Airtable and Notion are both very popular productivity tools. While both are powered by databases, they’re targeted to different use-cases.
In this post, we’ll explore the differences between Airtable and Notion and see the strengths and weaknesses of each app.
Airtable is like a spreadsheet on steroids and is great for managing everything that needs to be structured like timesheets, project schedules, invoices, CRMs, and the like. Notion is more of a completely blank canvas with powerful built-in database capability, which you can use to create anything from a journal to a project schedule to a life planner to everything combined.
To get an idea of what Airtable is, imagine that you had a spreadsheet, but instead of filling each row with text, numbers, or formulae, you could add anything you wanted.
A single row in an Airtable spreadsheet can contain text, numbers, dates, attachments, single selects, multiple selects, and more.
That’s why it’s better to think of Airtable as a database rather than a spreadsheet.
When you set up the database, you’ll input the amount of columns or properties that each element in the database has.
The first column is the primary element in the database, and the remaining columns are supplementary data you can put in.
For example, you could have a “Customers” database in which each row could contain contact information, the customer’s status(current/former/prospect), an attachment of receipts from their previous orders, and anything else that you could imagine.
You can also link records from one database to another.
So if you had a “Products” database, you could link “Customers” to “Products” to show which customers bought which products.
This is what really sets databases apart from spreadsheets. While spreadsheets can be thought of as two-dimensional, databases are three or even four dimensional!
Multiple views for single databases
In Airtable, a single database can be represented in multiple ways: as a table, as a list, as a Kanban board, as a calendar, as a Gantt chart, and more.
Visualizing your data through different lenses helps you get your work done quicker.
For example, a content creator could use a Kanban board to track the flow of their content from idea to published. The same data could also be visualized as a calendar to track when the content goes live.
How you can use Airtable
- Customer databases
- Content calendars
- Tracking remodeling/construction projects
- Planning a party
- Monitoring inventory
Notion is an all-in-one suite that serves as a note-taking, project management, and collaboration app. It also utilizes databases much like Airtable, but the main difference is Notion’s “Blocks” feature.
When you fire up Notion for the first time, you’re greeted with a blank page. It feels like Apple Notes or any other notetakign app like Evernote.
However, the blank page is much more than a traditional document.
Instead, each line is actually a block that can be text, a heading, a toggle, an image, an embedded video, a Tweet, or even an entire database.
On a single page, you can move the blocks around as much as you like, creating layouts to your preference.
In fact, Notion’s layouts are so amazing that many people opt to use Notion layouts as their main website.
A good example is Ali Abdaal’s Part Time Youtuber Academy. The sales page is entirely made with Notion.
You can utilize blocks to create dashboards for anything imaginable from business processes to life planning.
Every single page in Notion is an element within a database.
For example, the default page that you’re greeted with when you first open Notion is an element in your account’s primary database.
You can also add a page inside a page and create another custom layout or database.
There’s no limit to how far you can nest your databases, so Notion is incredibly flexible in that sense.
For example, if you wanted to use Notion as a life planner that includes your personal life and your business, you could create a dashboard that has two databases within it: one for your home and one for your business.
Your home database could then have sub-databases for expenses, recipes, ideas, vacations, and your family.
Your business database could have sub-databases for customers, content, products, and more.
The combination of note-taking AND databases is what makes Notion incredibly powerful.
How you can use Notion
- Life planner
- Personal Journal
- Company knowledge base
- Content calendar
- Recipe database
- All of the above, combined
Comparing Notion and Airtable’s features
Knowledge base/wiki: Notion Wins
Notion is amazing as a knowledge hub. You can easily document all of your company’s SOPs and knowledge base using Notion, organizing it all in databases.
The blank canvas you get in Notion is nearly as fully-featured as Microsoft Word or Google Docs, letting you format and organize text as you wish. There’s limited support for fonts, though.
For example, you could create an SOP that’s embedded with headings, text, images, videos, and even other databases!
Airtable has a “long text” option that lets you input multiple paragraphs, but Notion blows it out of the water in terms of document creation and customization.
I personally use Notion to create SOPs for my business(this website) and I frequently embed videos, images, and rich text.
Data Management: Airtable Wins
If your use-case is purely database management, Airtable is better than Notion. You can manage any kind of datasets like customer data, to-do lists, product data, and more very easily.
When you have to manage columns and rows, you can use Airtable.
Notion does have a database block, but it has less functionality than Airtable. Airtable is much faster, and perhaps the biggest difference is that Airtable lets you set the primary field as any kind of data(such as an image), whereas Notion only lets you use text.
It’s worth noting that Airtable is for power database users, and if you just need a database for basic tasks like content creation or tracking recipes and workouts, Notion does the job well enough.
