Google Drive is conceived in its DNA to live on the web, but it also offers very useful mobile applications. Additionally, it offers desktop backup tools 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.
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 and file syncing 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.
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 are mature and polished, and which can now genuinely compete with the dominate 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.
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.
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), 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 and Google Photos. Extra space is served through what's called Google One, with pricing starting at $1.99 or £1.42 a month for 100GB of space, or $19.99/about £14 annually, which is competitive to other services offered by Microsoft, Apple among others. There are also plans with even more storage, such as 200 GB, and 2 TB tiers.
For businesses, there's Google Workspace, which is essentially all of Google's apps and includes Drive and Gmail with some extra infrastructure and features for managing teams of people. Pricing starts at $6 or £4.27 per user per month, and gives 30GB of storage space for each user. There are also higher tiers, which provide more storage space and features such as extra tools to prevent data loss.
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 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.
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