Dropbox Paper vs Google Docs: Which is Better for Online Collaboration?

obrBy Ritika Tiwari — Last Updated: 25 Apr'18 2017-01-18T06:56:43+00:00Google+
Dropbox has recently launched an online collaboration tool in competition with Google Docs, called Dropbox Paper. As a seasoned Google Docs user, I didn’t think anything could give Google’s text editing tool any serious competition. That was until I saw the minimalist and stunning interface of Dropbox Paper, so I decided to test out both these tools and see how they match up.

Though it may be a David and Goliath type story, after trying both out I have to say that Goliath wins in this version: the new competitor might have a great potential, but it just isn’t strong enough to take down the current reigning champion.

Dropbox Paper has a lot of raw potential, but right now, it doesn’t have the features or functions to give Google Docs a run for its money.

Criteria for Selecting the Right Online Collaboration Tool

With the help of the internet and growing technology, it is now possible for teams to work remotely from different parts of the world and still be able to perform at the same pace. Working remotely with dedicated or freelance resources allows businesses not just to save money but also hire the best talent since there are no limitations on location anymore.

To work smoothly, it is important for teams to use the right online collaboration tools. While there is no perfect answer, picking out the right tool depends on figuring out your exact requirements.

Assigning Tasks

Every project starts with assigning tasks to each team member. Collaboration tools like Asana and Trello make this process much easier by allowing the user to divide the whole project into subprojects, tasks and subtasks.

Trello is a rather minimal tool for assigning tasks, but Asana is a complete project collaboration tool which can easily handle even the most complicated projects.


Communicating with the Team

When team members work remotely, communication is one of the biggest challenges. Tools like Slack can help with that by letting teams have a separate communication channel. Apart from private and group chats, Slack also allows users to subdivide groups to make sure everyone on the team is not annoyed by constant messages that aren’t relevant to their work.

Setting a Timeline for the Project

There are projects where deadlines are more important than ever, and team leaders need to check the progress of each team member constantly. For projects like these, you can use tools like Teamweek and TeamGantt which allow users to stay on top of deadlines, log progress and check each member’s workload.

Collaborating on Documents

In a world where content is king, teams often need to collaborate on documents: doing that online means there is only one version of each document and everyone has the latest version at all times. Tools like Dropbox Paper and Google Docs let users write and edit documents, leave comments, check document history and much more.

Dropbox Paper vs Google Docs – the Comparison

With that out of the way, let’s take a look how these two services stack up against each other.


Google Docs has been around for a while, 11 years to be exact, while Dropbox Paper was launched less than a year ago. The difference in the age of these text editors is clearly visible in their interface.

While Google Docs still likes to stick to its boring greyish color theme, Dropbox has apparently learned its lesson and tried to focus a lot on creating a modern and soothing interface.

Most importantly, Dropbox Paper has a fuss-free interface with zero distractions. All you get is a simple white screen to write your thoughts; you won’t even see the formatting toolbox until a portion of the text is selected.

As a writer, I find Dropbox Paper extremely useful because it helps me concentrate better. While the minimalist interface does have a few shortcomings (which we will discuss in the sections below), when it comes to looks, Paper is the clear winner.

Winner — Dropbox Paper

Formatting Text

Both Dropbox Paper and Google Docs are great online collaboration tools, but before that, they are text editors. Google Docs was clearly launched as a competitor for Microsoft Word, and that can be seen in the multitude of editing options provided by the cloud-based tool.

Formatting and editing in Google Docs are as smooth as it gets. All the basic functions are provided on the bar above, and others can be accessed through the drop down menu. Also, most common keyboard shortcuts work just fine in Google Docs.

Dropbox Paper is rather limited in this department. For example, you cannot change fonts in Paper, there is just one — Atlas Grotesk, and you’ll just have to live with it. Sure, the font is extremely readable, but still, a little choice would have been nice.

There is no fixed formatting menu, like in Google Docs, instead, every time a portion of the text is selected, the bubble formatting menu appears.

