Google Drive (opens in new tab) is conceived in its DNA to live on the web, but it also offers very useful mobile applications. Additionally, it offers desktop backup tools (opens in new tab) for Windows and macOS platforms to get your files up to the cloud quickly. While it does not have every last bell and whistle, it makes up for this in speed and efficiency.
- You can sign up for Google Drive here (opens in new tab)
Google Drive has grown nicely from its shaky start to be a genuine competitor to the likes of Box and Dropbox as a cloud storage (opens in new tab) and file syncing (opens in new tab) solution. Looking at how advanced its web apps are currently, it's hard to find a fault anywhere with the Google Drive package.
Google Drive features
Google Drive impresses easily when it comes to the key areas you look for a cloud storage solution to offer. The web interface and mobile apps allow you to get at your files (and edit them) from anywhere. Also, the sharing options strike an excellent balance, walking the line between functionality and ease-of-use.
Sharing permissions can be set at the admin level of course, which allows different contacts access to different files, and you can also share files and folders as needed with regular links or email invites. We like the commenter permissions, which sit somewhere between read-only and editing rights, which is great for collaborating on an important document.
The Team Drives component is really well done, although it is only available on the Business and Enterprise plans, with customized spaces where groups of colleagues can work together on files and folders collaboratively. Managing access to Team Drives is simple, with the ability to see who can (and can't) get to and edit the files. There are thoughtful touches as well, like the way each Team Drive can be themed differently, or the feature to email all the members of a Team Drive in one shot.
There is integrated access to Docs, Sheets and Slides, each of them a slick web app that is mature and polished, and which can now genuinely compete with the dominant player, Microsoft Office (they do an admirable job of converting Office files into the Google Drive equivalents too). If you don't want to convert Word, Excel and PowerPoint files, you can just store them in Google Drive instead, syncing them between computers and devices as needed.
With file versioning, advanced search, offline access, and variety of preview and layout options, Google Drive is an impressive offering. The desktop syncing isn't quite as simple as you get with Dropbox, but you can sync any folder you like to the cloud from Windows and macOS, as well as keep certain files and folders exclusively on the web (with no need for local copies to take up room on your hard drive). The slick notification feature for changes to files and collaborations works really well too.
Google Drive interface
Every Google app has a familiar interface with lots of white space, a dash of color, and bold graphics. What the Google Drive interface lacks in sophistication it more than makes up for with intuitiveness and speed as finding files is quick and simple, whether you're searching for keywords and file types from the top search bar, or browsing through folders and shares from the navigation bar on the left. Google Drive applies its Optical Character Recognition (OCR) automatically to PDFs and images, which allows you to search through the text they contain as if they were any other document.
Files can be easily copied, moved, starred, and arranged as you like. You can make use of a thumbnail view, or a more conventional list view on the main web interface, and files can be shifted around via drag-and-drop just as if you were using a regular desktop app. We find it very straightforward, once you get past that everything is working inside a browser instead of a more conventional file system.
On that note, there aren’t many drawbacks to the Google Suite as a whole, but those wanting to have dedicated offline access will be disappointed. On the go, there are smartphone and tablet apps for Docs, Sheets, and Slides, as well as offline access tools in the Google Drive app. Users working off a computer or laptop will be disappointed when they find out that an Internet connection is needed to access all their information.
Google indicates that Drive has AI processing that brings documents and shares you're likely to want next up to the top of the file list, but we found this somewhat hit and miss overall, but it's easy enough to sort through the folders you've created or search more specifically. The view we particularly like is ‘Recent,’ which is essentially just a list of files in reverse chronological order, and works well enough in most cases.
In the mobile apps for Android and iOS, files can be instantly accessed with an interface design that very closely mirrors that on the web, with no need to swap between different mindsets as you change devices. For Windows and macOS, along with accessing Google Drive through a browser and uploading files there, you can also download the Backup and Sync tool which lets you sync your Google Drive locally, analogous to Dropbox, as well as upload files to the web from other commonly used folders.
