Google Keep: Where Google Promises to Keep Your Notes, Todos, and More

Well look at that! Just after announcing it would discontinue Reader, Google has decided to release a simple note-taking service, one with the name Keep. When I first heard about it, I thought the service was aiming to compete with Pocket and Instapaper to be an official Google project that allowed you to save anything for viewing later. Something like this would have been fantastic after seeing Reader leave, but that wasn’t Google’s aim for this basic notes service.

When I say basic, I mean it, but there might be more to this little Web and Android app than meets the eye, and the mere icon invites creativity. I investigate after the break.

“But How Many Notes Apps Do We Need?”

The Apple Notes icon.

The Apple Notes icon.

The first credible question any user should have for Google’s latest product release is “Why?” There’s good reason behind this, since the ecosystem is full of apps for notes. Evernote, Simplenote, Microsoft OneNote, and even Facebook Notes (I honestly don’t know if people use this one) have made their way into the lives of many. I personally use Simplenote for all my online note-taking, but this new solution from Google may be welcomed into my bookmarks. That said, another question must be asked: what’s different?

How Does it Stand Out?

Users aren’t going to jump to Keep because Google is the developer. (In fact, it could be the complete opposite. More on that later.) For example, when I heard about this new service, the first thing I thought to ask was “What’s different about it? I found nothing appealing about the idea of a note-taking app from Google because it didn’t seem necessary. After using it a bit, I’ve concluded that Keep isn’t actually any different from alternatives. It’s just built by Google.

And, if you’ve tried out tons of notes apps online over the years, you’re bound to notice that Keep looks at least a bit like Springpad.

Keep's grid layout.

Keep’s grid layout.

In fact, when I actually started putting Keep into practical application, I found it to be less useful than competing services. Simplenote, for instance, is my current solution for note-taking. I really like having Markdown support, quick pinning when needed, and tags for organization. It’s all I can ask for. Keep doesn’t offer that basic feature set, though. Instead, there are three basic features: the title and body, the option to add a photo, and color tagging.

Organizing notes by color is definitely the Google approach. Just visit the company’s homepage sometime. I found it cool, but not all that useful, especially in list view. When I changed things to the grid view, using colors to prioritize or organize things made sense. Still, it may just be for appearance and not practical use. I never found myself needing it for anything. In fact, folders or even just tags would be more helpful.

Lists: To Challenge Cheddar and The Like?

A list is nothing more than a list in Keep.

A list is nothing more than a list in Keep.

The last major feature of Google Keep is lists. It can be used for remembering things to get at the market or to organize tasks. As with the rest of Keep, things are very simple. This time, however, I really began to see how minimal the company is keeping things with the service. There’s no way to reorganize the list — you have to delete something and then type in a new one for that. In light of such a downfall, what’s the point of even using it, especially singe Google already has a basic Tasks app in Gmail? I couldn’t find one, so I continue to use Cheddar for my lists.

There are Some Serious Compatibility Issues

Uploading a photo to Keep takes longer than convenient.

Uploading a photo to Keep takes longer than convenient.

Since Simplenote doesn’t have photo uploading services for notes, I decided that was a good part of Keep to give a go. So I found a photo I had snapped a month ago and uploaded it. Right when I selected the file, Safari froze. It remained unresponsive for over 30 seconds, then the page indicated that the photo was now uploading.

On the note of compatibility, I really don’t know why Google didn’t make Keep’s URL /keep on its domain. Instead, you’ll have to head to drive.google.com/keep to find it. But I digress…

There shouldn’t be problems with a browser from Apple — Google does work to provide universal support for things on the Web. I was using the latest version of Safari, too. The only way around this problem was to use Chrome. But what if I don’t have it as my default browser? It’s as if Safari 6 is not modern. To Google, at least. That’s unacceptable.

It’s Fast and Effective, Yet Shallow and Buggy

The best thing about Keep is how fast it syncs everything. You can modify a note on one device and it’ll change within a second on another. I really enjoyed this swift — nay, instant — experience that Simplenote doesn’t have. Sadly, it’s the only good thing about Google’s little app. The rest of my experience was simple, which was good and bad at the same time. If this service is going to take on Evernote, it needs a lot more development. If it is hoping to be that basic Google product, there’s nothing more to add.

The main screen of Keep in list view.

The main screen of Keep in list view.

Keep is all about Google’s plan, rather than the app itself. I don’t see it taking off in its current state because there is much more to be found elsewhere. If you’re starting with online notes, it might be useful, but the whole concept that it’s based in Drive is confusing. To me it doesn’t make sense to put one service inside of another. It’s almost like Google wants to give it less focus, which might be a good thing if it ends up being terminated a few months down the road.

As for what Google has been up to lately, the company is in very much of a transition. Keep shows that it still cares about the random little projects, but the Reader news from last week is still on the minds of all Google users. People are now going to become more cautious about what they start using daily, because they can’t trust Google to sustain it for them to enjoy.

Keep could be be one of those micro projects that grows into something big and ends up disappearing altogether. I hope it excels in note-taking. Or it could end before getting started. There are too many dependencies at this juncture. I just hope Google stops being capricious. Creativity is wonderful when thought through. But when a company goes off on little paths that end up becoming roads and then decides to reroute the drivers, the new highway is built from recycled fragments: if it’s built to cave, it will fall short of expectations.


Summary

Google takes on the task of bringing great notes to your browser and Android device. It falls short of minimum expectations for a notes app, but does offer a slightly promising experience.

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  • I have to agree with you from what I’ve seen. Unfortunately, there are no note taking applications that apply themsevles to different contexts.

    SpringPad can get out of control and bloated fast.
    SimpleNote has Markdown, but is well, simple.
    Evernote.. I just don’t like it at all.

    If Google is more receptive with constructive criticism on Keep, it may work out in the long run. I would suggest other stick with an app that fits their needs for the long haul though.

    • Simplenote is definitely my favorite because of its straightforwardness. I agree with you on Evernote: it just doesn’t look easy to get started with.

  • Remember, Google may kill this too.

  • I am not trusting Google with a new service. No sir. Not at all.

  • I do not trust google anymore. They already killed several apps I was using, and acquiring companies, and killing another services.. Thank you for that google, I am quitting. And I’m not going to use anything from google (except search probably).

  • OneNote for PC destroys all note-taking apps. Google keep looks horrible.

  • Forget Google, why on earth would you invest time and energy in Keep and then depend on a *free* web app to be here five years from now.

  • They already had a note keeping service that they killed off once before – Google Notebook. It was good, did the job. I stored my bits and pieces in there just like I do with Reader now. Both have been killed.

    You can’t trust them any more. Anybody adopting this new service will be sorry.

    • Wasn’t Notebook a lot like OneNote? I feel like there was a connection there, but I’m not sure.

      Indeed. It’s very sad to see Google abandon ship on everything.

  • kinda funny, how a company as large as Google has a so-so notes App! I mean they should have it be Bad Ass right out of the box on iOS and Android.