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Reviews and expert opinion Google Drive

Mark Holden Mark Holden Cloud Hosting Expert

Google Drive is a comprehensive cloud storage and backup solution. It lacks a few of the more impressive features of its competitors, but does the basics incredibly well. It offers a large storage capacity on its free plan and makes backing up and securing data – for individuals and teams – quick and easy. 

Overview

Easily Integrate Drive Across All Google Platforms

Google Drive is well-known as a Google product, but many people may not have a full understanding of what the cloud storage solution has to offer. Its free plan comes with 15GB of storage, plus speedy backup and upload times, and excellent security settings and features to keep your data protected.

One of Google Drive’s strengths is its simple design. The app integrations available (which are plenty) also add to its ease of use. You’ll be sharing your cloud storage with other products (Gmail and Google Photos), but upgrading your plan isn’t costly – both personal and team accounts are reasonably priced.

I like how straightforward every aspect of using this cloud storage was. From setting up my account to sharing data with collaborators, I found the process a breeze… although there were a few minor exceptions.

All in all, Google Drive is fairly easy to use, but is it the right cloud storage solution for you? I detailed my experience with this service, focusing on how well it performed and whether it lived up to my expectations.

4.0

Features

Dynamic Features, Even on the Free Plan

Data Server Locations US, Chile, Ireland, the Netherlands, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Taiwan, and Singapore
Backup and Restore Options Backup from external drive, backup status reports, mirror-image backup
Limits and Restrictions Limits on file size, fair use limits, bandwidth throttling
Applications and Operating Systems Windows 7 and later, macOS X 10.12x and later, iOS and Android mobile apps
Encryption Keys AES 256-bit encryption, TLS encryption, optional private encryption key
File Access Via web and mobile apps, multi-device syncing
File Sharing

Google Drive is full of useful features, including document management, app integrations, and collaboration tools. It isn’t the most feature-heavy cloud storage solution I’ve used, but what it does offer, it does extremely well.

Part of what makes it a dynamic tool is its integration with Google’s other products, like Gmail, Google Meet, and even Google Calendar. While using Google Drive, you can access and manage these other products. If you’re already using several Google services, it might make sense to use Google Drive for cloud storage and backup.

Backup or Sync Files

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Download the desktop app to back up and sync your data

You have two options for data storage with Google Drive: backups and syncs. If you want to back up your device, you can use the desktop app.

Once you download and install it, you’ll need to sign into Google’s MyDrive and choose whether you want to back up all files and folders or just images and videos (including or excluding RAW files and screenshots), which can be uploaded directly to Google Photos.

Once your backup is complete, you can decide between syncing the entire drive or just a select few folders or files. Synced files can be accessed from any connected device.

Google gives you a generous 15GB of data storage for free, which is about 10GB more than what other cloud storage solutions usually offer. But remember, you’ll be sharing your Google Drive storage limit with your Gmail and Google Photos accounts – so that 15GB often fills up quickly.

Pro tip: Google Photos no longer offers unlimited storage – which can be an inconvenience if you suddenly find yourself dangerously low on space. If you’re looking for a new cloud host, take a look at our 5 Best Alternatives to Google Photos in 2022 for our expert recommendations.

30 Days to Restore Your Data

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You can restore your deleted data from the trash within 30 days

Similar to other Google products, you can still access and restore My Drive deleted files from your trash bin. There’s a 30-day retention policy for personal accounts, so you’ll need to restore any trashed files before this period ends to prevent them from being deleted permanently. (I’ll get into more details on file restoration in the Performance section.)

If you’re using Google Workspace for your team, a feature called Google Vault allows you to set custom retention periods. This means that data will remain available in the Vault, even if your team members empty their trash.

If sensitive information must be completely removed from your storage, you can permanently delete files in your Vault as needed. Google Vault is included with most team plans, but you’ll have to purchase a license for it if you have an existing G Suite Basic or Frontline plan.

Layers of Security for All Plans

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I liked how easy it was to manage my security settings

Google takes security very seriously, so I wasn’t surprised by how extensive my security settings were. These settings aren’t Google Drive-specific, so any changes you make will apply to all your Google products and accounts.

