Google is a company that needs no introduction. The tech giant from Mountain View has dominated the internet for two decades now with its ecosystem of apps, services and hardware. Google launched Google Drive in 2012, and it has since become the most used cloud storage service on the planet, with more than a billion users worldwide and trillions of files stored on its servers.
Google Drive is one of the most versatile cloud storage options when it comes to productivity. It offers integration with many online apps, but most importantly, it works seamlessly with the G Suite apps (now rebranded as Google Workspace), such as Google Docs, Sheets and Slides. All of Drive’s collaboration features help place it near the top of our best cloud storage services for collaboration list.
However, Google’s attitude about privacy has always raised a few eyebrows. Even though its security is top-notch, your sensitive data might be available to Google employees or algorithms. If you’re concerned about privacy, you could check out our review of Sync.com, a service that offers excellent privacy with its zero-knowledge encryption.
Google Drive offers an excellent free plan, with 15GB of free storage space available to all of its users. Plus, it doesn’t restrict any features for free users — unlike most other cloud services — which lands it on our best free cloud storage list. Read on for a closer look at Google’s foray into cloud storage in this Google Drive review.
Updated information about encryption integrations.
Updated information regarding Google Drive for Desktop
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Google Workspace integration
- Plenty of third-party apps
- Excellent for collaboration
- Lots of free storage
- Full-featured free plan
- Top-notch security
- Zero-knowledge encryption only via third party
- No block-level sync
- Privacy concerns
- No passwords for sharing links
Alternatives for Google Drive
When you create a Google account, a Google Drive account is created for you by default. It’s where all your emails are stored if you use Gmail, it’s where Android stores your user data and backups, and it’s where Google Photos stores your photos and videos. In fact, you could have a Google Drive account and not even know it.
Drive works on most big operating systems. There are separate versions for Windows and Mac, and the mobile versions work on both Android and iOS. If you’re a Linux user, though, you’re out of luck because Google Drive doesn’t officially support Linux-based systems. Not that this has stopped Linux users before.
Google Drive offers many attractive features. It’s a Google product, so it works seamlessly with Google’s vast ecosystem, which includes the Android operating system, Gmail, Google Home and, most importantly, the Google Workspace suite of office apps. Using Google Drive’s integration with Workspace lets you easily collaborate on cloud-based documents with your co-workers.
Google Drive and Google Workspace
To make your online office life easier, Google has created a collection of office apps called Google Workspace. Its three main office apps are Docs, Sheets and Slides, which are equivalent to the Microsoft Office suite. By now Workspace even surpasses Microsoft’s online collaboration abilities.
Docs is Google’s answer to Microsoft’s popular Word software. If you’re not familiar with Docs and how it works with Drive, we have a handy-dandy Google Drive guide for you.
All of your Docs files are saved to your Drive account, making collaboration very easy with its file-sharing features. All you have to do is share the file with a Drive user and grant them editing permissions.
The same goes for Google Sheets and Slides, Google’s versions of Microsoft’s Excel and PowerPoint applications. Sheets is a spreadsheet tool, and Slides lets you create presentations. In fact, you can right-click anywhere in your Drive to access these apps and create a new Workspace document.
The outstanding thing about Workspace is that multiple users can edit documents simultaneously. You can even leave notes for collaborators in the margins and suggest edits in real time.
This collaborative environment is rivaled only by Dropbox and OneDrive. You can see how these giants of the cloud scene stack up against each other in our comparison of Google Drive vs Dropbox and OneDrive.
Using Third-Party Apps With Google Drive
There’s plenty of Google apps — such as Forms, Drawings and Maps — that can be connected to your Drive, and they’re all accessible via the right-click menu. Plus, there are even more apps that work with Google Drive in the Google Workspace Marketplace, where you can find many stand-alone apps, as well as add-ons for Google Docs and the other Workspace apps.
