updated 02:40 pm EDT, Tue April 24, 2012
Google Drive works simply but no revolution
We've given Google Drive a quick tour to gauge how well it works as well as give a preview for when the eventual iOS app arrives. It promises relatively tight integration between Google services, but does it work well, and is there anything to make Dropbox users switch? Read ahead for a quick look.
The desktop setup process is relatively simple and will feel at least somewhat familiar to those who've used cloud storage with desktop components, like Dropbox. On our Mac, we had to install an unusually large 67MB app that, once it was done, added a Google Drive syncing folder and let us control which folders inside we wanted to sync. After that initial phase, you only need to drag files into or out of a typical file browser window, whether it's Finder on the Mac or Explorer on Windows.
On the web, the view is very simple: in some ways, it's Gmail for storage, with a central list and a side panel to navigate folders, starred items, and similar. The web is also currently where you have to go to share photos stored on the Drive to Google+; the Google+ mobile apps don't support it yet. Syncing from platform to platform usually takes under a minute for smaller files.
The Android app for Google Drive is ultimately not a major mystery: it's an upgraded version of Google Docs. The differences are more in where files exist for various features: upload a Word file, for example, and you edit that instead of having had to bring it into Google Docs first. It's believed capable of at least viewing about 30 formats. One word of caution is that changes are often reflected immediately: erase some text and that change is already on the servers.
The tool's main advantage now is a more generalized approach to content. You can upload photos and other files directly, and it's easier to share drive contents with fellow Drive users. If you're willing to partly expose information, you can have photos of text converted to documents. We believe most of the Android app's features will carry over to iOS save for those you can get to outside of the app, such as uploading from the Gallery app. iOS features are likely to be dependent entirely on the app in question.
Is Google Drive a clear leader? If by features, then no. Apart from the collaboration and Google+ integration, it doesn't stand out from most similar alternatives. However, that's not to say that it's bad, or won't succeed. Our quick experience suggested that it may work well just through being simple and consistent. If you live in the Google ecosystem, whether or not you have an Android phone, it could be a simple way to get files from one computer to the other, to have a backup of vital files, or just to have more control over what Google stores than Docs or Google+ allows.
- Jon Fingas