Google Drive Review

Google Drive

Google Drive is one of the largest cloud-based storage services in the world, boasting hundreds of millions of users. Instead of simply housing files, the service allows users to create and edit their documents thanks to its suite of office applications, including Google Docs, Drawings, Sheets and Slides.

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Summary

Hoping to make things even easier, Google Drive was replaced by Google One in 2018, giving more storage and extra benefits at a cheaper price. Aptly named, the service rewards those that embrace Google’s ecosystem with convenience, backing up files and photos from Gmail and Android automatically.



In our Google drive review, we take an in-depth look at the features, usability and how private and secure it is.

Likes

  • The first 15 GB of storage is free
  • Monthly & annual prices
  • Offline viewing & editing with Google’s Office Suite
  • User-friendly
  • Cross-platform support
  • 2-factor authentication
  • File versioning

Dislikes

  • Lack of zero-knowledge policy
  • Not open-source
  • Based in the US

Pricing and Availability

Google forgoes a trial period in favor of 15 GB of free storage for all members. Unfortunately, this leaves some premium benefits exclusive to paid subscriptions, including access to Google Experts for 24/7 support and the option to add up to five different family members with individual access to personal storage.

The first three tiers can be paid for monthly or annually, starting at $1.99 per month for 100 GB, $2.99 per month for 200 GB and $9.99 for a staggering 2 TB. Storage takes a significant jump after this, but so does the price. 10 TB will set users back $99.99 per month, 20 TB costs $199.99 per month and 30TB is priced at a whopping $299.99 per month. Although storage requirements are climbing with 4K+ resolution videos, the 2 TB option certainly offers the best value for money.

Drive Enterprise is offered for business users, with Google suggesting that teamwork and productivity are bolstered through its proprietary artificial intelligence (AI) and the ability to use the company’s array of software such as Docs, Sheets, and Slides. One of the most alluring parts of this deal is that you only pay for what you use and there are no upper storage limits. It costs $8 per active user every month, plus a $0.04 surcharge per GB used during that period.

Google offers its service worldwide, although limitations may apply. Currently, 145 countries can use Google Drive to its full extent via Google Play distribution, while the remainder won’t be able to download paid applications. You can find the full list here. Payment methods include debit & credit cards, PayPal, Google Pay, PaySafe and gift codes.

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Features

  • Offline viewing & editing
  • Accessibility
  • File versioning
  • File sharing support
  • Cross-platform synchronization
  • Operating System integration
  • Choice of quality versus compression
  • 2-factor authentication

Offline Viewing & Editing

Google provides the ability to view and edit files using its Docs, Sheets and Slides services while offline. This is supported across all devices but requires that you be connected to the internet while setting up offline modes.

The feature is exclusive to Google Chrome on desktops, requiring you to enable Sync Google Docs, Sheets, Slides & Drawings files to this computer so that you can edit offline from within the settings. Each file must be made available offline manually by right-clicking and selecting the Available offline option. Fortunately, this can be done in bulk thanks to the Shift+Ctrl and Shift+ ⌘ shortcuts on Windows and Mac, respectively.

The process is streamlined on mobile devices, simply requiring Android and iOS users to open any of the Google Drive, Docs, Sheets or Slides applications, navigate to the three-dot more symbol in the corner of each file and tap make available offline. Files saved offline can then be found within the menu.

It’s worth remembering to leave adequate room within your cloud if you want to re-synchronize things when going back online.

Accessibility

Google Drive has a number of accessibility options to help those with disabilities interact better with uploaded content, such as screen reader compatibility and the ability to add caption tracks to video files.

For screen readers on desktop, Google recommends Mozilla Firefox with NVDA in focus mode or JAWS in forms mode for the best experience. Alternatively, Google Chrome and Safari users can make use of VoiceOver and Chrome OS users can turn to ChromeVox. Google Drive is compatible with TalkBack, BrailleBack, Switch Access and keyboard shortcuts on Android, while iOS users can similarly turn to VoiceOver. Navigation instructions and keyboard shortcuts can be found here.