Google Drive features Google Keep, a note-taking app, in its right-hand taskbar. This lets you create notes quickly and easily, without leaving Drive. Google Calendar and Google Tasks are also featured in the taskbar, to help you keep track of your schedule and tasks. Plus, you can add other apps to the taskbar for easy access.
Drive lets you preview many file formats natively. You can preview media files, such as images, videos and music. It’s one of the best choices for video in the cloud because its video player looks and functions just like YouTube’s video player. This means you can change the playback speed of the video or even add closed captions, making it great for watching movies.
Plus, you can preview many types of documents, including Microsoft Office documents and PDF documents. If you want to edit an Office document, Drive lets you convert it to a Workspace document and edit it in the appropriate Workspace app.
However, if Drive can’t find a Workspace app for a certain file, it will suggest a Marketplace app that can do it. To connect an app to Google Drive, you have to install it from the Marketplace and grant it permission to access your Drive account.
These apps can extend Google Drive’s functionality far beyond what is typically afforded by a cloud service. It lets you do quite a few things, from the basic to the outlandish. There are apps for things like editing PDF documents and organizing work pipelines, and you can even create digital paintings or run electrical circuit simulations, all from your Google Drive account.
Some of those apps, such as Asana and Any.do, are among the best apps for productivity, which is another plus for Google Drive’s productivity capabilities.
Google Drive Features Overview
|Sync Any Folder
|File Link Sharing
|Link Expiry Dates
|Link Download Limits
|Deleted File Retention
|Live Chat Support
All Google users have a certain amount of free Drive space, which can be further expanded by purchasing extra space, though the way this works has changed in the recent months.
- Free plan
Google Drive Free Plan
One of the best things about Google Drive is its generous free plan. All Google accounts come with 15GB of free space on Drive. The best part, though, is that all these accounts are equal, with no restrictions for free users.
Your Drive account is where Google stores data from its various services that you use. This means that things like Gmail attachments count toward your Google Drive storage quota. It’s also where your Android backups are kept, if you choose to use that feature.
You can also upload your photos and videos to Google Drive, and you can even do it without losing any storage space, but we’ll reveal that little secret later.
What Is Google One?
If you find that 15GB of free file storage just isn’t cutting it for you, you might want to purchase extra Drive storage. The old way of doing it would be to just purchase an extra couple of gigabytes (or terabytes, if that’s more your style), but nowadays that extra storage comes with some added perks, which is packaged together as Google One.
Expanding your Google Drive storage quota will upgrade your account to a Google One account. Besides the increased capacity, Google One comes with some bonuses, which are usually outside the scope of Google Drive. However, these perks aren’t available for everyone, and some are locked to only certain areas of the world.
The first of these bonuses is the option to create a Google family. You can add up to five other members to your family group, and they all have a base of 15GB of Drive space. Plus, any extra storage you’ve purchased can be split evenly among all family members.
Your Google family can also get family plans for YouTube Premium and YouTube Music. Plus, parents can use special parental controls to monitor their children’s Android activity, or even restrict their playtime on Google Stadia.
Besides all the special bonuses that come with a family plan, Google One users also have access to Google experts, who are specially trained tech support staff that are available 24/7. However, Google already has some of the best 24/7 tech support, so the usefulness of this perk is a little dubious.
The rest of the Google One perks vary by region. Some regions have three months of free YouTube Premium, some regions get a $5 credit in the Google Play store and, bizarrely, you can even get a discount of up to 40 percent with select hotels. That’s definitely something you can’t get with any other cloud service.
Google Drive Prices
Google Drive has seven different options for its paid users, so you have a good degree of liberty in choosing the right plan for you or your family. The average user will mostly be interested in the first four plans, which offer up to 2TB of file storage, and these plans are generally quite affordable.
However, there is a huge jump in price for the three most expensive tiers. These are high-capacity plans, targeted mostly toward family users who share their storage. Even for those users, though, it would be cheaper to just purchase individual plans. Bear in mind that all of these plans will upgrade your Drive account to a Google One subscription.
