Hands-on with Google’s new iOS and Android Google Drive apps

Earlier this week, Google uploaded new versions of its Google Drive apps for both iOS and Android devices, aiming to provide a more consistent experience on both platforms — though there are still some disparities. We tested the new versions of the app on both the iPhone 4S and a Motorola Xoom Android tablet running Android 4 to compare the various features on offer.

File browsing and management

Both versions of the app allow for full browsing of content uploaded to the user’s Google Drive as well as shared content. Special “Starred” and “Recent” lists allow users to keep track of documents with high priority or those which have been recently modified, and an “offline” mode allows for specific documents to be made available even when there is no Internet connection. Items which are incompatible with the Google Drive app may be opened with suitable apps if available.

Where the experience differs between the iOS and Android versions is in the possibilities for file creation and uploads. Due to the  iOS file system, users are only able to create new Google Drive documents and folders or upload photos/videos from the device’s camera roll. On Android, meanwhile, pressing the “upload” button allows the user to use any installed external apps (including the default Files, Music and Gallery apps) to select items to upload — users can even transfer files directly from other services such as Dropbox without leaving the Google Drive app.

Document handling

Both versions of the app allow for viewing of all Google documents and compatible file types. The iOS version has recently added full support for Google presentations, including speaker notes, full-screen mode and swiping between slides. Android has the lead in terms of editing, however — while the iOS version allows for full collaborative editing of Google Drive text documents (including real-time updates while other users are logged in and working on the same file), the Android version also allows for editing of Google Drive spreadsheets. In both cases, external apps must be launched if users would like to edit other non-Google file types such as Microsoft Word documents.

The Android version also carries additional collaborative tools when working on documents — users may add and reply to comments while working, for example. This facility is not available in the iOS version at the time of writing.

Performance and interface

The iOS version is a significantly smoother, slicker experience than the Android version, featuring consistent, recognizable iOS interface elements, smooth animation of dropdown menus and better response to touch. The Android version does make use of Google’s increasingly-standardized interface for its Android apps, but sometimes suffers a little from icons not making their purpose entirely clear. Pressing and holding pops up tooltips for these icons, but users must already be familiar with this interface convention to be able to take advantage of it.

Overall

Both versions are significantly improved over previous incarnations and make the Google Drive app a practical solution for those who want to “get things done in the cloud,” as Google says. The Android version has a distinct edge in terms of functionality thanks to the more “open” nature of the OS, but the iOS version has a slicker, more aesthetically pleasing user interface.

Google appears committed to keeping both versions up-to-date — impending updates are expected to include spreadsheet editing functionality for iOS, for example — so over time the app will hopefully become a practical productivity solution for both platforms. At present, missing functionality from the Web version means that it can’t quite replace a dedicated productivity app just yet, but it’s slowly getting there.