The two biggest file-storing apps go head to head as Rob Leane pits Google Drive against Dropbox…It’s not unusual for two or more hugely popular apps to offer incredibly similar services. In fact, it happens all the time. One such example is file storage, where the two front runners are Google Drive and Dropbox.
The basic versions of these apps are both free, and they each allow you to store and share your files securely via the cloud, using your phone. Both of them also connect to your computers when necessary, meaning you can create a file on your computer, upload it from there and then download it onto your phone or tablet – and vice versa.
Both apps are familiar names in offices around the world; they come in handy for collectively pooling resources in businesses big and small. If you were wondering, Dropbox came first by a significant distance. Although different versions have been built over the years, the original Dropbox launched in September 2008. Google Drive – a contender to the throne of file sharing – cropped up in April 2012.
In terms of market share, Google Drive and Dropbox each have over 200 million users. Some people even use both. But is there much difference between the two? Is there any reason to pick one over the other? Let’s see.
These are two apps that I’ve used in a previous office-set life, but I was surprised to see that both of them have been upgraded a little since the last time I used them. First, I downloaded Dropbox onto my phone to get a feel for it again.
Once inside the app (I logged in using an existing account, but it doesn’t take long to set up a new one either), I was prompted about whether I want to ‘enable camera upload,’ meaning: do I want to let Dropbox back up all the photos I take on my phone automatically? You can choose not to do this, but I decided to give it a go.
There’s also an option to set a pass code for Dropbox if you want your files to be extra safe. I didn’t opt to do this, but I can see how it might be useful for those stashing important corporate information to have this added layer of security.
I chose to connect Dropbox to my computer, which opened a free, easy-to-follow instructions dialogue that told me how to do this. It involved scanning my computer screen with my phone’s camera, which felt very cool and futuristic. The subsequent PC download took a few minutes longer than the phone version, but not so long that it became an annoyance.
Once you’re in on both devices, it’s very easy to use Dropbox. Drag a file onto there on your computer; you will have it on your phone the next time you log into the app. All my phone pictures weer now backed up on my computer, within minutes.
Google Drive is similarly easy to get to grips with, especially if you already have a Google account (as in a Gmail address). Once you’ve downloaded the app, you only need to click on the suggested profile (assuming you already use Gmail and Chrome on your phone, if you’re a Google regular). If you’re not a Google user already, it’ll only take you a few minutes to get signed up for free.
On first impression, as I was signing in, it was noticeable that Google Drive was more colorful. There are bright graphics up at the top that stand out a little more than the muted illustrations on Dropbox.
Similarly to Dropbox, you’ll be asked to decide whether to back up your photos using Google Drive, and whether you want to do this exclusively when there’s a wi-fi connection available or all the time. I made the same choices as before, and I was then asked if I wanted to save these photos at their original quality or compress them slightly. If I compressed them, I could save unlimited photos. If I wanted the bigger files, then there was a quota. I chose to compress them and save space, as I’m not exactly a photography buff.
Within seconds, I was looking at files that I saved on Google Drive years ago. These were forms and files that I downloaded from my Gmail account at the time, and they were still there, all present and correct. That’s some proof, then: the file storage element does indeed work.
Winner: It’s a tie on first impressions. Both apps are incredibly easy to sign up for, and I was able to store and share files instantly once I was in.
Right then, it’s time to play spot-the difference. To my memory, the biggest difference between Google Drive and Dropbox from when I used to use these apps at work was that the former allowed you to collaboratively edit documents in real time, while the latter relied on each member of the team downloading the document separately and doing their work. I decided to check if this was still the case.
Google Drive does indeed offer a brilliant co-working solution. If you share a document with a colleague or colleagues via Google Drive, you can all then work on it at once. Each member of the team will be named and color coded, and you can see the changes your colleagues are making in real time.
If your whole team needs to have input on one document, this is a very handy way of keeping everyone up to date and on the same page. It’s a neat solution for that classic office problem – the one where you end up with hundreds of different versions of the same file. Which is which? Which is the current version? You needn’t worry about that with Google Drive.
Dropbox still doesn’t offer an equivalent to this. While anyone with your login details can get in and upload or download files, you can’t collaboratively edit a document at the same time. Using the Microsoft Word app on your phone, you can individually edit documents saved on Dropbox, but you can’t do it as a team. That’s a big tick in the ‘pro Google Drive’ column.
Although both apps are free, both also have payment schemes for large businesses. Without one of these packages, there will be a cap on the amount your can store on Google Drive or Dropbox. On Google Drive, the biggest price plan offers 30 TB for $299.99 per month. On Dropbox, a team of 5 or more can use unlimited storage for £11 per person per month.
Winner: It’s a close call, but we think Dropbox just about wins this round. There’s no doubt that Dropbox has Google Drive beaten for value for money, but it’s worth noting that Google Drive’s real-time document collaboration is a killer feature.
Overall winner: Dropbox wins in our comparison, and would definitely be better for bigger businesses that need lots of storage. If you only work in a tiny team who just wants to occasionally edit documents together, though, Google Drive is probably for you.