Google Drive Review
Google Drive is probably one of the best cloud collaboration tools out there, but is lacking when it comes to syncing features, security and backup options.
By Joseph Gildred – Last Updated: 19 Jan'18
When it comes to productivity, many of the best cloud storage services skew towards falling short. Well, that’s usually the case if you’re not considering a more business-oriented cloud storage option like those mentioned in our best EFSS guide. Google Drive is an outlier: it’s a cloud storage tool aimed at home users that packs an arsenal of features that help you get work done.
A Step-by-Step No-Nonsense Guide on How Google Drive Works
Google Docs, an expansive third-party app library, collaboration features and great support are among the positive checkmarks we’ll discuss in this Google Drive review. You also get 15GB of free storage, which for many users will be plenty of space (others may want to check our article on the best free cloud storage providers).
We’ll also point out a few areas that those concerned about file security will want to be aware of. These include no passwords for file sharing, Google marketing practices and no native option for private encryption. If you do find those reasons compelling, don’t forget to check out our other cloud storage reviews for some Google Drive alternatives.
Also, Google Drive can now backup any folder on your computer. While that’s useful, it doesn’t come with the features like backup scheduling or block-level backup that you’ll find standard with the best online backup services. Meaning, we can’t advocate for Google Drive to replace your Backblaze (read our Backblaze review) account just yet.
- Google Docs integration
- Many third-party apps
- In-app collaborations
- Strong customer support
- Two-factor authentication
- Cost flexibility
- 15GB free storage
- Backup any folder
- Weak file-sharing security
- No private encryption option
- No block-level sync
- Cheaper options
As a cloud storage service, the primary purpose of Google Drive is to save space on your computer and mobile device hard drives by letting you keep files on a server, instead. To that end, it succeeds thanks to 15GB of free storage (shared with Google Photos and Gmail) and key features like selective sync and automatic mobile uploads.
Google Drive moves well beyond simple cloud storage, though, with its integrated Google Docs office suite. Google Docs is a browser-based and includes word processor (Docs), spreadsheet (Sheets) and presentation (Slides) software. The suite, which is free to use, has emerged as direct competitor to Microsoft Office.
Within Google Docs, you can collaborate with others in near real-time with options like suggested edits and commenting. You can can also view revisions that others have made and rollback to previous file versions if you don’t like something you see. File versioning is available for non-Docs files, too. By default, versions are only kept for 30 days but you can choose to keep any specific version indefinitely.
Deleted files are also kept indefinitely, moved to the trash until you delete them there.
On top of Google Docs, Google Drive has a third-party app library that contains hundreds of not thousands of other software integrations that you can add. Most of those are free, too.
As with most cloud storage tools, Google Drive can also sync files across computers, using a sync folder added to your file system to make that happen. Desktop clients are available for Windows and MacOS. Browser-based access and mobile apps for Android and iOS are also available.
There’s no Linux desktop client, yet, which is a bit disappointing. Check out our pCloud review and our best cloud storage for Linux article for some alternatives. There is a small workaround, read our guide on how to upload to Google Drive for more info, but may not be enough for most users.
There’s no question that collaboration is the killer value proposition of Google Drive and one of the big reasons people choose it over some of the options detailed in our cloud storage reviews library. However, all that said, when it comes to file sharing and security features, other options shine brighter.
With regard to security, the elephant in the room is the monkey on Google Drive’s back: its aversion to private, end-to-end encryption (or rather, zero-knowledge encryption). We’ll talk more about that — and Google’s approach to privacy in general — later in the review.
We’ll hit on file sharing, too, and why some missed features like link password protection make Google Drive less than ideal for that task.
A few other features we like with Google Drive include music and video streaming from the cloud and the ability to preview just about any type of file.
File backup is also an option now, ever since Google revamped its desktop client in June, 2017. The client, now called “backup and sync,” lets you right-click on any file and back it up to Google Drive.
