The iPad and Google Drive

I recently acquired an iPad. That's right this old-style girl is now in the “modern age” of computing and I'm already addicted to it. To the point that if I had to return it to my workplace or if it broke and the office wouldn't replace it, I would actually spend my own money to buy one. I wear the batteries out almost every day. My regular blog readers are probably sick of hearing about it, and since this is my “tech” blog, I decided I'd bug you guys with my iPad excitement instead and add a new category covering the iPad! I'll mostly be talking about apps that I've tried, especially things aimed to help me in work-related purposes (though I may occasionally slip in love for some of the few games I play). I may also randomly post about little tips and tricks I pick up along the way. (Oh, and for proper disclosure, it is an iPad 2)

Before we start in on my first app review, I have to insert my one big rant about iPad apps: the fact that almost no apps can be tried before you buy. Granted many of the games have free versions that are ad-laden but allow you to at least figure out if you like the game before you spend money on it, but apps geared towards productivity and organization, you know stuff that's actually useful in your real-life cost money and you have no way to know if you like it or not. For me, software is like clothing or cars; I have to touch it, taste it, and test drive it before I want to spend money on it. How many people would buy a car completely sight unseen and without kicking the tires and giving it a spin?

I know you might be thinking apps are cheap; seriously $2.99 isn't that much money. But it does add up. Ten apps for $2.99 each comes out to just under $30. And in the state of Texas, we have to pay sales tax on purchased apps, so add 8.25% to that number. And most useful apps actually cost much more, which leads us by lengthy degrees to the first app I'll be reviewing.

I use a lot of spreadsheets in my life; I'm a total spreadsheet junkie. I also make plenty of use of Microsoft Word a lot because I am a writer (duh!). In addition to writing blog posts and documentation, I also write novels, so Notes just doesn't cut it. I thought it would be a wonderful thing if I could work on some of that while I'm out and about with the iPad. Nothing too fancy or anything, just simply being able to see the files, edit the text, and for spreadsheets tweak numbers. I wasn't looking to replace my laptop or anything, but when I'm waiting for meeting to start, having a meal by myself at a coffee shop, or when I'm laying in bed at night and I don't want to tote my bulky laptop, being able to do some stuff on the iPad would be great.

I'm also Windows girl. My work laptop is Windows 7; my home laptop as Windows 7 and they're going to stay that way. I'm not going all Mac anytime soon. So when looking at an app that would let me work with these files, I wanted to be able to sync between systems without fear of file borking. Nothing makes a grown woman cry like her novel of two years vanishing. Ask me how I know and I'll tell you all about the criticality of backups. *ahem* My partner is a Mac guy; he has a Mac laptop, iPad, iPhone, etc. so I know it's fully possible to work with Word and Excel documents within the Mac OS systems, have the features important to me available, and it not bork over the files. Talking to him, doing Google searches, and searching the app store, I found a variety of apps that might have worked, that range in price from $4.99 to $24.99. $24.99!

I'm cheap and working my Total Money Makeover. $30 is my entire entertainment budget for the month! Really think I'm giving up buying my next stash of books for an app that I can't try first and be sure will work and that only meets half my needs (since there is no app that can do both Word and Excel files). A few screenshots and reviews just aren't enough for software. And while the top rated apps had tons of praise, the comments also made me pretty sure they would bork my files and not give me the options I wanted. Having to make stripped down copies of my files that can be borked before I can work with them doesn't really help improve my life, it just adds more work.

So I kind of gave up on the idea. Then I had an epiphany. Google Docs! I love Google Docs! And surely by now Google, despite having a competing OS, has an app that would let me access my Google Docs on the iPad. Google Docs works perfectly fine for my novels, my spreadsheets, et cetera. Of course Google Docs is now Google Drive which is similar to DropBox, but it does still have its cloud-based functions for creating and editing spreadsheets, word processing documents, and the like. I hit the app store, did a search, and there was Google Drive. Google Drive is a free app, as I expected it would be. Score! Of course I immediately downloaded it, waited for the install the finish, and excitedly opened the new app ready to work on an important spreadsheet, i.e. my budget for the month. There were all my docs waiting for me to see.

Google Drive Load Screen
Initial Load Screen

Multisheet Spreadsheet loaded fine

As I explored the app, I found options to set individual docs to be available in off-line mode, so when I'm away from wifi I can still get to them. Awesome bonus!

Clicking the arrow gets you to the share details and lets you make the file available offline

And then I discovered the big problem with the Google Drive app. You can't edit the freaking files! Seriously I can look at them, zoom in on them, and scroll them, but I can't freaking edit them. How pointless is that! Instead of having editing in the app, you get an option to open the file in, wait for it, Safari. You would think they would at least say “hey I see you have the Chrome app, so I'll open it for you there.” So in the end, the app is essentially useless for me. Since I can't edit any of the files that are available off-line, they don't do me much good. Really it would be no different than me converting them to PDF for read-only viewing. Actually as a PDF, I could at least mark them up for noting edits to make.

On a five-star scale, I have to give the Google app a two. I will admit what interface options it does give are nice, like the scrolling, zooming, and the off-line mode. Those features work great. So if you just need to read your files it's fine, but the lack of editing means it won't be an app I'll be recommending anytime soon.