Lashings of storage for very little money combined with brilliant mobile and web offerings puts Google into a comfortable lead
Operating system support: Windows Vista/7/8, Mac OS X 10.6+, Storage space: 100GB, Mobile device support: Android, iOS, Sync support?: Yes
Google Drive is a Cloud synchronisation service which is intrinsically linked with all Google’s online services including Gmail, Android, the Chrome browser and Google’s online office applications (what used to be called Google Docs but is now also called Google Drive). Although Drive’s most basic form is a file synchronisation tool, it has many added extras which are perfect for helping you work in the Cloud.
Google’s free offering is up there with even the most generous of its rivals. You get 15GB for free just by having a Google account. Paid storage options are incredibly cheap, too: 100GB of storage will cost you $2 (around £1.20) a month, which is a staggeringly small price, although OneDrive has closed the gap with 100GB costing £2. Even more impressive is that for $10 (around £6) per month you can get 1TB of space, which is more than the physical hard disk space you get in many laptops and desktops. The file size limit for any single file on Google Drive is 1TB; we’d expect most people will have a hard time exceeding that.
The one caveat of all this space is that it’s shared between your Gmail and Google+ social networking accounts as well, although only large photos uploaded to Google+ will count towards your limits. YouTube, Google’s video sharing service, doesn’t count towards this total.
Google Drive’s desktop application for Mac and Windows is simple, but does most of the things we’d expect of it. After installing the application, uploading a file to Drive is as simple as dragging and dropping into the Google Drive folder. Also welcome is the presence of selective synchronisation options, meaning you can choose which folders are kept up to date on each device on which you install Drive.
If a file is modified, Google Drive will immediately upload that change to the Cloud, ensuring your files reflect the latest version. Sharing files with friends and colleagues from the desktop interface is somewhat more complicated than with the likes of OneDrive and Dropbox: when you right-click a file stored in Drive in Windows Explorer and click the share button, you’re presented with a dialogue box which forces you to decide exactly how you want the file to be shared, and with whom – you’re not given a simple link you can share. While this does ensure users won’t make the mistake of sharing a file in a way they didn’t intend, it is a bit of a convoluted method for something which should be very simple.
The true power of Google Drive is to be found on its web interface at http://drive.google.com. Here you can see all the files in your Drive and even edit compatible documents without having to open a traditional desktop application such as Microsoft Word. This means you can view and edit many files without the need for your home PC.
At its 2014 I/O event, Google announced an update to its web and mobile services which means users can now edit Microsoft Office format files such as .docx and .xlsx within Drive without having to convert them to a Google file format first. While this feature is in its early stages, it greatly increases Drive’s flexibility for users who move between Microsoft’s Office desktop software and Google Drive’s web applications. You’ll need to download a Chrome extension in order to make this work on your PC.
If you’re trying to view items with more obscure file extensions, Google Drive does appear to get slightly confused. We attempted to listen to a .flac audio file using Drive’s integrated media player, but instead it directed us to “open with Google Drive Viewer”, another page on Drive which also couldn’t play the file. We were then able to download the file, but after multiple unnecessary steps we needn’t have taken.
What this odd design actually shows off, however, is the vast array of third-party add-ons that can be integrated with Google Drive. While Drive couldn’t tell us what to do with the file and wouldn’t recommend any appropriate add-ons, a quick web search brought us to a subscription service called AudioBox which can play .flac files directly from Drive on the web. There are countless add-ons like this which extend the capabilities of Drive, although unlike with Box’s Cloud service these don’t always go as far as to integrate with the Google Drive mobile apps.
Also included here are web-based apps for document, spreadsheet and image editing, presentation software and tools to create web forms and surveys. They’re all fairly stripped down when you compare them to desktop apps such as Microsoft Office and OpenOffice, but they’re excellent for working on relatively simple projects.
The smartphone and tablet apps for Google Drive are pretty good, but there aren’t many of them. The software can only be installed on iPhones, iPads and Android devices; BlackBerry and Windows Phone users will have to trust third-party applications to manage Google Drive.
The apps work best when you’re connected to the internet, but you can individually select files or folders to be available offline. There is an unfortunate quirk with this which we found on both the iPad and Android version of the apps: having a file downloaded to a device stops it from being updated, even if changes are made after the download. This means you could end up having an important file stored on your device that’s out of date. We’re not sure whether it’s a bug or a feature, but it’s certainly not made clear when you choose to keep a file stored on your device that it will remain frozen in time.
Google Drive is by far and away the best-value Cloud storage service, both in terms of the amount of available storage and the added extras. However, while its value proposition is hard to ignore, it’s worth keeping in mind that both Box and OneDrive are equally strong when it comes to collaboration and sharing, and SugarSync is more flexible when it comes to syncing any folder you want.
|Operating system support
|Windows Vista/7/8, Mac OS X 10.6+
|Number of computers
|Folder and file restrictions
|1TB file size
|Multiple data centres
|Back up open files
|Back up entire disk partitions
|Back up external disks/NAS devices
|Save backups to local media
|Send backups by post
|Recover previous versions of files
|30 days or 100 versions
|Recover deleted files
|Yes (time unspecified)
|Restore from DVD/USB drive sent in the post
|Web access to backups
|Share selected backup contents
|Photos, videos, audio, documents
|Mobile device support
|Price per month
|$2 (around £1.20)
|Price per year
|$24 (around £14)