I used to play around a lot with productivity apps. After awhile, my world settled enough that either there weren’t a lot of new apps or I wasn’t as interested in chasing them. Maybe I reached peak productivity. The release of Windows 10 has brought me to Microsoft Sticky Notes. I … like them. But I can be a fickle consumer. I decided to try them out against Google’s Keep to see if either provided a better temporary note keeping experience.
These apps are great for small and temporary notes. For anything more complex, I would use Microsoft OneNote. But there are lots of things that I might scribble on an adhesive-backed square colored piece of paper and leave it around my workspace. Some of these might become bookmarks but I would rather create a disposable note than build out a large number of web site favorites that I rarely return to.
After a certain period, that information will become out of date and I’ll toss the note. Or the information will become permanent and I will put it somewhere permanent and toss the note. Either way, the note is not meant to last.
Microsoft Sticky Notes
I stumbled into Microsoft Sticky Notes during the pandemic. It’s been around for a long time – since Windows 7 – but it was new to me. I think it’s pretty poorly implemented on Windows 10 and if that’s all there was, I don’t think I’d have given it any time.
One reason I was looking for a note taking app is that I need something that I can carry with me. But I generate most of my notes on my PC and some of the notes are shopping lists or a phone number that won’t become a Contact. So I was looking for something that:
- sync’d between my PC and mobile device(s)
- was easy to add text to
- offered a temporary experience with a bit of organization
It’s a low bar. Microsoft’s app crossed it when I learned about the Microsoft Launcher. It replaces the default launcher on your Android device (not available on iOS). It’s a pretty nice launcher (I’ve used Apex and Nova before) but I don’t have a lot of needs in a launcher.
Once you have the Microsoft Launcher installed, you can swipe right and it will bring a custom page that shows a group of Microsoft account-related widgets. I got rid of all of them except for the Sticky Notes. This what the view looks like on my phone:
You can create a new Sticky Note. If you’re connected to the internet, it can sync your notes. As far as I can tell, it does it chronologically and there is no way to change that. You get 3 notes and then have to click more for more notes. You can take notes offline and sync them after you reconnect to the internet.
It does not surprise me that the app is pretty limited and the Windows version isn’t much better. The most irritating part to me is the way it opens. The Sticky Notes app in Windows will automatically open to your last opened note. It’s not clear to me why it does this, and why, when you click the program icon, the program doesn’t open your full list of notes.
It’s a simple enough tool. You can do basic text editing (bold, italics, underline, strikethrough) and add images. But it’s pretty much a synchronized Notepad.
It’s a good enough tool. But I wondered about Google Keep, which I had tried years ago and lost track of. It has some attraction but I’m not sure it’s what I would consider better.
Keep was first released in 2013. In those days, I was mostly focused on web-based apps and Keep was part of that world. The Google Keep web site was an easy addition to the other Google tools – Mail, Calendar – that I was using on a regular basis. I still tend to use those apps in a web browser, using a synchronized copy to my mobile devices for convenience.
The web interface has a lot more functionality than the Microsoft Sticky Notes tool. The text editing isn’t much richer (although hyperlinks are clickable) but the tool itself is easier to use. You can move notes around to group them, and you can add labels to organize and filter the notes you’re looking at.
Not surprisingly, the Google app on Android or iOS resembles the web interface pretty faithfully. Everything you can do on the web and the way it works is nearly the same on the app. Not everything. For example, if you drag and drop a note on the web, it will reorder your notes. If you do the same on your phone, it will archive the note.
More importantly, Google has added functionality for reminders and collaboration. If you want to create a note and make sure you follow up, you can add a reminder on each note (and you can access all notes with reminders on the left-hand navigation menu).
You can share notes with other collaborators. At first I thought this might be really useful but it’s just note-by-note. So, for example, you can’t really share an entire collection of notes (everything labeled “reference”) unless you share each one individually. It may not be great for a team to share but, if you regard your Keep notes as temporary as your adhesive paper notes, then maybe the lack of a team focus doesn’t matter.
Google Keep has far more functionality. For now, though, I’ll be sticking with Microsoft Sticky Notes. Especially with work from home, I’m on my PC a lot. My reasons:
- the notes form factor. I can have multiple Sticky Notes open and distributed around my dual monitor computer screens. They can be resized to show just their contents and closing one doesn’t impact any of the others;
- I don’t need the extra functionality. I don’t share my notes. I rarely use a reminder and would probably use a calendar event rather than a reminder note.
- it works with my personal Microsoft account. This will stop working when I return to work, where I will be using a Windows 10 PC but it will be using my work Microsoft account.
I’ll be using the next few months to try to make notes a regular habit. But in the fall, as we reopen our law library and I return to commuting and using a variety of PCs that do not share account information, I can see shifting to Google Keep.