Adding caption tracks to videos can only be done on desktop, but can enhance the experience for a Google Drive user’s audience. The company recommends using Caption files, but Transcript files are also accepted for English and Japanese languages.

File versioning

Google Drive logs the history of each file uploaded, helping to prevent malware infection and revert unwanted changes. The latter is particularly handy given Google’s shared approach to file editing, as users will be able to see the alterations easily and undo them when necessary.

Right-clicking on a file and selecting manage versions will list all iterations that Google Drive has known, allowing users to upload a new version on top of the old one if it’s been edited offline. This cannot be done with folders, making it worthwhile to keep on top of things per-file as they are uploaded.

File sharing support

Another right-click option is the ability to share your files with others. This can be done by entering the email address manually or producing a shareable link. Gmail is baked into this feature, automatically displaying email addresses from your contact list. Facebook and Twitter are also integrated for quick and easy posting of shareable links.

Owners of the shared content can limit people to viewing, commenting or give them full-blown editing permissions directly from the invite itself. If owners want to be incredibly protective of their material, they can also disable the ability to change access and add new people, as well as get rid of the options to download, print and copy files for commenters and viewers.

Cross-platform

Google Drive is accessible on most platforms via Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Internet Explorer 11 and Safari, allowing users to add, download or synchronize their content.

The Backup and Sync application is available to download on Windows 7 through 10 and anything from macOS 10.10 onwards. iPhone users can download Google Drive from the App Store, while Android version 4.4 and later can download the application from the Play Store. Mobile users will have to download separate applications if they want to make use of the office suite, with Google Docs, Sheets and Slides requiring at least Android 5.0 on their system.

Currently, Android users will notice that Google Drive is pre-installed onto their device. This could change in the future due to repeated anti-competitive accusations from the European Union changing Google’s stance on forcing first-party applications through its supposedly open-source software. In this event, it should still be available to download from the Play Store.

OS Integration

Users who stick with the browser version of Google Drive won’t have the luxury of integration with operating systems, but applications do allow Windows and Android owners to take advantage of the feature.

Mobile owners can send files to their cloud when browsing the share menus, whereas Windows users simply need to right-click to bring up the Google Drive menu. If you’re a bit of a neat-freak with your desktop, too many parent folders can cause the OS integration to disappear. A folder within a folder within a folder works just fine, but if you have any more than that, you’ll have to upload it directly.

Sadly, Mac and Linux users aren’t capable of using this feature. There is no sign of integration within the Backup and Sync application on macOS, while Linux has no first-party application available. There are a number of third-party workarounds for the latter, but trusting a second company with your data is something we wouldn’t recommend without proper due diligence. If this puts you off Google Drive, there are several alternative cloud backup services for Mac users. 

Other features

Google Drive allows users to upload files using their original quality to prevent loss, or use a high-quality compression to lower the file size with minimal diminishing. 2-factor authentication also bolsters security across all of Google’s services and is highly recommended by ProPrivacy.

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Privacy and security

Jurisdiction

Google Drive is based in the United States and like most American-based companies, often draws scrutiny for the country’s flimsy stance on privacy. Given that Google is an advertisement company first and foremost, it collects worrisome amounts of data on its users that could potentially fall into the hands of intrusive governmental bodies.

Zero-knowledge

Google Drive does not ensure a zero-knowledge policy, as the product falls under Google’s general Privacy Policy and Terms of Service. This means that Google stores a copy of your password on its servers, which does allow for password recovery but places your information at greater risk of being leaked, stolen or seized by authorities with a warrant.

Hope is not lost for those that want to take advantage of Google’s relatively fair pricing on cloud storage however, as users can utilize client-side encryption services to better protect their information.

