Google Apps for Work (G Suite) 2016 review

Can Google's online offering deliver the tools you need to get things done?

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Create: Docs, Sheets, Slides and Sites

Google's apps come in two forms – cross-platform, browser-based apps and mobile apps for iOS and Android. Microsoft's mobile OS isn't supported beyond Google Sync for mail, contacts and calendars.

It's worth noting that the browser apps only use local storage if you're using the Chrome browser or Chrome OS, although the standalone Google Drive desktop app keeps everything in sync if you prefer a different web browser (and of course Gmail is widely supported by desktop email software and mobile email apps). The features available offline differ from product to product and platform to platform.

Docs, Sheets and Slides are Google's equivalents of Word, Excel and PowerPoint, although a more accurate comparison would be to Apple's most recent iWork apps – the emphasis is on simplicity and ease of use rather than power features.

That's particularly apparent in Slides, which also appears to prize simplicity over making presentations that don't look absolutely awful.

We wouldn't want to craft a massive, complicated manuscript in Docs, but then that isn't what Docs is designed to do. It's a fast and user-friendly way to create everyday documents and to share them with colleagues and clients. The companion Drawing app adds functions such as WordArt-style text effects, simple image creation, diagrams and flow charts.

It's a similar story with Sheets, which covers the most common Excel functions (including pivot tables) but doesn't have the power of Microsoft's offering. It is improving, though, and now that it supports Google's App Script add-ons it's possible to automate workflows and develop custom apps – although it's still way behind Microsoft here.

There are two additional apps for creating content: Forms, which as the name suggests is for creating and completing online forms, and Sites, which can be used to create shared pages on the intranet or public internet. Sites is a template-driven affair and while it won't give professional web designers any nightmares, it's an effective way to publish web content without any knowledge of web content creation.

Docs

Docs is a fast and user-friendly way to create documents, and share them with no fuss

Collaboration and compatibility

Online collaboration has been baked into Google Apps from the outset, and sharing documents with colleagues or clients is effortless. The Revision History panel tracks changes and there's a separate panel for comments, which can be notified via email as well as in the app.

Sharing is a one-button affair, with options including public, anyone with the correct link, anyone within the organisation, or sharing only with a specified group of people. These options only apply to unpublished documents, however – anything published via the Publish to the Web option, which makes an online copy of the current document, is publicly available.

In addition to the obligatory Microsoft Office formats, Google Apps also supports documents including Open Document Format, Rich Text Format, PDF, plaintext and zipped HTML. Spreadsheets can be saved as CSV and tab-delimited files, and presentations can be output in SVG and PNG formats.

The big selling point here is importing rather than exporting, however – it's useful to be able to bring non-Google documents into G Suite and make them editable and collaborative.

Google Apps also includes Google's Hangouts service, which you can make available for text, voice and video calls with anybody or limit conversations to just those people who are members of the same organisation. Hangouts can be shared with up to 15 people and used for video chat, presentation sharing or screen sharing.