Tech Lab

Google’s note-taking service isn’t a keeper

Sometimes there is nothing like trying something new to make you appreciate what you already have. Spend some time with Google Inc.’s newest online service, Keep, and you may find yourself falling in love with Keep’s chief competitors — the popular record-keeping program Evernote and Microsoft Corp.’s venerable OneNote.

Surely that was not the reaction Google had in mind when it introduced Keep a few weeks ago. Keep is a nice enough service that lets smartphone users combine text, photos, and audio recordings to keep track of everyday events. But it is not nearly as capable as its more sophisticated rivals. And given Google’s habit of shutting down underperforming services, I am not sure I want them holding on to more of my stuff.

Still, if you are not familiar with note-taking programs, Keep offers a pretty painless introduction. The app presently is available only for users of Google’s Android operating system, and even then you would need Android version 4.0 or newer. Keep would not run on my aging Android phone, so I tested it on a Nexus 7 tablet. The extra real estate on the screen made the program’s attractive user interface even prettier.


Keep generates a new blank note with a touch of the screen. Fill it in by typing on the virtual keyboard, or by speaking. The voice recognition in the latest versions of Android is much improved. You usually do not need to pause; your words appear on screen in real time. You would still have to say “period” and “comma” to get punctuation right, but in a quiet room, I usually got excellent results. Keep saves the audio recording of your voice along with the transcription.

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You can add photos to your notes. Just tap the camera icon to shoot an image. And you can assign a color to each note as a way of sorting them. For instance, you could make all work-related notes a calming amber or a nerve-wracking red. When done, the notes are uploaded to Google’s Drive cloud storage service, so you can read them on any device with a browser.

Keep is easy, efficient, and more than adequate for the casual note-taker. But there is no need to settle, when something better is close at hand.

Evernote, for instance. It has about 40 million users worldwide, and though a premium version costs $45 a year, most of its users do not pay a dime. Unlike Keep, Evernote runs on nearly anything with a microchip in it — all the leading smartphones and tablets, desktop and laptop computers. And it is blessed with many sophisticated features. For instance, notes can automatically include the location where you wrote them. Photograph pages of typed text, and Evernote creates a searchable index that lets you find individual words. An add-on program called Hello lets you copy business cards into your address book by simply photographing them. Unlimited use of this and other features costs money — $5 a month or $45 a year. But according to the company, about 99 percent of users are quite content with the free version.

Microsoft’s OneNote is not as sophisticated as Evernote, but it is not at all bad. I especially like the way you can instantly share your notes with others via OneNote’s integration with Microsoft’s SkyDrive online service. OneNote is available as a free app for iPhone, Android, and Microsoft’s own Windows Phone. The desktop version is pricey; you must either buy Microsoft’s Office software suite for $149 and up, or pay $70 for a stand-alone copy of OneNote. But the software is available as a free app for iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone, and you can access many of its features for free via any Web browser.


Keep is far less capable than OneNote or Evernote, and perhaps less trustworthy. Google recently said it is shutting down its popular Reader service, which displays news from your favorite sources on a single Web page.

I have used Reader for years, and love it, along with many thousands of others. No matter; Google’s pulling the plug on ­July 1.

How long before the company gets bored with Keep and does the same? I am not quite ready to stop using other favorite Google services, but I do not feel like signing up for a new one that may disappear in a few years.

Evernote is my note-taking software of choice, and it will take a more impressive product than Google Keep to change my mind.

Noteworthy Apps


Price: Free for Android devices at Google Play Store


Pro: Simple, note-taking service synchs with Google Drive to access notes from any Internet device. Allows photo attachments and audio recording. Color-coding system for high-priority items.

Con: Sparse feature set lags well behind rival products; no app available for Apple iOS devices, runs only on newer versions of Android.


Price: Free for every major smartphone, tablet, laptop, or desktop computer

Pro: Sophisticated app combines text notes, photos, and audio. Can be combined with additional apps that add extra features. Premium version increases data storage and allows file sharing with friends.

Con: Premium edition costs $45 per year


Price: Free for Android, Windows Phone, and iOS devices

Pro: Supports text, audio, and photo notes. Files are stored on Microsoft’s SkyDrive cloud service, and can be shared with anybody for free.

Con: Free version limited to maximum of 500 notes; upgrade costs $4.99. Included with purchase of Microsoft Office suite, but desktop version costs $70.

Hiawatha Bray can be reached at