Six popular cloud apps for Android
Within ten years, most of us will rely on the cloud to store much if not all of our data. Some disagree with this statement, but there's little doubt that cloud storage can be useful on mobile devices like phones and tablets, wherein it comes into its own as a method to sync files and view your favorite data while out and about.

Below we take a look at the apps provided by four of the big name cloud storage providers and two you might not have heard of. We're not interested in reviewing each service itself. We're simply interested in how much of the service is accessible via the app and what the app brings to the party that's useful. As usual, all the apps are free of charge within the Google Play store, and all are reviewed on Android Jelly Bean, the most popular' release of Android in use today (specifically, we use version 4.3).

Dropbox

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Dropbox is winning the cloud storage wars, and it's not hard to understand why: it keeps things simple. People use the service in whatever way serves them best, whether they're home users or increasingly businesses. The good news is that the Android Dropbox app doesn't deviate from this path of simplicity.

As with many apps, the tablet version is simply a stretched version of the phone app, but with the addition of a menu button in the top right. On both phone and tablet, the default interface is a file list of your Dropbox contents. Tapping any image file will open it in a full-screen preview. Whether you can open other files for previewing depends on whether you have a suitable app installed, which is true of virtually all the cloud apps reviewed here. To view Word, Excel or PowerPoint files, you'll need something like QuickOffice installed, for example, and tapping a file will switch you to that app. If you subsequently make edits, then you'll have to select the Save As option and select Dropbox, assuming the app is compatible with Dropbox.

Tapping and holding any file or tapping the small down arrow at the right of each file's entry in the list brings up a menu of options including Share, Favorites, Delete, Rename, Move and Export. Sharing can be done in the usual Dropbox way via URLs Exporting the file lets you save it out to another app, SD card or even another cloud app. You can also share via Bluetooth, assuming your device has the capability.

The Camera Upload feature lets you automatically upload snapshots or videos you take using your phone or tablet camera. Unfortunately, this only happens when the Dropbox app is running, although a handy feature is that you can control whether it happens with just Wi-Fi or cellular data too. Pictures can be uploaded manually, as can any file accessible within the Android file system that the user typically sees without rooting. You can also create text files from scratch using the app, which is a good way of making notes.

No files are downloaded unless you choose to favorite them, as is common with all cloud apps. This is because phones and tablets typically lack the storage space to allow full synchronization, as happens on a Pc. The app can be locked by a passcode, with the option to wipe all data after ten attempts.

All in all, the Android Dropbox app is useful but strangely underwhelming, especially compared to the more advanced Apple iOS version. It ticks the box of letting you access Dropbox on the go and allowing you to share files but not a great deal more.

Google Drive
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Name:  2 A Google Drive meshes in almost quite neatly with other Google Apps to provide basic access to.jpg
Views: 269
Size:  34.3 KB
Name:  2 A Google Drive meshes in almost quite neatly with other Google Apps to provide basic access to.jpg
Views: 269
Size:  34.3 KB
Name:  2 A Google Drive meshes in almost quite neatly with other Google Apps to provide basic access to.jpg
Views: 269
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Although Google Drive offers a Dropbox like cloud storage service, it's also the home of Google Docs, Google's web-based office suite. This means the Android app for Google Drive also features basic document editing.

The dual nature of Google Drive can lead to some confusion when viewing the file listing in the app, which is the default view on both tablet and phone, because there are Google Docs files, with their own set of icons, and actual Microsoft Office files, which have a similar but different set of icons. As with Dropbox, you'll need an app like QuickOffice installed to view and edit actual Office docs but the difference here is that QuickOffice integrates neatly with Google Drive, although you'll still need to Save As and manually opt to overwrite the older file, rather than simply save and quit.

Image and movie files are automatically previewed within the Google Drive app.

Tapping the (i) icon alongside any file in the list opens a slide out panel that shows information about the file, as well as options to keep it on the device and share it with others (and let's not forget that Google Drive and Docs are both built around the concept of sharing files). By tapping the menu icon at the top right you can also rename, delete and print the file via Google Cloud Print. There's also an option to download a copy of the file to the phone/tablet's own file system, and send the file via email. Bluetooth or to another cloud storage app.

Tapping the menu icon in the top left lets you switch the file listing view to show any files shared with you, that are starred, have been set to download to the device of have recently been modified. Files can be uploaded from the Android file system, where you'll find the option to dip into the photo gallery too. Perhaps surprisingly, there's no way to automatically sync photos or movies you take with your camera or tablet. However, Android's built-in Photos app offers this feature, although it uploads to your Google+/Picasa space, rather than Google Drive.

Document editing is basic but useful, and you can both create new Google Docs files and edit existing ones. Don't expect miracles - the word processor makes even Windows Write seem sophisticated, and you have to manually type formulae into spreadsheet cells, as another example. As with the Apple iOS app reviewed last week, there didn't appear to be any way to convert Microsoft Office file formats to Google Docs using the app, although Google Docs files can be exported as PDFs to other apps or sent via email.

Google Drive is a capable app with much to recommend it, and if you've bought into the Google Docs system, then it's a must.

Microsoft OneDrive

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If you'd told somebody just five years ago that Microsoft would make apps for a Google-created operating system that was actually Linux, you would've been deafened by laughter. But OneDrive is an example among many others, and while Microsoft hasn't yet gone all in for Android like it has with Apple iOS - which recently saw Microsoft Office being ported to iPads - the OneDrive app looks great and is useful to boot. In fact, it's almost identical to the same app running on iOS.

As with the iOS app, the first thing you'll encounter is an offer to automatically upload any photos you take to your OneDrive space. Agree to this and you'll be given a bonus 3GB of space. If you're a casual snapper, using the free OneDrive service might work out quite neatly as a backup service, if nothing else, so there's really no reason to refuse.

The default view on both tablet and phone is a file listing, and you can switch between detailed listing, in which files sizes and dates/times are shown, and simple icon view. Tap at the left, and you can switch to viewing shared files, recently modified files and the aforementioned camera backup pictures.

As with other Android cloud apps, the degree to which you can preview files depends on which apps you have installed. Images and movies will preview just fine within OneDrive, but for office files you'll need a third-party app that understands the file format. If you have Microsoft Office Mobile installed, OneDrive will default to that but that app works only on certain phones and not tablets. When previewing images or movies, you can opt to download them, which will place them in the Downloads folder of your device.

Tapping the tick box alongside a file in the list opens a new toolbar at the top right, where you can opt to share the file with others (in both read-only and editable form), as well as rename, move or delete it.

By tapping the upload button you can add files (including pictures and videos) from the Android file system straight to OneDrive. The OneDrive app gives full access to Microsoft's cloud service, and if you're an ardent Windows 8 user or an Office 365 subscriber, then it's a must-have choice.

Box

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All cloud services are attempting to tap into the lucrative business market, but Box seems to have made most progress. The company claims that 92% of the Fortune 500 companies in the US use its services. This business focus is reflected in many features provided by the Box service and also in the Box app.
On a tablet, the left-hand third of the screen is dedicated to a file listing, while the right-hand side shows previews of any files you select.

This is unique in Android cloud apps, which generally show nothing more than a file listing. Another virtually unique feature is that the Box app contains built-in previewers for office files in addition to the usual image and movie viewers, which avoids the need to switch out to third-party apps (although you'll still need to do this to edit files).

On a phone, the default view is a file listing, and tapping any file opens it for a full-screen preview. Tapping and holding any file within the list makes a' row of tick boxes appear, by which multiple files can be selected, and it also changes the toolbar at the top right to show options such as move, copy, delete and save for offline. The latter downloads the file to the device's own storage for those times when the Box app can't get online.

You can upload photos or videos or files from the Android file system. Unusually but usefully, you can also attempt to create new word processing, spreadsheet or presentation documents. This isn't done by the Box app itself but by third-party apps that use the OneCloud system.

If you don't have any of these installed, Box will make a suggestion and then bounce you out to the Play store to install it. The list of OneCloud apps is extensive. Once you've finished editing, you just tap the Box icon to save and return to the Box app.

Another business-friendly feature is the ability to add comments to files. As far as we can tell, this is unique among cloud services. Google Docs lets users make comments within files, but attaching comments to files is something different and perhaps more useful in a business environment when a doc is shared. The app comes with a widget by which you can monitor Box activity such as shares without having to start the app, which is a nice touch.

