Editors' note: This review was updated on March 26, 2013, to include a feature available only on devices running Android Jelly Bean and higher.
Let me start by saying that Keep is not Google's Evernote killer. Not yet, anyway. It doesn't have nearly the feature set that Evernote does, and it's only available on Android and on the Web through Google Drive. So for now, let's postpone the Evernote comparisons until this newborn app is mature enough to handle itself in a fistfight.
With that in mind, let's evaluate Google Keep for what it actually is: a simple, convenient note-taker for Android.
The obvious best thing about Google Keep is its integration with Google Drive. This ensures that all of your mobile notes get synced through the cloud automatically, and can be accessed from any device -- desktop or mobile -- so long as you have an active Internet connection. This sort of integration is convenient, expected, and reliable. And you can be sure that Google is not stopping here. In fact, I'm guessing the company is right now hard at work, trying to integrate Keep with its other services as well.
Google Keep for Android opens up to a slim toolbar up top that houses pretty much all of the app's functions. Like other note-takers, it gives you buttons to create a text note, checklist, voice, or photo note, right from its dashboard. These buttons, while they do help to get your notes started, do not limit the functionality of your notes in any way, though, and that's important to know. This means that you can actually start a text note, then later add photos or check boxes to it, or start a checklist and later add photos and text to it.
From the Dashboard, you can quickly archive notes by swiping them to the side. Otherwise, you can long-press a note to bring up other options or to move it. One thing I found is that the toolbar on the dashboard exhibits some unpredictable behavior. Sometimes it stays pinned to the top of the screen even as you scroll through your notes, and other times it simply disappears.
The "quick note" field on the toolbar lets you type out a few strings of text and simply tap your keyboard's Return key to save. This is perfect for quick reminders that don't require any formatting at all.
When you tap the voice button, the app "listens" and transcribes anything you say into a text note, which is obviously a convenient feature. If your device is running Android version 4.2 or higher, Keep will also record what you say and even keep it embedded in the note. This is perfect for notes that contain audible elements that simply cannot be transcribed. Those with Android devices still running Ice Cream Sandwich or lower, however, are out of luck, as the app can only perform the transcription sans recording.
While the photo notes option is certainly convenient, it does have one huge flaw: it forces you to take a new photo. As in, it doesn't let you use existing photos from your Gallery, which doesn't make any sense at all.
If you're into taking really detailed and meticulously formatted notes, then Google Keep will disappoint you. With its simple text box, you can add line breaks, check boxes, and photos, but nothing more. There are no font choices, text colors, or bold and italic options, and there are no modules for inserting video or location tags. To be fair, I would've been really surprised if Google had included all of these features right out of the gates, but it is still worth mentioning. As it is now, Google Keep is meant for quick and dirty scribbling, for things like grocery lists and quick reminders. Speaking of reminders, why isn't there a reminder alarm built in?
If you want to organize your notes, the app offers a nifty color picker with eight colors to choose from. Personally, I like this system, but I can see how others might be pining for Google to add extra tagging and category options. Good thing is that every note is searchable using the Search tool on Google Keep's dashboard, so whether your notes are organized or not, you should be able to find what you're looking for. Read more about getting started with Google Keep.
Even though Google Keep clearly has a lot of kinks to work out, I actually love its simplicity. I appreciate the home screen widget from which I can quickly create text and photo notes. And I feel more compelled to use the app regularly, since I know that it won't ask me to tag or categorize things. That said, if you're looking for anything beyond a basic note-taker then look elsewhere.