The first paid plan costs $1.99 per month for 100GB of storage, or you could save some money by paying a yearly price of just $19.99. The next tier gets you 200GB of storage for a monthly price of $2.99 or $29.99 yearly. The third plan offers 2TB of storage for a price of either $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year.
The next three entries in the Google Drive pricing list are the priciest, and you can pay only a monthly fee for them; there are no yearly plans. You can get an extra 10TB of Drive storage for a monthly fee of $49.99. The 20TB plan will cost you $99.99 per month, and you can get the 30TB plan for a dizzying $149.99 monthly.
Even though the cheaper plans are quite affordable, Google Drive just can’t justify the head-spinning prices for its most expensive plans. If you need to use Google Drive for business, a Workspace subscription offers unlimited storage at far cheaper prices. If a great free plan is what you’re after, pCloud could be a better and more secure alternative.
Ease of Use
Google Drive is a very user-friendly file storage service. It’s a Google product, so it’s expectedly easy to use, and its interface is well designed. Google Drive’s interface is clean and modern, with large icons in bold, trademark-Google colors. Everything is fast and responsive, and every action is backed by a smooth animation, making each click feel important.
Google Drive lives mainly in your browser, but it’s also available to download for Windows PC, and there’s Google Drive for Mac, as well. Plus, there is a mobile app available for both Android and iOS users.
If an attractive interface and great ease of use are important to you, you can also check out our review of Icedrive, a cloud service with a really well-designed interface that’s very cheap, to boot.
Google Drive Browser Interface
The main way to access Drive is through the browser. The browser interface is very elegant and clean, while still being informative and useful. To the left, there’s a navigation bar displaying your folder trees, any folders on your computer that you’ve synced to Drive, as well as files you’ve deleted and that others have shared with you.
The right-hand side features a taskbar that gives you quick access to all your connected apps. You can use this taskbar to take quick notes, make calendar entries, schedule various tasks and set reminders for yourself.
The content of your Drive folder takes center stage in the browser interface, displayed in either large clear thumbnails or as a detailed list. You can right-click any of these entries for a dropdown list with options that let you edit the file, preview, open or download it, and you can share files from this menu, as well.
Right-clicking anywhere on the blank space of this central area opens up a new dropdown menu, which lets you upload files and folders. Plus, you can make new Workspace documents here, too. Above this area there is a search bar and icons for the “support” and “settings” menus.
Google Drive on Desktop
There are two separate desktop applications for Google Drive available on Windows and Mac. The one that’s most easily accessible functions like a sync client that also sets up a network drive on your device.
The second desktop app is significantly more difficult to find, being tucked away in this FAQ. This app is basically the exact same thing as the web interface, and under the hood it’s essentially just a Chrome window. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as the web interface is incredibly well-designed and its mirror-image still syncs files to your device. It doesn’t come with a network drive, though.
Google Drive on Mobile
Drive has apps for both Android and iOS, and they offer a lot of the same functionality of the browser version. The app lets you upload and download files, as well as copy, move and delete them. You can preview files in the app, and if you have any Workspace apps installed, you can also edit documents on mobile. However, you can’t connect third-party apps to it.
One thing the Drive app doesn’t do is automatically backup your photos and videos. That’s a job for Google Photos, which lets you automatically upload images and videos to your Drive account. Plus, if you upload them with the “high quality” setting, Google will work its AI magic to compress those files and upload an HD version to Drive.
The best part of this is that any “high quality” images and videos you upload do not count toward your Drive quota, and they don’t take up valuable storage. However, because the images are compressed, they’re not in the original resolution that you took them in. You can also choose to upload them in “original quality,” though they will take up Drive space if you do.
File Sharing & Syncing
Google Drive has some of the best file sharing capabilities, but it lacks certain features that competitors have. File sharing is a simple enough task with Google Drive, but if you just can’t wrap your head around sharing files with Drive or setting permissions for Docs collaboration, you can take a look at our in-depth guide on sharing with Google Drive.
