How to get the most out of Google Drive

Google Drive is an incredibly powerful tool for storing and organizing all kinds of data. Best of all, it’s available to anyone with a Google account for free (at least to get started). Additionally, since Drive keeps all your files in the cloud, it offers some significant advantages over hiding everything locally on your phone or computer. Drive also works on practically any device connected to the Internet, making it easy to use at home, school, the office, and everywhere in between.

However, if you are new to Drive, there are some important basics that you should know before moving all your data and files. So here’s a quick summary that covers the most important things about Google’s popular cloud storage service.

Storage and pricing

Each Google Drive user gets 15 GB of free storage space. However, any data you have saved in Google Photos also counts towards this limit. So if you use that to back up your photos, you might not have much space left for your documents and files. However, you can increase your Drive storage with a Google One subscription, which starts at $1.99 per month (or $20 per year) for 100GB of storage and goes up to $9.99 for 2TB of storage (or $100 per year).

By default, all Google Driver users get 15 GB of free storage space.  But if you want more, you will need to pay for a Google One subscription.

Sam Rutherford / Engadget

For most people, 100GB is more than enough space to store important files, work documents, and family photos. But if you plan on using Drive as a way to back up all your data, you’ll probably want to use one of the larger plans. The nice thing is that while the basic $20/year plan is relatively cheap, there are a number of ways to get additional storage for free, at least temporarily. For example, anyone who buys a new Chromebook will get 100GB of Drive space free for a year, while new Google One customers may get offers to test the service with a free one-month subscription.

So before you start uploading all your files, you’ll want to know how much storage you need and how much it costs (or may not cost you).

Upload, file support and organization

Once you know how much storage you need, you can start uploading or moving your files to Drive. For individual files or data stored locally on your device, you can simply click the New button and select the option to upload a file or folder. On a PC, you can also drag and drop files into a browser window when you’re on the Drive website. Drive supports a variety of file types including most of the most popular formats such as .JPGs, .PNGs, .GIFs, .MP3s, and more. For a full list of support file types, check out the official Google Help Center here.

After all your files are uploaded, you can manage them just as you would locally on your phone or PC. You can create nested folders and drag and drop files from one place to another. Of course, you can search for a specific file or folder by typing in the search box, although it is important to remember that if you store a lot of files in Drive, it may take longer to find them (especially if your internet connection is not very fast) . So, if you are able to create a general directory of folders for important projects or data sets on day one, you will likely save yourself a lot of time and headache later on.

In Google Drive, you can upload your files and data by pressing the button

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It is also important to note that while you can create Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, etc. Right inside Drive on PC, and on mobile, you need to install both Drive and the specific productivity software you want individually. This is because while they all work together, they are considered separate applications.

Another good way to use Google Drive to organize your work is to save forms for various projects in Docs. This allows you to start writing text or creating forms without starting from scratch each time. You can also save templates for things like bibliographies, potentially saving students time when trying to cite sources for a research paper.

Alternatively, instead of using dedicated apps, you can share a Google Spreadsheet with your roommates to help see the cost of utilities and other shared expenses. And while it wasn’t strictly designed for this purpose, students have discovered that when places like schools block or place restrictions on typical messaging apps, you can still chat with friends using Google Docs. All you have to do is invite people to a blank document and then use real-time collaboration to talk and reply to each other. Once you’ve done that, you can simply delete the document or keep it for another day.

cooperation

In addition to making cloud storage simple and easy to use, one of Google Drive’s strongest features is its suite of collaboration tools. Sharing a file or document with another person is as simple as hitting the share button and entering their email. Alternatively, Drive can create a link to send via text, social media, or the messaging app of your choice. Once someone arrives, you will be able to view or edit the file with them in real time.

However, it is important to know who you share your files with and how they use them. For example, it can be really helpful to give editing permission to a teacher or mentor if you’re looking for help with an article, but less so if you’re sharing an eBook with a friend. In addition to the file owner, Drive offers three different levels of access: viewer, commentator, and editor. And if something goes wrong and you ever want to see an older version of a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide, you can open the File menu and select the option that says Version History.

You can easily share files with others by pressing the share button and entering someone's email, or create a shareable link.

Sam Rutherford / Engadget

Viewers can only see and read the document, but they don’t have the ability to change any of the content. Commentators can view and highlight ideas and questions about the content using Google’s Comments tool, while editors can make changes just like the document owner.

If you want to see files that others have recently sent you, you can click on the Shared with me tab in Google Drive. And if you have a Google Workspace account through school or work, you can also open the handy activity dashboard by clicking the squiggly icon. (It’s in the top right next to the blue Share button on the desktop.) Finally, if you want a quick way to see what files you’ve shared with others, you can type “to:” into the Drive search box.

Access files offline

While Google Drive is primarily intended to be a way to manage documents and files stored in the cloud, it supports offline access, which can come in handy when you don’t have a good internet connection. However, there are some steps that you need to take before you can take full advantage of using Drive offline.

If you want to access files in Google Drive while offline, you have to remember to enable settings before going somewhere without internet access.

Sam Rutherford / Engadget

First, you need to make some changes to your Drive settings while online Before Go offline. On a PC, you need to click on the gear icon in the upper right corner of the Google Drive browser tab, hit Settings, and then check the box next to the Offline menu option. On mobile, you’ll need to open the Drive app, find a specific file and then set it for offline access by enabling the option from the More icon (the one that looks like three vertical dots). Once you do that, you will be able to access, edit, and save any changes you make. And the next time your device connects to the Internet, it will automatically sync any changes you made to the offline document to the document saved in the cloud. Meanwhile on your Chromebook, all you have to do is open your Google Drive settings, scroll down, check the box next to the Offline option and hit Done.

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