It has been a long time rumor that Google was going to release some kind of cloud stoage product akin to the likes of Dropbox or iCloud. It does make sense, after all; Google was the company that changed email by offering an unprecidented 1GB of storage for email all the way back in 2004- storage that they’ve been increasing steadily ever since. With Google Music, you get a crazy 20GB of space for your music. You can upload documents to Google Docs and store them forever. What about all files? Well last Monday Google officially launched Google Drive.
Before we get started, I’ve got to say that while I am a Google fanboy, I absolutely love Dropbox. I’ve been using it for a long time and have told lots of people about it as it’s definitely the best way to share files and folders. Let’s see how Google Drive stacks up against it.
The first thing to note is that Google Drive isn’t exactly a fresh, brand new out of the box webapp. Google has collapsed Google Docs into Drive, making it a more general cloud storage solution. Android users may have noticed that the Docs app got a update, and is now also Drive.
Starting out, Google Drive offers you a lofty 5GB of data. This is more than the 2GB that a referral-less Dropbox account gives you, and on par with what Apple’s iCloud gives you. You can also buy more storage: $2.49/mo for an additional 25GB and $4.99/mo for an additional 100GB. To give you some perspective, Dropbox doesn’t offer a 25GB addition, but it’s $9.99/mo for 50GB and $19.99/mo for 100GB.
The online interface looks just like Google Docs, but the sidebar is a little different and overall it seems cleaner. One really nice feature of the new Google Drive is the wide support it has for different file types. As you would expect, you could open the Google Docs supported file types, such as .doc, .xls, .pdf, .psd, and .txt. However, you can also view any basic text file, like .php or .html (both of which have text highlighting, which is awesome), and you can view the contents of .zip files, which is another awesome touch. As a matter of fact, Google Drive can open over 30 types of files, all right within the browser.
Quite possibly the best feature of Dropbox is how easy it is to share files and folders. Invite people to a folder, or even create a link to any file to send to someone (which is a relatively new feature). Let’s see how Google Drive stacks up against it.
Sharing is pretty straight-forward. Select a file and share it using the “Share” button in the top right corner. You can then share the file with anyone, and even give them edit, comment, or just view permissions.
One big issue is that it seems you need a Google Account to view the files. While Google’s claim is that soon you’ll be able to attach files from Google Drive within GMail, a public link to the file similar to Dropbox offers would be great as not everyone has a Google Account. I feel this can really inhibit Drive’s growth. If all parties do have a Google Account, however, there are some benefits.
I alluded to this earlier when I mentioned permissions, but people you share with have the ability to comment on, or even edit supported files. Commenting is supported across all file types that you can open in the browser which is really cool. Editing, as far as I can tell, is supported by the same file types that were supported in Google Docs- .doc, .xls, and .ppt. You actually need to convert the Microsoft Office extensions to the Google Docs friendly ones. While this is a little annoying, the original doesn’t get overwritten when you do convert.
This is a big plus over other cloud storage services, most of which don’t even open those files in the browser. This makes Google Drive a collaborative tool as well as a storages/sharing tool. Google Drive will also track all changes, so you can revert back to previous versions if you need to. This is a feature I love with Dropbox; I’m very glad that Google implemented something similar.
This wouldn’t be a Google product without amazing search capability, and Google Drive doesn’t disappoint. It does not only a title search, but a search by owner and contents. It can even do OCR scanning to search text in images, as well as objects. For example, if it recognizes some landmark, like Mount Rushmore, with will tag that image with [mount rushmore] so you can do a search for that term. Mighty impressive!
The biggest addition, and what most helped the transition from Docs to Drive, is the ability to download an app on your Mac, PC, Android, or iOS device that automatically syncs files and folders to your Google Drive account.
iOS device support is coming soon.
Much like Dropbox, you can add a file from any location and it will sync to all locations. Syncing seems incredibly fast. Once I logged in, I was all ready to go in about 15 seconds (granted, I don’t have too much in Google Drive yet). A really cool feature of the desktop app is you can choose which folders to sync. You can also exclude Google Docs files if you so choose.
When viewing your files, all documents created using Google Docs will open up in the brower, not on the native desktop counterpart. For example, a .doc will still open in Word, but a .gdoc will open in the browser. This is a good solution for those who don’t have Microsoft Office, but if I’m editing on the desktop, I’d like to use the native app. Unfortunately, this would mean Google would have to automatically convert all .gdoc, .gsheet, and .gslides documents to .doc, .xls, and .ppt formats, which would be a time-consuming and space wasting task.
For a first release, Google Drive is a pretty nice product; however, it has a long way to go to catch up to the likes of Dropbox. I love that you can open and edit files, but I really don’t like the fact that you’re really tied to a Google account. If I want to share a file with someone, I don’t want to explain that they need to sign up for a Google account first; I want to send them a link to a file to download. The bottom line right now is: if you’re an avid Google Docs user, this is a dream product for you. Otherwise, you might want to stick with Dropbox* for now.
*Don’t get me wrong: 5GB of space is 5GB. But Dropbox will still be my go to for sharing.