One thing I quickly noticed in the formatting menu was that it offers few choices. You only get the following options:

But here is some good news — many of the usual text shortcuts work even if they are not on the formatting menu, including:  

  • CTRL + I for italics
  • CTRL + U for underscore
  • CTRL + ALT + 3 for Heading 3 (You can also add ### in front of the line, but Paper only allows headings till H3, if you need to use H4 or H5, sadly, you are out of luck)

Even with the shortcuts, the formatting options in Dropbox Paper are clearly limited, and they are in no way on the same level as Google Docs. While I did want to write this article partly on Dropbox Paper, I quickly realized that I would have to eventually move it to Google Docs to format it the right way, which would have only taken more time.

Winner — Google Docs

Adding Attachments

One of the strong aspects of Dropbox Paper is definitely how the tool handles images and other attachments. After the upload, Paper automatically puts images in a beautiful grid format.

There are three ways to add attachments to Dropbox Paper:

  • Click on the + button and upload the files from local drive or add them from Dropbox storage
  • Drag and drop files
  • Copy and paste media file URLs

I tried to copy and paste YouTube and SoundCloud links, and they were instantly embedded in the document, making it easy even to play them from the document itself.

Also, whenever a text file is attached to the document, the user can see a small section of it (clicking on the preview will open the file completely).

Though Dropbox does claim that “drag and drop” works on Paper, it did not work for me even after repeated attempts. But here is some good news for coders: Dropbox Paper lets you add code snippets directly to documents, making it easier for teams to collaborate on code.

Coming to Google Docs, it does allow attaching images by uploading or dragging, but that’s about it. For videos, music, or documents, the only solution is adding links.

In all honestly, Google Docs does feel rather basic in front of rich media features of Dropbox Paper.

Winner — Dropbox Paper

Sharing, Collaborating and Commenting

Sharing documents and collaborating with others was the primary intention for both Google Drive and Dropbox Paper. Clearly, these online collaboration tools have gone out of their way to make it easier for users to collaborate.

Sharing in Dropbox Paper and Google Docs is pretty similar – you can either copy the document link or directly enter the email address of the recipient. But their link sharing permissions are a bit different:

Google Docs allows three levels of access — “edit,” “comment,” and “view,” respectively.

With Dropbox Paper, there are only two levels of access — “edit” or “comment and share.”

Here is the big difference between them: when a user selects “anyone with the link can edit” on Google Docs, there is an option where the user can select whether sign-in is required or not. This option is important because it lets other users edit documents even if they don’t have a Google account.

Google Docs puts the decision in the hands of the user.

On the contrary, even if the user selects the same option with Dropbox Paper, other users can only view the file and editing or commenting will only be possible if they are logged into their Dropbox account.

Fact is, not everyone has a Dropbox account and this is just the company’s way to push people to create a new account. This is just a downright annoying marketing tactic.

Moving away from that niggle, I really liked that it’s easy to see which user has added what text in Dropbox Paper. You can also check all the users who have viewed the document, which is not possible with Google Docs.

Commenting is pretty much the same in both of them. In Google Docs, you can tag people by adding a “+” in front of their name or email address.

Dropbox Paper requires a “@” for the mentions. In fact, with Dropbox, you can also mention another user in the document itself. And, I do want to add that Paper has super cute emoticons.

With the task list option and mentions in the document, Dropbox Paper can also serve as a great project collaboration tool. You can put down the tasks and mention users next to each task.

Collaboration is the key feature of Paper, and it offers several functions to help teams work together. This is was a close call because Dropbox Paper has more ways to collaborate on documents but at the same time has limited sharing settings, as compared to Google Docs, but I feel both services match up well, here.

Winner — Tie

Checking Document History

In Dropbox Paper, previous document edits can be checked by clicking on the three dots next to Share and choosing “view history.”

With Google Docs, it can be done by going to “file –> see revision history.”

Google is definitely better here since you can clearly see the different edits and their timing in one go, while with Dropbox, you need to scroll through continuously which can be tiring for large documents.

Winner — Google Docs

Offline Access

Dropbox Paper does not have offline access at the moment. So the only way to edit Dropbox documents offline is by downloading them in Microsoft .doc format or markdown.

