What it does

Keep seems to be aimed towards personal rather than collaborative note-taking with a strong emphasis on ease of use and synchronisation. To that end, it introduced a lot of useful features, such as a "quick note" edit box always on screen, a lock-screen widget providing a similar functionality, as well as the ability to dictate a note straight from within Google Now with the "Note to self" command. The backup and synchronisation is of course powered by Google Drive and notes can therefore be accessed from any web browser and likewise shared across Android devices. Keep's emphasis seems to be on simplicity more than on a rich featureset; nevertheless, it supports all the basics, including text notes and to-do lists, as well as audio and picture notes. Organisational tools on offer are minimal; there is the ability to colour-code notes and archive those which are no longer relevant for the records.

Interface

In keeping with its philosophy, the app's interface is clean and simple. Save for the search button in the very top right corner of the screen, that area is occupied by an edit box where one can write down text quickly; that text will remain there regardless of operations, until it is deleted or converted into an actual note by hitting the "Full screen" button found to the right, below the edit field. Beneath that are the buttons to create various types of notes: text, list, recording and picture. All buttons are clearly labelled and everything seems completely accessible.

Composing a new note could not be more straightforward, with a simple screen sporting an edit field for the title and one for the note itself. Some additional options can be accessed through the Menu button, but they are few. The whole experience is utilitarian and feels a little refreshing when compared to other, more complex or less cleanly designed applications. there are times, however, where the interface crosses over from feeling minimalistic to seeming downright unfinished; for instance, there does not seem to be any way to discard a note, save by returning to the main screen and deleting it there. Likewise, the interface to create checklists seems buggy and new fields do not appear unless one backs out and re-enters a note.

Recording a note with Keep is also very simple; just hit the "new recording" button ans speak. One of Keep's unique and best features is that audio is not only recorded but also transcribed to text at the same time. The possibilities opened by such a feature are very intriguing to anyone doing a lot of dictation, as the audio can be played back later to correct errors in the text transcription, or the text can be used to quickly reference the content of a recording. Unfortunately, Google seems to have set a very short time out on the speech recording and recognition and neglected to implement a way to resume it, rendering this otherwise great feature far less useful than it could be.

Performing actions, such as deleting or archiving, on multiple items is not only possible but accessible as well. The only slight drawback is that, though the number of elements selected is displayed just below the action bar at the top, there is no way to tell whether a particular item is selected or not, therefore requiring some method and memory, especially when performing a large number of selections.

Those eager to do some editing from a Bluetooth keyboard with Keep notes will be very disappointed. Whereas other applications, such as Draft, make it difficult because only the letter under the cursor is spoken, the experience in Keep is even worse, as nothing at all is echoed. The arrow keys seem to move the cursor as expected, but, for some reason, there is no feedback.

Conclusion

When it was initially released, Keep had many unique features taking advantage of the framework present in Android 4.1 and 4.2, such as Google Now integration and a lock screen widget. Since then, most of these features have been implemented by big names like Evernote and Catch making Keep less unique and relevant. More worryingly, despite showing some edges requiring urgent smoothing, Keep has not been updated in over six weeks. One begins to wonder whether Google is really serious about this app or whether this was just a half-hearted attempt meant to showcase some of Jelly Bean's features. If you are looking for a simple note-taking app with Google Drive synchronisation and simultaneous transcription of audio, Keep might be for you. As a matter of fact, the simultaneous transcription feature is the only reason why I am keeping this app around at this point.

Pros

  • Simple, no-frill app which nevertheless covers all the basics.
  • Google Drive powered backup and sync.
  • Simultaneous recording and transcription of speech offers great flexibility for dictation.

Cons

  • Interface still has some rough edges which can make for an awkward workflow.
  • Most of its differentiating features have since been integrated into more mature and capable apps.
  • No organisation possible beyond colour-coding and archiving.
  • Editing from the keyboard is completely impossible.

Accessibility rating: Three and a half a11y stars.