First things first: Google Keep (free) is not Evernote; it doesn’t have the features, the organization, or the flexibility to touch that 800 pound note-taking gorilla. The addition of reminders and Google Now functionality could have been the chance to bring the isolated Google Keep into the fold, but the service still falls short. While the Keep Android app does what it’s supposed to do, and does so stylishly, it has yet to prove its worth in an already crowded space.
Using Google Keep
Keep’s spare main page has a search bar across the top, a prompt to write a note underneath, and several icons indicating the kind of notes you can make: text, lists, voice notes, and photos. These aren’t hard and fast categories; you can turn a text note into a list and add pictures to anything.
Google recently added two more features to Keep: reminders based on location or time that can be added to any type of note. In my testing, a location based reminder on my Samsung Galaxy S III tripped when I was about 250 feet away from my destination (Eisenberg’s Sandwiches on 5th Ave). The resulting notification also gave me the option to be reminded the next time I came by Eisenberg’s, or switch to a timed reminders—which I really appreciated. If your location-based grocery reminder goes off on the way to a dinner out, you can quickly change the reminder to go off when you pass the store on the way home.
Reminders based on time can be set to specific times using large, touch-friendly calendars and clocks, but I was impressed with Keep’s less precise option. You can quickly assign a note to today, tomorrow, or next week, at one of four different times using a menu of phrases like “tomorrow” “afternoon.” It’s a neat way to quickly get yourself organized, without scheduling down to the minute.
You can also create notes in Google Now with the phrases “note to self” and “take a note.” The transcription in Google Now was dead on, but the resulting notes were weirdly truncated. “Buy cabbage tomorrow at 9AM” became “self buy cabbage.” The note includes a recording of my command, but the titles Google creates are bewildering. Unfortunately, Google Now can’t add reminders to your Keep notes.
Like all Google apps, Keep lets you quickly and easily jump between users.
Light on Organization
Google Keep makes good use of gestures letting you “archive” a note with a swipe, moving it out of sight but keeping it searchable. The clean app also pops with animations as you move notes around.
There are no tags or notebooks to file notes in Keep, which is a bit odd considering that Google’s now defunct Notebook application once boasted these features. You can, however, color-code your note using a limited palette. Unsurprisingly for Google, search is the best way to find your notes, though the app lacks optical character recognition like Evernote, meaning you won’t be able to search text within images. Oddly, there is no icon in the app for Google’s voice search.
Widgets are rarely implemented well, but Google Keep does a good job. The app comes with three, one of which lets you scroll through all your notes, as well as create new ones from the lockscreen. Notably, you no longer need to unlock your device to create a new note. This is a great feature, letting you quickly and easily create notes.
Though Google is on the right track with the widgets, it would do well to expand their capabilities. It would have been useful, for example, to look at my grocery list and check off the items without opening the app.
No App is an Island—Except Google Keep
The other elements of Google Drive—word processing, spreadsheets, etc.—used to be separate products but were seamlessly rolled up with file storage into one neat service. Keep, on the other hand is an appendage. Your Keep notes and images exist only in Keep, though it is somehow connected to Google Drive.
Although you can share your notes from Keep for Android, the recipient cannot collaborate with you on that note. If I share a note via email or Dropbox, the recipient just sees the note’s contents. This is especially disappointing because the promo for Google Keep shows a musician building the elements of a rock show with the app. Actually pulling this off is difficult because items in Keep only become collaborative once you move them out of Keep.
Is It a Keeper?
Evernote’s strength is that it provided lots of options to be used however you like, but Google seems to be going in the opposite direction. Instead of providing tons of flexible features for power users, Keep feels like it’s more about offering baseline functionality to all Android users. But its simplicity, while aesthetically pleasing, limits what you can do. Really, Google Keep is to Google Drive what Microsoft OneNote is to SkyDrive.
If you just need a fast, simple way to make lists and add little tidbits to your digital hoard, then Keep can work for you, but that’s about it. That said, Keep has a lot of unused potential. If Google brings it into the fold, tying it closer to all the other Google products, we could have a real winner on our hands.