Technical security

As expected, Google Drive protects information using US government-standard encryption, splitting data into chunks using AES-256 when uploading. Utilizing a TLS standard, the data is briefly decrypted when it reaches Google’s servers before being re-encrypted with AES-128 for protection. Although this is done within milliseconds with minimal chance of leakage, it presents a small issue that could make some uncomfortable.

For added security, encryption keys are also wrapped in their own encryption to prevent attacks, which is only deciphered when a connection from the user’s account is made to Google Drive. This does mean that you are never in control of your own encryption keys.

This can be changed with the use of client-side encryption services if it is a problem but does mean extra leg-work for the customer. You can also bolster your protection by enabling 2-factor authentication, which will subsequently activate for all Google services you use with that same email address.

Issues

Browser Cryptography

Browsers aren’t as secure or private as their application alternatives. It isn’t certain what cryptography Google uses, whether it’s the long-outdated JavaScript or marginally more acceptable WebCrypto API; however, the web is a less-than-ideal delivery platform with far more trackers. It also enables the parent company to push intrusive code without detection.

Closed-source

Like the company’s other products, Google Drive is a proprietary service kept closed-source in the name of copyright. This means that it’s impossible to tell what’s going on beneath the surface, requiring you to trust Google’s intentions implicitly. This affects security and privacy, as external experts cannot verify the integrity of the platform, potentially allowing exploits to go unnoticed and malicious code to be injected by the publisher.

Ease of Use

Google Drive offers a very divisive experience depending on how you use it. The supported applications are incredibly minimalistic in comparison to the robust mobile iteration and fully featured browser version of the service.

Desktop

The Backup and Sync application operates from within Windows Explorer and Mac’s Finder, giving direct access to synchronized folders and allowing you to upload to the cloud.

Unfortunately, this also strips back features. File versioning isn’t available here, there is no way to upgrade your storage plan and you cannot access public files that have previously been shared with you unless you have added it to your Drive specifically. The logic here is likely that all desktops have access to a browser, but this isn’t an ideal stance.

Mobile

The Drive application for Android offers much more. Not only can you synchronize your photos, but you can also create automatic backups and upload files while on-the-go.Google Drive Android

You can access previously Shared files outside of your Drive, check files stored on individual Windows and Mac devices from the Computer section and choose whether to limit file transfers to Wi-Fi in order to preserve data. Sadly, file versioning still remains inaccessible using this method.

Browser

The definitive version of Google Drive can be found on supported browsers, complete with every feature. The layout is incredibly user-friendly, with most options either displayed within the left-hand tray or via right-clicking an object. Activity is a particularly useful feature for shared folders and can be found in the information section on the top-right.

Final Thoughts

Google Drive is comprehensive in its feature-set, with rather eye-catching prices to lure in new and returning customers. The company does its best to be inclusive with a variety of different payment methods, minus cryptocurrency, and thankfully enables people to pay monthly or annually on certain tiers.

Two near-unrivaled features are Google’s office suite and accessibility options. Not only can users edit on-the-go, but people with visual and auditory impairments can make the most of the service thanks to these inclusions. However, the disparity between platforms is entirely noticeable and doesn’t really allow for much choice on how to use cloud services, particularly if you want to make use of every feature.

While Google Drive is mostly secure, its lack of zero-knowledge policy and advertisement-based business model are likely enough to make privacy advocates uncomfortable. Instead, Google’s cloud storage service is more likely to appeal to customers seeking convenience and functionality. Customers can improve their experience by using client-side encryption services and password managers, but there are more private options around that might fit the bill better.

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Written by: Damien Mason

Damien is ProPrivacy’s latest expert reviewer with over 2 years’ worth of technical writing under his belt. Originally setting out to be a screenwriter, he turned his attention towards computers thanks to his lifelong love of video games. Whenever he’s not embracing the classics like The Legend of Zelda or Metal Gear Solid, he can be found climbing the ranks on Rainbow Six Siege. 

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