You can also set a pass-code to avoid nosey people taking a look at your Box files. All in all, the Box app is a very neat reflection of the professionalism that underlies the service. There's much for home users but even more for businesses.

SurDoc

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As a cloud service, SurDoc makes two interesting claims. The first is that it's fully encrypted, to the extent that even if its servers are hacked your files will be safe. The second is that everybody gets 100GB free of charge and can earn up to 1TB via various schemes related to pulling in more punters to the service. Or you could, you know, just pay up front: $8.33 (4.96) will bump your account up to unlimited storage.

When you start the app. you soon learn how this largesse is paid for, at least in part. Adverts appear on screen at all times. On a phone, these take up quite a chunk of the lower screen area, while on a tablet it's mostly an unwelcome distraction. Encryption is via a proprietary method, whereby each file is used to generate an encryption key, which blocks anybody who doesn't have the file from decoding it. Encryption's a complex science, so we have no real idea how secure this is, but it certainly sounds very clever.

Crucially, SurDoc claims it's faster than alternative cloud storage systems that use full encryption. By default, the app automatically backs up all documents, photos and videos on your device, as well as eBooks. This is set to happen over Wi-Fi, but if you're a sadist with a fat wallet and a love of chargers, then you can have it happen over cellular data too. Alternatively, you can manually upload files from the Android file system.

We're not sure what policy is in use choosing the files, but inspecting one of these backups showed quite a few system files had perhaps needlessly been backed up. On one hand, this hardly matters if you have 100GB to go at and it's over Wi-Fi, but a more intelligent approach would just make more sense (filtering by popular file extensions, for example).

A unique feature of SurDoc is that tapping and dragging files to each of the four corners of the screen performs an action. The top right will preview the file, the bottom left will share it, and the bottom right will delete it.

Dragging it to the top left will open an additional menu showing further options. Alternatively, simply tapping a file will show this same menu. SurDoc includes its own preview tool, so there's no need to switch out to a third-party viewer. We're not entirely sure this was functional; docs and PDFs we uploaded seemed to be persistently 'Preparing for preview'.

The basic explanation file included within the storage previewed fine, though. When previewing files, you can annotate them with text or via free-form drawing, which is a handy touch. Alas, there were more than a few bugs. The app had a habit of stopping (crashing), and the on-screen elements were a mixture of massive and tiny. The annotation pop-out menu was almost too small to touch on a phone and a 7" tablet screen, for example.

Despite claims to the contrary, SurDoc is not as fast as other cloud apps whenever you choose to do something with a file. SurDoc's worth a look if you're in the market for a lot of secure storage, but we reckon there's a little distance to go before we can recommend the Android apps.

pCloud

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pCloud is YADA (yet another Dropbox alternative), but its features of note are 20GBfree for signing up, no restrictions on file sizes or upload speeds, and the ability for your friends to add flies to your pCloud even if they aren't signed up to the service.

During setup, you'll be invited to automatically upload all photos and videos taken with your phone or tablet to your pCloud space. It's nice that this was an option deactivated initially, because not everybody wants or needs it.

The default view on both tablet and phone is a file listing, with four default folders containing sample music, pictures, videos and also a help PDF. Clicking the Add button at the bottom of the screen lets you create new folders or upload existing files from your Android file system. Tapping and holding any file or tapping the plus icon at the right of its entry in the list shows a toolbar offering the ability to move, copy Or delete the file, as well as favorite it, which will download it for offline viewing. You can also save any file to the underlying Android file system, view its info, share it with others or export it to a different app (which includes the ability to send it by Bluetooth).

Sharing a folder in this way offers an additional Settings option where you can choose to share the folder with a friend and set fine-grained permissions. You can set the files to be read only, let the other person modify files and also let them delete them. And there's also the option that sets out pCloud from the rest: you can even choose to let them create files in the folder, even if they're not a pCloud customer. All this is done via a web browser, but it's pretty simple drag-and-drop operations.

Files are previewed using the built-in Android tools, so if you haven't got an app to view office docs, for example, then you'll need to install one. Images are previewed live within the pCloud app window. All in all, we found the pCloud service and its app to be competent and useful. There's a lot to recommend, and pCloud is well worth checking out if you want some simple social file sharing.