SugarSync Releases 2.0 Beta, But Can it Trump the Mighty Dropbox?

The digital world is full of cloud storage and other related services. It’s definitely not a new idea — Dropbox has been on the task for years, and it wasn’t even the first — but ever since Apple decided to go iCloud, other corporations and entrepreneurs saw an opportunity to grab the market. There’s really nothing wrong with Dropbox, though. It’s been a solid service since its inception in 2008 and it’s been constantly improving, trying to develop the best user experience possible.

Then, in all the glory of this cloud giant, a new threat surfaced. Its name is SugarSync, the simple, yet efficient alternative to Dropbox. Interestingly enough, it too was launched in 2008, but it didn’t take off like Dropbox. Now, the developers have begun a new version — 2.0 — of the service and released it in the form of a public beta. The company says it “merges power and simplicity” becoming “the simplest cloud to use”. Can this bring a new wave of competition to such a longstanding foe as Dropbox?

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Installing the Desktop App

You’ll need to install an application on your computer to use the SugarSync beta. For purposes of demonstrating whether it’s easy to set up or not, I’m going to run through the process as if I were telling you how to do it.

The installer.

The installer.

It doesn’t matter if you’re using Windows or Mac, just head over to the beta download page to grab what’s compatible with your computer. Once the download is finished, open it and run the installer. (On a Mac, this is just a script that copies the app from the disc image to your Applications folder.) When you get the green light or hear that moved-file sound on your Mac, wait for SugarSync to open and begin a second setup process.

You must now create an account, unless you already have one with the service. This is easy and requires just a first name, surname, email address twice, and password that’s over six characters. When everything is finished, check your email inbox for a verification letter with a URL that you need to click in order to use the service. Continue setting up the service by choosing your plan type, entering a name for the computer you’re using, and (optionally) watching the video that shows off the new features in version 2.0. (Press Skip to move on.)

Not So “Simple” at First

Almost version 2.0.

Almost version 2.0.

Save for one script error the first time I ran the installer (something that’s expected in a beta), the setup process was streamlined, but not as “simple” as it had been made out to be. The computer’s name, for instance, should be automatic, but it’s not in SugarSync. Likewise, having the user confirm his email but not his password seems cursory. Overall, the setup process did not reflect a “simple” mantra, but it’s not that complicated, either.

Right at the Start: More Storage Than Dropbox at 5 GB

Browsing the statistics on a folder.

Browsing the statistics on a folder.

When you search for a cloud storage service, you typically want the one with the most to offer, both in features, compatibility, and, well, space. Dropbox has always given 2 GB for free by default, but there are ways to get more. Sharing the service with your friends using referral links, for example, gets you an extra 500 MB for each person you refer. The service also offers paid plans, but most people don’t go in for those unless they need 50 GB or more of storage.

SugarSync comes with 5 GB of storage right out of the box, so don’t worry about needing to expand right away. Even though there is 5 GB of space included, there are some sample documents, photos, and music that you might want to remove so you can use the full drive. Speaking of drives, the Mac version of SugarSync has an interesting disc image that it mounts to your Mac to make adding things to the cloud easier. It’s like a server: just drag and drop anything there and it’ll be uploaded automatically.

No Upload Speed Indicator or Limiter

SugarSync's OS X menu bar drop-down.

SugarSync’s OS X menu bar drop-down.

When uploading a file or folder, it’s nice to get an estimated time of completion or at least the current transfer speed. Things don’t upload instantly, after all. Dropbox has had this for a while now, but SugarSync left it out. Instead of giving a transfer speed or percentage, it says the number of files left to upload. People want to know how fast things are being moved to the cloud, so it seems like SugarSync should show an estimated time or percentage left instead.

Also in the bandwidth territory is the lack of a limiter. Dropbox allows you to limit both the upload and download rates so you don’t consume too much bandwidth while you’re trying to stream video or do something other than manage your files in the cloud. Again, SugarSync is without this. If you plan to do something else while uploading or downloading some files from the cloud, cancel those plans until this is finished because it’ll slow things down.

Modern App Design

The iPhone Photos app (not sure why it's there) and SugarSync 2.0 beta for Android.

The iPhone Photos app (not sure why it’s there) and SugarSync 2.0 beta for Android.

The confectionary approach of SugarSync shows in its cross-platform apps. Right now, the only way to access 2.0 beta in all its glory while mobile is using an Android device, which is understandable considering the App Store limitations on iOS and Windows Phone. Regardless of availability on all platforms, the design of the Android beta is far better than its predecessor. Currently, SugarSync offers a stable Android app that was last updated in July. In addition to having the a rather uninspired design, it’s nowhere near the quality of Dropbox’s app. So the designers decided it was time for a facelift with this new release, and they started with a simple yet beautiful green texture interface.

The thorough redesign of its mobile apps shows that SugarSync cares to set a standard for quality in aesthetics. However, it has a long ways to go. No mockups of the iPhone app have been shown yet and the Windows Phone one is in the dark, not even included in the promo image on the 2.0 beta Web page. It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds for SugarSync’s apps, but we’re definitely excited about it after seeing the Android app demo.

