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Google Drive Review
Google Drive retains all the best features and core functionality of its predecessor, Google Docs, and adds a downloadable app for local file-sycing. For collaborative projects, it’s one sweet package.
(4 out of 5)
- Adds local file-syncing and built in OCR technology to all of Google Docs’ other core functionality
- Integrated smoothly into the Google universe
- Generous free storage space if you use Google file formats for most docs.
- Some users may feel uneasy about privacy and IP ownership
- Hit and miss success with various video file formats.
Recently, some lucky Google users received an invitation to Google Drive (free to $4.99 per month). If you haven’t yet been invited to Drive, relax because you actually have most of the product and service already. It’s called Google Docs, and it’s fantastic.
Confused? The newly launched Google Drive is merely a rebranding of Google Docs with a few added features, chief among them local file syncing. In other words, Google Docs—ahem, Drive—now works more like Dropbox , SugarSync, CX, or any other file-syncing service you care to name, while still retaining the core Docs functionality, too. You can upload files to your Google account, convert them to Google’s file format to edit them online or create new docs in the Web interface, collaborate with others in real time, and export the finished products to more standard file formats, like .doc, .rtf, .pdf, .csv, and so on.
Because of these wide-ranging capabilities, Google Drive is an Editors’ Choice, although there isn’t any one product or service that directly competes with it at the moment. Google Drive was the first file-syncing service to include a free online office suite and seamlessly incorporate cloud-based file-syncing (Skydrive is the only other service that has all these features). While Google has positioned its new Google Drive cloud-storage service as one that straddles the consumer and business space, those using it for collaboration will probably get the most out of it. We have no hesitation recommending Google Drive, as it is an excellent platform and service, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only file-syncing service you should use either.
Main Features of Drive
The gist of Google Drive, and the main attraction to it, is it can store your files in the cloud where they are accessible to you and your collaborators, and become highly searchable.
One feature related to “search” stands out: Google’s ability to scan a photo and “read” it using optical character recognition, or identify it using its own technology. The only other app of this kind that uses built-in OCR nearly as well is Evernote , although you have to have a paid Premium account to use it.
Google also claims Drive allows videos to be uploaded, but we encountered some issues with that part of the service.
Like many other general file-syncing services, Google Drive works better for document files than multimedia. It’s not ideally meant to be a music and video streaming service—for that kind of product, you’ll likely need a paid service and device, such as the Verbatim Mediashare Mini, although SugarSync does offer some neat capabilities and support for streaming iTunes music. Amazon Cloud also offers some special support for music and movies. However, within the Google universe you can use Google Play in tandem with Drive (more on that in a bit).
Carryover Features from Google Docs
The core services and functionality that were in Google Docs, namely, a free online office suite where files are also hosted, are still intact in Drive. Google Docs is one of the best known free alternative to Microsoft Office, although it’s entirely Web-based—there’s no software to install to use it (the only downloadable part is the app for local syncing with Drive).
As with Microsoft Office, Google Docs/Drive (the old name still shows up if you haven’t signed up for Drive yet) lets you create word processing documents, spreadsheets, presentation documents, forms, vector drawings, and now in beta, tables. Google hosts your files, too, so when you log in, all your files are there. You can sort them into customizable folders, which appear along a left pane, or just search for what you need, using a standard search bar in the Web app.
When you create a document in Google Docs (or Drive as it were), the file format used is Google’s own. However, the system couldn’t be more flexible. You can export Google documents to more standardized files formats, like .doc, .rtf, .ppt, .pdf, and more; and you can import practically any document with the option of keeping it in its native format (which may limit your ability to edit it) or translating it into a Google doc file, which makes it editable in the online service. I’ve certainly had my share of moments when I was stuck on a computer that didn’t have Microsoft Office at the very moment someone emailed me an important file that required my feedback pronto. Google Docs saved the day. I could open the file in Google Docs/Drive, edit it, and export the revised file back out to its original form. Occasionally some formatting will go haywire during this process (bullet points, the bane of my formatting existence!) but it gets the job done.
Price and Storage Allotment
At the low cost of nothing, Google Drive doles out 5GB of space—but in fact, that’s not the whole story. Google does in fact give you much more space for free because files you created using Google Docs (in Google’s proprietary, online formats) don’t count toward that quota nor do files shared with you.
