Google Drive for Android: Quality Cloud Storage, with a Few Caveats

Google this week unveiled its long-rumored Google Drive cloud-storage service along with an associated Android app. CIO.com blogger James A. Martin says it was worth the wait, especially if you’re a Google Docs fan.

Earlier this week, Microsoft made some noise with new, paid SkyDrive cloud-storage plans and new beta SkyDrive desktop apps for Windows and Mac. Never to be outdone, Google in turn fired a long-range missile at SkyDrive by announcing its long-rumored Google Drive cloud service.

I’m not going to get into a SkyDrive vs. Google Drive vs. Dropbox vs. SugarSync vs. all other cloud storage services debate. If that’s what you're looking for, check out Ian Paul’s Google Drive: The Pros and Cons and 5 Reasons Microsoft SkyDrive is Better Than Google Drive, or Lucas Mearian’s Can Dropbox, Other Cloud Providers Survive Google Drive?

My interest is more specific: Is the new, free Google Drive Android app worth your time? (Google Drive for Android, current version 1.0.77), essentially replaces the Google Docs Android app that preceded it.) If you’re already a Google Docs aficionado, the answer is a definitive yes. Others might find Google Drive on Android useful--but perhaps not enough to lure them from Dropbox or another cloud-storage service they’re already used to.

Google Drive debuted with some cool features. For example, you can take a photo of printed text with your Android smartphone or tablet and Google Drive translates the words in the image into editable text using optical character recognition (OCR) technology. In my tests, the app did a decent job translating words in images. In the screen shot below, I snapped a photo of a Wall Street Journal article and saved it as a Google Drive doc with a fair amount of success.

Google Drive

Any edits you make to Google Drive files are synced instantaneously to the same files on your other devices. As I typed in a Google Drive doc on my iMac, I watched the text appear right away on both my Android tablet and smartphone. It’s a cool feature that could make document collaboration easier for mobile workers or dispersed teams.

The app is also optimized to take advantage of larger screens on Android 3.0+ (Honeycomb) tablets. (This isn't exactly surprising since Google Drive is obviously a Google product.)

Uploading photos or other documents from your device to Google Drive is super easy. If you’re in the Gallery app on your Android, for instance, Google Drive now appears as a sharing option (as long as you’ve installed the app), along with Dropbox, Facebook, Picasa, and more.

You can access Google Drive documents when you’re offline, but you can only view, not edit, the files if you don’t have an Internet connection. That’s not ideal, and I hope Google addresses the issue in a future version. You can also use the Google Drive Android app to access photos and videos stored on your Google Drive.

Unfortunately, the Google Drive Android app provides only a subset of the document tools you get when working with docs in a desktop browser. You can easily comment on documents saved to your desktop, but you can’t when working with Google Drive docs on Android devices. And if you’re hoping to edit presentations or drawings in the Android app, you're out of luck and will have to wait until you’re back at your computer.

A few other items to add to Google’s to-do list: More options for sorting files in the Google Drive app would certainly be welcomed. Title, last-modified, last-opened-by-me, and last-edited-by-me options just aren’t enough. I'd also like to be able to create new folders and move files in and out of them.

I admit the Google Drive Android app, coupled with the new online service, has me second-guessing my commitment to Dropbox. But I’m not going to make any hasty decisions until I see the Google Drive iOS app--which Google says is coming soon.

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