Google Drive is built to live on the web – but it also offers very useful mobile applications, and offers desktop backup tools for Windows and macOS to get your files up to the cloud quickly. What it might lack in bells and whistles, it makes up for in speed and efficiency.
As a file storage and syncing solution, Google Drive has grown from a shaky start to be a genuine competitor to the likes of Box and Dropbox. Considering how advanced its web apps have now become, it's hard to find a fault anywhere in the Google Drive package.
Google Drive features
Google Drive impresses in most of the key areas you look to a cloud storage solution to provide. The web interface and mobile apps mean you can get at your files (and edit them) from just about anywhere, while the sharing options hit the right balance between functionality and ease-of-use – sharing permissions can be set at the admin level of course, allowing different contacts access to different files, but it's also possible to share files and folders as needed with regular links or email invites.
The Team Drives component is actually very well done (though only available on the Business and Enterprise plans) – customized spaces where groups of colleagues can collaborate on files and folders together. It's really simple to manage access to Team Drives, and to see who can and can't get at (and/or edit) the files contained within. The feature has some nice touches too, like the way you can theme each Team Drive differently, and email all the members of a Team Drive at once.
Drive comes with access to Docs, Sheets and Slides of course, slick web apps that have gone from strength to strength, and which now genuinely compete with 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.
File versioning, advanced search, offline access, a variety of preview and layout options... it's an impressive offering from Google. It's 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 (so the local copies don't take up room on your hard drive). The features for getting notifications about changes to files and collaborations work really well too.
Google Drive interface
Every Google app has a familiar interface: lots of white space, selective use of color, bold graphics. What the Google Drive interface lacks in sophistication it makes up for in intuitiveness and speed – 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 automatically applies some Optical Character Recognition (OCR) magic to PDFs and images, which means you can search through the text they contain as if they were any other document.
Files can be easily copied, moved, starred, and arranged however 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. It's all very straightforward, even though everything is working inside a browser rather than a more conventional file system.
Google says that Drive uses some AI processing to bring documents and shares you're likely to want next up to the top of the file list – we found this a bit hit and miss overall, but it's easy enough to sift through the folders you've created or search for something specific. The view we use most often is Recent, which just lists files in reverse chronological order, and works pretty well in most cases.
In the mobile apps for Android and iOS, files can be instantly accessed and cached for offline use as and when necessary – the interface design very closely mirrors that on the web, so you don't have to swap between different mindsets as you swap between devices. For Windows and macOS, as well as accessing Google Drive through a browser (and uploading files there), you can also download a Backup and Sync tool – this lets you sync your Google Drive locally, Dropbox-style, as well as upload files to the web from other commonly used folders.
Google Drive security
Everything in Drive is stored and transferred in encrypted form, though it's not end-to-end encrypted – Google can see your files, if it wants to. In general, Google has a good record with security, with various levels of two-factor authentication available, and numerous checks to catch unauthorized account access if it happens. If someone wants to get at your files, they're going to have to work very hard.
Files and folder sharing tools are very specific and difficult to get confused, and you can see at all times who has access to what. If you're on a Business or Enterprise plan, you can also analyze Google Drive usage through some comprehensive audit logs so you know every 1 and 0 is accounted for, as well as access customized admin alerts for specific events happening to files in Google Drive.
Google Drive pricing
Everyone who signs up for Google Drive gets 15GB of cloud storage space for free, but that's spread across all your Google apps – including Gmail and Google Photos. Extra space is served through what's called Google One, with pricing starting at $1.99 or £1.59 a month for 100GB of space and going up from there. It's broadly comparable with other services offered by the likes of Microsoft and Apple.
For businesses, there's G Suite, which is essentially all of Google's apps (including Drive and Gmail) with some extra infrastructure and features for managing teams of people. Pricing starts at $6 or £4.14 per user per month, which gives 30GB of storage space to each user. If you pay more, you get more storage space and more features (including extra tools to prevent data loss).
Google Drive verdict
Unlike some of its competitors, Google lives and breathes the web, and that translates into robust and reliable cloud storage. Throw in the well done apps for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, and it's a comprehensive package whether you're a consumer or a business user – and of course it ties in well to Google's other excellent apps, such as Google Calendar or Gmail.
Google Drive doesn't have everything (bare metal backups and end-to-end encryption are missing), and it won't be the best cloud backup storage solution for everyone. But it offers so much – across online apps and sharing options and file management – that it's one of the cloud storage services impressing us most at the moment. As it's so web-focused, you can get at it from any computer or device, too.
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