I never need to back up photos shot on my iPhone or iPad anymore, since I use Apple iCloud’s wonderful included Photo Stream. The Apple cloud is also capable of backing up your music, calendars, contacts, documents. So what can a third-party app and service like IDrive add to this? Backing up videos is one thing, along with giving access to all your PC or Mac backup data, not to mention Web access to all of the above. As I went on testing IDrive, indeed I found more and more reasons that it could be a useful adjunct to even the most devoted iCloud user (if such a thing exists).
Setup and Signup
IDrive is available on the iTunes App Store for all iPads, iPhones, and iPod touches. There are also Windows, Mac, and Android clients. You get 5GB of storage free, and a very reasonable $49.50 per year gets you a full 150GB. (With Google Drive you’d pay $59.88 for just 100GB, SkyDrive offers 125GB for $50, and SugarSync costs far more at $99.99 a year for 100GB) The IDrive app is a small 11MB download that refreshingly doesn’t ask for your location or pester you with yet more notifications. (Competitor SugarSync, by contrast, won’t let you upload a photo without sharing your location.)
But you do need an account to do anything with it. You’ll have to make one critical decision before you even sign in: whether to use default or private encryption; if you choose the latter, the burden of remembering the password is entirely on you: Even IDrive employees won’t be able to retrieve it if you lose it (which also means that they can’t turn over your backups to the feds, subpoena or no!).
Now back to the matter of getting an account. You’ll just need an email address and a password. But I found a flaw right here at this point: I deviously tried using a simple 4-character password, in fact a common name, and IDrive had no problem creating my account with this. Even Yahoo Mail won’t let you create an account with such a weak password, so I’d recommend that a service designed for securely storing your sensitive data enforce stronger passwords.
Once I’d successfully (perhaps too easily) created my IDrive account, I was greeted with a screen showing a Backup dialog with entries for my Contacts, Photos, Videos, and Calendar—all checked. I could select whichever of these I wanted to include in the backup. At first it seemed that I could only select all photos or none, but it turned out that I could tap the Photos (or Videos or Calendar) icon to actually select more precisely what I wanted backed up, down to the individual photo.
This is actually an advantage over Apple’s built-in iCloud Photo Stream backup, which is all or nothing. You can specify that all photos shot with the device get automatically uploaded à la Photo Stream, but the ability to pick which photos you want uploaded is an advantage. And surprisingly, SugarSync, a previous Editors’ Choice, can’t even back up your iPad contacts and calendar entries, not to mention your videos.
At the bottom of this dialog listing what you’ve chosen to back up is a simple, clear blue button: Backup Now. When I hit this, I’d hoped to see some kind of progress bar telling me how the backup was coming along, but the entries simply disappeared from the dialog. Hitting the Home button at its top right corner offered the additional choices of Access and Restore, Shortcuts, and Settings.
Accessing Your Photos and More
The Access and Restore page is the main meat of the app, appearing as astandard two-pane file browser, with a download cloud icon for my recent backup. It’s where you’ll see all your uploaded files, devices, and folders. I liked how “pulling down” from the top with your finger updates the list, a standard iOS interface technique also found in SkyDrive but not in Gdrive. I’m also happy to report that the access page offers a search box, which you could switch among All, Files, Folders, and Devices to change context.
Tapping that cloud download button next to a file actually downloads it to the iPad, making it available for offline enjoyment, rather than just streaming it for momentary viewing or playing. If you want to remove, say, a photo, you’ll have to go to the iPad’s photo gallery and remove it there.
At the bottom of the file and folder list, I saw the “Uploading 5 of 14″ message with the standard spinning activity monitor icon—I’d expected to see this on the Backup page, but that comprises only a minor design flaw. I could also choose Upload and Create folder buttons, the first of which only let me select photos from my iPad galleries.
I then installed the app on my iPhone, to get a feel for IDrive’s multi-device capabilities. An entry for the phone now appeared in the file and folder list after I uploaded some photos from the phone. The same happened for a PC on which I installed the IDrive desktop app. It really is an all-device solution, and like Gdrive and SkyDrive, you can have the desktop app automatically back up specified folders.
Every file or folder you see in your IDrive can be shared via a standard share button. You can email or text message a link, post on Facebook, or Tweet. That’s more options than you get with Gdrive, which is only aimed at sharing among other Google users. I could even send the SMS message from an iPad with no cell service.
When sharing, you can specify whether you want the recipient to have edit rights, and you can protect the share with a password. Of course, this app doesn’t have built-in editors like Gdrive and SkyDrive do, but it does have viewers for common document types such as Microsoft Word. The webpage from which your collaborator gets your shared file offers an upload button that replaces the file.
Another very big advantage over iCloud is that you get Web access to your photos and other data. With Apple’s option, you can only view the content in an Apple device or application. It’s nice to be able to see your stuff anywhere there’s a Web connection. And IDrive’s website is really well done, even making use of right-click options—something that only recently appeared in major Web player Gmail!
Even better, you can actually upload photos and other files via the Web browser. Of course, you can also do that with SkyDrive or Gdrive. I could save an image from IDrive’s Web interface, and then download it to my iPad’s photo gallery. Think about that: Have you tried getting a picture from your computer to your iPad, without syncing everything with Photo Stream? It’s even more of a hurdle with music and videos, and the IDrive app handled both, even playing them, with aplomb. SkyDrive can also play music you’ve placed in its cloud, but it doesn’t add the tunes to your iPad music app as IDrive does. Google Drive couldn’t even manage playing an .M4A song, though it could play video.
You Get to Drive with IDrive
IDrive’s app, working together with its Web interface and apps for PCs, Macs, and Android devices, really does put you in control over what you want to back up and where and how you want to access and share it. All the interfaces are clear and pleasant, and the service offers definite advantages over iCloud and Gdrive, though SkyDrive offers most of the same functionality. IDrive also costs less than those bigtime players, and a lot less than the more business-focused SugarSync. There’s a heck of a lot to like about IDrive: Since it does some things that none of the alternatives do, it earns a 4 out of 5 star rating and a PCM Editors’ Choice.
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|OS Compatibility||Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS, Windows 7|
|Type||Business, Personal, Professional|
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc