Google Drive is installed on every Android phone, and it’s tempting to just use it as a basic cloud storage service. But there’s a lot more to it than that. You can use it for backups, as a Google Photos companion, for file sharing, and plenty more.
Here’s our pick of eight top features in Google Drive that you need to know about.
1. Back Up Your Phone
One of the things that Android still lacks is a complete, comprehensive backup system. The closest we’ve got is Google Drive. It’s able to back up system and app settings, and some data, so that you can quickly restore it after a factory reset or when you upgrade to a new device.
To use it, open Drive and go to Settings > Backup & reset, then select Back up my data and set it to On. If you’ve got multiple Google accounts, choose the one you want to use, and you should also ensure Automatic restore is activated.
To see what’s backed up, select Backups from the Drive sidebar menu. Click through to see which apps are included. You can’t access individual files within the backups.
The downside to using Drive for backups is that it only works on third party apps where the developer has chosen to support it. To make sure you’re completely covered, check out some of the other options for backing up your Android phone.
2. Scan Photos and Documents
With Google Drive you can fully embrace a paperless world. The app features a document scanner with OCR support that makes the resulting files completely searchable.
To start scanning, tap the + icon in the bottom right corner and select Scan. Now take a photo of the document. The software will attempt to square up the image, and also crop any unwanted elements around the edges.
Select the Crop tool to adjust the crop if you need to, and use the Color tool to save the image as either a color or black and white document. Finally, hit the check button to save it.
If you scan a lot of documents, you can add a shortcut to your home screen for easy access. The shortcut is available as a widget.
The process for adding widgets differs depending on what phone or launcher you’re using. Normally you’d long press on an empty spot on the home screen, select Widgets, then locate the options for Drive. Tap and hold on the Drive scan widget, and drag it into place on the home screen.
3. Integrate With Google Photos
You can get Google Drive and Google Photos working together in a seamless — if slightly confusing — way.
To get started, open Drive and go to Settings > Auto Add. This creates a folder in your Drive called Google Photos, and it contains all the images you’ve got in the Google Photos app.
What’s confusing is that any edits you make in Google Photos will not show up in the images in Drive. Yet if you delete an image from either, it will disappear from both locations.
So what’s the point of having a separate Google Photos folder?
Think of Google Photos as a mobile app, and the Photos folder as also being for desktop use. The folder works best when you set it to sync with your desktop. This automatically gives you a local copy of images you’ve taken on your phone, and it also helps organize all your pictures regardless of what camera you took them with.
Copy all the photos you take with a dedicated camera into the Photos folder on your desktop and they will sync with Drive. Jpegs will then automatically show up in the Google Photos app; unsupported RAW files won’t, but they will be securely backed up and saved in the same place as the rest of your shots.
4. Make Files Public
Google Drive is not a file sharing service, but there may be times when you need to make a file publicly available.
To do this in the app, tap the menu button alongside the file or folder, then select Share link. The link will be copied to your clipboard, and you can post it online, or in things like a Slack message, or in an email in lieu of an attachment. Whoever has access to the link can see the file.
By default, the shared file is set to View only. If you want people to be able to edit it, like if you’re collecting data for research purposes, go to Add people and tap the green link icon under Who has access. In the next screen, tap the eye icon alongside Link sharing on. You can now change permission to Comment or Edit.
To turn sharing off for that file, set it to No access.
5. Open Files in a Different App
Where possible, opening a file in Google Drive will open it within Drive itself, or within the default app for that file type. This goes for all common files, including office files, PDFs, images, and many more. But you might have other apps on your phone that can handle these files too.
Just tap the three-dot menu button alongside the file name, then select Open with. You’ll now see all the apps you’ve got that are capable of handling this file type, so you can select it from the list. If there are no other apps, it’ll automatically open in the default app as usual.
6. Add Home Screen Shortcuts
If you’re a heavy user of Drive, you’ll probably have at least a few files that you access regularly, like a PDF you’re reading, a spreadsheet you need to update, or a shared file you’re working on. To save having to keep opening the Drive app and navigating your way to this file, you can save a shortcut to it on your home screen.
Hit the menu button alongside the file name and select Add to Home screen. The shortcut will be created in the first empty space on the home screen. You can drag it into place or move it into a folder, just like any other icon.
7. Save Shared Files and Folders
The ability to share and collaborate on documents is one of the best parts of Google Drive. But after a while, keeping track of files and folders that have been shared with you can be difficult. By default, they all show up as part of a big list in your Shared with me folder. A better way to stay organized is to move the files into one of your own folders.
Tap the three-dot menu button next to the shared file or folder. Next, select Add to My Drive, then pick a folder to save it in and tap Add. You can create a new folder with the icon in the top right corner.
Shared folders are only available for as long as a person shares it with you. Once they revoke sharing, or delete the files entirely, you’ll no longer be able to access them.
8. Interface Enhancements
Google Drive is pretty simple to navigate, but there are still a few ways to get around the app quicker.
- Drag and drop. Unusually for a mobile app, Google Drive supports drag and drop. Just tap and hold on a file, then drag it into a folder and release. This is the quickest way to move files around.
- Stars. An easy way to remember important files. Tap the menu button next to a file or folder, then tap the Star option from the list that opens. Now slide open the sidebar and select Starred. All your items are here.
- Colors. You can highlight folders (but not files) by assigning a color to them. Tap the menu button and select Change color, then choose one of the available options.
- Views. From the main screen, or inside any folder, you can toggle between a list view and a grid view. The latter shows a thumbnail preview of the file, and is especially great for images. Activate it with the View button in the top right corner.
- Long press menu. Long pressing on any file or folder opens a small menu that enables you to make them available offline, download them, share them, or access further menu options. Tap on additional files to apply commands in bulk. Swipe away to close the menu.
How Do You Use Drive?
Google Drive is a lot more than a mere dumping ground for files, or as a quick way to share stuff between computers or colleagues. It’s a powerful app with a lot more under the hood than might first be apparent.
How do you use Google Drive? Do you have any favorite features that we haven’t listed here? Share your tips with us in the comments below.