When productivity is the goal, few cloud storage solutions match Google Drive. Backed by Google Docs and a big-and-growing-bigger library of third-party apps, Google Drive provides a collaboration playground that will get the creative juices flowing.
Add 15GB of free storage, and Google Drive’s close ties to Gmail and Android, and we get why Google Drive looms over the cloud storage market with over 800 million registrees.
There are better deals and certainly better security to be found, which is why we don’t slot Google Drive atop our best cloud storage rankings. However, we still wondered whether there is a better cloud storage solution for getting things done.
There are a few contenders, including Google Drive’s two closest rivals in Dropbox and OneDrive (read our Dropbox vs Google Drive vs Onedrive piece). In this article, we’re going to focus on a third, lesser-known option: Box, a cloud storage solution known for its business plans and supporting multi-member collaborations.
Box doesn’t have the numbers that Google Drive has. The company behind it focuses its marketing efforts on appealing to the suit-and-tie crowd with little interest in home consumers, as evidenced by an individual plan that costs over $11 per month for an underwhelming 100GB of storage.
For business use, we rank Box high on the list of best enterprise sync and share providers, thanks to its unlimited storage plans and practical user management features. It’s more suited than Dropbox for enterprise use, in fact (read our Box vs Dropbox comparison), not to mention Google Drive.
The goal of this article is to compare the productivity features of Google Drive and Box. Though the needs of independent freelancers vary wildly from, say, lawyers, we’ll try to take a broad view, so that you pick the one that best matches your work needs.
The time has come for Google Drive versus Box. Save your nerd rage for the end.
Google Drive vs Box: Our Methodology
There are different approaches to evaluating cloud storage. We could dive deep into support and security, both of which are crucial considerations you should take into account before signing up for a service, but we’re going to nix some of the usual subjects to focus on productivity. We’re not even going to talk cost, aside from some casual mentions.
We broke our analysis into five rounds: office suites, note-taking apps, third-party apps, file synchronization and collaboration. After reading this article, we have a full Google Drive review, in addition to a Box Business review, that you can read for more information.
Let’s get down to business.
1. Office Suites
Here at Cloudwards.net, our favorite thing about Google Drive is Google Docs, one of the two or three best cloud-based office suites available. We’d argue that it wouldn’t be worth using otherwise, mostly on account of Alphabet Inc.’s thirst for user data and consequently lax approach to security.
There are ways to protect yourself from Google’s pointy-toothed marketeers, including using a private-encryption service such as Boxcryptor to scramble your files. However, any files encrypted end-to-end using a tool such as Boxcryptor can’t be opened, or even previewed, using Google Docs.
The name Google Docs refers to both the suite itself and the suite’s word processor. Momentary discombobulation aside, the suite rivals Office Online in terms of ease of use and features. Like Microsoft’s cloud office suite, it’s completely free.
One of the best things about Docs is how well it lends itself to collaborations. By sharing file access with others, you can invite them to leave comments, make edits or leave editing suggestions.
Aside from Google Docs the word processor, other apps included in the suite include Google Sheets, Google Slides, Google Forms and Google Drawings.
Google Sheets provides a spreadsheet environment with all the features you’d expect, such as sheets, charts, filters and functions.
For presentations, use Google Slides, while Google Forms can be used to create polls, quizzes, job applications and other forms. Google Forms has several pre-made themes to help, such as templates for RSVPs, customer feedback, contact information and event invites.
Google Drawings can be used to create flowcharts, website blueprints, concept maps and other diagrams. While underwhelming compared to LucidChart or Microsoft Visio, neither of those programs are free.
With its native, well-designed office suite, Google has an advantage that no cloud storage providers outside of Microsoft and Apple can match. In lieu of creating their own office apps, many cloud storage solutions simply integrate those made by others.
Box not only takes that approach, it goes further than most by partnering with Microsoft and Google to offer tools from the office suites of both.
From the Box web interface, you can create new Microsoft Word, Excel or PowerPoint files, in addition to Google Docs and Sheets files. Box can also be used to preview and edit files created in Google Drive and OneDrive and moved to the Box cloud (perhaps using a cloud-to-cloud management tool).
Box has apps for Docs and Office integrated into its web tool, but the edits for Docs are actually made on Google’s cloud network, then saved to Box, meaning you’ll need to set up a Google account.
The features are the same, whether you use Box, or use OneDrive or Google Drive directly. Access to both suites is free.
One of the big benefits of using Box, from a productivity standpoint, comes from the fact that some people are Google Docs converts, while others are Microsoft Office diehards. With Box, you can work with both, delivering content in either format.
