Adaptive Content

Peek behind the scenes. See how this page was tailored for you.

Google Drive - an alternative to Evernote?

There has been quite a buzz lately about Google Keep, the ubiquitous search company's new "quick note taking" service.  It's currently available only as a web  or Android app, but iOS will be coming soon.  Many commentators are talking about it as an alternative to Evernote, but it really doesn't (yet) compare.  It's a very simple service which offers simple text notes and image storage, each of which are quickly added and easy to search for.  Clearly, in terms of availability, functionality and in just about every other regard it's a poor relation to Evernote.  But it's missing the point to draw a direct comparison between Keep and Evernote.

More of what we love about Evernote - reliable synced storage for all kinds of documents, available everywhere, powerful searching, in-image text recognition (OCR) and collaboration/sharing features - is available from Google Drive. 

To many people, Google Drive is an alternative to Dropbox.  After all, Google Drive offers free storage and clients for Windows and Mac to keep desktop folders/directories backed-up and in sync, just like Dropbox.  And indeed, Google Drive does precisely that.  In our experience the sync mechanism is slightly less slick than that in Dropbox, but it works.  Drive has a much more sophisticated web client, but the need for a web client is limited when the desktop sync works so well and some features are much less straightforward - sending a link to one of your files to a colleague or friend using Dropbox is a snap, but on Drive it's a pain. Extra storage on Drive is cheaper than with Dropbox and for some people that alone is enough to make it preferable.

To others, Google Drive is the launching point for Google Docs - the online "Office" suite of applications which allow you to create documents, spreadsheets and more.  We already use Google Docs for its brilliant collaboration features, but find people still often prefer native applications for larger and more complex documents, like project proposals, financial analysis and so on.

But what about using Google Drive as a replacement for Evernote?  Our use of Evernote mostly boils down to the following:

  • Clipping web pages - much better than browser bookmarks because they're truly ubiquitous (though Google Chrome browser sync does a reasonable job of this) and they include the searchable text of the web page.
  • Storing scans - a Fujitsu SnapScan will scan multipage double-sided documents in just a few seconds, upload it to Evernote which then does OCR on the text within the scan, without even touching a key on the computer.  PDfs arriving by email too are stored in Evernote.
  • Notes, thoughts, lists, journals, ideas and other (mostly text) content which is stored in Evernote mostly for want of somewhere else to put it.  Here, again, Evernote's great search facilities are a key to this working well.
To a lesser extent, we use Evernote for:

  • Storing other kinds of document, such as a Word Document sent by a client.
  • Storing photos - whilst apps like iPhoto, Aperture or Lightroom are fabulous for storing and manipulating lots of pictures, storing really valuable pictures in Evernote gives a nice sense of security, given that they're replicated across the Evernote-synced devices as well as being stored on Evernote's servers.  We're talking the best 3 photos from an event where you took 50.
  • Receiving forward emails, for things like booking confirmations or reference materials; stuff which is likely to be needed to be accessed in the future.  
It's worth noting that I am not a big user of multi-notebooks or tags in Evernote.  In my experience the search is so quick and easy I don't need to organise my data - it's akin to the Google Mail approach of searching rather than categorising.  It's not for everyone, but it works for me.  If you get in the habit of putting whatever words you might use to search in the title of the note (if those words don't already appear in the content; if they do you don't need to add them), you're all done and will have no problem finding the note when you need it, without spending time thinking about which notebook it needs to be in, or which tags best fit.  

One final point on our usage is that we mostly use iOS devices for our mobile requirements. 
Based on our usage, the main reason Google Drive could be considered as an alternative to Evernote is its great handling of files.  Hardly surprising, of course!  Given the comments above about it's comparison with Dropbox, perhaps it could replace both, saving money and streamlining our work in the process.

Using Drive for storing, indexing and searching files is a winner.  It provides online (and mobile) viewers for a wide variety of file types, the OCR of text within images is faster and just as reliable as that in Evernote.  If you do want to categorise your documents the web interface for doing that in Drive is first rate.  Searching is a breeze, including the text within the images, the content within third-party document formats like Word (doc) and Excel (xls).  Something that we'd never have predicted is that we miss Evernote's view of a collection of PDF documents - where you can see the list of documents as a rendering of the first page, together with the title, in a pane on the left and the content of one document on the right.  Google's "more like a filesystem" approach doesn't offer this.  You can quickview the files, but because they're not local it takes longer and when you're flicking through a dozen files for the one you need even a 1 second delay is painful.

Clipping web pages is possible with Drive, but in practise is nowhere near as slick as Evernote and we found ourselves doing it much less as a result.  You install a browser plug-in for Chrome and you can store a web page as-is in a number of formats, but none quite as fast, space-efficient and easy to use as Evernote's web clipper.

Google's options for storing simple, mostly text-based, notes is one of the weakest aspects of replacing Evernote.  Of course there are lots of other decent note-taking applications, but the point of this exercise is to cut down on the number of services used, not add to it. Google Keep is probably too simplistic and has no iOS app yet.   Worse, searching in Google Drive doesn't show matches from Google Keep, or vice-versa.  The two services aren't really integrated at all.  Creating a word processing document for each note is feasible and benefits from Drive's great searching, but it's more cumbersome than doing it in Evernote.  
Storing photos in Drive is great and it can lead through to the functions and flexibility of Picasa.  The free version of Google Drive doesn't give a huge amount of storage for photos, but given it's only meant to replace Evernote's "for the photos you really want to lose", it's good enough.  Score one for Google.

Drive won't receive forwarded emails.  Of course, in some ways it doesn't need to if you're already a GMail user.  There is a Google Lab extension for GMail which allows a search within GMail to also search Drive (but not Keep).  So maybe you don't need to forward things received by email to Evernote if you have a really good email search system, but again, in a one week trial we found ourselves missing the ability to do it.

The conclusion is quite spectacularly predictable.  Evernote is a better mechanism for storing your "not better categorised otherwise" electronic stuff than Google Drive.  Drive is better for storing files.  Hardly surprising!  But Evernote need to watch out.  If Google integrate Keep more closely with the rest of the Drive apps, bring out a really good iOS client, improve web clipping (which they're in a great position to do, given they already make arguably the best browser) and tighten integration with GMail negating the need to send in content by email, then they'd have a product that might make us want to drop Evernote (and Dropbox) at a stroke.