There was a lot of buzz a few weeks ago when Google announced that Docs would become Drive, a general purpose file storage/syncing application with similar functionality to Dropbox. As a matter of fact, I reviewed the web app – the summary being that it’s good, but I will stick with Dropbox. The Android app, on the other hand, offers a completely unique experience that’s worth exploring.
Google Drive (formerly Google Docs) is an app that allows you to store, sync, and edit files between multiple devices. While we’ve seen similar functionality from services like Dropbox, with Drive you can edit certain files natively from within the app. We’ll take a look at that in a bit, but first, let’s look at storing and syncing.
Just a heads up: you probably already have this app. If I’m not mistaken, Google Docs comes preinstalled on most Android phones, and it was automatically updated to become Google Drive.
File Storage and Syncing
When you open Drive, you’re brought to the home screen, which give you the option to view your own files, shared files, starred files, recent files, and files accessible offline.
Heading over to the “My Drive” area (pictured above) will show you a list of all of your folders and files, organized first by folders, then alphabetically. You can also do a search by file name. Strangely, if you’re in a folder, Drive will only search that folder (not, for example, subfolders). However, it will search all folders and files from the home screen.
When you select a file, Google Drive will either find an app that supports that file type or open supported types right from within Drive. You can also long-press a file or select the down arrow to do more, including share, send, rename, make available offline, open with a specified app, and delete.
The difference between Share and Send is that Share will allow you to share the file within Google Drive, adding contributors to view and edit the file, while Send will download the file to your device, allowing you to then share it using another of your apps. For example, if you have a paper you and a friend are working on via Drive, you would use Share. If you want to send a file to someone via Dropbox, Twitter, or Facebook, you would use Send.
The other areas accessible from the home screen are pretty self-explanatory, though I will point out that shared documents have moved out of your Drive and into their own separate area. Finally, if you lose a data connection, you will not be able to access any file except for those you make available offline, so keep that in mind if you know you’ll be somewhere with no Wi-Fi and spotty connectivity!
Google Drive gives you the ability to cache files you open for faster downloading or viewing later. You can set the size of the cache to 25MB, 50MB (default), 100MB, or 250MB.
Drive also gives you some security options regarding your documents. You can choose to encrypt all offline documents (that is, documents stored on your device), and can also choose to decrypt documents incrementally as they are streamed to your phone.
The biggest unique feature that Google Drive for Android has over other apps in the same category is the ability to edit certain file types from right within the app.
Just select the file you want to edit and you’ll be brought to Drive’s built-in editor. Right now you can do this with Documents and Spreadsheets; oddly missing from the app is the ability to edit Presentations, which you can edit in the web browser. When you open a presentation in Google Drive, it does open within the app, however there are no editing capabilities. However, pressing the Settings icon while viewing a presentation will reveal some functionality that doesn’t seem to be implemented yet. I hope this means the ability to edit presentations is coming soon.
Also missing (disappointingly) is the ability to natively edit text files. This is missing from the web app version of Drive as well, and so probably shouldn’t be an expectation of mine. However, if you do have the ability to edit and view various types of files, my reasoning is the ability to edit text files is relatively easy to implement compared to some of the other cool things the app does. In any case, you can only edit Documents and Spreadsheets.
As far as editing functionality goes, it works just as it did when the app was called Google Docs. You can make and track changes, add collaborators, and even see live updates when others are editing the document at the same time. This, I think, is the coolest part of the app because it’s a truly mobile way of doing things that works seamlessly. It also works much better in the app than it does in the mobile browser on both Android and iOS. In my opinion, the app is worth having just for this functionality.
As a cloud storage service, Google Drive can compete with the other players in the market, though I would still recommend Dropbox over it. As an Android app, Google Drive offers some unique functionality that makes using the service well worth it. Specifically, the ability to edit certain file types from anywhere as well as collaborate with others is pretty incredible. It’s one of those things I would consider a small miracle that no one cares about. While there are some features I wish Google Drive did have, like the ability to edit text files, this reincarnation of Google Docs is still in the early stages of life and I’m sure we can expect a lot more out of it in the near future.