Review: Google Drive leads in features, lags in ease-of-use

Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides comprise the most powerful online productivity suite, but significant shortcomings remain

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While you're working on a Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides document, Google keeps a copy on its servers. That way, if your connection goes down, your revisions are still in the cloud. Google also keeps a version history, which you can use to retrieve the last major revision.

Google has the best file printing of any of the three suites. Print from any of the Google apps by clicking File->Print. The app kicks in Google's Cloud Print, which can print in many ways. If you have your printer set up for Google Cloud Print -- very easy in most cases -- the printing experience closely parallels the way you would print from any desktop app. If there aren't any Google Cloud Print printers around and you can't get to one remotely, you can opt to print from your local computer or to generate a PDF that gets stored in Google Drive.

One not-so-little trick up Google's sleeve: If you work with the Chrome browser, you can run the Google apps offline on your own machine. Every time you reconnect to the Internet, your docs get updated automatically. You'll find full details on the Google offline access help page. (If you're using Chrome OS, you don't need to do anything -- offline capability is already turned on.)

Common features of all Google apps
While the Office Online user interface stays true to the Office Ribbon and the iWork for iCloud apps sport elegant, minimalist command bars, the Google apps interface is anything but minimalist. As you can see in Figure 2, the apps (in this case, Google Sheets) have both menus and ribbonlike icons that, in Microsoft Office 2003-like fashion, cover a wide range of document construction and formatting bases.

If you're comfortable with Office 2003, you'll feel right at home in the Google apps. But if you prefer the more visual interfaces of current Office apps -- including enlarged icons that are easier to hit -- Google's apps will feel dated. They're certainly not as touch-friendly as the iWork for iCloud apps.

All of the Google apps support a "Web clipboard" that behaves much like the Windows clipboard. It even interacts with the Windows clipboard. Copy an item in Windows in the usual way, and you can paste it into a Google app. Copy it in the Google app, and it's available in Windows. I encountered a few oddities, where the contents of the Windows clipboard didn't quite make it over to Google Docs when pasted, but by and large the Web clipboard is an enormous help in transferring stuff from Windows itself into Google Docs. In this respect, the Google apps are light-years ahead of the competition.

To aid in page layout, Google Docs has a ruler, and all the apps have gridlines. Zoom is accomplished through the browser. If you rely on password-protected Microsoft Office documents, note that none of the Google apps can open them (nor can Office Online, incidentally).

Testing various documents in the Google apps using the various browsers, I didn't find any significant differences among Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, and Safari. Note that I'm referring to desktop browsers here. On mobile browsers, the Google apps do very little of what they do on a desktop browser. In fact, you can do less in Google Drive on a mobile device than in Office Online or iWork for iCloud, even when using Google's native mobile apps.

Google Drive main screen
Figure 1: Getting started with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides is quite easy. Point your browser to drive.google.com , click Create, and choose a document type.
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