Backup takes place continuously, meaning as changes to files happen those changes get copied to the remote server. It’s handy, but doesn’t provide the ease of use and speed of a dedicated online backup tool. We’ll mark it as a work in progress.
Price flexibility isn’t an issue with Google Drive like it is with many cloud storage services. Dropbox, for example, limits home subscribers to a free 2GB account or Dropbox Plus, which gets you 1TB of storage for $9.99.
Google Drive starts you out with a generous 15GB of free cloud storage and has multiple options beyond that, all the way up to 30TB.
$ 1 99monthly
$ 9 99monthly
$ 19 99monthly
$ 99 99monthly
$ 199 99monthly
$ 299 99monthly
Annual Discount: 16%
Annual Discount: 17%
Annual Discount: n/a
Annual Discount: n/a
Annual Discount: n/a
Annual Discount: n/a
While the range of options is nice — especially the 100GB plan — you can do better if you’re looking for a deal. Sync.com, for example, gets you 2TB of cloud storage for just $7.99 a month. It’s also a bit strange that Google doesn’t extend its discount for signing up annually to plans larger than 1TB.
Storing files in the Google Drive cloud is as simple as downloading the backup and sync desktop client and moving files into the sync folder created on your computer.
You can manage backup and sync settings by clicking on the backup and sync taskbar icon and using the settings menu to select “preferences.” This will open an interface to manage your account.
There are three tabs in the interface: my laptop, Google Drive and settings. Use the my laptop tab to add folders to your backup and use Google Drive to manage your sync folder. The settings tab has few basic options like running the client on system startup and a link to upgrade your subscription.
While the sync folder is critical, with its wealth of online application integrations available, there’s a good chance you’re going to spend more time accessing Google Drive through your browser than using the desktop client.
Google’s done a nice job refining its web experience over the years. While it contains many features, the browser interface is nicely designed and reasonably intuitive.
Navigation options along the left let you access your drive file structure, check what computer are synced, see what content has been shared with you and access your Google Photos account. There’s also a trash bin where deleted files go and a tab to access files that have been backed up, if you use that feature.
The Google Drive mobile app comes preinstalled on Android and is another convenient way of getting at your files on the go. One of the nice things is that you can edit files directly from the Google Drive app. With other cloud storage tools, you have to download the file first and open it in another app.
Sync relies heavily on a special folder in your file system called a sync folder. Put a file in the folder and it gets sent to the cloud and any other devices connected to your Drive account. This same model is used by most other cloud storage services.
Sync is convenient for productivity, but it also works by storing files on both your computer and in the cloud. For many people, the goal of cloud storage is to save space on your hard drive by saving files on the cloud, instead. Google Drive fulfills this need with a feature called selective sync that lets you turn off sync for specific folders.
We’ll take a look at file sync speed later. Overall, the mechanism is pretty smooth, which is true of most cloud storage services.
Google Drive file sharing, on the other hand, could use some improvements. The feature works simply enough: right-click on a file or folder and click “share” to open up your share options.
You can email access to individuals or setup an access link. You can also set view, comment and edit permissions at the email or link level.
Where Google Drive falls short is with regard to certain features designed to help you keep control over your file shares. For example, you can’t set link passwords or expiry dates like you can with pCloud and Sync.com.
While you have a “shared with me folder,” Google Drive doesn’t provide a corresponding “shared by me” folder to see what files you’ve shared with others. That makes it easy to lose track of file links you’ve created. With no link passwords, that could lead to issues with unauthorized access.
Google Drive works best as a collaboration platform and key to that is file-copying speed. Faster speeds means faster syncing. Overall, we found Google Drive works quickly enough to get things done, though there’s one way it could be faster.
Before we get to that, let’s look at our speed-test results. We performed these tests using a 1GB compressed folder and timing uploads and downloads. These tests were conducted over a WiFi connection with 50/22 Mbps speeds. Here are the results:
|Test One:||Test Two:||Average:|
The results are comparable for file upload times with other cloud storage services, so no problems there. In most cases, you won’t be working with 1GB files, so expect much lower times in general.
The opportunity for improvement would be to offer block-level file copying like Dropbox and Egnyte do. With block-level file copying, only the changed parts of files are transferred instead of recopying the whole file. The advantage is that it pushes collaborations closer to near real-time.
Google Drive does have speed-throttling, which you can use to slow file transfers if sync’s hogging system resources. In most cases, though, that shouldn’t be a problem.
For some people, Google Drive will forever be connected to the NSA’s PRISM project. While the NSA states that the project is only used to target terrorist threats and while Google has denied giving the NSA full access to private data, the presence of the technology and potential for greater reach is unnerving, at best.
Google also scans data, both in Gmail and Google Drive, which is mostly used for marketing. From the company’s terms of service:
“Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”
While some people might like this aspect of Google, others will see it as a personal invasion and a reason to consider more secure services.
The simple answer would be for Google to offer a subscription zero-knowledge feature like pCloud does. Better yet, Google could offer it for free like Sync.com does. However, while there’s no official option, you could opt to purchase a service like Boxcryptor to get end-to-end, private encryption.
Scanning aside, your files (both content and metadata) are encrypted while stored in Google Drive. The protocol used is AES 128. While not as strong as AES-256, it’s never been cracked (that we know of) and should be good enough for the foreseeable future.
As a result of the PRISM public image fallout, Google also started encrypting Google Drive data while transferring it internally. Granted, that’s something it should have been doing from the start.
Google does offer two-factor authentication, which is something we’d like to see more cloud storage services make available. Two-factor authentication gives you some measure of protection from password theft by requiring an additional access code when logging into your account from an unfamiliar machine.
Google has a generally very good support network with many different avenues to find answers to questions. Not many cloud storage services can compete with Google Drive in this regard.
If you’re looking to contact customer service, clicking the “contact us” at the top of the Google Drive support page will launch a wizard that Google uses to help you find the fastest contact option.
Generally, that means launching a chat session, which is available 24/7. Email support is also available. Telephone support used to be an option for personal users, but looks now like that’s a channel now restricted to G Suite subscribers. Many cloud storage services stick to email support, so we won’t complain too much.
In terms of online resources, Google maintains a Google Drive help center to look up common questions. The Google Drive user community might be an even better resource. Crowdsourcing solutions to issues can be a pretty effective approach and Google Drive user forums are more active than any other cloud storage user forum that comes to mind.
We use Google Drive frequently here at Cloudwards.net to collaborate internally, taking advantage of the fact that Google Docs is great for producing content (also, free). It’s fair to say we’re fans. Even if we weren’t, Google’s a bit hard to get away from these days.
Respect aside, there are compelling reasons to consider Google Drive alternatives.
Large corporations, even those founded with certain principles in mind (“don’t be evil” is Google’s corporate motto), have developed appetites for consumer data. If you don’t want your files, photos and other content to be used for marketing and want to be sure that data doesn’t make its way into a government surveillance database at some point, now’s the time to start taking prevent measures.
We’ve got suggestions for 99 free tools to protect your privacy. However, one of the easiest steps is to store your files in a cloud built around consumer privacy. To that end, we have recommendations for the best zero-knowledge cloud storage options.
Going with an alternate option might save you money, too. While in line with Dropbox, there are better deals to be found. As mentioned earlier, 2TB of cloud storage with Sync.com costs two dollars less than Google Drive’s 1TB account. That means you’ll be saving money and getting more storage. You can still take advantage of Google Docs with a free 15GB account, too.
That’s all we’ve got on Google Drive for now. Be sure and check out our cloud storage reviews for overviews of other options, and don’t forget to leave your comments below. Thanks for reading!
|Google Drive Features|
|Free Storage||15 GB|
|Price||Starts from $ Array per month|
|Free External HD Backup|
|Bare Metal Backup|
|Exclude File Extensions for Backup|
|File Size Limit||16 GB|
|Share Photo Albums|
|Server Side Encryption||256-bit|
|Keeps deleted files||30|