Google Drive is a free to use cloud storage service which offers users built-in productivity tools, a desktop synchronisation client, link sharing, online collaboration and much, much more. The basic account provides 15GB of free storage whilst premium upgrades can be made via the Google One service which provides a minimum of 100GB of cloud storage for as little as $1.99 / month.
Key Features of Google Drive
- Very easy to use, web-based interface
- Access to the Google Docs Suite (now Google Workspace)
- All Google accounts provide 15GB of free storage
- Amazing value on premium plans (100GB of storage is only $19.99 / year)
- Up to 30 days unlimited file versioning (premium plans only)
- Desktop software available for Windows and Mac
- Great file sharing and collaboration functionality
- Smartphone apps for iOS and Android
- No Integration with other cloud providers (e.g. Dropbox)
- No user-defined, zero knowledge encryption
Google Drive Usability
Signing-up for Google Drive
Signing up for Google Drive is quick and easy, if you already use Gmail (or any other service requiring a Google account) then you will already have a 15GB storage pool allocated to you and can start using Google Drive straight away!
If you don’t have a Google account you can sign-up for one at the Google Drive sign-up page, this process is quick and easy and within a couple of minutes you should have everything you need to get started with Google Drive.
Installing and using the Google Drive Windows Client (Backup and Sync)
Once signed-up for a Google account and logged into the Google Drive webpage, we can begin the process of downloading the Google Drive Windows app and then configure our PC for desktop backup and synchronisation.
As can be seen above, the Windows client software can be downloaded via the “gear menu” found at the top right of the Google Drive web interface. At just over 1MB the installer is very lightweight and I had downloaded it in just a few seconds.
Once downloaded and set running, the installer will then start to download the Drive software itself, this adds a few minutes to the install (about 4 minutes on my modest PC in total).
Once the install is complete we will see a welcome splash screen which guides us through logging in and making some basic configuration decisions as to what we would like to backup and synchronise with our Google Drive account.
One of the first things we must do whilst following this introduction screen is log into our Google account, this allows the device to be authenticated with our Google Drive service. The remaining parts of this set-up screen involve setting up the synchronisation and backup so I will look at them in the next section.
Backup and Synchronisation with Google Drive
Now that Google backup and Sync is installed on our PC we are ready to configure it for both synchronisation and backing up of our files, this process begins straight after the software is installed using the guided set-up screen as was briefly seen in the last section.
The “My PC” screen (as can be seen above) is where we can initially start configuring this backup and synchronisation. It should be noted that Google refer to this as “backup up”, but the absence of any historic file versioning means this is essentially, in effect, just file synchronisation we have here and not a substantial backup.
The first part of the above screen is where we set the folders we would like to synchronise with Google Drive, as can be seen below, the software provides us with some default options or we can add other specified files and folders should we so wish.
The next section allows us to specify the quality of any photos which are synchronised to the Google Drive service, original quality is possible to preserve, however, electing to use the storage-optimised “High Quality” versions of our images will mean any images uploaded to Drive do not count towards our 15GB storage quota.
The high quality option is great when just using Google Drive as a secondary backup method as potentially unlimited numbers of photos can be stored without taking up any official space in the account. In my personal experience as a long term Google Drive user these “High Quality” images are in my opinion just as good as the original for almost all purposes so this shouldn’t be an issue for many (although if you are a serious photographer this might not be the case).
Finally on this page, Google, give us the option to specify bandwidth limits if we need to, useful if using a slow internet connection or sharing a connection with others.
On the next page we can set-up the official “sync folder” for Google Drive (remember the other sync is classified as a “backup”), this is what will become the “Drive folder” on our PC and the official folder for synchronising files ad-hoc with Google Drive.
On the screen above we can specify that the whole folder to be synchronised or only certain parts should we need to (useful if specifying another existing folder as the main synchronisation target). Once this set-up is complete the software will then run only in the background and begin synchronising and backing up our PC straight away.
The client itself, after configuration is complete, can be opened up by clicking on the cloud icon which is added to the Windows system tray, this will allow us to open up the applications settings page.
This settings page isn’t really much different to the set-up page we originally used as a part of the initial configuration. There are, however, a couple of new options allowing us to specify whether we should be notified when shared items are removed from a folder and also specify whether or not to start the software automatically when Windows starts.
Using the Google Drive Web Interface
Whilst the desktop software (Google Backup and Sync) is very easy to configure and works well, the main method for accessing Google Drive remains via use of the well designed web-interface.
As can be seen above, the web-based file explorer allows us to easily access all parts of our Drive account using the menu on the left which categorises our data. Any PCs which have the Backup and Sync software installed will show up as “computers” under the “Computers” menu entry with other, separate, entries for shared files, favourites (Starred) and the main “My Drive” container.
The left menu, towards the bottom, also displays how much storage we have left available in our account, this is very handy to see this prominently displayed versus the “hidden away” approach favoured by many other cloud storage providers.
Navigating into the Drive file explorer further we can see any files and folders which exist within our account. Such files and folders can either be shared, downloaded or worked on in the web browser using the built-in Google Docs Suite of web-apps, all of which will be covered later on in this review.
Using the Google Docs Suite of Apps
One of the big features of using Google Docs is the built-in access to the Google Docs Suite, this being a set of productivity tools featuring a word processor and spreadsheet application amongst others. These tools are entirely web-based meaning they are opened up and used within a web browser window.
