Google Keep: Worth Trying, with Caution

As expected, Google has flipped the switch on Google Keep, a dead-simple website and Android app for recording notes, checklists, images and audio

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As expected, Google has flipped the switch on Google Keep, a dead-simple website and Android app for recording notes, checklists, images and audio.

Also as expected, there’s no shortage of tech pundits — still sore from Google’s decision to shut down Google Reader — telling you to stay far, far away. As we witnessed with Reader, you can’t trust Google to keep products around anymore, even popular ones, if they don’t fit the company’s long-term strategies.

So maybe Google Keep won’t exist in five years — it’s still worth trying.

The service seems designed for impermanence, with hardly any structure compared with rivals like Evernote and Catch. Everything shows up in reverse chronological order, and the best you can do to manage old notes is archive them so they don’t show up on the main page. You can search for words or phrases, but you can’t create directories. You can color-code individual notes, but you can’t group those notes together or sort them in any other way.

As someone who’s shied away from Evernote, I find this simplicity appealing. My notes tend to be transient anyway — things to do, a few sentences to remember, where I parked my car and so on. The fact that Keep brings all that information to the surface, rather than burying it in a file structure, makes it a useful alternative to meatier note-taking services.


Keep’s Android app also has a killer feature: it automatically transcribes audio, so you get text and sound in a single note.

Still, there’s room for more features. You can’t create audio notes on the desktop, nor can you move an older note to the top of the pile. Google+ integration seems like a shoo-in, but it’s not available yet, nor is the rumored ability to save Web pages. It’d also be nice to see native apps for iOS and Windows Phone, though the latter seems unlikely. (Both platforms can access Keep through the Web, at least.)

As for trusting Google Keep for the long haul, that depends on what’s in store. Brad McCarty argues that the service could eventually tie into Google Now, helping the virtual assistant learn more about you so it can serve better information (a prime example of creepy-yet-useful). One could imagine Keep turning into a full-blown reminder service, not just a place to jot down random notes. The Verge’s David Pierce sees the potential to hook into other Google services, like Gmail and Drive. The less of an island Google Keep becomes, the less dispensable it will be.

The biggest concern right now is that your data is somewhat trapped within Keep, particularly if using the Web app. From there, you can’t e-mail or download your notes, so if you want to take them elsewhere, the only way is to select, copy and paste, and to save photos or audio files individually. Also, you can’t create a downloadable archive of notes in Google Takeout, nor can you share multiple notes at a time in the Android app. (Clarification: The sharing options are better on the Android app than I originally stated, so I’ve tweaked this section accordingly.)

As a quick way to record disposable notes, Google Keep has its advantages. But until there are better ways to export your data, and until Google shows that Keep is more than just an experiment, it’s not worth using for important, long-term note taking.