Because apps like Docs, Sheets and Slides are accessed online, it makes sense to use the browser version of Google Drive, however some users will still like to sync files to their computer’s file management system to keep things in check. Previous versions of the desktop client were clumsy and lacking in features, but the latest version is just as easy to navigate as a browser version.
Hidden away in the settings of the Google Drive client is the option to backup files from your computer. For those with a reasonable amount of storage space, this can add reassurance that, should something go wrong with your computer’s hard drive, copies are saved in the cloud. There are better cloud backup tools out there, but for a basic consumer-facing tool, Google does quite well.
We like the extra granularity when it comes to control. Google Drive’s desktop client offers bandwidth throttling, which is especially useful for houses with poor connections. While this is fairly common for other cloud backup services, iCloud Drive (one of Google’s key competitors) doesn’t allow for this level of control.
In our testing, upload and download speeds were as expected across the board including desktop and smartphone apps and browser access. It’s likely that your own broadband connection will pose the biggest limiting factor here.
Google Drive security
Drive stores files and transfers them using encryption, but take note that it's not end-to-end encryption, which means that Google can see your files, if it wants to. Generally, Google has a decent record with security, and offers various levels of two-factor authentication (2FA) (opens in new tab), with numerous checks to catch unauthorized account access should it occur. Basically, if someone wants to get at your files, they're going to have to work very hard to get them.
Files and folder sharing tools are quite specific and difficult to get confused, as you can see at all times who has access to what. For those on a Business or Enterprise plan, the ability is gained to analyze Google Drive usage via comprehensive audit logs so you know every 1 and 0 is accounted for, along with customized admin alerts for specific events occurring on files in Google Drive.
Google Drive pricing
The free tier for Google Drive includes 15GB of cloud storage space for free, which is spread across all of your Google apps which includes Gmail (opens in new tab) and Google Photos (opens in new tab). Extra space is served through what's called Google One (opens in new tab), with pricing starting at $1.99 (£1.59) a month for 100GB of space on the Basic plan. The Standard plan, with 200GB, costs $2.99 (£2.49) per month, with top-tier 2TB Premium subscriptions costing $9.99 (£7.99) per month.
Google One works in a similar way to Apple’s subscription bundles, however while Apple One brings with it more of the company’s subscription services like gaming, newsstand and music streaming, Google One adds more limited functionality. All paid plans can be shared with up to five other users, while Standard and Premium versions get 3% and 10% cashback respectively in the Google Store. Premium subscribers also get access to a VPN on mobile devices - both Android and iOS.
For long-term subscribers - which will likely be the case in most scenarios - there are savings to be had paying annually. These cost $19.99 (£15.99), $29.99 (£24.99) and $99.99 (£79.99) respectively, representing a 16-17% discount.
For businesses, there's Google Workspace (opens in new tab), which is essentially all of Google's apps and includes Drive and Gmail with some extra infrastructure and features for managing teams of people. Either 30GB, 2TB or 5TB of storage is available to each user at the cost of $6 (£4.60), $12 (£9.20) or $18 (£13.80) per user per month, along with some extra features, and an Enterprise tier allows you to customize your plan as per your business’s needs. Every plan gets access to the Google Suite of apps.
Google lives and breathes the web (unlike some of its competition), which is a natural fit for robust and reliable cloud storage. Add in the simple appearing, but powerful apps for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, and it's a comprehensive package for both consumers and businesses. Of course this also ties in nicely to Google's other excellent apps, including Google Calendar or Gmail.
Google Drive certainly doesn't have everything (notably bare metal backups and end-to-end encryption are missing), so it simply won't be the best cloud backup (opens in new tab) storage solution for everyone. However, what it has offers so much – across online apps and sharing options and file management, making it one of the most impressive cloud storage services at the moment. As it's very web-focused, it is available from any computer or device, too.
We've listed the best free cloud storage services (opens in new tab).
Also check out What is cloud storage?