Box doesn’t get you access to Google Slides, Forms or Drawings. Google also has an Office 365 plugin that can save files to, and access files stored in, your Google Drive account. Additionally, Google Drive has an Office Compatibility Mode setting that can be used to edit Microsoft files using Google Docs.
When it comes to office tools, Google Drive and Box excel. We’re giving round one to Box because you don’t have to leave the Box interface to create and edit Google and Microsoft files, but the victory is slim.
2. Note-Taking Apps
Cloud notebooks are to creativity what room-temperature beef is to E. coli. We’ve previously published a guide to the best note-taking apps available and, while Evernote might be our favorite, Google and Box have entries that made the list in Google Keep and Box Notes.
Technically, Google Keep isn’t a part of the Google Drive ecosystem. Keep doesn’t consume Google Drive storage — which is a good thing — and you can’t launch it from the Google Drive interface. That said, we’re going to consider it here on the basis that it does integrate with Google Docs.
Google Keep works best for quick memos-to-self and task lists. While you can access Keep using your browser, it’s the smartphone app for Android and iOS that most people will find useful.
Key features include voice recording, voice-to-text conversion, checklists and alarm-clock reminders. It’s the perfect companion for creative minds who are constantly churning out ideas but have no place to put them, such as while stuck in the middle of a morning traffic jam or lying awake in the middle of the night.
Notes created using Google Keep have a limit of 20,000 characters, which is about 4,000 words, and there’s no option to create organizational notebooks, so we don’t recommend Google Keep for detailed research. You can create unlimited notes, though, without ever worrying about storage space.
Notes made with Box Notes aren’t restricted by a similarly small character limit — the cap is 500,000 characters and 200 pages. However, without organizing features such as notebooks and note tagging, we can’t recommend Box’s tool for detailed research projects, either. Like Google Keep, Box Notes doesn’t provide much for text-formatting options.
Box Notes does work well for taking memos and meeting notes and sharing those creations with others. Up to 20 people can edit the same note simultaneously and Box Notes creates new versions every 30 seconds, in case you need to roll back unwanted changes. Box Business users can also track, view, edit and delete notes.
Those features align well with the idea of Box as a cloud storage tool best suited to workplace productivity. Although Box Notes has some value, we’re giving round two to Google, thanks to Keep’s voice-recording and list features, along with its excellent mobile experience.
3. Third-Party Apps
Round three will focus on third-party app integrations other than Microsoft Office.
Third-party apps is an area where Google has excelled, thanks, in part, to a more-or-less free-for-all attitude toward its API and outside innovation. Aside from Google Docs and one of the best free storage plans available, Google’s third-party app library might be the best thing about it.
True, many of the hundreds of apps available in that library are, to put it eloquently, total junk, thanks to that same open-development attitude, but there are many useful apps to be found.
Access the app library by clicking “new” on the top-left side of Google Drive, then “more” and “connect more apps.”
Use the search field to find apps or browse by category. Once you find what you want, integrating it with Google Drive only requires clicking a “connect” button.
App categories include productivity, social and education, among others. Under these categories, you’ll find .pdf editors, text editors, image editors, diagram creators, workflow tools, file-type converters, chat tools, fax tools, tools for creating .gifs — you get the idea.
Some of our favorites include:
- DocHub: .pdf editor
- Lumin PDF: .pdf editor
- Pixlr Editor: image editor
- GeoGebra: math tool for graphing, geometry, etc
- WeVideo: video editor
- PicMonkey: photo editor
It’s a toolbox mostly without rival among cloud storage services, with only two coming close: Egnyte Connect and Box. To find and connect apps through the Box interface, click the “apps” link in your user profile menu to open the application library.
You can find specific apps using the search field or peruse the options by categories, such as annotation, collaboration, editing and security. Depending on your needs, one possible advantage of Box over Google Drive is that it has many more apps designed for business use.
Options include .pdf editors, call-recording software, Agile-Scrum management apps, billing software and task trackers. There are far too many apps to name them all, but here are a few notables:
- Adobe Acrobat: .pdf editor
- 1st Call Record: capture phone calls
- Agilewords: review and approve documents
- AppCooker: project management for app development
- BigMind Pro: collect ideas and brainstorm
- DocuSign: collect signatures
Choosing between Google Drive and Box, when it comes to third-party apps, will depend on which apps you need and what you do for work. As a general rule of thumb — emphasis on general — Google’s app library better suits freelancers and students, while Box’s library works best for the white-collar set.