Drive has two ways of sharing files and folders. The first and easiest to use is via the “get shareable link” option. This generates a link to the file or folder using the default sharing settings. That link is then copied to your clipboard, and you can use it to share files by pasting it in an email, on social media or wherever you like.
Sharing for Collaboration
Another way to share is via the “share” option. This lets you add people to the file, either as “viewers,” “commenters” or “editors,” and you can set permissions for each category.
As the name implies, “viewers” can only view files, while “commenters” can leave comments on your shared Workspace documents. You can also give “viewers” and “commenters” permission to copy, print and download shared files.
“Editors” are special because they have full access to your shared files. This means they can edit or delete files, or upload new files to the shared folder. They can also edit any Workspace document you’ve shared with them. Plus, you can give them permission to change permissions for other users and share the files.
Additionally, if you’re on a Google Workspace plan, you can block people outside of your organization from sharing files with you.
You can use Google Drive to share documents made in Google Docs, Sheets or Slides, and this is one major advantage Drive has over its competitors. Drive has the best integration with these office apps, which are very important for businesses that do a lot of online work.
OneDrive is a cloud service that offers great integration with Microsoft’s own Office suite, but Office Online doesn’t have Workspace’s fluid co-working capabilities. You can read our OneDrive review for a more in-depth comparison of Google Drive vs OneDrive.
One thing that you can’t do with Drive is set passwords for sharing links. This can be problematic, as anyone with the link can gain access to sensitive files. To add to this issue, you can’t deactivate shared links, so any file you’ve shared is permanently available to anyone you’ve shared it with, until you delete it.
Google Drive Sync
If you want to sync files between your device and Google Drive, you’ll need to download one of the two desktop apps. If you download the regular sync client, you can either use it to select local folders to sync with the cloud, or drag and drop files or folders into the network drive. Read our how to back up to Google Drive guide to learn more.
The latter option is ideal if you want to free up storage space and don’t need offline access to the file, whereas the former is better for files that you always need available. On the other hand, if you use the more hidden client that looks like the web interface, your files are automatically synced for offline access by default.
You can also backup your Android phone to Google Drive. Besides the automatic image upload, you can manually create a copy of your phone’s data in the cloud. This will save information about your contacts, settings and any apps you’ve installed to your Drive account, so when you switch phones, you don’t have to move contacts or install apps manually.
Drive is where Gmail keeps all your email attachments, and Drive uses your Gmail to share files. So if you’re thinking about choosing Google Drive to store all your files, you should also consider making Gmail your default email client.
Alternatively, you may want to transfer ownership of a Google Drive folder, which our linked guide can help you with.
Google has servers all around the world. This means that anywhere you are, you should have a server near you, except if you’re in Africa. This is good news for most Drive users because speed depends on your distance to servers.
Although upload speeds were fine, our test showed mediocre download speeds, and speeds for both varied quite a bit. We performed our speed testing using a 1GB test file, with a download speed of 32 Mbps and an upload speed of 6 Mbps. The expected times were 23:40 for uploads and 04:30 for downloads.
It took us around 29 minutes to upload our 1GB test file, though attempts showed variability of about a minute in upload times. Although the average time wasn’t too far off the expected time, considering there’s always some delay with remote servers, the variable speed raises some concerns.
Download speeds were worse than expected, with the average time to download the test file being just over six minutes. With servers all over the world and all the funding that Google has, you would expect downloads to be much faster. Anything more than a minute above the expected download time is unacceptable for such a big-name player.
To add to these middling speeds, block-level sync is also missing from Drive. This means that when you’re working on a file and making changes, the entire file will be uploaded when you save it.
Block-level sync would speed up uploads by saving only the part of the file that’s changed. However, unless you’re working on especially large files, this shouldn’t make too much of a difference.
Google is a huge company and one of the biggest players in the tech industry. This means that its security is also among the best, at least technically. All files on Drive are encrypted, but Google holds the encryption keys by default. So even though Google’s encryption is strong, the company has access to all of your data and it can decrypt that data whenever it wants.