Views: Airtable wins by a little
The default database view in Notion and Airtable is a simple table, but you can manipulate the data using views to visualize the information in a different manner and to even filter the database by certain criteria.
Both ideas can be understood by an example.
You can utilize multiple views as a YouTube content creator. A table can show all of your videos. A Kanban board can show your videos by which stage they are in the content production process. A calendar can show when your videos were published.
You can utilize creating views based on filters if you’re working in sales. If you have a master database of customers, you’ll probably have selected which customers came through which sales channel, or which customers bought which products. Filtering would let you sort the table by sales channel or products.
Both Notion and Airtable support many views:
Airtable has an additional view that Notion doesn’t:
The only reason Airtable is better than Notion in terms of views is because of the added Form view. Forms are super important if you rely on external sources for your data.
For example, you could survey your customers using an Airtable form and automatically populate the data in your existing database from their responses.
As of now, Notion only has 3rd party form integrations, and they are not too customizable.
One of the biggest gripes I had when I started working with Notion and Airtable was that I had no idea how to start building what I needed.
The flexibility and customization can be overwhelming, so having pre-built templates that you can then customize to your needs is a big plus.
What’s great about templates is that the additional logic required to make the template work is also added in, so you can just import a template and get to work.
Both Notion and Airtable have a lot of templates available across multiple categories.
Automations: Airtable wins
Automations let you trigger certain actions by default. Airtable has automations built in to their software. For example, you can automatically trigger tweets or Slack messages when data changes in your database.
Notion does not have this functionality built-in, and you’d need to use an external service like Zapier to get the results you need.
This adds a significant cost if you have more tasks than allowed by Zapier’s free plan.
Apps: Airtable wins
Airtable has a marketplace where you can get additional functionality. There are apps built by the company themselves as well as by 3rd party developers. You can use these apps to do things like create QR codes, pivot tables, and more.
The functionality of each app is usually quite simple, but they may end up providing a much-needed feature for your use case.
There’s no app store built into Notion as of this writing. There are 3rd party apps that connect using the API, but nothing beats having native functionality.
API: Airtable wins
An API or application programming interface is a way for third parties to communicate with other apps. For example, a social media management app would use Facebook and Twitter’s API to pull data from them and send data to them.
Airtable and Notion both have APIs, but Airtable’s is much more advanced and better-documented. Documentation is really important because APIs are essentially customized programming languages, so if there is poor documentation, potential developers will have a hard time understanding what to do.
Notion’s API was launched only recently and the API itself and documentation is good but still a work in progress.
Community: Notion wins
Apps that let you build things inside of them are only as good as their communities. Strong, dedicated communities really help open new users’ eyes to the product and help them make the best of it.
For example, I had not heard of Notion until I came across it on Ali Abdaal’s YouTube channel.
Airtable has a decent community, but Notion users are raving fans. When I first heard of Notion(I watched many other videos after Ali Abdaal, such as those by Tiago Forte and Thomas J Frank), I started feeling that I would miss out on something great if I didn’t start using it(and that turned out to be true!).
Airtable has discussion forums and communities where Airtable users can exchange thoughts and ideas.
Notion has an extensive base of ambassadors that extol the virtues of Notion and share use-cases and stories of how Notion has been life-changing for them and their business.
There are thousands of great tutorials on YouTube and hundreds, if not more templates available to buy and copy.
Price: Almost a tie
If you’re using Airtable or Notion for personal use, you can still get a lot done without needing to sign up for a paid plan. Both Airtable and Notion offer unlimited databases/pages on their free plans.
In terms of pricing, both apps work on a per-user basis. As your team grows, so will your cost. Airtable has a Pro plan for $20 per user per month, and Notion has an equivalent Team plan for $8 per user per month.
The only reason I’m calling this an almost-tie is because the free plans go a long way.
What Are the Advantages of Using Notion?
Notion lets you build really anything you can imagine. If you wanted to, you could just fire up Notion, start with a blank canvas, and just use it to take notes like you would in Apple Notes.
You can also create databases which can hold a lot of varied data types from images, videos, audio files, text, numbers, dates, and even other databases.
Many productivity YouTubers such as Tiago Forte and Ali Abdaal are huge proponents of Notion for organizing both their personal lives and their businesses.
The combination of note-taking and databases really sets Notion apart. Also, while task management is not natively built into Notion, you can use some workarounds to create functionality similar to Asana.
Thomas J Frank has a great tutorial on how to build a project management system in Notion:
Additionally, Notion’s function as a wiki or knowledge base is unmatched.
What Are the Advantages of Using Airtable?
Airtable’s databases are more robust and faster than Notion.