We’re siding with Google, because we think more people will find value in its app collection, but feel free to disagree vociferously. We suggest setting up free accounts with both services to check the options out for yourself.
Should you find that both Google Drive and Box have apps you like, you can manage them together using a multi-cloud management tool such as Otixo (read our Otixo review).
4. File Synchronization
Most cloud storage tools let you synchronize files across devices. By serving as the middleman between endpoints, you can edit a file on one device and see those edits reflected on another shortly after. Ideally, “shortly” means near real-time, but some cloud storage services sync faster than others.
Google Drive and Box follow the familiar sync-folder model perfected by Dropbox: install a desktop client and a cloud-connected folder will be created in your file system. Any files or folders placed within that folder get sent to the cloud, then distributed to any other device with a sync client connected to your storage account.
Neither Google Drive nor Box throttle sync speeds. Uploads and downloads should depend on the quality of your internet connection. However, in tests conducted for our reviews, Google Drive consistently performed faster file uploads, while downloads for the two services were about the same.
|Time to upload 1GB test folder (in minutes)||Average Upload:||Average Download:|
Box can’t handle files larger than 5GB, either, and that’s only if you’re a business or enterprise subscriber. Cheaper subscriptions have a 2GB cap and Box’s free plan is restricted to 250MB. Google Drive lets you upload and sync files of up to 5TB.
Google Drive does have a 750GB per day sync limit, after which you’ll be blocked from uploading more files until the next day (if you have a file larger than 750GB, it’ll complete the upload before cutting off).
In order to use cloud storage to free hard drive space, you have to be able to turn sync off, since it’s a mechanism that relies on storing files in the cloud and on your computer drive. Google Drive and Box have a selective sync feature that lets you do just that.
Both services let you set upload and download bandwidth limits. Setting limits will slow synchronization down, but will also spare computer resources for other tasks, like watching videos on the Cloudwards.net YouTube channel.
Overall, both cloud storage services do an acceptable job syncing files, though neither tops our list for best cloud storage for sync. We’re giving the nod to Google for supporting larger file sizes and performing better on file uploads.
Cloud storage’s potential to drive collaborative efforts is something that Google Drive and Box capitalize on as well as any other provider, with the exception of Egnyte Connect, a service that incorporates some handy task management features (read our Egnyte Connect review).
Central to collaborating with either Google Drive or Box are file and folder sharing, a feature that relies on the creation of web links that others can use to access your content.
We have a separate article on the best cloud storage for file sharing that touches on some of the security features we want to see to lock down these links, since creating URLs to access files can be risky business. Google whiffs on most of them; Box does not.
It’s easy to share files and other content on Google Drive: right-click on the folder or file and click “share.”
When sharing content, you can invite others by email address or create a shareable link that can be posted on a social media account, Slack channel or elsewhere. Google Drive links can be restricted with permissions, with options for view-only, editing and commenting.
We like the permission settings but we’d like to see password protection and expiry dates added to help keep those links away from unwanted eyes.
Box lets you share using email invites or links, too, but with more settings to ensure link security than Google Drive. Options include password protection, automatic link expiration and a checkbox that prevents content downloading.
For business plan subscribers, Box includes a “groups” feature that will let you apply folder access permissions to multiple people at once, such as for an editing or graphic design department.
Box Business has many more user management features to help with collaborations. These include letting peers sync files to their desktops and preventing them from collaborating with non-group members.
When adding folder permissions with Box Business, there are many more choices than what you’ll find with Google Drive. Options include:
- Co-owner: Can do anything including all admin tasks
- Editor: Can do everything except restrict invitations
- Viewer Uploader: Basic user with upload capabilities
- Previewer Uploader: Limited user with upload capabilities
- Viewer: Basic user without upload capabilities
- Previewer: Limited user without upload capabilities
- Uploader: Can upload content and create subfolders
Those perks aren’t available for Box Personal users, but for those looking for cloud storage built for multi-user collaborations in a business setting, Box easily trumps Google Drive.
6. Final Verdict
The final tabulation is in, and it adds up to three rounds for Google Drive and two for Box.
While we like that Box supports both Google Docs and Office Online, and think it has better file-sharing features, Google Drive has a more useful note-taking app, a more interesting collection of third-party integrations and syncs files more smoothly than Box.
We think the final split of rounds rings true: more people will find that Google Drive facilitates their productivity goals than Box. The gap isn’t as wide as you might expect, though, and for businesses juggling a large workforce, we’d contend that Box Business provides more value.
Are you a Google Drive fan or do you prefer Box for getting things done? Share your thoughts in the comments below, and thanks for reading.