One of the improvements delivered with Windows Phone 8 is enhanced support for SkyDrive, Microsoft’s cloud storage system that enables users to upload and sync photos, music, video and more between different devices.
Windows Phone 7 had limited support for the service; the first app for cloud drive was only released in 2012. For Windows Phone 8 users, however, access to the storage is available through the Office Hub and through this official free app, available from the Windows Phone Store.
Up against competition from cloud storage services such as Box, Dropbox and Google Drive (although of these, only Box has an official app), how does SkyDrive for Windows Phone stand up?
Cloud Sync Features
One of the main uses for the SkyDrive app on a Windows Phone is to automatically sync images that you have snapped on your phone’s camera. This can be easily set up in the background and upload is remarkably fast (depending on your connection, of course).
The SkyDrive app also offers full browsing of your cloud storage account, offering a choice of views (list and thumbnail), the ability to create folders and move files and even share content with your email contacts.
Checking your remaining storage is also possible, as is the ability to manage photo upload and download sizes.
For users with an interest in Office documents, the SkyDrive app enables you to browse and open documents in the appropriate Microsoft Office application on your Windows Phone.
Ease of Use
What is most striking about this app is how easy it is to use. From the moment of launching SkyDrive, you will notice that it throws you straight into your collection of files and folders, offering instant access to photos, videos and whatever other documents you might have stored in your personal Microsoft cloud.
Recent files can also be viewed, as can those that have been shared with you, while the ability to search, switch views, create a new folder, select files and alter your settings is available by dragging the ellipses menu (which is contextual, changing depending on the screen you are currently viewing).
Auto-Syncing to SkyDrive
Syncing newly snapped photos to your SkyDrive is simple – and vital for making sure you don’t lose them should anything happen to your phone!
On Windows Phone you can select the native sync tool via Settings > Applications > Photo+Camera and enabling SkyDrive to upload photos and videos. (Note that Facebook can also be selected for manual uploads on a photo-by-photo basis directly from the camera app.)
Meanwhile any documents and spreadsheets that you create on your phone can be saved to your SkyDrive storage using the Save as… option. Once saved to the cloud, SkyDrive will continue to be the default location for opening the file in question unless no Internet connection is possible.
Browsing and Opening Files from SkyDrive
To browse the files on SkyDrive, all you need to do is open the app and select the appropriate folder. The Files list shows the full contents of your SkyDrive, from videos to music and documents and images. Everything is sorted alphabetically – there is no changing this – and a single tap will launch the chosen file with the correct application.
For instance, Word documents will open in Word mobile; MP3s will open with the built-in media player, etc.
There are additional settings available for managing SkyDrive, but these can only be accessed through the browser. By opening Settings > Account > Manage Storage you can increase your SkyDrive storage size, although this requires a subscription to be paid to Microsoft. You can also manage Office File Formats, determining whether your Word, PowerPoint and Excel files will be saved as Microsoft Office Open XML Format documents (.DOCX, .PPTX and .XLSX) or OpenDocument Format (.ODT, .ODP, .ODS) – quite a good option for Microsoft to provide!
The lack of official DropBox and Google Drive apps for Windows Phone pretty much limits the competition to SkyDrive to Box. Although the latter offers more storage (I previously owned a HP TouchPad and therefore have 50 GB of Box storage) SkyDrive is to Windows Phone what iCloud is to iOS. It is the perfect accompaniment, like gravy on chicken or Parmesan and black pepper on spaghetti Bolognese, and should therefore be the very first app you install on a Windows Phone.