Evernote vs Google Keep – One freelancer’s (detailed) verdict

July 11, 2016 •
Evernote vs Google Keep: A freelance coypwriter's comparison

I’m obsessive about facts

I’m obsessive about many things. From finding exactly the right phrasing for a job to upgrading everything in exactly right order in Clash of Clans.

But I’m particularly obsessive about facts.

As a freelance copywriter, I have to write about something new every day. And to do that credibly, I have to learn a lot. So facts are critical to my livelihood.

They’re also critical to who I am. In general life, I like to base my opinions and beliefs on evidence, and I was taught to always challenge ‘conventional wisdom’. So I do a lot of research and digest a lot of facts.

So I’m also obsessive about my notes

Unfortunately, I find facts very hard to retain – or at least recall. Sure, I remember the guts, but when I’m writing (or I’m questioned), I like to be able to rattle off the details. Statistics, research findings, quotes, laws, policies, dates, names, actions – that sort of thing. And it seems my brain just isn’t big enough to do that. (You wouldn’t guess it from my inhumanly large noggin, but it’s true.)

So instead of trying to remember every last detail of everything I’ve ever researched, I take notes. I summarise logic, add my own comments and thoughts, take photos and screenshots, paste quotes, clip web pages and so on. Eventually I even create collections of notes around ideas and issues.

In other words, my notes become an extension of my brain. And if they’re not working properly – if I can’t access the facts I want, when I want them – it’s very disconcerting. It’s not just that I can’t access the facts I need to write copy or support an idea, it’s that I feel like I’ve lost part of my brain!

So in addition to phrasing, Clash of Clans and facts, I’m also obsessive about my notes.

But I’ve struggled to find a good notes app

What does a geeky, notes-obsessed copywriter use to record notes that he feels are akin to part of his brain? That’s the very question I’ve been struggling to answer for many years.

In the old, old days, I used a paper notebook. If you’ve ever seen my handwriting, you’ll know why that was a lost cause.

Then, as the social age kicked off, I moved on to del.icio.us. That was fine and dandy for a while, but eventually, I got sick of worrying about whether my notes were public or private. (The default was public, and most of mine were private.)

I used Evernote for years, but we didn’t get along

In 2008, I switched to Evernote. I exported all my del.icio.us notes and imported them into Evernote in one fell swoop, tags and all. And I’ve been merrily using Evernote ever since.

Unfortunately, however, it seems I was using it a little too merrily… I’d amassed more than 9,500 notes, and I’d tagged almost none of them. I’d always thought Evernote’s keyword search was great, but it was now returning all sorts of irrelevant stuff every time I searched.

On top of that, Evernote’s web application was very slow on my Chromebook, and its usability across the board was (and is) a bit clunky. For example, sometimes it’s really hard to add text to a clipped article, articles shared directly from Pocket are saved without the original URL, and on mobile you can’t just tap to edit a note.)

So I switched to Google Keep

I’d been using Google Keep for quick, temporary notes because it was blindingly fast, pretty, and very easy to use. I loved it.

In fact, I’d been starting to consider it as a genuine alternative to Evernote. Perhaps even an improvement, given Google’s search chops. So when Google finally released a web clipper Chrome extension, I decided to really put it through its paces as a fully-fledged note-keeping tool.

It was everything I’d hoped for.

I copied a handful of notes across from Evernote, complete with images, URLs, text, etc., and it was an absolute pleasure to use, across all my devices. It loaded fast, searched fast and bookmarked fast, and finally, editing notes was easy.

So I decided to bite the bullet and make the switch.

Unfortunately Evernote is a walled garden, though, so I couldn’t just export all my notes and automagically import them into Keep. I had to do it manually.

“That’s ok,” I thought. “It’ll give me a chance to tidy up and consolidate my notes, anyway.” So off I went. Notes I’d created in Evernote, I copy-pasted to Keep. Notes I’d clipped to Evernote from the web, I re-clipped to Keep. It was slow, but very satisfying.

Then everything changed.

But Google Keep sux big hairy ones

Approximately 1,300 notes and 4 (very obsessive) days later, I’m sad to say, things were looking decidedly different.

Google Keep had slowed to a near-standstill. On mobile, it took 10-20 seconds to start up, and on any device, I had to wait minutes before searching, otherwise the search results would be incomplete or completely empty!

Not happy, Jan. I still had more than 8,000 notes to go; there was no way this was going to work out. It was back to the drawing board.

So I went back to Evernote – and used it more smarterer

Naturally I’d already researched Evernote alternatives, but I decided to research them one last time. Just to be sure. Sadly, nothing fit the bill. So I came slinking back to Evernote with my tail between my legs.

