it can be slow to load. Increased functionality and a faster load time would greatly improve it.
There is a large knowledge base online, but if you can’t find a solution there then customer support is not very responsive. Even the entry level paid package that costs $10 per month for each user does not have priority support. To unlock this feature requires the Pro package at $20 per month.
While you can set the app up so that users can access only the blocks they are permitted to see, the process of setting this up is far from intuitive and can become messy and complicated very quickly.
Advantages that Notion has over Airtable
Now that we have had a look at some of the pros and cons of both apps, let’s have a look at some of the areas where one app offers distinct advantages.
The number of things you can achieve within the Notion platform far outweighs what Airtable can offer. Whilst you can add some of the functionality of Notion to Airtable, this usually requires adding an app to achieve this.
Even for the most fully featured package the most you will pay for Notion is $8 per user per month. This compares to Airtable $10 and $20 per user month packages.
Better Mobile App
The Notion app isn’t a thing of great beauty, yet it still knocks the socks of the Airtable offering. With the Notion app you can still perform most of the features that you can from the desktop version. This isn’t the case with the Airtable offering.
For those users wanting to build bespoke systems that are exactly tailored to fit their needs, then the Notion app is head and shoulders above what Airtable can offer. With the ability to be everything from a word processor to web page design it is by far the better all-in-one solution.
Better Customer Support
Airtable doesn’t offer priority support until you subscribe to their top package. Notion has a better all-round support system that responds to most queries timeously.
Advantages that Airtable has over Notion
Airtable might fall short in some areas, but there are certain aspects where it is the better option.
Easier to Set Up
If you are just looking for an app that functions from the outset without too much tinkering, then Airtable is the better option. Okay, it is possible to build complex systems with Airtable, but if you are looking for a simple system that has an intuitive setup that is easy and quick, then Airtable does this better than Notion.
While it is limited in scope, it does offer more collaboration and organizational features than Airtable does with its free version. With the Airtable free version you can organize a team workflow and management whereas with Notion you are restricted to using it as a personal organizer.
If you are looking for software that offers many integrations, then Airtable outperforms Notion in this aspect. It can integrate with hundreds of apps and this has seen users utilize it as things like a Social Media content manager through integrations with apps like Facebook and Instagram.
Who Should Use Notion?
Project managers, Human resource professionals, freelancers, really the list is endless. Notion can be used by anyone that has an event or team to manage, wants to organize their personal life or runs an online business.
If you are organizing or managing larger teams then Notion is a more economic choice than Airtable.
Because Notion is so flexible it can be used for just about any business or personal purpose from a simple calendar and Note Taking app to an entire administration ecosystem with staff and customer wikis, task and to-do lists, CRM systems and more.
Who Should Use Airtable?
Airtable can perform many of the functions that Notion can and as such there is a large crossover of their potential userbases. But with a free version that is still capable of performing many collaboration and organizational functions Airtable would be a great option for managing smaller teams.
It is also ideal for those who just want something that works straight out of the box without too much set up or fuss. It is ideal for those who are used to working with spreadsheets or databases as there is virtually no learning curve.
Which is Better for Project Management?
They are both fantastic apps for keeping tabs on projects, it is one of the fundamental design goals of both apps. However, Notion with its multi-tool approach would be better for those that need to organize more complex projects and don’t mind tinkering. For simple projects Airtable might be a more practical solution, but Notion will always offer more features.
Which is Better for Note Taking?
Hands down the winner is Notion, while Airtable has some admirable Note taking features, Notion has as many features with its Note Taking as most of the dedicated Note Taking platforms.
If Note taking is one of the features you are looking for then Notion is the better option.
Which is Better for Collaboration?
This isn’t an easy choice; both offer a plethora of features designed to enhance collaboration and both apps have done a really good job with this aspect. If I had to choose a winner then I would pick Airtable, simply because of some of the notification issues that Notion users have complained about.
Pricing: Notion vs Airtable
- FREE Plan (aka “Personal”)
- Personal Pro 4$
- Team 8$
- Enterprise 20$
- FREE plan (Basic)
- Plus 10$
- Pro 20$
- Enterprise (custom)
Conclusion: Our Final Verdict is…
Overall, I would say Notion is the better app, it really is a complete toolkit that in most areas works as well as dedicated software apps do. However, that is not to distract from Airtable, for sheer simplicity of use it as a hard app to beat and an ever-growing user base is testament to its effectiveness.
These are both relatively young software apps and as such they are bound to improve over the coming months and years and indeed many of the cons listed in this article are already earmarked for improvement.
This software niche is one of the fastest growing areas of development and with products like these two, the future is bright.