Dropbox was one of the first household names in cloud computing—specifically, file-syncing and storage. It quickly and elegantly solved the modern problem of how to manage a single set of files from multiple computers. With file-syncing and storage, you can create a document on one computer, for example, edit it on another, view it on your Android, and share it from anywhere. Across all these devices, you’ll always have the most recent version of the file as well.
In the mobile space, Dropbox’s apps, including the Dropbox Android app (free; also available for iOS, BlackBerry, and Kindle Fire), can be an essential piece of the puzzle. In addition to giving you the ability to view and share your files, Dropbox’s Android app also automates a couple of tasks that are specific to the mobile environment, such as immediately uploading photos and videos that you take to your Dropbox account. Another benefit is that Dropbox plays nicely with others. Tap on a spreadsheet file inside the app, and Dropbox can automatically launch it in a compatible app that supports editing, such as Polaris Office. Seamless integration among services is never more important than on the tiny screen of a smartphone.
While the Dropbox app packs a lot of value into an easy-to-use interface, competitor Box offers a few additional perks in its Android app that might entice some users. In particular, Box.com’s ability to let you add and view comments to any file within its own app (rather than opening it in a secondary office editing app) is a major bonus to collaborators who are on the go. That said, Dropbox is a very close second best.
Features and Experience
The ability to automatically upload photos and videos you take with your Android to your Dropbox account—called Camera Upload and found in the settings—is the most mobile-specific feature in the app. I love that you can optionally set the app to only upload content when you have a Wi-Fi signal, or upload just photos and not videos.
Another mobile-specific feature is that if you tap the menu button, you’ll see an option to create a new text file. While Dropbox doesn’t include its own suite of in-app tools for creating and editing documents, it’s nice to at least be able to jot down ideas in a text file and save it to your Dropbox account.
As mentioned, Box goes a little further to offer commenting in its Android app. If you’re frequently not at your desk and rely heavily on mobile apps, this one feature really is significantly useful for collaborating quickly. The number of comments appears in a chat bubble next to each document. When you view the comments, they show up in a box over the original documents, so context is preserved, too.
As with Dropbox’s Android app, Box for Android doesn’t let you fully edit documents without first going to another mobile office app. It does, however, offer a convenient “add” button that then lets you select which app you want to use to make that document. The difference in how the two apps handle document creation via secondary apps is subtle, but important if you need this feature. In Dropbox for Android, you can create only new text files. If you want to create other documents, you have to switch to the other office app. With Box, you can tap the “add new” button, and Box will ask you what kind of document you want to create and then offer to open an app that can help. Little shortcuts of that nature can go a long way toward heightened efficiency on mobile devices.
As I said, if you want real editing prowess, you have to use a companion app, and luckily, Dropbox works well with many options. On the Galaxy Note 3 I used to test the app, Word documents opened seamlessly in Polaris Office. It was the default app on my phone. After installing a few other office suite apps (Google’s Quickoffice and Microsoft’s Office Mobile) those options appeared alongside PolarisOffice for opening Dropbox files.
I’m glad there’s an optional passcode for the Android app, too, as it provides a layer of protection for everything kept in Dropbox. That’s something I expect to see in any file-syncing app. I also appreciate that anything marked as a favorite with a star is saved locally and offline, giving you quick access to important documents you might need at times when the Internet signal could be faint or non-existent (such as while traveling).
There’s one new app-specific feature that left me a little befuddled. It’s the ability to install Dropbox on your computer from your phone. I just don’t understand why it’s necessary. In the settings, you’ll see an option to “Link a computer.” It pulls up a page in the app telling you to go to dropbox.com/connect on your computer. When you do, you see a large Dropbox icon that has been turned into a QR code. Then the app tells you to point the phone camera at the QR code, which initiates a download of the Dropbox software to install locally on your PC or Mac.
I guess it’s a neat trick, but why not just skip the work and by asking the user to type Dropbox.com/download instead? It’s a total QR code gimmick, that’s why. The “/download” URL automatically detects which operating system is running and downloads the appropriate software.
In the Dropbox Android app, you can choose to view all your images, but not all files of another type, such as music or videos. Dropbox also isn’t in the business of giving you fine-grained control over which folders sync to which devices, the way SugarSync does.
I’d like to see some better control options for power users not only in which files and folders sync, but also in how the app handles offline content. For example, I’d like to mark an entire folder as a “favorite” to make it available offline, rather than select each file with in it one by one. I’d also ideally like the advanced ability to select certain folders and files to not sync with my mobile device.
The Android app itself is free to download. Dropbox as a service, however, is freemium. A free personal account starts you out with 2GB of space. You can earn more free space through referrals and other actions.
Paid personal plans, called Pro, start at $9.99 per month or $99 per year for 100GB. Prices go up as you increase the storage allotment.
The price for Business accounts varies based on the number of employees: $15 per month per user, with a minimum of 5 users (so, $75 per month is the minimum). Business level accounts have a lot of additional features and services included, which you can read about on Dropbox’s site.
Can You Do Better?
If you’re already a Dropbox user, add its mobile app to your Android device ASAP. It gives you the ability to get at your files, photos, music—whatever—from wherever you are. It also works well with any number of other apps and services, a significant consideration when choosing a file-syncing services.
On the other hand, if you’re shopping around for a new file-syncing service, and you use an Android mobile device heavily in your collaborative work, you’ll get a little more from Box. Dropbox and Box are evenly matched in how many other services and apps they support, but, with Box, you can comment on files and see comments from others. If you collaborate, that’s a wonderful convenience and it helps Box edge out Dropbox as our Editors’ Choice for file-syncing apps on Android.
For more advice and options, take a look at our overview of the best cloud storage solutions.
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Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc