Google Apps for Work 2016 review

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

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Our Verdict

Google Apps is fast, lightweight, works on a wide range of devices, and is easy to use and administer. A very compelling product for SMEs.

For

  • Competitively priced
  • Easy to setup and administer
  • Excellent online collaboration
  • Good mobile support

Against

  • Apps are simpler than rivals'
  • Offline storage for browser apps currently Chrome-only

For decades, the gold standard of office productivity software has been Microsoft Office – it inherited IBM's status as the technology nobody got fired for buying. But while Office is undoubtedly powerful, many of its users don't use many of its features. So why pay for things your organisation doesn't use?

That's the rationale behind Google Apps for Work, formerly Google Apps for Business. Where Office tries to do everything imaginable, Google Apps is much more basic. That said, it's much more powerful than it was when the suite debuted in 2006, but the emphasis on simplicity and speed remains.

Apps and pricing

Google Apps for Work is organised into four categories spanning eleven products. Under Communicate you'll find Gmail, Hangouts and Calendar; under Store there's Google Drive; under Collaborate there's Docs, Sheets, Forms, Slides and Sites; and under Manage there's Admin and Vault. That final one is designed to archive corporate email in organisations that have to retain data for regulatory compliance.

As ever, the pricing is refreshingly simple. The base product is £3.30 ($5.66) per user per month, and the Premium version is £6.60 ($11.32) per user per month. If your organisation is an educational establishment, Google also has a version for you: Google Apps for Education is free.

While we're on the subject of free apps, you can of course get Gmail, Docs, Sheets and other Google apps for free – so why spend money? The short answer is that the paid-for version gives you more storage, management, and the ability to use your own domain – so emails come from @yourcompany.com instead of @gmail.com.

Users on the base version of Google Apps for Work get 30GB of storage, which is twice the amount of the free products, and users on the Premium version get unlimited storage, while you also get improved admin controls and the Vault email archive. Both the base and premium versions come with HD videoconferencing via Hangouts and 24/7 phone, chat and email support.

Slides
Slides, Google's presentation module, covers the basics well enough

How does it compare to Office?

Google's main rival here is of course Microsoft, and Redmond's Office 365 comes with a number of price tags attached depending on which version you want and how many users you're planning on giving it to.

Microsoft has cut the price of Office 365 to make it more competitive, and it now comes in four tiers: Office 365 Business Essentials, which is £3.10 per user per month; Office 365 Business, which is £7 per user per month; Office 365 Business Premium, which is £7.80 per user per month; and Office 365 Enterprise E3, which is £14.70 per user per month. The first three plans are limited to a maximum of 300 users per year.

The most basic version of Office 365 offers web-based versions of Office apps, 1TB of storage per user plus a 50GB email inbox, unlimited online meetings and HD videoconferencing, plus business-focused social networking for collaborating across departments.

The next step up, Business, offers full Office apps for desktop, laptop, tablet and smartphone along with 1TB of storage, but not the extra 50GB email inboxes. If you want that and the desktop/mobile apps too, you'll need Office 365 Business Premium. As with Google there's 24-hour web support and phone support for "critical issues".

One deal-breaker here might be compliance: Microsoft's compliance tools are limited to the Enterprise product, which is twice the price of Google Apps for Work Premium.