As traditional data storage mechanisms evolve, users are branching out in new directions for sorting, organizing and maintaining information. For instance, Dropbox has made great strides in corporate environments, allowing users to synchronize files between their computers and the cloud. The growing business acceptance of Dropbox is pretty amazing for what was once a consumer-oriented product reviled by security departments (with valid reason; unencrypted confidential data should never be kept in a Dropbox folder).
This “anywhere data” concept ties into the paperless office revolution whereby rows of filing cabinets full of paper have been replaced by electronic documents which are easily accessible, searchable, and portable. To that end, Google has recently launched a product called Keep which is designed to help you take notes, make lists, and store images to keep track of your work, hobbies, and priorities. Keep is available via your web browser at drive.google.com/keep (it requires a Google account), and there is also an Android app available in the Google Play store.
You might call Keep, a replacement for the now-defunct Google Notebook. In my view, Google has built Keep as a “starter app” with the clearly-hinted promise of more to come. Here are five noteworthy elements about Keep as it stands right now.
1. Keep has a simple list of advantages and limitations
Overall, Keep defines simplicity. This can be either a pro or a con depending on your needs.
- Both the web and Android versions are free
- Color coding of items to categorize them (blue for work, red for home, etc.)
- View items in a list or grid display to show data in a way that meets your preference
- Familiar interface for frequent users of Google services
- Search capability
- Finally offers the “Notes” option many Outlook users relied on
- Works well with no unexpected curveballs
- Can only import local images; web images must be saved locally then imported
- Can’t edit images
- Can’t print notes
- Can’t tag objects
- Can’t order or group items
- No administrative management (e.g. through Google Apps)
- No sharing of objects from the web interface (however, the Android app lets you post a note to email or social media).
- No collaboration capability
- No offline capability for the web version
It’s pretty apparent that as a fledgling product Keep is burdened with more limitations than advantages. Frankly, at this point it’s a bit similar to what you’d get if you just used a cloud-synchronized folder on your computer to store relevant text and image files.
However, I do see some things to do with Keep which can’t be done using ordinary text files. For instance, you can arrange notes for projects with achievement milestones listed to get a “bird’s eye” view of current and upcoming weeks. You could upload an image of a whiteboard outlining a network diagram to reference as you plan an upgrade via a separate note. You might also create a task list outlining the steps involved with a server rebuild, which is nice since you can check off each step when you’ve completed it.
2. No learning curve to start using Keep
Even if you’re not a frequent Google user you’ll likely have no problem acclimating to Keep. I would estimate just about anyone can become a wizard in ten minutes, in fact. As you can see below (Figure A), Keep presents a minimalist interface where your notes, images, and lists are stored.
Creating a new note is as easy as clicking the “Type note” field. (Figure B)
The toolbar in the bottom right offers the options to color-code the note, add an image, or add a list. For instance, the following color codes are available. (Figure C)
If I create a note, set it as red, then return to the main screen it will appear as shown in Figure D.
(Note: there is no way to set the view to display only certain colored notes, which weakens the usefulness of color coding.)
To upload an image, click the “Insert an image” icon to the right of the “Type note” field. (Figure E)
This brings up the following screen (Figure F).
You can then click “Choose an image to upload” to select the picture you want to import to Keep. If you want to add a note underneath the image you can do so. (Figure G)
Creating a list is done using the “New list” icon (Figure H) to the right of the “Type note” field at the main Keep screen.
This brings up a box where you can easily add new items to the list. Note the checkbox field to the left of the item. (Figure I)
Want to color code an existing item? Just open it up and select the color icon as shown below in Figure J.
3. There is a Keep Android app, but not for other mobile devices just yet
Right now the Keep mobile app is only for Android. This vastly limits the Keep experience at the moment to those users equipped with Android phones. I think the ad hoc note/list/image capturing concept really depends on a mobile device, since they make it so much easier to work with this kind of dynamic data.
That being said, the Android app has some strong benefits. It lets you create voice recordings which are translated into Keep notes for you. You can also capture pictures with your smartphone and upload them to your Keep account.
If you’re interested in the Android app, access it from the Google Store then follow these instructions (Figure K) to install and work with it.
Click Install. (Figure L)
Click “Accept & download”:
Click Keep Shopping. (Figure N)
Click “Open” once the app is installed. You’ll be prompted to sign into your Google account, and then you will see the Keep screen (note, if you haven’t created any notes, images or tasks yet it will appear as blank, of course). (Figure O)
Note the toolbar along the top, which allows you to add notes, add lists, capture audio or take a photo to upload. Adding notes and lists is similar to doing so in the web interface, but capturing audio to record a new note is an interesting notion. Click the microphone icon to start the process and you will see a “Speak now” screen as shown in Figure P.
As a test, I said “This is my Google Keep note” and it was immediately transcribed. (Figure Q)
(Okay, I know it recorded the word “now” instead of “note,” but I don’t blame the app – I’m a chronic mumbler).
My note was then synchronized with my Keep account. (Figure R)
4. Keep Integration with Google services is currently minimal
This one is a surprise to me since Google depends on and extolls integration among its products, but I can confidently predict this will change down the road. Right now you have to access Keep via a URL but there is no visible tie-in to Google Drive, nor any link to Keep along the Google toolbars. It doesn’t show up in Gmail, Calendar, or anywhere else as far as I can tell. However, rumor indicates that direct access from Drive and the ability to save Google+ data to Keep (among other features) will be available soon.
5. Keep is presently less powerful than the competition
This one is clearly obvious as of April, 2013; Microsoft OneNote and EverNote are more functional and versatile both in terms of what they can do and the mobile platforms on which they’re available. OneNote lets you add web links and ties into Office so you can add spreadsheets, for example. Evernote has a bevy of linked applications, saves web pages, converts handwriting to text, provides offline access (via the paid version) and so forth. To some degree this imbalance makes sense; OneNote is a paid product. EverNote has been established for some time and offers both free and commercial versions.
I would guess that even Google would readily acknowledge they’re playing catch-up right now. But I would equally expect them to tell us to keep an eye on Keep to see what it can do in the upcoming weeks and months as it starts powering up.
Google Keep works well for basic data management purposes and I think it will appeal to people with basic note-taking needs who like simplicity and ease of use.
I’ve seen some Keep reviews that indicated a hesitancy to use it because Google has a practice of dropping services they consider dead weight. I think Google has expunged most or all of the products that fit that category. The fact they’ve launched Keep amidst this “heave the clutter over the side” mindset shows it will most likely be around for the long haul, presenting more features as it gathers momentum.
One possible pitfall to Keep which I hope Google addresses as soon as possible is the inability to group or sort items. The irony here is that people who like Keep and start adding dozens (or hundreds) of notes may find themselves dismayed when they can’t rearrange their notes to use the product effectively.
For more information about Google Keep check the help file or view a video demonstrating the features.