But I also came back with some ideas…

I culled

Having seen how badly Google Keep’s performance deteriorated as my note count grew, I thought maybe Evernote’s would improve if I reduced my note count.

Fortunately, I had a lot of very old and outdated notes in Evernote, including notes about SEO and technology from way back in my del.icio.us days, pre-2008! So I could reduce my note count very quickly. I canned all these outdated notes instantly, along with many others. I now have only 3,497 notes (down from ~9,500), and Evernote’s now noticeably faster on my Chromebook.

I started clipping properly

I also came back to Evernote having discovered I’d often clipped web articles incorrectly with Chrome’s Clip to Evernote extension.

Whenever I wanted to clip an entire article with all it’s formatting and visual elements (as opposed to just a bookmark or a simplified article), I was using clip Full Page. But this clips the comments too, along with any related article headlines. So, later, searching Evernote for “car cleaning” would return a post about neuroscience if someone said “car cleaning” in the comments of that post, or if there was a related post about car cleaning listed on the page.

It wasn’t until I started having trouble with Keep that I discovered Evernote’s web clipper lets you clip the fully formatted and illustrated article (but without the surrounding guff). I just need to clip Article.

And I started tagging

Perhaps most importantly, I came back to Evernote with some aspirations around tagging. While using Keep, I’d started adding tags (or ‘labels’, as they’re called in Keep) to my notes.

I started doing this because Keep can’t clip entire articles, so I needed to manually insert words I thought I’d search for in future.

That got me thinking about the value of tags over search, which I’d summarise as follows…

Why is tagging better than text search?

With thousands of notes, keyword searching is inefficient because you’re relying entirely on the words on the page.

If you search for “climate change” and get 30 results, you can’t tell which ones are specifically about climate change, and which ones merely mention it. Like this:

Know your parties

Nor can you tell why you saved each note. Is it a CSIRO report detailing evidence of global warming, or is it a denial from Tony Abbott? Plus, you can’t search for “misinformation” and hope to find a collection of misinformative articles, because most misinformative articles won’t contain the term “misinformation”.

Tags overcome all of these issues. If a note is specifically about climate change, you tag it with: “climate” and “change”. When you save the CSIRO report, you’d tag it with: “climate”, “change” and “evidence”. When you save Tony Abbott’s quote, you’d tag it with: “climate”, “change”, “denial” and “misinformation”.

This allows you to find notes that are actually about climate change, notes that contain evidence of climate change, notes that contain climate change denial, and notes that contain misinformation on any subject. Even if none of those words appear in the text of the note itself.

Yes, there’s a bit more work involved in saving each note in the first place, because you have to tag it manually. But I find it adds only an extra 20 seconds or so per note. And it’s definitely worth it in the long run, because I can quickly and easily find notes based on my original assessment of them, rather than on the words they happen to contain.

And this leads me to the next – very important – distinction between Evernote and Google Keep…

Why is Evernote better than Google Keep for tagging?

In Evernote, you can use the text search field to:

  • search for an individual tag – e.g. Search for “tag:climate” (without the quotes) to find all the notes you’ve tagged with “climate”, and only those notes; or
  • search for multiple tags – e.g. Search for “tag:climate tag:change” (without the quotes) to find all the notes you’ve tagged with “climate” AND “change”, and only those notes.

Evernote tags

In Google Keep, you can’t do either, because there’s no dedicated tag search syntax, only ordinary text search. Yes, Keep will find tags in its text search, but there’s no way to find only tags.

For example, in Google Keep:

  • if you search for “climate”, Keep will find all notes that contain the word “climate” in their text, including, but not limited to, those you’ve labelled with “climate”
  • if you search for “climate change” (without the quotes), Keep will find all notes that contain both “climate” and “change”, including, but not limited to, those you’ve labelled with “climate” and “change”
  • if you search for “climate change” (with the quotes), Keep will find only notes that contain the exact phrase, “climate change”; it won’t find notes tagged with “climate” and “change” at all

Keep tags

tl;dr?

Summary: Google Keep is prettier than Evernote, and a bit easier to use. But it can’t handle many notes and it’s next to useless when it comes to tags.

What do you use?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. What do you use to take notes and bookmark interesting articles? Have you had similar experiences with Evernote and Google Keep?

