Google Keep (free) is a new Google Web program for making, saving, and syncing notes. Its primary value comes from the fact that it’s part of the Google ecosystem, an ever-changing world of services for creating documents, managing photos, communicating by email, voice, and video, and so on and so forth. Sign into your Google account, and hopefully, you’ll never need to leave. That’s the message, loud and clear. In this sense, Google Keep is most similar to Microsoft OneNote, which is tightly integrated into SkyDrive, Microsoft’s online version of Office, which somewhat mirrors Google Drive, which somewhat mirrors the traditional version of Office offline… is the snake eating its own tail here?
Google Keep at present looks like a fawn taking its first steps. It’s a fully formed babe, but doesn’t have its metaphorical legs yet. It has basic note-taking functionality and good search (duh, it’s Google), but limitations abound. Compare it with more mature services, particularly Evernote (free to $45 per year, 4.5 stars), and Google Keep gets dusted. For example, Evernote is available virtually everywhere: as a Web app, in the form of a downloadable program for Windows and Mac, as a mobile app for practically every mobile OS on the market. Google Keep, meanwhile, lives inside Google Drive and on Android devices only. No iPhone or iPad apps. No offline desktop programs. You needn’t bother to ask if it’s available for BlackBerry and Windows Phone users. Evernote adds tags and notebooks for a rich experience in organization and sorting. Google Keep has neither.
It does give you the ability to add photos to a note (so do OneNote and Evernote), and in Android (but not in the Web app) you can add a note by voice. You can dictate a note by saying, “Note to self,” and have that little reminder saved straight into Keep, where it syncs with all your other Google stuff and becomes accessible online, or available for other apps and widgets on your phone to utilize if you want to, say, have that note appear on your locked screen.
The Web app invokes Google’s Spartan design philosophy. Whitespace (or rather very light gray space) creates airiness and a feeling of simplicity. Rectangular notes, centered into either a list view or grid view, are sure to look well organized. Your only instructions appear at the top of the app, “Type note,” which is simply how you start a new note.
Toggling between grid view and list view changes not only the layout of the note previews, but also whether those previews display your checkboxes in to-do notes. For example, in grid view, the check boxes disappear, while in list view you can fully see them.
How to Get Google Keep
Google users can sign into their accounts, swing into the Drive tab, and… it seems from there you have to type “/keep” at the end of the URL. There isn’t a button or tab to take you there. No set up is required beyond finding the section. You can start banging out your notes right away.
In the Web app, you can type notes and upload photos as notes, although there aren’t any tools for rotating a photo once it’s in Keep, which I found annoying when I uploaded a sideways shot of a whiteboard with meeting notes (see the slideshow). Notes can be free form text or to-do lists with check boxes.
Search, Archiving, and Other Features
As is the case in most of Google’s services, “archiving” an old note is the alternative to deleting it. The Google mindset says keep everything because you never know when you’ll need it. An ever-present search bar at the top further rings true to the Google way.
Search works well enough. Type a word or two, and any notes with that word appear below. If the search term appears as text in the note, it’s highlighted, although when the word is part of the note title, it’s not. The main page search bar doesn’t look at archived notes. You have to go to the archive notes section (via an Archived Notes link at the bottom of the page) to search them.
Without any tags, folders, or notebooks to organize your notes, it’s difficult to imagine how you’ll find anything in Keep after a few weeks of heavy use. Evernote is the king of organization among note-taking apps, with enough options included to accommodate different kinds of users and how they look for information.
Color-coding is Keep’s only such attempt at classification, but it too isn’t mature. When you choose to add color to a note, that color doesn’t appear on the note while it’s being edited. You can only see the color added after you save the note.
One bug I found in testing the new Keep: In a to-do note, you’ll sometimes see two blank entries where you can write a new to-do, and writing in the wrong one causes new empty slots to appear, cluttering up your note (see the slideshow).
It’s seem ludicrous that Google Keep doesn’t have any sharing options baked into the Web version, especially because of all the sharing and collaborating you can do in Google Drive. The Android app (reviewed separately) can share notes, but doesn’t allow for collaboration. In fact, why isn’t “note” just a type of document you can make in Google Drive? That way, it would have all the other features it’s currently missing: tags, notebooks/folders for organiztion, more stability, sharing features, rich collaboration options, etc., etc., etc.
As a longtime Evernote user for all my note-taking needs, I’ll stick with that more mature app for now and give Google Keep a pass. Both Evernote and Google services tend to play nice with other apps, meaning you can sync information not only to all your devices, but also to other apps (for example, I sync my Evernote account with another task-management app called AwesomeNote—which also supports syncing with Google Drive). But until Google Keep adds a wider range of supported platforms and boatloads more organizational features, it’s not going to add anything to my Google Drive experience.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc