An service that's as much a task management app as an EFSS provider, Huddle will likely win loyal fans with some, while turning others away just as quickly.
In a world of Dropbox clones, Huddle stands as perhaps the most unique EFSS solution you’ll find on the market today. Whether or not that’s a good thing is a subject for debate; fans, however, will likely defend it as one of the best EFSS providers out there.
Huddle bucks the popular sync-folder model and suffers somewhat because of it. However, as you see in this review, the service also offers capabilities not commonly offered by the competition, like task management, that set it apart. While the price tag might chase off some SMB users, for those that can afford it, Huddle is an intriguing service built to drive collaboration.
Read on as we overview the service’s key features and break down its work productivity, security and support capabilities.
- Fast block-level sync
- Secure file sharing
- Office Online/Google Docs integration
- No Linux support
- Unlimited storage plan
- Great application integrations
- Office Online & Google Docs
- Strong security
- No block-level sync
- No annual discount
- 5GB file upload max
- Task management feature
- Office/Docs integration
- Good customer support
- Creative workspaces
- No sync folder
- Limited file/folder sharing features
- Limited third-party integrations
- Weak user management
Huddle includes many features common to EFSS solutions and some that are uncommon. It’s also missing a few important ones, which we’ll cover throughout this review. Here’s a brief overview of what this service has to offer.
Huddle’s Essential plan requires at least 15 users. This is much higher than tools like Dropbox, Box and OneDrive, which only require three. The price for each individual user starts at $20, too. All of this means Huddle is not going to be a cost-effective solution for your business.
Adding on to that pain point, unless you bump up to the Plus plan, which requires 100 users, you only get 100GB of space to work with, which is shared among users.
Huddle Plus gets you 1TB of shared space. You can also contact Huddle directly and negotiate for unlimited storage if you’re a Huddle Plus customer. Costs for this aren’t listed online.
If you do find the terms acceptable, you can take either the Essential plan and Plus plan for a test drive with a 14-day to evaluate its fit for you business. In fact, Huddle won’t let you purchase the service until you’ve tried it out.
Setting up billing in general requires you to contact Huddle directly. There’s no way to enter or alter billing information and purchase user licenses. If you think that seems like a bit of a hassle, we’re right there with you.
Like other EFFS tools, Huddle is built around browser, desktop and mobile apps. Desktop downloads are available for Windows and Mac; mobile apps are available for Android and iOS.
The desktop experience, though, is very different from the model employed by Dropbox and similar services. There’s no sync folder, which is basically a cloud-connected file-system folder. Instead, file access requires use of a desktop GUI.
To call the desktop app limited is fair. You can upload files, but only one at a time. Multiple file uploads and folder uploads require you use the browser interface.
At the same time, the desktop app is required if you want to open files directly from Huddle into Microsoft Office or other applications. You can also use the desktop app to “bookmark” files to make them available offline.
The desktop app also gives you access to what Huddle calls “workspaces,” though clicking on any workspace redirects you to the browser tool.
Workspaces are integral the the Huddle experience and one of the nicer features of the service. They function as silos to compartmentalize projects, with each workspace containing its own files and users. You can also create “teams” within workspaces for further insulation.
Each workspace has its own set of tabs available in the browser interface, which include:
- Overview: a view of recent activity and a task calendar
- Files: a view of files stored in the workspace
- File Requests: request files from collaborators and set due dates
- Tasks: create and assign tasks with due dates to collaborators
- Settings: manage workspace, user and team settings
We’ll talk more workspaces, users, teams and some other web features like productivity apps and security later on in the review.
Both you and your team members also have access to a home screen in the Huddle web app that can be called up by clicking the “house” icon” in the top-left corner. Use the home screen to view notifications, account activity and assigned tasks across multiple workspaces at once.
If you’re away from your computer, the Huddle mobile app lets you access files and check account activity on your smartphone.
You can preview any file from your smartphone by tapping it. While you can’t edit files from the mobile app, you can open them directly from Huddle into mobile office software like Docs, Microsoft Office Mobile and Polaris Office.
You can also upload new files, comment on files, tag files for offline access and share them with fellow workspace members. There’s even a mobile view to check tasks.
Swipe right on any task to quickly update its status.
Before you add users and create teams in Huddle, you’ll need to set up workspaces for those users and teams to reside in. Doing this takes less than a minute. Just click the “create a new workspace” button.
Once you’ve created your workspace, you can add people to it from the people tab.
You invite collaborators to be members of the workspace itself or specific sub-teams created in the workspace (i.e., writers, editors, developers).
You can also give users “manager” status to let them assign tasks to others within the workspace. In workspace settings, you can also restrict users from creating folders or inviting new users.
Beyond that, Huddle doesn’t let you customize privileges for individual users, just teams. This limitation stands as a disappointing flaw for a service built around collaboration.
Other services let you assign read only access to users, editor access and various other permissions. Notable examples include Citrix ShareFile and Box Business.
With Huddle, you can share folders and files with individuals and teams or publish them so that all employees within your business can access them. However, you cannot share folders and files outside of your business unless you’re on the Plus plan.
This is a limitation that SMB buyers should absolutely be aware of before signing up given that Huddle Plus requires at least 100 users.
You can also set team permissions at the folder level to control what team members can do with them. Options include:
- View in Huddle only (can’t download)
- View in Huddle, download and open in other apps
- Edit access for content in folder
These permissions have to be set at the folder level; there’s no option for individual files. You can, however, lock specific files to prevent further changes from being made.
There’s also an option to generate links to files that can be shared with others in your workspace. This allows others to access the file quickly, whether you by paste the link in a chat window or email it.
That’s really all there is to know about about sharing within Huddle. The capabilities are much more limited than what you get with other EFSS solutions.
Device synchronization, usually just called “sync” for short, refers to the ability to access the same content from any device and see changes made on other devices in near real-time. Most cloud storage tools drive sync through the sync-folder model; Huddle does not.
The impact of this decision causes several headaches:
- You can’t access files as quickly and easily as you can with other services; you have to go online or download and use the limited desktop tool
- Real-time collaborations are hindered by the fact that you have download files before editing them, then upload the changed files back into cloud storage
- Cloud content isn’t available offline by default because it isn’t stored on your hard drive by default; you have to manually bookmark content to make it available offline
It’s actually hard to call the Huddle approach sync, so you could even argue that it isn’t really an EFSS solution. The system works more, in fact, like an old-fashioned network drive.
Which is to say, slow. The bottom line is that file synchronization with Huddle takes more work than necessary in this era of fast content access and could in fact hinder collaborations.
Huddle has several work productivity features that you won’t find with other EFSS tools, which goes a long way toward masking some of its other shortcomings like the lack of a sync folder.
As part of its platform, Huddle gives you task management capabilities to orchestrate your collaborations. Task management is simple and mostly occurs from the task tab.
When adding tasks, you have the option to set due dates and assign them to yourself or your collaborators. There are also fields for “start date” and “status” to chart progress.
Once added, tasks will display on the calendar in your campaign overview tab.
The ability to manage tasks without having to spend more money on top of an already expensive EFSS choice is welcome, even if that’s a problem Huddle creates itself.
Huddle also integrates with Microsoft Office 365. You can create Word documents, Excel workbooks and PowerPoint presentations from inside your workspace files tab using the menu options along the right side.
When you create an Office document, it opens up the appropriate Office 365 program on your desktop as long as you have Huddle Desktop installed.
You can leave comments for you Huddle teammates from inside Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Comments get uploaded almost immediately to facilitate collaborations.
We did notice a bug that might impact the usefulness of this integration, though. With Huddle Desktop installed, trying to work with files stored in Google Drive caused Word and Excel to crash. This was only corrected when we uninstalled Huddle Desktop.
We didn’t attempt to troubleshoot the issue but it’s definitely something you’ll want to check out during your trial run if you intend to use multiple cloud storage services.
There’s also a Huddle add-on for Google Drive that lets you save Docs, Sheets and other content create in G Suite directly to Huddle.
We didn’t notice any issues in testing this feature out, and it’s a nice way of taking advantage of both content creation features of Google Docs and content control features of Huddle.
Compared to other cloud solutions like Dropbox, Box, Egnyte, Google Drive and OneDrive, Huddle doesn’t offer much in the way of third-party integrations beyond Office and Google Docs.
The few additional third-party partnerships the service does have include:
- SharePoint: a cloud-based Microsoft collaboration platform
- Salesforce: a cloud-based customer relationship management platform
- SkySync: a tool for connecting multiple cloud storage services including Dropbox, Box and OneDrive
These tools, particularly SkySync, somewhat lessen the impact of Huddle’s meager third-party offerings. For example, you could use both Dropbox and Huddle if you wanted to take advantage of Dropbox’s third-party library and Huddle’s task management features.
However, jumping between both can be tiresome, too. Huddle also works with a handful of single-sign on (SSO) and enterprise mobility management (EMM) options that we’ll discuss when we cover security, next.
Good security can protect your content from a range of cyber threats, from data breaches to man-in-the-middle attacks, which is a type of silent eavesdropping on data transmissions over the Internet. For the most part, Huddle does a nice job with security, with only a few minor misses.
Huddle scrambles your data both at rest on its servers and in transit using the advanced encryption standard (AES) protocol. At-rest encryption uses 256-bit AES, while in-transit encryption uses 128-bit or 256-bit depending on your browser.
Data transfers between device and data center are bolstered using transport layer security (TLS). TLS is a protocol for scrambling communications over the Internet.
Once your data arrives at the Huddle data center, its decrypted. Your file content gets re-encrypted but file metadata remains in plain text to help with speeding up retrieval through a process called indexing.
Huddle servers are also kept in what are known as hardened data centers. The term refers to a storage facility designed to withstand natural disasters, terrorist attacks, physical incursions and virtual attacks.
Huddle doesn’t let you set your own password criteria to ensure your employees don’t create weak passwords. Citrix ShareFile is a nice service for that sort of control. You can, however, set a two-factor authentication requirement.
With two-factor authentication enabled, users will have to register their mobile phone numbers with Huddle. Whenever they sign in from an unfamiliar device, they’ll need to enter a unique six-digit security code in addition to their normal username and password to access the account, which they receive as a text.
You can also require users to enter a pin code when they access Huddle from their mobile device. That way, if they don’t password protect their smartphone, your account won’t be compromised if their phone is stolen.
As mentioned earlier, Huddle also integrates with both SSO and EMM solutions.
SSO solutions give you more control of password management while letting your team use the same password for multiple different tools. Supported SSO tools include:
EMM tools are for remote device management. They let you remote wipe employee phones, control data encryption, pin lock data and delete apps. Huddle’s featured EMM partnership is with MobileIron, though Huddle claims to work with most major EMM tools.
Huddle maintains a support portal where you can search for articles on:
- Getting started user guides
- Huddle features
- Best practices
- Huddle apps
- Technical and security issues
For the most part these articles are informative without being too complex. They’re also nicely supplemented with screenshots. The library of articles is also quite broad and covers most topics we could think of.
Huddle also offers live training sessions and access to recordings of past training sessions if you’d prefer watching to reading. If you can’t find the answer to your question, you can send Huddle support an email by filling out a web form.
You can tag email requests based on your level of need, too. Levels include low, normal, high and urgent. We sent Huddle an email to gauge response time for a “normal” request and received a reply back in just 30 minutes.
Huddle also has a live chat option if you prefer not to wait at all.
Support hours for both email and chat are Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. GMT. There’s also an extended support package for 24/7 support, though prices aren’t listed online. Extended support also gives you direct access to senior support engineers.
Huddle does its own thing and the results are both good and bad. We love the task management capabilities, though they won’t convince us to ditch Trello. The fact that Huddle integrates with both Office 365 and Google Docs is also a great touch.
Usually with an EFSS solution, it’s one or the other, or neither. SyncSync compatibility further extends your cross-platform options. Still, Huddle probably isn’t going to be the best EFFS pick for most SMBs. High minimum users requirements and limited storage space create financial obstacles that aren’t worth the few benefits the service offers.
If you don’t mind the costs, you might mind the fact that Huddle doesn’t use a sync folder. You have to manually upload files into the cloud and manually bookmark them to make the available offline. To call the approach tedious is an understatement.
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Also, the fact that you can only preview and not edit files in the Huddle browser necessitates file locks to prevent users from overwriting each other. No external collaborations for Huddle Essential customers and limited third-party integrations compared to Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive are other reasons to consider your options.
Final judgement: we strongly recommend a trial before you decide to make Huddle part of your SMB’s collaboration strategy. Some users are going to love it. Most probably won’t.
That’s all we’ve got to say on Huddle for now. Thanks for reading and be sure and share your own thoughts on this service in the comments below.