Feel free to comment...
comment avatar
Luna wrote on December 3rd, 2016

Hey, I know this was written a few months ago but I think I should still let you know. I use google keep for everything (but I'm thinking of organizing my abandoned Evernote and just use them both. Keep for ideas, notes, temporary lists and reminder and Evernote for writing and longer term notes.) I don't agree that Keep is useless in the tag department or maybe there was an update, but if you tap the search bar, you can specify your search in anything; color, people and, yes, labels (and even films, travel, places etc!). Not multiple labels though I think, but still. Besides they'll probably add that soon, maybe you can even contact them about it.

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Glenn Murray wrote on December 3rd, 2016

Hey Luna. Interesting! It definitely didn't allow tag searching back when I wrote this post, so that's a very nice change. Still of very little use to me until I can search for multiple tags, and exclude tags, but it suggests they're paying attention to tags, which is great. I'll definitely keep an eye on their progress. I like the Keep UI better, but the speed issue, alone, is a showstopper, let alone the inability to insert images inline. Either way, thanks for the heads-up. Very cool! :-)

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John Smith wrote on December 8th, 2016

Was wondering if you still use evernote or if you have moved to another notetaking app? I am in constant search for a perfect note-taking app.

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Glenn Murray wrote on December 8th, 2016

Hey John. Yeah, still using Evernote. It's still not perfect, and Keep is getting better (see the 2 comments before yours), but for now, it's still the best I've seen. Please let me know if you find something better! :-)

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Richard wrote on December 13th, 2016

I absolutely love Evernote, but I will admit I was intrigued by Keep.. like you said simple, but then I read your article, and I believe I will keep Evernote. Evernote is the *BEST* application bar none for everything, I use it chronicle a day in the life for me.. its just awesome, they ONLY thing that was encouraging my "move" to Keep is Google brand, my browser, email everything integrated is appealing.. Your article is well documented and it's great that you tried Keep and switched back, instead of many people that put one toe in the water and still stand by the pool.. you dove in head first and didn't look back until you figured out that the pool had a leak.. I think that's awesome. I love Evernote and I have no reason to switch, but I am glad I found your article I learned something and it gave Evernote that much more value. I also appreciate you wrote a REVIEW rather than some diatribe like many ... it's a hell of a lot more objective than most, thank you!

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Glenn Murray wrote on December 13th, 2016

Thanks so much, Richard. Very nice comment. To be fair, though, I didn't set out to conduct a completely objective experiment. I'd played with Google Keep enough to be very confident it was going to be a good replacement. It was only after I'd ported a whole heap of notes that I discovered it was too slow. So you could say I was forced into conducting an objective experiment! ;-)

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Bruce Maples wrote on December 16th, 2016

Thanks very much for the comparison. I've been an Evernote user for years (paid), and am using it even more these days, both as a virtual filing cabinet (working on paperless approach to everything) and as a writing resources (research, ideas, and so on). I use tags, though not as much as I should. My biggest frustration is the editor; a number of other people discuss writing their drafts or even final posts in Evernote, but the editor makes me crazy, so I don't do that. I looked at Keep a long time ago, and decided there wasn't enough "there" there. The latest Evernote dustup sent me back to Keep for another look. Your article has helped me decide to stay with Evernote for now, due to the greater flexibility around tagging. Evernote's tag searching is excellent, and AFAIK leaves Keep's in the dust. I was intrigued by the earlier comment about using both; perhaps I'll take a look at that. Thanks again for the article!

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Glenn Murray wrote on December 17th, 2016

Hey Bruce. Thanks for your comment. Yeah, I'm not a fan of the editor either. I'd never attempt to use it for my writing. Or for digitising my files, for that matter. I did that with Google Drive. Got rid of 3 massive filing cabinets! Google Drive has an awesome scan option that allows you scan documents directly to a particular folder. On Android you can set up a widget on your home screen to scan to a particular folder. And you can have as many widgets as you want. The scanner's really clever too. If you're not holding the page evenly (e.g. the bottom of the page is closer to the camera than the top), it automatically fixes it. All very legible.

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Donald P. wrote on March 18th, 2017

Nice read. Thank you for your input. I just recently started using Google Keep about 2 weeks ago after editing a Google Doc and getting the "suggestion" from Google about using keep to add comments on the doc. That's when I realized it's Google version of Evernote. I've been using Evernote for about a couple of years now and I love most of Google's products so I tried it out. As you mentioned, it does run smoother and the simple layout helps getting ideas down, like post-its. Unfortunately where I pumped the brakes on Keep was when I realized I could not format my notes' text, especially when I'm outlining the text. It happened at church, I love to take notes of the sermons, using the bullet points, bold, underline, etc. and was bummed that Keep doesn't do that (yet... as of this comment on March 2017). I'll stick to Evernote for now and secretly rooting for Keep and hope it adds the functionality I'm looking for. I love that Google doesn't require you to create a new account, everything is synced to your Gmail. I use Drive, Docs, and Photos from Google. Keep is on the same list as Play Music for me as a "needs improvement".

