Sunday, July 27, 2014

Google Keep is becoming my note-taking app of choice

I used to be a power user of Evernote. I was an evangelist for them for years. But I became disillusioned after a series of stumbles (personal experiences) that made the service seem less reliable. I also didn't like the fact that I had created a database silo that was separate and in addition to most of my work within Google Apps for Business.

The search for a viable alternative

I started using OneNote and have really enjoyed the service. (Read a quick outline of why I started to shift toward OneNote and what I initially liked about it.) It feels much more like a notebook to me, and it seemed more intuitive. It solved one problem by offering a viable alternative to Evernote, but it still created yet another database silo that was disconnected and separate from my Google activities.

When Google Keep was introduced, I had high expectations. My first impression was that this was not a tool that would really benefit me. It really wasn't a power-user's tool. Nevertheless, I continued to come back to it time and again.

Getting comfortable with Keep

I'm now using Google Keep more than ever, and I've discovered how to "access" some of those power-user's features that I like. It also helps that I've crossed the great divide from iOS to Android as my daily driver. Having Keep on my lock screen and with quick access through Google Now makes it much easier for this tool to be deeply integrated into my normal personal and business workflows.

Now that Keep is available as a packaged app that can function offline, it is my go to option when I need to take notes. (Note: I usually disconnect from wireless internet when in a meeting. It makes it much easier to concentrate.)

Here are some examples of how I use Google Keep:

  • I collect my thoughts for standing meetings. That way when it comes time to create a formal agenda, I don't have to spend time trying to remember what I was thinking about.
  • I capture context for meetings, projects, and tasks. This helps me transition from one thing to the next faster.
  • I date every note and assign a title that is specific to a task, project, person, or team. This will make it easier to discover when I search for specific notes.
  • I religiously use reminders and coordinate them with my calendar to ensure the note is right in front of me the moment I need it. (I do wish I could set up recurring reminders.)
  • I try not to go crazy with color coding. I use the red color for urgent needs and the yellow for quick reminders. I'm probably not as consistent as I need to be. And, truthfully, sometimes I throw a little color in there just to avoid a bunch of white notes.
  • I take a picture of the hotel room number I'm staying in and the rental car I'm driving. It helps me avoid any awkward moments when I'm traveling.
  • I also use it to capture tracking data for special packages. Since I use Google Apps for Business, Google Now doesn't scan my gmail account in the same way as it does for free accounts. 

Here the devices where I use Google Keep:
  • Macbook Pro
  • MotoX

If Google were to ask me what features and functionality I'd like to see, here is what I would tell them:
  • I'd really like recurring reminders.
  • I'd like to sync my notes with reminders automatically to Google Calendar.
  • I'd like to easily translate my note into a Google Doc much like the "share" feature works on Android.
  • I'd like to organize my notes into projects. (I realize "nested folders" are a passing reality. I suppose I'm mourning a changing paradaigm. Perhaps this extension can help for now, but I haven't tried it yet.)
  • I'd really like a web clipper feature.

What's been your experience with Keep? Has it changed your habits?

Photo Credit: Google Play Store

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How Motorola Connect makes owning a Moto X just that much sweeter

I love my Moto X for a variety of reasons.

  • It fits perfectly in my hands.
  • I designed it myself through MotoMaker.
  • Motorola Assist makes my phone smarter than most.
  • The battery life is crazy long. (I have yet to get less than 12 hours on any given day.)

One important reason I love my Moto X is the enhanced experience I get with Motorola Connect. This is a Chrome extension that allows me to:

  1. Send and receive text messages just like I would on my phone.
  2. View recent calls.
  3. Quickly view battery life and cellular signal strength.

My hands never have to leave my keyboard! That means I can stay focus on being productive.

I know you can accomplish similar functionality with AirDroid or Pushbullet. But I prefer the interface of Motorola Connect over Pushbullet. And I use AirDroid for reasons well beyond text messages.

Sometimes simplicity and focus is what makes an extension even that more attractive, useful, and relevant.

Are you a Moto X user? Do you use Motorola Connect? What's been your experience?

Image Credit:

Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Verge reviews a variety of Chromebooks

I'm a huge Chromebook fan. I even started a blog about them about a year ago. 

As more and more Chromebooks come to market, it can be paralyzing to decide which one is right for you. The Verge does a great job of walking you through what's important about a variety of options available for purchase today. They even offer their own recommendation on which one is the best Chromebook purchase today.

My wife and I helped purchase these for our son's first grade class. They worked beautifully. I've used them on and off myself. (They are almost a laptop replacement for me. Every new improvement gets them one step closer.)

Have you tried Chromebooks? What's been your experience?

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Pocket your internet reading (and watching) for later

My favorite “read it later” service is Pocket

I skim when I’m reading online. Whether it’s a social feed, blog reader, or even email, I typically don’t have the time or luxury to read what I find interesting in the moment.

Pocket has a …

Another option to get information into Pocket is to send it via email to your specific, private email address you will get when you sign up for the service.

Don’t think Pocket is only for the written copy. It can store videos, too. (I typically just use the “Watch it Later” feature in Youtube, but you can centralize if it helps streamline your review process.)

Once information is in Pocket, you can …
  • Tag it for each search.
  • Archive it for reference.
  • Share it via social networks.
  • Delete it.

Pocket did introduce a premium option recently if you so desire. I, personally, don’t use it.

The real trick to making Pocket usable rather than just a digital hoarder’s habit is to only put things in Pocket that you intend to read. Otherwise, you’ll end up with a pile of stuff that you’ll never end up going through which defeats the purpose entirely.