Drive keeps your data encrypted on its servers, but it also encrypts your data while it’s traveling between your computer and its servers. It uses the 256-bit AES encryption protocol when your data is at rest and 256-bit AES plus the TLS protocol to protect your files in transit. This means that your files are safe from hackers and man-in-the-middle attacks at all times.
Google Drive also uses two-factor authentication to protect user logins. Enabling two-factor authentication will require you to confirm all your logins by responding to a mobile notification, so only you can log in to your account, even if someone has your username and password.
Google scans everything you upload to Drive, nominally for viruses, copyright violations and other harmful content. Although it claims that it doesn’t use information from these scans for advertising purposes, we already know from the above example that Google doesn’t always stay true to its word.
Besides, even if Google really doesn’t use that information to give you targeted ads, the thought of Google employees being able to see your private files is cause enough for concern.
Google Drive Client-Side Encryption
Google isn’t particularly committed to user privacy, but it’s worth noting that Google now claims to offer client-side encryption, via integration with third-party key management services. Although it’s great that Google has decided to create integrations for these third-party zero-knowledge encryption services, there’s little functional difference between this and using something like Cryptomator.
For now, these integrations are in various stages of development (for example, FlowCryptor’s is in beta testing). They’re also only available to legacy Enterprise and Education accounts (or “Plus” accounts), meaning ones that existed before the transition from GSuite to Google Workspace.
If privacy is a concern, you can take a look at Icedrive, a cloud service dedicated to privacy and security (you can also check out our Icedrive vs Google Drive comparison).
Unless you use a third-party encryption app — whether that’s Cryptomator or a legacy account and Google’s Flowcrypt integration — Google scans both the content you upload to its services and the content that you make with its various apps. This includes things like your Gmail conversations and attachments, Workspace documents that you’ve created and anything you upload to Google Drive.
Google collects data about the devices that you use with Drive, such as hardware information and the operating system you use. It can also figure out your location by accessing your GPS data, IP address, sensor data from your device or WiFi access points.
Drive performs a scan whenever you download a file from its servers. It mostly does that to check for viruses. However, there’s nothing stopping Google from collecting more data during that scan. This is especially worrying because those files are encrypted and the user expects them to be private. Learn more in our ‘is Google Drive secure‘ guide.
How Safe Is Your Data With Google Drive?
That last claim is pretty suspicious because, although Google doesn’t quite sell your data, it sells information about you that it collects from its scans. This data can include your device preferences, demographic groups and location information, among other things. This means that your data is never truly private when you use any Google service, including Drive.
For a more secure alternative, you can turn to pCloud or Sync.com. Both of these cloud providers are on our list of the most secure cloud services.
Google’s customer service is second to none. It’s available 24/7, either via chat, email or phone. Plus, there’s a help center with answers on various topics. The topics are neatly organized, with helpful videos and images, plus links to related topics. There’s also a user forum where you can get help from the community and Google employees.
If you have a paid Google One account, you also have access to experts who can help you with technical issues and provide in-depth information on Google’s various services.
Google’s support is available in multiple languages, too, so you don’t have to use English if it’s not your first language.
Google Drive is one of the most capable cloud platforms. Its collaboration capabilities are very impressive. Few cloud services can come close to its native integration with Google Workspace apps, and it has many file sharing features.
However, even though all your data on Google Drive is encrypted, Drive’s privacy is very poor. All your data is available to Google employees, who scan it and sell information about you to advertisers. Despite this, though, most people in the world use Google services, and whether you use Drive or not, Google will still have information on you to sell to advertisers.
So, if you like to keep your online activity off the grid, Google Drive might not be for you. If that’s the case, you can take a gander at our list of Google Drive alternatives and the best zero-knowledge cloud services, to choose where to take your cloud business.
Thank you for reading our Google Drive review. Feel free to leave us a comment below about your experience with Drive.