From the security settings, you can view devices that have been inactive, see Google’s security recommendations, and adjust how to sign into your account (including turning on two-factor authentication).

Your recent security history is also viewable, which makes it easy to verify that you authorized each action. There’s even an option to locate a lost device.

Google uses AES 256-bit and TLS encryption to protect your data during transfer and at rest. Its data centers are guarded 24/7 and outfitted with thermal and CCTV cameras that cover the entire property. Each facility has a 6-layer defense system that includes mandatory biometric authentication to access the building and a specific floor for data destruction.

5.0

Ease of use

Straightforward Interface on Desktop, Web, and Mobile

Google Drive is easily one of the most user-friendly cloud storage solutions I’ve ever used. The user interface is very simple and easy to figure out because most actions can be accessed by a right-click (or a control-click) on the file. There’s also a broader menu on the left-hand side of the screen.

All in all, I had no trouble exploring its various features, but here are a few of the ones that stood out the most.

Scan Documents Straight from Your Phone

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Use the mobile app to scan documents directly to My Drive

One of my favorite features is the ability to scan documents with your device. From the mobile app, you can use your phone’s camera to take a photo of a document, which is then saved as a PDF. You can crop, rotate, edit, and rename the scan before saving it My Drive or your folder of choice.

I also appreciate the fact that you can add multiple pages to one scan. It’s a life-saver if you have a multi-page document and don’t have the time (or patience) to scan each page individually.

Three File Sharing Permissions

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Add collaborators to files as viewers, commenters, or editors

As one of Google Drive’s simplest but most used features, file sharing can be accomplished by inviting collaborators via email or providing a direct link.

If you want to give specific people or groups access to the file, you can add their email address. The collaborators will then receive an email to let them know that you have shared this file with them, and they can only access this file from the email address you’ve added.

You can also grant access to anyone through a link, but with permissions attached. Changing the share setting to Anyone with the link will allow the file to be viewed freely, but you’ll still be able to assign file permissions, including keeping the file view-only.

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Permission settings can be disabled on a file-by-file basis

There are three types of collaborators: viewers, commenters, and editors. As the names suggest, file permissions will vary. By default, viewers and commenters have the option to download, print, and copy files, while editors can change permissions and share the file. Before sharing the file, you can disable these permissions.

Rich App Integrations

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You have plenty of options for connectable apps

From currency converters and task managers to mind mapping and photo editing apps, chances are that you’ll be able to find an app that’s compatible with Google Drive. When I connected to DocHub, an eSignature app, I was able to sign documents directly from Google Drive.

Some of the more popular options – especially for work – are Asana, Smartsheet, Xero, and Slemma.

To access the apps, head to Settings > Manage Apps > Connect more apps. From here, you can search for a specific app or do a general topic search to view the options available. You can also click on the top left corner menu to view apps by categories, such as Accounting & Finance, Web Development, and Academic Resources.

Access Everything through Your Google Account

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Choose the account type you want to get started with

You’ll need to make a Gmail account before you can use Google Drive (in fact, your Gmail account will give you access to most Google products). Once you’ve created your email account, you can head over to Google Drive to pick your plan and set everything up. If you already have a Gmail account, you can set up your account through the Google dashboard.

Download the desktop app to connect your Drive to your computer. After you sign in, you’ll be able to easily manage your desktop preferences by clicking on the Google cloud icon in your system tray. You can edit bandwidth and proxy settings, disconnect or add a device, and even upgrade your storage limits.

Using the mobile app is just as easy as using the desktop and web applications. From here, you can select the data you want synced and backed up. You can also adjust your phone’s backup settings, including whether you want to save on data and set file transfers to use Wi-Fi only.

Google Drive’s mobile app lets you backup your contacts, text messages, display settings, languages, wallpapers, Wi-Fi network passwords, and more. If you switch phones, you can simply connect your new device to your Google account and your data will automatically restore.

