Google Keep is a handy little app that helps you keep notes and offers integration with Google Drive. As you can read in our Google Keep review, however, it doesn’t really rise above the level of handy due to having simply fewer features than the competition.
While we have a list of “yeah, buts” surrounding Google Drive’s place among the best cloud storage services today, we also love some of its productivity features, notably its Google Docs suite. Though not actually tied to Google Drive, Google Keep is yet another cloud app produced by the Googleplex minions that will appeal to the creative at heart.
As a digital notebook, Google Keep lets you compile your thoughts on a remote server and later access them from any desktop or smartphone. It doesn’t overflow with organizational features like Evernote but Keep still deserves mention among the best note-taking apps available thanks to a knack for capturing quick and dirty thoughts and compiling lists (also sometimes just dirty).
Also, it’s completely free. You can create unlimited notes and they won’t even consume your Google Drive space like Docs and Gmail do (read our Google Drive review). For those looking for a means to organize those little light bulbs that go off in the head sometimes, Google Keep might just be your new best buddy. Keep reading our Google Keep review for the lowdown.
Google Keep is a cloud note-taking app that lets you type out memos and create lists from both a browser interface and smartphone apps for Android and iOS. Unlike Evernote (read our Evernote review), there’s no desktop client, although that’s not surprising from the developers of Chromebook.
More than the absence of a desktop tool, it’s Google Keep’s limited feature set that has kept it from earning the same degree of acclaim among the obsessive-compulsive, write-everything-down crowd as other digital notebooks out there
Two of the more notable feature misses include a lack of rich-text editing and organizing notebooks, both of which make it difficult to compile reams of notes for project research and the like. The notes themselves also have character limits of around 20,000 characters, which works out to around 4,000 words (unless you really like to break out your fancy book learnin’).
On the other hand, there’s no limit to how many notes you can create in Google Keep and no monthly bandwidth limits like you’ll find elsewhere in the cloud note-taking circle.
Features to deck out your notes include the ability to add images and a very limited drawing tool. Google Keep doesn’t support smartpens, and there’s no ink-to-text conversion option, anyway.
Google Keep does let you create bulleted lists and attach reminders to notes, which makes it a pretty decent task-management tool for those that don’t want to spring for Trello or Asana. You can even add collaborators to notes to assign tasks, like buying milk or painting the garage.
Maybe the best feature Google Keep has going for it, however, is the ability to dictate notes using your smartphone and letting the software transcribe them. This makes use of Google’s better-than-average speech recognition and makes Google Keep a perfect tool for netting those random thoughts that would otherwise be gone with the wind.
There’s also a Chrome extension that can be used to clip web content and save it to Google Keep. However, you can’t clip the whole page like you can with Evernote or Pocket, just links and selected text or images.
Google does let you extract text from clipped or otherwise added images using optical character recognition (OCR), which is a useful tool.
Finally, if you do want to spruce up your notes, you can import them directly into Google Docs, which has many excellent formatting features. However, Google Docs is specifically for word processing, not note-taking. You’re still limited by the absence of notebooks and other cool note-taking features you’ll find with a capable cloud note-taking apps.
100% – Excellent
Google Keep doesn’t cost a thing, at least not as far as money goes. Like Google Docs, it’s totally free, making it a good note-taking tool for scribes on a budget (which includes pretty much all scribes).
In fact, it doesn’t even consume Google Drive storage, which Google Docs does. As noted previously, there is no upper limit on how many notes you can keep in Google Keep.
That makes it a better overall value in some respects than OneNote, which consumes OneDrive storage (read our OneDrive review). It also makes Google Keep a sweeter deal than Evernote Basic, which is technically “unlimited” but not really, thanks to a 60MB per month upload limit.
72% – Decent
Google Keep is browser and mobile based. There’s no desktop client like you’ll find with many other note-taking tools, and for some, that’s going impact the overall user experience in a negative way. Moreover, the browser GUI is a bit underwhelming, at least compared to Evernote’s decked-out desktop client.
The central window displays your notes in tile format. Down the left margin are navigation links to switch between your notes and reminders, as well as list customizable note categories for those that like to stay organized.
You’re also limited as far as design options: text in individual notes can’t be creatively arranged to mimic, for example, whiteboards. That makes Google Keep a more difficult tool to use for students than OneNote, which pretty much lets you do what you want (read our OneNote review).
The drawing tools, unfortunately, limit you to a multi-colored pen tool. While lacking in formatting power, we do like the fact that you can color-code notes, which makes the tiled design engaging to creative minds (and toddlers). You can also label notes to sort through them later and attach alarm-clock-like reminders to notes.
There’s also an option to add “collaborators” to your notes, granting access to others. Combined with the list-making and reminder features, that makes Google Keep a decent tool to create and manage to-do lists, though it’s not nearly as flexible as Todoist, Wunderlist or some other cloud listmakers out there.
To clip pages you find online, you’ll need to add the Google Keep Chrome extension, first. Once added, you can use the extension icon to save links, or right-click on selected text or images to save them to Google Keep in notes.
It’s an okay tool, but as we said earlier, there are much better cloud web clippers out there, both standalone (like Pocket) and integrated with digital notebooks.
In a nutshell, if you’re looking for a notes tool to compile detailed research or meeting or class notes, Google Keep will probably let you down. For compiling notes on random thoughts, shortlists and reminders, however, it works like a charm.
That’s especially true of the Google Keep Android app, which mimics much of the functionality of the browser tool but adds portability. In fact, if your main objective is to find a tool to take quick voice memos, Google Keep for Android is one of the more convenient options out there thanks to its simple design and speech-to-text conversion capabilities.
Security & Privacy
50% – Poor
Like Google Drive, one of the biggest issues with Google Keep revolves around trust. Google’s main revenue stream is advertising, a stream supported by compiling user data for targeting marketing.
If that included search data alone, we wouldn’t take issue with it. However, read Google’s terms of service, and you’ll learn that the company reserves the right to scan stored data for that same purpose.
“Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”
That includes data stored in Google Drive, Gmail and, presumably, Google Keep. We can’t be 100 percent certain of that fact, however, since Google doesn’t have much published about the security of Google Keep.
Google didn’t start encrypting consumer data stored server-side on Google Drive until 2013, mostly to assuage outcry over the company’s involvement with the NSA’s PRISM surveillance program. We shot a message to Google to make sure that Google Keep notes are encrypted at rest, too, but we’ve not heard anything back.
On the plus side, you can protect your entire Google account against the risk of stolen passwords by switching on two-factor authentication. With this feature enabled, you’ll be asked to enter an additional security code when logging into your account from an unfamiliar machine.
While once billed as a potential Evernote killer, Google Keep falls mightily short there but still occupies a valuable niche of its own, which is to compile quick thought reminders and lists on the fly. Both uses provide reasonable value, especially in light of the fact that Keep is completely free and you can create unlimited notes.
While we don’t expect Google to roll out desktop clients for Windows or MacOS in light of its Chromebook goals, we do hope the company gets around to sprucing up the creative options a bit. Take note Google: On our shortlist are text formatting tools, notebooks, longer character limits for notes and better drawing tools.
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