Many times, I start up Notion and it takes a good few seconds for the database to populate. This isn’t a deal-breaker for me, but if you’re in a large organization and multiple people are using it, that’s a lot of collectively lost time.
Airtable’s app marketplace and automation also make it much easier to integrate with external apps that you or your business may already be using.
Since Airtable is strictly a database application, there’s more nuanced control over the elements of the database than available in Notion.
For example, if you share a database with someone through Airtable, you can control exactly what data or columns the user can see. In Notion, you’d have to give access to the entire database.
Forms also make a huge difference when you want a lot of data from external sources.
Airtable’s forms let you collect data from anywhere and get automatically added to your database. If you wanted to do the same thing with Notion, you’d have to use a clunky 3rd party extension or give users access to the entire database and have them enter data manually.
Introduction to Databases
By now, you’ve heard a lot about databases. If you’re still wondering what databases are, here’s a quick primer.
Databases are multi-dimensional spreadsheets that can hold multiple types of data.
An Excel spreadsheet or Google Sheet is only two dimensional, since there’s just an X and Y axis. A database can be related to another database and pull data automatically, and you can multiply these relationships across multiple databases, leading to potentially infinite dimensions for every database you create.
Spreadsheets can pull data from another sheet, but the cell remains a formula – not the actual data point. So if you had a spreadsheet that pulled in data from another sheet, you would not be able to natively edit the data in the second sheet. Instead, you’d have to go back to the original sheet to change the data.
With a database, you can edit the data anywhere and it would be updated across everywhere the data is.
Also, databases allow for multiple data types such as images, videos, pages, and more instead of just text and numbers.
How to Select the Right Productivity Tool(Done)
We all want to be productive. We want to get things done and get them done quickly. The right productivity tool can help us achieve our goals. But with so many options on the market, how do you choose the right one? Here are a few things to look for:
Is It Reliable?
The first thing you want to consider is whether or not the tool is reliable. You don’t want something that’s going to crash every time you try to use it. You also don’t want something that’s going to lose your data. When you’re considering a productivity tool, make sure it’s one you can depend on.
Cross-Platform Compatibility Is a Must!
Another important consideration is cross-platform compatibility. These days, we use a variety of devices—laptops, smartphones, tablets—and we need a productivity tool that can go with us wherever we go. Make sure the tool you select is compatible with all of the devices you use.
Is It a Good Value for Money?
Of course, you also want to make sure you’re getting a good value for your money. Some productivity tools are free, while others come with a subscription fee. Consider what features are important to you and make sure the tool you select offers them at a price you’re willing to pay.
How Simple Is It to Use?
You also want to consider how simple it is to use the tool. After all, the whole point of using a productivity tool is to make your life easier, not harder. If a tool is too complicated or time-consuming to use, it’s not going to be very helpful. Look for a tool that’s easy to set up and use so you can get started being productive right away.
How You Can Make the Most Out of These Tools
Productivity tools can help you manage your time, your tasks, and your team so you can get ahead and achieve your goals. Here’s a look at some of the ways productivity tools can help you.
Improve Your Workflow
One of the biggest advantages of using productivity tools is that they can help you improve your workflow. When you have a system in place for managing your time and tasks, you’ll find that you’re able to get more done in less time. Plus, you’ll be less likely to forget important deadlines or drop the ball on important projects.
Manage Your Business and Personal Life
Another big advantage of productivity tools is that they can help you manage both your business and personal life. With the right tools, you can easily keep track of upcoming deadlines, important meetings, and even your grocery list. That way, you’ll never have to worry about forgetting something important again.
Communicate with Your Team Members
If you’re working on a team, communication is key to getting things done efficiently. Fortunately, there are plenty of productivity tools that can help with team communication.
For example, many tools allow for real-time messaging so team members can easily ask questions and get clarification on tasks. Others offer video conferencing capabilities so team members can stay connected even when they’re not in the same location.
Tools alone won’t make you productive—you still need to put in the work. But if you’re looking for ways to streamline your workflow and get ahead, productivity tools are a great place to start.
Airtable is good for creating and managing large databases. An ideal use case is a database of customers and a database of products. You can work on both databases and relate customers to products to keep both connected.
Airtable has a forms functionality that lets users submit external data which directly populates a database. This is not possible in Notion.
Notion has robust layouts and note-taking capabilities that make it ideal for creating knowledge bases, Wikis, and journals.
Notion vs Airtable: Conclusion
Notion and Airtable are both great tools for project management. Notion has the advantage of doubling as a Wiki or notetaking app as well, so you can use it as an all-in-one for your life and business.
However, if you need powerful and fast databases that can scale, Airtable is the way to go.