A smartphone is great for carrying around files like images, documents, and music. But the reality of mobile devices means that you often don’t have enough storage to bring everything you want along. Even when you’ve got enough space, it’s best to keep your most important data backed up in the cloud, not in a small and easy to misplace slab of glass and plastic.
There are a number of popular cloud storage solutions with great Android apps and tight system integration. Let’s take a look at what each of these services offer.
Dropbox is probably the de facto cloud storage solution for most users. The Android app has gone through a number of iterations, and now is a nicely functional solution. A free Dropbox account comes with 2GB of storage, which is a little anemic. The place that Dropbox succeeds is in the way it moves your bits around.
The Android app itself is a little spartan. It has the files and folders from your Dropbox account in a scrollable list.Tapping on any one of them will open it directly in the associated application. Long-pressing brings up a number of options including download. If you choose to download files from your Dropbox to keep locally on the phone, it’s going to create a folder on the SD card. There is no way in the stock app to have any files actually remain synced to your phone.
A really handy feature in Dropbox (and this goes for the app and desktop program) is the ability to share public links to files. In the app just long-press and choose and either copy or share a link. Anyone can take this shortened URL to download your file.
Dropbox, like other apps, integrates with the Android sharing menu allowing users to add files to Dropbox from anywhere on the phone. We’ve always been very happy with the speed of Dropbox’s syncs. It is almost instantaneous.
So, Dropbox is a little light on features when compared to other options, but it does some things very well. It is also wildly popular and that has encouraged developers to build on top of that platform. Apps like DropSnap and Titanium Media Sync plug right in to your Dropbox account.
SugarSync provides much the same service that Dropbox does, but users get access to 5GB of storage instead of just 2GB with Dropbox. There are more features built into SugarSync on all the various platforms, but it feels a little too complicated in the webapp, desktop, and Android app. Although, the design of the app feels more fleshed out than Dropbox or Box.
SugarSync is heavily focused on photos, it will even offer to automatically sync your phone’s snapshots to your free SugarSync space the first time you start it up. This is a handy feature, and might be reason enough to run this alongside another cloud storage option.
For everything else, SugarSync relies on folders. Whether on the phone or a PC, you can pick multiple folders to sync to SugarSync. This differs from Dropbox’s single folder approach. SugarSync has this too, but calls it Magic Briefcase. If you want to use it like Dropbox, you can stick to just using that one folder.
The SugarSync app has a very nice dashboard interface that lists your active folders, devices, and recent documents on one screen. At the top are tabs for Photos and shared folders as well. Perhaps the biggest differentiator for SugarSync is the ability to actually sync files to the phone. Long-press on any file or folder and choose “Sync to this device,” to make it happen. You can also set this up from the webapp. The app has settings for sync intervals, data connection type, and power status.
One thing that’s odd with SugarSync is that the files you upload seem to take a little too long to propagate across devices; Dropbox is incredibly fast at this. We’re not talking about multiple minutes here, but it’s a noticeable lag. SugarSync is a very nice product with ample free storage. We would just caution users about the more confusing interface and increased complexity introduced by its more flexible syncing options.
Both Dropbox and SugarSync are about passing files through the cloud to more devices. Box, on the other hand, is pure cloud storage with an enterprise slant. A free Box account comes with 5GB of storage just like SugarSync. The Android app is a bit hit-and-miss. Parts of it look very polished, but there are some missing features.
Where Box attempts to make its name is with the Box apps. On the Box website there are a plethora of plug-ins for services like Salesforce, Linkedin, Facebook, Google Docs, Office and a huge amount more. Unfortunately, some of the apps are for premium accounts only. If you just need to add files from the desktop, the webapp supports drag and drop operation.
The app is not unlike Dropbox in that it opens on a scrolling list. Box is a virtual folder in the cloud, but there is only the one folder. Tapping on a file brings up a landing page of sorts where you can open it, rename, download, and so on. There is no syncing on the phone, and not even on the desktop unless you have a premium account. It’s a bummer that Box has chosen to segregate functionality like this.
Sharing is handled in a very business-centric way through Box apps. It even has a contact importer/manager to help you connect with colleagues. The upshot is that collaboration tools are much stronger for an enterprise environment. You can send links for people to download files only through the webapp. The Android app just lets you send the file itself.
Box is very fast; easily as fast as Dropbox is. it doesn’t sync down to any devices from the cloud, but the app detects files quickly, and when we upload things, they are recognized by the webapp immediately.
The wrap up
No one has it all in the realm of mobile-accessible cloud storage. Dropbox has a name that encourages development, and we like the easy link sharing combined with simple operation. SugarSync lives up to its name and allows us to keep a folder in sync on the device. Box is great for business with its app ecosystem and collaborating tools.
If only we could combine the best features of each into one glorious cloud storage service. In the end, most users are probably going to stick with Dropbox. The extra features with SugarSync are compelling, but a good Android app is not the only consideration. Getting SugarSync up and running is a little harder, and the the looser control of folders could result in confusion. Box might be great for businesses, but with some important features available only to business accounts, it’s not for most users.