Google’s Stack is a smart, albeit incomplete, way to digitize and organize documents

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It is a daunting task to deal with paperwork, be it on paper or digital. Tax documents, explanations of insurance company benefits, proofs of purchase, prescriptions, bills, vaccination cards – the list of daily papers is endless. And if you suddenly have to find that coupon for your two-year-old laptop, it is of course nowhere to be found.

Google’s latest experimental app, Stackis meant to make that part of your life easier. A product of Google’s Area 120 incubator, Stack is designed to be the place where you can keep PDF copies of all those documents. As mentioned in our first article, Stack borrows the technology that underpins Google’s powerful DocAI business tool for document analysis so it can organize them into categories – or, in Google-speaking, stacks – and you can search for words in the text.

I have a lot of papers to keep organized. To keep their digital copies stored and accessible, I use a combination of Google Drive, Evernote, and a PDF creation app called Tiny ScannerIt’s not an ideal solution, so when Google came out with a document scanning / organizing app, I thought I’d see what this stack was about.

Bring in the stacks

First of all, a note: Stack is currently only available on Android devices and can only be installed with a personal Gmail account, not a Google Workplace account (previously called G Suite). However, after installing the app, you can access documents stored in all of your Google Drive accounts, including Workspace accounts. This kind of confusion isn’t new to anyone dealing with juggling multiple Google accounts.

When you first open Stack, you’ll be presented with a series of icons representing a variety of stacks, including Bills, Banking, Home, IDs, Medical, Receipts, and Starred. If none of these meet your needs, you can click the Edit link in the top right and you will be presented with other stacks related to taxes, immigration, vehicles, and other categories, which you can add to your top-level stacks. . You can also create your own stack by tapping a plus button.

You organize your documents in stacks.

You can select different stacks or create your own.

You can select different stacks or create your own.

At the bottom of the main screen are two tabs: “Home” (the home screen where you can see your stacks) and “All Documents” (where you can view and search all of your saved documents without the “stack” organization).

To start adding documents, press the plus sign on the home screen. You will be presented with three ways to fill Stack:

  • PDF: Get an existing PDF from a Google Drive account or from your device
  • Gallery: Find a recently photographed image on your device
  • Camera: Use your device’s camera to scan a document

I have a lot of documents in Google Drive so I thought I would use the pdf method to import documents first. I was disappointed to find that I could only import one document at a time – meaning it would take a very long time to get my entire PDF history.

The Gallery method wasn’t very useful either, as it only allowed me access to about a month and a half of the photos on my device.

You can add an existing PDF or scan one with your phone's camera.

You can add an existing PDF or scan one with your phone’s camera.

There are basic editing functions for the PDF.

There are basic editing functions for the PDF.

On the other hand, using my phone’s camera to scan a document from Stack worked fine. The document is previewed before it is saved and you can adjust the color, crop and rotate it as needed. You can also add additional pages so that you can have a document of more than one page.

Whichever way I imported a document, I was impressed with how well Stack recorded it. The app creates the name of the document based on the content, isolates important details such as the date and purchase amount, and uses the content to decide which stack to place the document in. For example, it correctly identified a document with information about the CDC’s v-safe app as being from the CDC and placed it in the medical stack. And when I photographed a very crumpled receipt, it chose with no discernible effort the name of the retailer and the amount of the purchase and put the document on my stack of receipts.

You don’t have to depend on the app to decide which stack to place the document in. You can assign a document to a stack by going to the “All documents” tab and then selecting the relevant document; the stacks are listed below the image and you can add or remove them there. And yes, you can assign a single document to more than one stack, if you want – for example, I put the CDC document in both my medical and star stacks.

What you cannot do is create sub-stacks (or sub-folders) within a stack. You also cannot tag a document. For example, if you collect a lot of medical documents from different doctors, you should put them all in the medical stack and find the document you need or create a separate stack for each doctor. Hopefully, as we work on this experimental app, some additional organizational tools will be added.

On the other hand, a search (by going to “All Documents”) will usually find what you need. As can be expected from a Google app, the search works very well; most of my searches were successful in finding text in the pdf documents.

Stack's AI even extracted data from a crumpled receipt.

Stack’s AI even extracted data from a crumpled receipt.

You can search for content from within the PDF.

You can search for content from within the PDF.

If you go to the Settings page (which can be accessed from your personal icon), you can have the app automatically import all photos from documents you take with your device. You can also automatically save all of your PDFs to your Google Drive (which is an excellent idea since Stack is experimental and can easily end up on the Google Graveyard). And if you decide Stack isn’t for you, you can export any existing documents to your Drive and delete all your data from Stack.

Privacy and security

According to Google’s description of the app, “Stack uses Google’s advanced security and login technology to protect your documents.” You may also need a face or fingerprint lock to access the app – a good idea if you plan on adding sensitive documents.

How much that protects your documents from Google itself is, as always, the question. To use Stack, you agree to the Google Terms of Service (which you’ve likely agreed to before if you have a Gmail account) and Privacy Policy (same). You will also be asked to allow the app to access photos and media on your device and to take photos and record video (while using the app, this time only, or decline). Both permissions are optional, but if Stack can’t access media or take photos, it probably won’t be very useful.

So is Stack a viable option for those of us trying to keep up with life’s paperwork? As far as I’m concerned, it’s not quite there yet – being so early in its development and having become a bit cynical about Google’s tendency to give up its experiments, I’m not ready to write all my important papers. to Stapel. But it has a lot of potential, and I’m going to keep an eye on it.