Unlike some cloud storage options, there isn’t a limit to the number of devices you can connect to your Drive account – even on the free plan – although you’ll need to share the storage space limit across all devices.

5.0

Performance

Backing Up Your Data is Fast and Simple

A cloud storage solution is only as good as its performance, so I decided to test Google Drive by running a few upload and download tests over several days. Will day of the week or the time of day affect upload speeds? The folder I used for my test upload was 3.6GB and contained a variety of documents, images, and videos.

Before I started, I did a speed test to determine my Wi-Fi speeds and averaged 163Mbps for downloads and 173Mbps for uploads.

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I tested my Wi-Fi upload and download speeds before my backup tests

I’m located in Trinidad and Tobago, which puts me over 3,000 miles away from the nearest Google data server. Although my internet connection is high-speed, I wasn’t sure what to expect from my upload times. Thankfully I had nothing to worry about, as each of my tests returned impressive results.

The first test was on a Tuesday at 2:00 p.m. and the 3.6GB folder only took 7 minutes and 43 seconds to upload. For my second test, I waited until Thursday and ran it around 5:00 p.m. Thursday’s upload was even quicker and finished in 5 minutes and 50 seconds.

My last upload was on a Saturday at 10:00 a.m. because I was interested in how weekend traffic would affect my results. This test fell in the middle – it came in at 7 minutes and 10 seconds, which was quicker than Tuesday’s test but 2 minutes longer than Thursday’s test.

Looking at my results, time of day doesn’t seem to have as much of an effect on upload speeds as the day of the week. An evening or overnight upload in the middle of the week may return the best results. But if you have slower internet speeds, you’ll want to be mindful that your uploads and backups may take much longer than this.

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Choose which folders you’d like backed up to your My Drive

Since I selected my computer’s Desktop and Photos folders to backup automatically, I was also able to test the speed of my regular backups. These folders combined came in at 4.5GB (I admit, I hang onto things for a long time) and were fully backed up to my Google Drive in 19 minutes and 40 seconds.

Once I was finished testing backup and upload speeds, I was curious about how long it would take to restore (read: download) the same folder to my computer. Google Drive compressed (zipped) the folder before it downloaded, so the entire 3.6GB folder was done in 5 minutes and 40 seconds.

I found that both the desktop and mobile apps also have relatively quick sync and backup times, but your best bet is to use the web application when possible.

4.0

Privacy

Privacy Settings Let You Manage Your Shared Information

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Use the Privacy controls to decide what information Google can store

Google’s Privacy controls help you manage your privacy settings, and from here you can also access the Privacy Check-up, which gives you privacy checkpoints to consider. You can decide whether you want Google to save your location history, or web and app activity, as well as manage third-party app access.

Google (and therefore, Google Drive) collects your personal information when you set up your account. It also collects any secondary information you enter, like payment details, phone numbers, and addresses. Although you can adjust your privacy settings, you’ll need to be comfortable sharing considerable amounts of your information with Google before you sign up.

Keep in mind that the content you create, share, and upload across Google products is also stored. Your browser type and device type, settings, mobile network information, and operating system are just a few of the types of data that’s collected when you use any of Google’s services.

Its privacy policy states that it shares information in three cases: with your consent, to domain administrators, and for legal reasons. Since Google is a US-based company, it is under the jurisdiction of both the Patriot Act and Five Eyes (a multinational intelligence alliance).

Google does state that it will occasionally fight governmental requests for information, but it is ultimately under legal and compliance obligations. To cater to businesses with compliance and regulatory needs, Google Workspace is also HIPAA and GDPR compliant.

4.5

Support

24-Hour Support Team

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You can use the contact form to start live chat support

Google’s Help Center has thousands of articles covering nearly every aspect of its many products. The Help Center is where I found most of the answers to my questions about file recovery. I couldn’t find direct information on idle backups, so I reached out to live chat support to gain some clarity. (Spoiler alert: Google Drive doesn’t offer idle backups.)

The support agent I spoke to was polite and well-informed, and was able to answer all of my follow-up questions. I chose the live chat option for convenience, but you can also contact support via phone and email. Google Support is offered 24/7, and response time is usually fair.

