"Just like the Loch Ness Monster, you may have heard about Google Drive. It turns out, one of the two actually does exist." That's how Google introduced the long-awaited Google Drive.
It was first rumoured way back in 2006 as a complementary service to Gmail - then two years old - and it was even suggested the two may share storage. Now, we've seen numerous tools launch that fill this gap - SugarSync and Dropbox to name a couple of players, while there's also Apple's iCloud and Microsoft's SkyDrive of course.
But Google has now taken the plunge and announced the 5GB service along with apps for Android devices as well as Mac and PC. The Google Drive Sync tools for Mac or PC put a folder on your PC or Mac that acts like a, er, dropbox.
iOS apps are coming soon according to Google.
You can choose to upgrade to 25GB for $2.49/month, 100GB for $4.99/month or even 1TB for $49.99/month. When you upgrade to a paid account, your Gmail account storage will also expand to 25GB. If you're a Picasa Web Albums convert, you'll be rather pleased to know that the storage is shared.
It certainly seems that Google has changed its tune about adding subscriptions to services such as Drive. Would it have asked for payment for going over 5GB of storage in an era before iCloud, for example? Has Apple made it acceptable to pay?
When you first sign up, you'll see the below message introducing you to the service.
Then you're thrown into Drive, which at first glance, looks rather like Google Docs. That's because once you sign up for Google Drive, you no longer see Google Docs. Your documents are in your drive. This can seem a bit confusing for those of us who - like all of us on TechRadar - use Google Docs to collaborate on numerous documents.
That's because it's only your OWN documents that appear in the 'root' of your drive (called My Drive) - the rest are consigned to a Shared with me window.
However, the key thing is that you can also drag files or folders shared with you to My Drive for easy access.
The initial screen also has a banner inviting you to download the Google Drive Sync software for Mac or PC - more on that shortly.
Here's the Shared with me folder. Note you can easily create folders at will to sort your documents and files.
We think the UI needs a lot more work. It's like a retread of Google Docs at the moment and Google surely needs to do work here. It is possible to see mini previews of your documents but, while the file name information is displayed when you mouse over, it doesn't quite go far enough for our liking.
Uploading to Google Drive
Getting files into your Google Drive is fairly easy, just like in Docs. You can also see your quota within this menu. You'll also note that you can upload a folder if you're in Chrome..
...but in other browsers you just get a menu link telling you to use Chrome to upload folders. Thanks for that.
The first time you perform an upload (and on subsequent occasions if you choose that option), Drive will ask if you would like to convert documents to the corresponding Google Docs format (we said no).
Annoyingly, you can't natively edit Office documents within Google Drive; you will need to convert them first.
However, thanks to a third-party app from nivio, it is possible to edit them within your drive. Google has built Drive as an open platform, so expect a whole bunch of third-party apps in the Chrome Web Store - some have appeared already and we'll be compiling a full list of these for you very soon.
It will also ask you if you want to convert images and PDFs to text - it uses OCR to extract this detail from your files. Thereafter you can search for a word from the text of the actual article.
Uploading articles shows the following dialog box - if you've ever dealt with files on a Chromebook, it's a bit like that. Oh, you haven't?
You also get more detail on who has modified documents shared with you.
You can reorder your Drive documents however you want - we find last modified suits our needs best.
Google Drive Sync app for Mac and PC
The app installer works like just about any other - there's no Google Magic at work here - and it installs itself to the system tray on a PC.
Essentially, Google Drive installs a Google Drive folder within your user folder. This will all be very familiar to you if you use Dropbox. And, like Dropbox, synced files have a tick on the icon.
The system tray icon (gives you access to key Google Drive information such as your quota as well as a quick link to your Drive on the web.
The Preferences dialog box is the most interesting thing about the Google Drive Sync app - you can choose to sync selected folders if you wish - powerful. You can also choose whether or not you want the app to sync your Google Docs files.
So that's it. Google Sync is a great addition to Google armoury of apps and everything does work seamlessly. However, the Docs-style interface is a bit old hat and can be confusing; it's just a file list and needs a bit more thought we think. There's a reason that PCs and Macs use icons. The mini previews are good, but they're not quite intuitive enough.
However, if you already use a file synchronisation service there's no reason to switch - unless you don't get enough data for free. SkyDrive now provides 7GB, which is obviously more than the 5GB Google does. But while SugarSync now gives away 5GB for free, Dropbox is stuck on just 2GB. This needs to be increased. And soon.
Google Drive app for Android
Google Drive is coming to iOS - Google says it is working "hard" on the new app - but it has already released one for Android through Google Play.
As you can see it's a pretty simple app that enables you to access your files on the move and save some for offline access should you wish.
This is what the main My Drive view looks like:
And here's the Shared with me view.
It's easy to create new Google Docs directly from the app as well as take photos to upload to your Google Drive.
And the best thing is that everything is easily searchable.