But if 5GB isn’t enough, you can pay Google for the privilege of having your files data-mined: 25GB for $2.49 per month, 100GB for $4.99 per month, or even 1TB for $49.99 per month. Whether you use the paid or free version, you won’t see any ads attached to Drive, anywhere–which is not the case with Gmail.
Cheapskates are better off with CX, which gives a whopping10GB free space to start, or Microsoft’s SkyDrive, which offers 7GB (or 25GB if you were an existing user prior to April 22, 2012).
SugarSync, one of our Editors’ Choices for file-syncing services, seems less generous with 5GB free space, but the bonus referrals are limitless, so you can easily earn a lot more. Dropbox, our other Editors’ Choice, starts you out with 2GB and lets you earn bonuses, but caps all free accounts at 16GB.
Drive in the Googleverse
For those familiar with Google’s services, you’ll be happy to know that Google fits within the ecosystem relatively smoothly. Drive replaces Docs in the black navigation bar at the top of the screen when you accept the invitation to join. All your Google Doc files will still be there when you log into Drive.
To get the newest feature in Drive—local, desktop syncing—you must download a small installer for Windows or Mac. When the installation completes, Drive appears as a folder. If you add files to it, a recycle icon shows that they are syncing to the cloud.
One of Drive’s strengths is collaboration. It lets you share any file and attach comments to it as well. As with its predecessor Google Docs, Drive supports real-time collaboration, too, an amazing tool if you’ve ever had a working meeting with remote teammates. Type your notes and changes into a document, and others can see them appear in real time on the file. When they make changes, those additions appear before your very eyes, too. Every user is identified, and it’s a wonderful technological achievement and implementation.
Google has a mobile app for Drive, but it’s only available for Android at present. Uploaded files appeared almost instantly on both the Android app and the Google Drive Web page.
Like Drive for the desktop, any changes or additions made to Drive-stored files are almost instantly pushed to the mobile device. It’s fast, and as you’d expect, Google makes searching for a document quick and easy.
Supported File Types
We tried a number of different items: folders, Word files, Excel spreadsheets, JPEG image files, MP3s, PDFs, an AMR audio file, an image resizing application (.exe), and .mpeg, .wmv, and .avi files. Remember, there’s also Google Play Music, a separate cloud service for your music files, along with rivals like MSpot. Our only issues arose with video files. We tried an .avi file; no dice. A .wmv? Nope. Mpeg files were hit and miss. Granted, there are almost dozens of different video formats available. We’re waiting to hear back from Google for a list of those supported.
Videos and Photos
For someone used to the automatic photo and video uploading of a SugarSync, Drive may feel awkward. Google places that capability within Google+, and also limits your photo resolution as well. In other words, you can’t take a photo with your phone and have it automatically upload into Drive. In other words, there’s not automatic photo syncing button. But you can take a picture with your Android phone, manually upload it to Drive, and it will upload with full resolution. Videos can be uploaded to Drive as well.
However, videos and image files that are stored via Drive must be downloaded each time they’re accessed. It not only costs you time, but also counts against your bandwidth cap. On the other hand, this also means that you have the option of storing them locally, too. While Drive appears to use its own generic media player for video, Drive will open music via Play Music.
The coolest new feature in Google Drive is its ability to “read” photos with OCR technology. The only problem is that this feature seems confusing at first glance. If you take a photo of a page of a book, the photo will save as an image. But if you choose to save it as a Google document, the photo will be attached to a searchable block of text—not replaced by it, so you have side-by-side views of the OCR interpretation and the original. Google does an excellent job with OCR. Say you want to quickly sneak a snapshot of your favorite recipe into your own arsenal, well, this feature is just the thing.
Drive for Collaboration
Google Drive excels at supporting collaborative projects, which is something other file-syncing services don’t offer and big reason it’s an Editors’ Choice. It offers so many appealing features and capabilities that you’re missing out if you don’t use it. But there’s nothing stopping you from using more than one service, like another Editors’ Choice among file-syncing services, SugarSync or Dropbox, not to mention other options like SkyDrive, Box, and Amazon Cloud. Having more than one service lets you compartmentalize your home and work files, or keep photos separate from documents, and so forth. It also lets you decide which of your files to put in more secure cloud spaces and which to leave to the whims of Google’s money-making teams.
By Jill Duffy, PCMag