Another option is to use the community forum. You can post a question to community members or search through the resolved posts to see if there’s an existing answer for your issue. I’d suggest using the forum only if your question or issue isn’t time-sensitive, since you may not receive a response right away.

5.0

Pricing

Budget-Friendly Pricing on Paid Plans

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The recommended paid option personal plan has 100GB of storage

You’re instantly signed up as a free user when you create a Google account. Since the free plan has up to 15GB of storage, choosing to upgrade to a paid plan probably isn’t necessary. But depending on how you use your account (and if you’re sharing it with Gmail and Google Photos), that 15GB may be used up more quickly than you realize.

The Basic plan starts at $1.99 and has a generous 100GB of storage space that can be shared with family. However, if your storage needs are even more significant, Google also offers 200GB and 2TB storage plans.

Google Workspace plans, which are best suited for medium- and large-sized businesses, are priced at a per user/per month fee. Your storage options begin at 30GB per person and go up from there. The most expensive plan, Enterprise, offers unlimited storage (or, as Google puts it, “as much storage as you need”).

Comparison

How does Google Drive match up to the competition?

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Google Drive REVIEW: BOTTOM LINE

Google Drive is a great cloud storage option if you need large storage capabilities on a budget. It has one of the largest storage limits for a free plan and offers a range of backup and syncing features.

Unlike some of the other cloud storage solutions I’ve used, Google Drive doesn’t have many downsides, but that doesn’t mean it’s perfect.

Your 15GB storage limit is shared between a few different products, which can be an issue if you use Gmail and Google Photos extensively. File size limits can also be a problem if you have large files (over 5TB) or need to upload more than 750MB in one day.

Overall, Google Drive is a solid choice if you need a cost-effective cloud storage and backup solution. Your privacy and security are in expert hands, file sharing is convenient and easy, and there are multiple app integration options.

Even if you need to upgrade to a paid account, plans are reasonably priced and more budget-friendly than many of Google Drive’s competitors.

FAQ

Can I back up my files for free?Yes! Although free plans are generally more restrictive than premium or paid plans, there are plenty of free cloud backup options available. However, if you have more than 5GB of data, you may need to find a paid option to ensure you can back up all of your data successfully. Take a look at our comprehensive list of 10 Best Cloud Backup Services in 2022 for some great options.Does Google Drive have unlimited storage?Yes – but not for basic personal or team plans. If you’re interested in unlimited storage with Google Drive, you’ll need to reach out to the sales team for customized pricing options. Before you decide to pay for unlimited storage you should be 100% sure that your storage needs are that significant. Unlimited storage is usually only necessary for very large businesses with hundreds of employees or ever-growing client storage needs. If your needs are on a smaller scale, consider Backblaze for unlimited backups for one computer, or CrashPlan, which is best for small companies.Is Google Drive good for beginners?Google Drive is easy to navigate and has a user interface that doesn’t have a major learning curve. If you’re already familiar with other Google products, you’ll be able to start using Google Drive as soon as you sign up. If you do need help getting around, you can search for tips in the Help Center or reach out to support for guidance.Are there disadvantages to using cloud storage?If you don’t have a connection to the internet, you won’t be able to access web-based cloud storage. This means that if you lose service or don’t have access to Wi-Fi or data, you won’t be able to access your cloud storage data. You can prevent this by getting a service that allows offline access to files (like Google Drive), but you’ll still be limited without an internet connection. There are other disadvantages. Cloud storage can be hacked and, if you don’t protect your password or your cloud backup service doesn’t have top-notch security protocols, you may open yourself up to scammers and cybercriminals. Physical servers can also be compromised in the event of a fire, or flood, or other natural disasters.

Mark Holden Mark Holden
Mark is a full stack web developer specializing in HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, MySQL, and PHP. When he’s not busy building websites or geeking out over the latest addition to his ever-growing gadget collection, he enjoys playing drums for his progressive rock band. He can also make a mean Spanish omelet.

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