Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Hands On With Google Drive: Cloud Storage
One of the worst-kept secrets in the technology space, Google Drive, is finally here — live and yours to explore, if you’re game.
But if you’re already using a cloud service, or maybe even a couple of services — I actually use a combination of existing Google products, Dropbox and Apple’s iCloud — the question undoubtedly becomes, Do I really need another cloud platform in my life?
This question gets a bit more complicated when you consider that Google already has a number of cloud services such as Play for music storage, Picasa for photos, YouTube for videos and even Gmail as well. Who hasn’t emailed himself a file before, right?
Google Drive doesn’t seek to replace any of these existing Google services — though it does replace one cloud service (more on that below). Instead, Google Drive seeks to replace the USB thumb drive stuffed into your backpack or purse. And, if you pay up for extra storage, maybe even the portable disk drive on your desk too. You can store all manner of file formats, and Drive gives you the option to convert files into Google-friendly formats as well.
After spending a couple hours using Google Drive on an Apple iMac, a Samsung Galaxy Nexus smartphone, and an Asus Transformer Pad tablet, it’s clear that those who will prefer Google Drive are those who already prefer Google itself.
Indeed, if you’ve ever used Google Docs, you’ll feel immediately comfortable using Google Drive. And if you’re a Google Docs power user, you’ll probably outright love Google Drive.
The service offers an iCloud-matching 5GB of storage for free, which should be enough for most users. If you want more space, it will cost you — 25GB of storage will run $2.50 monthly, 100GB is $5 monthly and 1TB will cost $50 a month. Google will allow users to purchase as much as 16TB of storage, but isn’t yet disclosing pricing beyond 1TB. Upgrading to any increased storage size will boost your Gmail storage up to 25GB.
In the browser, Google Drive works exactly the same as Google Docs. In fact, Drive is replacing Docs and soon all Docs users will be Drive users, on mobile devices and on the web. No need to worry about lost files: All your documents will show up in your Google Drive once you’ve switched over, and the process is painless.
Editing documents — even real-time editing of shared docs with multiple people — works in Google Drive just as it did in Google Docs. Sharing and emailing also works exactly the same as before and, just as Docs did, Drive maintains a revision history of edited files, allowing users to view previous versions as far back as 30 days.
Like Google Docs (and unlike Gmail and Google.com), there are no ads to be found in Google Drive. There is, however, a lot of whitespace that could make for ad real estate if ever Google wanted to go that route.
But the new service isn’t perfect. In the web browser version of Google Drive, I found that audio files don’t play back automatically, instead forcing you to download the file to your desktop, and open it up in another app before you can give it a listen.
In the mobile app — which is currently only available for Android, but is promised for iOS — audio files are kicked out to music apps such as Google’s own Play Music or Spotify. Videos play back just fine in the browser, but in the mobile app, you’re once again kicked into another app to view your media. Rivals such as Dropbox, SugarSync and iCloud stream media without requiring a download or opening another app. It would be nice to see Google do the same.
On the Galaxy Nexus, the Google Drive app worked as well as any other app (e.g., People, Calendar, Maps) built into Google’s latest version of Android, aka Ice Cream Sandwich. With a clean, ICS-consistent aesthetic, it’s one of the better looking and easier to use cloud storage apps available for Android today.
Like Dropbox, Box, SugarSync and many other competing services, a desktop app for Windows and Mac OS X is available for Google Drive as well. But I see little advantage to using the desktop app over the web-based version of Drive. In both versions, uploading a file is as simple as clicking and dragging a file from your desktop into a folder or webpage. And in both versions of Drive, stored documents open in a browser window, and not into other apps.
So far, the best feature of Google Drive is its integration with other Google products, and Google says further integration with Google+, Gmail and Chrome is on the way. So, if you’re already using an Android phone, and Gmail is your main inbox and Calendar is where you make your plans, then Drive will fit into your life nicely.
But there is a flipside: If you’re not steeped in the Google ecosystem, or you’re perfectly happy using one of the many competing cloud services, I don’t see much reason to get behind the wheel of Google Drive just yet. Unless, of course, you refuse to pay for cloud storage, and you want to distribute your overflowing files across as many free services as possible.
By Nathan Olivarez-Giles -Wired