One of the big advantages to using Google Drive is that any file compatible with the Google Docs Suite tools can be opened up from within Google Drive itself by simply double clicking on the document to begin editing. Once opened up, the Docs apps work in a very similar fashion to regular word processing and spreadsheet applications which would otherwise be run locally on a PC.
Although there might be more powerful word processors and spreadsheet applications available, the reality is most people will only ever need such tools at a fairly basic level, this is a level which is more than met by Google Docs apps meaning for many people these apps can easily replace other productivity suites which might installed locally on a PC.
For example, whilst working in a spreadsheet (in Google Sheets) not only do we have the regular cell-by-cell functionality (formulas, calculated fields etc.) but also other advanced tools such as the charting tool! This charting tool in particular will be fundamental to many spreadsheet users and works very well in Google Sheets.
Google Docs is also not without its many features, checking of spelling and grammar feature alongside other tools allowing documents to be sent to a printer or even complied straight to an e-book format from the Docs interface itself, excellent!
Once working on any document in the Docs suite of apps, one of the biggest benefits of this technology will soon become apparent. The documents themselves which are being worked on are not only saved automatically in real-time but also will be shareable and (optionally) made publicly available in just a couple of clicks.
Finally, another useful feature of the productivity apps and Drive is the ability to make specified files available for offline use, this is a really handy feature as the apps would require an active internet connection otherwise. Turning this feature on for specified files means users can continue to work in the web browser apps even without an active internet connection (the changes will be auto synchronised with the cloud when the device is next connected).
Sharing files and collaboration within Google Drive
As was mentioned in the last section, sharing files and workflow collaboration is extremely easy within Google Drive (and the Google Docs Suite of apps). This allows users the ability to share files via a link or directly within the Google Docs Suite of apps themselves (other users with access to Google Docs Suite can directly access your documents, should you share them).
To begin with I will look at sharing documents with a standard sharing link, this can be initiated by right-clicking on any file or folder in the file explorer and selecting “Get Link” as is seen below.
In the image above we can see the link sharing menu provides us with a sharing link which can be made public or restricted to other, specified, Google Drive users. Unfortunately, we cannot make a public link and have it password protected as of time of writing.
The other main method of sharing your work within Google Drive is through the built-in collaboration features, these can be found whilst working in a document itself, starting in the top right corner where the “Share” button resides.
Once in the sharing screen (which is very similar to that used for sharing via links) we can add in any other Google Docs users and give them permissions ranging from read-only through to full editing rights.
Using the Google Drive Smartphone Apps
In addition to use of the Google Drive and the Docs Suite apps on a desktop web browser, we also have use of all of these productivity tools on iOS and Android smartphone devices.
The Google Drive app itself is complimented by the Google Docs Suite of individual apps, this means that to make full use of everything requires multiple apps be downloaded and installed.
Once the main Google Docs app is installed via the respective app store (and signing in if necessary) we can then access our full Google Drive on a smartphone device. If the supplementary Google Docs Suite of apps are installed also, this brings mobile editing of word processor and spreadsheet apps to the device.
Google Drive Free vs Premium (Google One)
The entire Google Drive product alongside the supplementary Google Docs Suite of apps are available for free on all accounts with 15GB of storage included. This is particularly generous when comparing main rival Microsoft and the limited 5GB of free storage included with the Microsoft OneDrive service.
Google allows users to upgrade to what is now called Google One for as little as $1.99 / month (or $19.99 / year) which boosts the account storage to at least 100GB alongside some additional benefits not directly relating to Google Drive (more details in the pricing section below).
With the Google One upgrade aside, both free and premium accounts display very little difference with the additional storage quotas being the main driver for many wanting to upgrade I’m sure.
Access to Google Drive is based upon use of the multifunctional Google account login system, this system is what powers all other publicly accessible Google services. Multi-factor authentication is available alongside the other Google login security features (I am NOT a robot!).
Unfortunately, Google Drive does not feature any form of built-in, user definable (zero knowledge) encryption on either the free or premium Google Drive accounts. This is in contrast to close competitor, Microsoft, who now offer such encryption via their Personal Vault service.
As such if you need to make use of zero knowledge encryption with Google Drive you will need to rely on another tool such as NordLocker.
Google has a very useful help system available from within the Drive web-interface itself, this provides easy access to help articles via a search box (this is Google after all). Additional support can be gained via email with this same help box providing an option to email the Google Drive support team.
Google Drive is initially available as a free account featuring use of the Google Docs Suite apps and a generous 15GB of storage space included.
Upgrades now come under the Google One branding and start with 100GB of additional storage (plus some other member benefits) for as little as $1.99 / month (or $19.99 / year).
Google One pricing is currently as follows:
100GB: $1.99 / month ($19.99 / year)
200GB: $2.99 / month ($29.99 / year)
2TB: $9.99 / month ($99.99 / year)
You can find out more about the Google One service upgrades by clicking here.
Google Drive stands out as a leading cloud storage service thanks to the generous free storage quotas, the great desktop synchronisation software and the built-in suite of productivity apps among many other factors. The inclusion of unlimited, high quality, photo uploads from a smartphone device is also a major plus point for many looking for a new cloud drive provider.
It would be fair to say Google Drive really does offer everything you could ever need from a cloud drive service, this is thanks to the great desktop client software on offer alongside the excellent web-interface and the very usable smartphone apps. All of which are fully functional on both the free and premium accounts
It is great to see link sharing, document collaboration tools and real-time desktop synchronisation are also included, but the lack of any built-in encryption tools or the inability to password protect shared links might make this unsuitable for some.
Overall a great, free to use, cloud drive service, a great job here Google!