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Glenn Murray wrote on March 19th, 2017

Thanks Donald. Yeah, the lack of formatting options is a pain in the bum, isn't it? I do use Google Play Music all the time, though. Love it. What do you feel needs improvement there? (I have a few ideas myself, but I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.)

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Steven C wrote on March 22nd, 2017

Thanks for a great comparison and a very interesting read. I have not been using Evernote enough but recently decided to get into it more. I like the integration of the Google brand as described above but I think I will stick with Evernote and play with it for the time being. Thanks again! Cheers.

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Glenn Murray wrote on March 23rd, 2017

Thanks Steven. I haven't been using Evernote as much recently either. I still use it for most of my permanent and important notes, but I don't seem to be taking many of those at the moment. :-)

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Beverly Hall wrote on March 27th, 2017

Thanks for the comparison. I was just about th start moving info from evernote. And based on your analysis, I will just stay put.

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Glenn Murray wrote on March 28th, 2017

Thanks Beverly. Yeah, I wasted quite a bit of time discovering that Keep wasn't a good substitute. :-\

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Natasha wrote on March 30th, 2017

Great article! I'm guessing you're gonna start getting a lot more hits on this as more and more people discover Keep. I'm gonna try using it for some to-do lists, but stay with Evernote for most everything else, for now. Thanks for doing so much grunt work.

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Gary wrote on April 2nd, 2017

This is the best comparative review of these programs. I was surprised to see no mention of EverNote's *folders* / categories for memos. It's critical to me, and essential since I have needed detailed lists & articles since my l-o-n-g ago Palm Pilot days. Further, another important Evernote (pro) feature is that I can designate some folders as portable/local (stored on my phone, accessible even offline) without bursting storage limits because some folders (with notes with attachments) are stored only in the cloud. I just wish I could password-lock certain folders, perhaps with a series of different access codes. Presently, you can conceal internal content IN a note, whole notes, but not whole folders (& all open with the same password). I pay my fee annually, deduct it as a business expense and have not yet found enough reason to give it up for Keep (though the interface & too-rigid storage structure are minor displeasures). Thanks, - GG

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Glenn Murray wrote on April 2nd, 2017

Thanks Natasha. I've actually had a lot more hits on it in the last month! Well, comments at least. Where did you hear about / see the post?

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Glenn Murray wrote on April 2nd, 2017

Wow, thanks Gary. Appreciate that. Yeah, I don't really use folders much. At all, actually. I have a few notebooks, but even there, I'm very primitive. Evernote's search and tagging is so good, I haven't needed any other categorisation method. I don't have any need for passwords either. There's nothing confidential in there. Funny thing is, now that I'm not writing or researching political stuff very often, For most of my work, Keep is far better, because of its simplicity and speed.

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Kathy Harrison wrote on April 27th, 2017

I've been using Evernote for many years, and love it though I probably don't use it as well as lots of prior commenters do. Just learned about Keep and think that it will be a useful tool to use with my students, because of the ease of use and the visual interface. I also saw a cool thing that you can pull Keep notes directly into your Google Docs which might come in handy. But what I think is the absolute coolest is how thoughtful your responses are to folks' comments! It made the comments and actual conversation worth reading.

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Glenn Murray wrote on April 30th, 2017

Hey Kathy. Thanks! Yeah, I find it's often the comments where the best learning comes from - for both writer and audience! :-)

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smoke11 wrote on October 13th, 2017

Good blog post. Here's a wrinkle on the Google Keep. I've been Chromebook Plus which has pen with. (I think this will work with any touch screen chromebook that is capable of running Google apps) I read in tablet mode (it's a convertible) and hit the menu bar and it will show the pen icon. That gives me some options, including saving a section of text. I simply create a rectangle/square around anything I want to copy and it will create a box for saving on Google Keep. But before I save, it also gives me the option of annotating it. Using the pen, I can handwrite in notes or use the highlighter to mark text. This works for images as well. This is saved to keep, and once I enter keep I can lable it. Evernote is more powerful, but its integration with the Chromebook -- in particular the convertible chromebook that doubles as a tablet -- is very powerful. It has mean leaning to Keep for note retention.

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Glenn Murray wrote on October 15th, 2017

Thanks smoke. That sounds like a great use case. My Chromebook isn't touchscreen, so I can't give it a whirl. I'll definitely keep it in mind for when I eventually get one that is. Thanks again!

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