Android smartphone users finally have a client for SkyDrive, Microsoft's answer to the popularity of online storage services such as Dropbox, Box.com, and SugarSync. As we'll see in this review, SkyDrive for Android offers some interesting features, along with lots of storage. It also contains some sharp limitations, but maybe that's pretty natural for an app that's only been available for a matter of weeks.
The new Android client hooks you up to Microsoft's SkyDrive service, where you can upload, download, and stash files, either to store them long-term or to share across computers.
As a newcomer against its rivals, SkyDrive ponies up a little more space. Whereas Dropbox offers you 2GB with a free account, expandable by referring others, and Box.com and SugarSync each give you 5GB, a free SkyDrive account gives you 7GB of space. To me, this seems like a stranger number to choose than either 6GB or 8GB, but I'll assume it makes sense to Microsoft.
Since I didn't have a SkyDrive account already, my first task after installing the Android client from Google Play was to create one. This turned out to be easier said than done. All through the sign-up process, the app behaved slower than dirt, often taking 10 seconds or more to advance to the next step after I'd pressed the button.
Also, unlike Dropbox and others which only require a verified email address, Microsoft requires you to provide full name, date of birth, ZIP code, and phone number, as well as to deal with a very long Captcha. (I'm a little surprised they didn't ask for a home address and DNA sample!)
Once you get past the lengthy sign-up audition though, things start improving considerably. The app itself isn't nearly as slow as the early experience would suggest. In fact, it felt fairly snappy while I was browsing through and uploading files.
The user interface (UI) is very clean and efficient, and you're treated to more or less the same experience when choosing files to upload when browsing your files that are already online. So the learning curve is minimal.
Yet, the nicest part about the software is its view options. Unlike the Dropbox client, SkyDrive for Android lets you switch between a list of files and thumbnail views. This makes it much easier to sort through photos, especially. Even the List view makes sure that long filenames don't simply get listed as "Let...ert.doc," which has been a peeve of mine at times with Dropbox.
There are a couple of missing features in SkyDrive, though. A big selling point for Dropbox is its "camera upload" option, for automatically syncing every photo you take to your online account. This keeps photos backed up in the event that something happens to your mobile device.
If Microsoft is trying to beat Dropbox as industry leader, a logical feature would be to take this one step further with automatic sync options that could be configured by the user -- let's say, to tell the app to back up all documents, or all photos, or only things in a certain folder, etc. However, SkyDrive for Android has no automatic sync options whatsoever.
Although this is a rather minor issue, there's another syncing problem with SkyDrive that isn't. While mobile apps are available for iOS and Windows Phone in addition to Android, you can only sync files to your PC if you're running Windows 7 or a recent version of Vista. Users of Windows XP, non-updated Vista, OS X, Linux, and so forth need not apply.
Instead, you'll be forced to upload and manage your files through the Web interface, which is about as simple as balancing an egg on its end. Easy desktop sync is one of the reasons why many people prefer Dropbox over Box.net and SugarSync. So this is a glaring omission on Microsoft's part.
I'm not about to switch away from Dropbox for my primary online storage. Yet despite its early limitations, SkyDrive for Android holds the potential to turn into a very solid competitor. With some time and improvements, it might even rise to the top of the field.
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