Google Docs do allow offline access through Google Drive. All you have to do is click on the “settings” button and check ”offline access.”

Winner — Google Docs

Mobile Apps

Dropbox Paper mobile apps for iOS and Android launched hardly six months ago, in fact, the apps are so new that the Android version is still in beta.

I tried the iOS app and I found it a bit glitchy; it didn’t work as smoothly as expected and often froze. Also, if you thought the web interface had limited formatting options, then you will be in for an unpleasant surprise with the mobile app. Overall, the Dropbox Paper mobile app seemed more like a note-taking program than true online collaboration software.

In contrast, Google Docs mobile app is probably one of the most useful apps I have ever used. I have used it for over two years and I have had absolutely no issues — no freezing or glitches. All you get is a seamless experience.

Winner — Google Docs

Integration with Third-Party Apps

Since Dropbox Paper is a rather new tool, there aren’t any third-party apps available at the moment. Google Docs, on the other hand, provides many of these through the “add-ons” option, while also linking seamlessly with other project collaboration tools like Asana, Trello and Evernote.

Winner — Google Docs


Google Drive is one of the most useful and easy to use storage apps out there but one of the reasons why many users opt for Dropbox is because the latter provides more privacy. This extends to Dropbox Paper, as well.

While Google Docs might be a great solution for collaborating on general documents, adding sensitive company documents to Google can be a rather big risk for businesses.

Winner — Dropbox Paper

Pricing and Plans

Currently, files on Dropbox Paper do not count towards the total storage of your Dropbox account. Google Docs has a similar system, making both services technically free to use. However, Dropbox has his one sentence on their website which worries me:

“For now, Dropbox Paper does not place a limit on the number of docs you can create and includes unlimited version history regardless of the Dropbox plan you are on. However, we may revisit this policy in the future.”

I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Winner — Tie


The only compelling point for using Dropbox Paper is its minimalist interface and rich media features, and let’s be honest — if Google Docs decides to revamp its interface and make it as alluring as Dropbox Paper, most users wouldn’t even look at Paper.

Not to mention, Google Docs comes as a package deal with Sheets and Presentations, making it a complete office suite. Dropbox Paper currently isn’t even a proper text editor, and it has extremely limited formatting options.

Overall, Dropbox Paper has a long way to go to even come close to the multitude of features that Google Docs provides, for now, I recommend sticking to Google Docs and leaving Dropbox Paper aside.

Which do you prefer? Let us know in the comments below, thank you for reading.

5 thoughts on “Dropbox Paper vs Google Docs: Which is Better for Online Collaboration?”

  1. I agree. Stick with Google Docs. Not to mention that if you’re part of the Google app and file storage universe, conversion would be a major headache.

    After experimenting with Dropbox Paper formatting I found it unusable for general business use [which is different, I suppose, then modern ‘team’ use].

    The modern, clean interface must be a popular goal. I write long form essays for my twitter feed using the beta https://bold.io, which has features similar, but more limited, than Paper and opens a similar start screen.

    Although formatting in Google Docs is a faint shadow of MS Word, I have found that steering clear of the fancy bells and whistles makes my work clearer for readers. I used 10% of MS Word capabilities and use 90% of what’s available with Google Docs.

  2. Thanks for this detailed report! I’m curious if Paper has “suggesting” mode, a really cool collaboration feature in google docs.

    One note: regarding offline access, did you actually *try* this with google docs? I have tried it in the past and it was incredibly flakey, to the point where it really was not at all safe to assume you could access your google doc on e.g. an airplane.

  3. The tasks feature of Dropbox Paper is really a game-changer. Google needs this – a task list, with dates and assignments (preferably connected to the google calendar), all inside a google docs.

    Dropbox reminds you each day of due tasks – that’s notably missing from Google docs.

    1. Actually, you can use Google Calendar for a similar effect, but I do agree Dropbox’s function is a little smoother.

  4. I have used Google Docs for several years and love it, with the exception of a missing feature for assigning tasks with due dates. Paper has this feature but 1. It rarely triggered reminder emails any more and 2. Paper has No Ability to PRINT a document!
    For me these two problems make Paper unusable.

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