A Superficial Web App

Since this is Web.AppStorm, it’s only fitting to go over the “Web” features of this service. Most competitors, namely Dropbox, have a Web app for further organizing files when on-the-go or using someone else’s computer. Such things are extremely useful if you need to grab a file to show someone or need some folders you keep in your virtual drive. At this stage, SugarSync’s Web app isn’t anything close to Dropbox’s.

The SugarSync Web interface.

The SugarSync Web interface.

The designers wanted to keep the same clean interface on the Web as existed on the desktop. They really shouldn’t have though, because it wastes a lot of screen space where extra information could be shown, perhaps the size of the folder or file, when it was last modified, or when it was uploaded. Instead of including useful information, the developers added tips to the sidebar (as you can see in the screenshot above). While there’s nothing wrong with a helpful tip or two, it shouldn’t take up extra space that can be put to better use. All of this is the result of porting a small desktop app to a large browser window.

Moving a file.

Moving a file.

On to organizing, which is something every cloud storage service should make available everywhere. Well, SugarSync doesn’t. Instead, it offers a simple checkbox approach that, while looking nice on the outside, makes organizing things one step harder. If you want to move a file to a different folder, you must select it, click the More drop-down, and click Move. You can then select the destination folder. This four-step process could have been shortened to a drag-and-drop one with a better-developed Web app. And the potential simplicity doesn’t stop there.

The simple drag and drop approach to uploading.

The simple drag and drop approach to uploading.

Uploading a file is the most basic task you can perform, at least on a computer. Not in this cloud. You would expect there to be a large “Upload” button somewhere on the screen, because that’s the user-friendly way to put things. Instead, however, you must select the folder you’d like to upload to and click the upload icon. In addition, and even worse, you have to select the folder again when you’re viewing it. So say you want to upload something to the folder you’re currently looking at. You must then select it, click the upload button, and either drag and drop your files or find them using the browser. That seems like a bit much to perform a simple action.

With Dropbox, just drag a file to the window and it'll upload. Easy.

With Dropbox, just drag a file to the window and it’ll upload. Then drag-and-drop to the folder you want. Easy.

If SugarSync is aiming at Web users with this service, they’ve failed miserably. Right now, it’s hard to see the purpose of even having a Web app since it doesn’t allow you to upload files easily or organize anything at all. The only way to do this is to download a desktop app and use that, which many cloud users are not going to see as fit for their needs. Those problems and the fact that the Web app doesn’t feel like an “app” — no right-clicking ability, no dragging things around, no well-built feature base — compared to ones like Dropbox all go to show that this indeed a beta.

Deeper Focus on Sharing

Every service nowadays has a way for you to share your files with friends or coworkers. It’s almost a necessity for a file sharing service to have something like this. For one, it helps the developer get the app’s name out there. Users also like a nice built-in approach to giving friends their photos, PDFs, and school projects. Unlike Dropbox, SugarSync has a more user-friendly and manageable approach to sharing.

Sharing a file with people.

Sharing a file with people.

With Dropbox, you right click the folder or file you want to share, go to the Dropbox menu, and click Share Link or Share This Folder. The restriction here is what you’re sharing must be in the Dropbox folder. Once SugarSync is installed, however, a new option is added to the global right-click menu so you can share anything. There’s also an option to add the item to SugarSync, not a folder on your computer like Dropbox — in which case you must move it— but rather a cloud folder.

If you choose to share the item with someone, a window appears with privacy settings. You can choose whether people can see and edit the item or just view it. Once you’ve sorted out all the privacy and sharing settings, you can add recipients’ emails in the corresponding box and add a personal message if needed. Click Send Invitation and call up your receiver to make sure he got the memo.

Monthly Pricing

Comparing Dropbox's monthly offerings with SugarSync's.

Comparing Dropbox’s monthly offerings with SugarSync’s.

Before wrapping up, there’s the issue of the difference in price between this and Dropbox. While SugarSync does have more space at the start, it still offers paid plans for people who need extra gigabytes. This is one thing the service has going for it, in fact — better price points. Not to say that they’re more affordable, but rather more flexible. With Dropbox, you get 100 GB for $9.99 per month and more available after that. SugarSync has plans starting at $4.99 per month or $49.99 per year, and that’s for 30 GB.

The next plan up is $9.99 per month and only 60 GB, so in the long run it would seem that it’s not the bargain that Dropbox is. However, if you are a big user who wants 1 TB or more, SugarSync doesn’t offer that and has a maximum of 500 GB for $39.99 per month; Dropbox is $49.99 per month for that size. It really keeps going up and down.

Is It Worth Switching?

If you’ve read all the way through this article, it’s either because you are looking for a Dropbox alternative or have not yet made your mind up about what cloud storage service to use. Either way, the verdict is to stay with good old Dropbox. It’s shown its reliability to the many users it now holds more than 100 million users. SugarSync tries to be a good adversary, but it’s far from making the cut. The little Web app issues are but a speck compared to the bigger picture: this app is not yet fit for battle. That’s understandable since it’s in beta, but the developers are really going to have to bring it a long way before it can hope to knock in Dropbox’s door.

There’s no score on this review because it’s for a beta product.