One final note, Pocket has done a good job of integrating it into many apps. So be sure and check your favorite RSS aggregator or social feed apps to see if Pocket is already integrated into its functionality.

How do you manage all the content you browse across the web?

Monday, July 14, 2014

Search specific sites without leaving the Chrome Address Bar

Google became "Google" because of its ability to connect information with the people searching for information. Google did this so well, it's name became a verb.

"Just Google it."
"I Googled you."
"I'm Googling this right now."

Search is why we all fell in love with Google in the first place. And Google still "owns" the search market.

Productivity is as much about efficiency as it is about effectiveness. One of the things I love about Google Chrome is that it combines features to make it less effort to find whatever it is I am looking for.

Take for instance the address bar (or sometimes referred to as the Omnibox). Did you know you can search some sites directly without ever leaving the address or search bar?

One site I browse often is (Who doesn't?)

When I type in "" into the address bar and hit the space bar, something magical happens.

You can see that "" gained a blue background, a colon, and was offset in such a way to indicate that I'm now search specifically within that site without ever having to leave the address bar.

Once I hit "Enter," I am taken directly to with my search already completed.

Not every site has this kind of "magical power." But I see this happening more and more.

Never take your hands off your keyboard to find what you're looking for when you explore a site with this search function.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Automatically encrypt critical user information in Chrome

One of the characteristics we love about Google Chrome is that it can instantly sync your previous pages, bookmarks, activity, etc. across all devices using the Chrome browser.

But how can you ensure that transfer of that information is safe?

It's really simple.

Step One: Go to your browser settings. You can get to Settings by either click on the main application menu button or by clicking on the three-lined box at the far right-hand side of your browser.

Step Two: Sign into Google Chrome (if you haven't already). Use your same login credentials for your Google account.

Step Three: Click on Advance User Settings. It should be your first option.

Step Four: Look under "Encryption Options."You should see it in the lower part of the dialog box.

Step Five: Click the radio button to encrypt all data.

Step Six: Add a passphrase. This will need to be something you remember because you'll need to enter it within Chrome on every device you intend to sync with your account.

If you do forget your passphrase, you can reset your synced data and assign a new passphrase. It's not the end of the world if you have to do this, but it is a little inconvenient.

Step Seven: Follow these same steps on each device you intend to use Chrome. You likely use Chrome on your desktop or laptop, smartphone, and tablet. So expect to do this at least three times ... maybe more.

Encrypt your synced data today and browse with confidence!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Fix your grammar instantly with the Grammarly Chrome extension

Not everyone has a personal assistant who can review all written and digital communication before it goes out. But it is true that people make judgements about you based on your use of spelling and grammar.

That's why I use Grammarly for Chrome.

This extension ensures every time I write something on the web (e.g. email, blog comments, forms, etc.) it is also proofread for spelling, syntax, and grammar. It has saved me 100 times over.

How do you know it's working? Just look for the little green "G" in the bottom corner of your screen or open text box.

If something isn't quite right, you'll see the green "G" turn red. That's how you know.

Of course, the one caveat is that you do have to do your work with web-based services, so it doesn't work in native applications. There is an annual fee of about $100, too. (This is a small price to pay in my opinion.)

Visit their website and sign up for a free 7-day trial. Or you can watch a quick video overview now.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Find Chrome apps and extensions in the Chrome Web Store

Most people are familiar with the "app store" concept. We can thank Apple for the ubiquity of that term.

Chrome has an app store. They call is the Chrome Web Store. There you'll find:
  • Links to web-based tools and software
  • Packaged apps
  • Extensions
  • Themes (e.g. Wallpaper)

You have five search options:
  • Search by specific name
  • Search with a word or phrase
  • Search by recommendations from Google based on other apps, extensions, etc. that you have.
  • Search by what's popular 
  • Search by collections that Google has pre-designed for you

case you're wondering what the difference is between an app and an extension:
  • An extension is a little extra "goodness" that offers you a way to customize your Chrome experience with tools that are consistent with your needs and workflows. They can work across apps.
  • Apps are typically one web service or piece of software that does a specific thing or series of tasks.

You can also find many extensions or apps by simply searching via Google whee you'll be presented with a link to the location of the Chrome Web Store.

When you find an app or extension that looks interesting, you can click on it and a box will appear with more detail. You'll find:

  • Web address for the developer
  • Video demonstration
  • Screen shots
  • Reviews
  • Production description

This can be very helpful information when you are making your decision.

Try the Chrome Web Store today and find the tools you need simplify and centralize your digital experience.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Packaged apps replace native Mac and Windows apps

This can get confusing, so let me explain.

Google Chrome is a web browser. (OK. That's not the confusing part.)

The biggest complaint about Chrome is that it is limited to the functionality of a browser. As more and more software moves to the Cloud, this is becoming less of an issue for most people who don't require specialized software.

For example, you're never going to edit a Hollywood movie in a browser. But then again, you're probably never going to edit a Hollywood movie ... ever!

In addition to apps that require an internet connection, Google has built many apps to run offline. This is especially true for the core Google apps such as mail, docs, spreadsheets, presentations, etc.

But Google took things one step further when they moved the exclusive Chrome OS experience to the desktop of Mac and Windows users with Chrome Packaged Apps. These apps run offline, work like native apps, and sync seamlessly with the web.

You should really give them a try!

The packaged apps I use (almost) every day on my Macbook Pro are:
  1. Pocket
  2. Keep
  3. Sunrise
Admittedly, there aren't a lot of these yet. I'm hoping more will be available soon.

Here is a quick link to browse the packaged apps available today: