Now that we’re all living in the future (with its wonderful and horrifying consequences), there’s no reason that simply being away from your computer means being away from your most-important files. Thanks to Google Drive, you never have to be. Many Android apps offer cloud-based file syncing and storage, but Google Drive’s killer advantage is its tight integration with Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Photos apps. When these powers combine, the already excellent Google Drive becomes a hub for collaboration and productivity, earning it a coveted five-star rating and an Editors’ Choice award.
Google Drive is available for free from the Play store, and you start out with 15GB of storage without paying a cent. Kicking that up to 100GB costs $1.99 per month, and 1TB costs $9.99 a month. Plans are available all the way up to 30TB for $299.99 per month. Note that if you are using Google Apps, which is for business customers, your allotments and price may differ.
By quick comparison, Dropbox Pro provides up to 1TB for $9.99 a month. Microsoft OneDrive also offers 100GB for $1.99 a month, but it offers 1TB of storage space for a mere $6.99 a month. SugarSync is a little more tightfisted, offering 100GB for $7.49 a month and 250GB for $9.99 a month.
But most of the files you create or upload through other Google services don’t count toward your Google Drive size limit. None of your Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides files count towards your limit. Neither do photos uploaded from Google Photos, provided you agree to upload slightly lower-quality images; high-quality images count against your Drive quota. That said, you share your Google Drive space with Gmail, and all your messages and attachments—including those in your Spam and Trash folders—count towards your limit.
Inside Google Drive
I won’t go into the nitty-gritty details of Google Drive (read my colleague Jill Duffy’s excellent review for that). Instead, I will focus on how Drive performs on Android devices.
Google Drive’s material design looks great and responded snappily on the Nexus 5 I used for testing. A large red plus button lets you create a new Docs, Sheets, or Slides document (provided you have those apps), upload a file, create a folder, or Scan. This last option lets you create a multipage PDF with your device’s camera.
Tapping the so-called hamburger menu in the upper left opens a hidden tray for fast access to your drive’s file structure, documents and folders shared with you, and so on. This tray also lets you seamlessly transition between Drives associated with different Google accounts. It’s very handy, and it can put both your work and personal files within easy reach.
You can sort the file view by date last modified, date last opened, size, and other criteria. All your files and folders can be tapped and dragged, just like on a desktop computer. But I’m not a big fan of the file view; I prefer to search for what I’m looking for instead. Search is, unsurprisingly, strong in Google Docs. Drive tries to match your search term against file names, contents, and even the text in images, thanks to Optical Character Recognition.
From the file view, you can tap on any file or folder to get more information about it. From here, you can share it with other Google users, create a shareable link, move it to a different part of your drive, and view recent activity. Unfortunately, you can’t comment on files the way you can in Dropbox on the Web. You can, however, enable offline access for specific files. This lets you access your Drive files when the Internet is not available, with changes synced when you’re back online.
Note that if you’re a Google Apps customer, you may not be able to access offline mode without permission from your system administrator.
Google Drive is great on its own. It provides a simple storage solution and puts all your files within easy reach, no matter where you are. But lots of services can claim that. What makes Google Drive different is the powerful connections between Drive and Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Photos. The only drawback is that, to realize Drive’s true power on Android, you need to have the Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Photos apps installed, too. For example, without Docs, Sheets, or Slides installed you won’t be able to create or edit those files on your Android. Thankfully, you can always view those files in Drive, or even have the Drive app open the files on the Web.
But with Google Docs installed, for example, you’ll be able to edit all of your Docs files in a mobile-friendly environment, even offline (provided you mark it for offline editing). Docs even includes a stripped-down, but useful, version of its powerful track-changes feature in the mobile app.
Here’s another example of Google Drive’s power, when paired with other apps. Google recently added a Google Photos section to Google Drive, which serves as a special repository for all your images. With only the Google Drive app, you can browse through images uploaded from other devices, and share them with others. When you install the Google Photos app, you can enjoy that app’s powerful image search, use fun sharing tools, and relax while it quietly backs up all the photos on your Android.
Everything, Everywhere, with Everyone
Google Drive is a hard to explain, primarily because it requires four other apps to be fully realized. But the benefits of having all your important files, videos, and photos available via your phone are obvious. More than once I have used Drive to start a writing project on my phone and then finish it when I’m back at my desktop.
The Google Photos integration is also excellent. I enable Google Photos when testing for every review I write for PCMag.com, and I let the app quietly take care of storing my screenshots. It’s an excellent addition to an already-powerful service.
But the best use of Google Drive on your Android is probably the least obvious, and that’s sharing files. Just select a file or folder and you can add collaborators and set limits on their access to what you share. Drive excels here because nearly everyone has a Google account so sharing directly with them won’t require encouraging them to signup for an additional service. But if a link works better for you, Drive still has you covered: it can spit out shareable links, too.
Of course, using any Google product carries with privacy concerns with it. After all, Google has been scanning—not reading—your email for years to better target ads. Whether you’re comfortable with Google having your files is up to you, but a quick note on security: I was happy to see that Google Drive’s Android app makes locally encrypting your files a snap.
Simply the Best
Google Drive is a simple, powerful, and downright friendly cloud-based file storage and syncing solution for your Android device. It’s powerful enough on its own, but is even better with the addition of Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Photos. If you’re in need of a digital, magical bag of holding for your mobile device, look no further than Google Drive. It’s our Editors’ Choice for mobile file storage and syncing for Android.