Dropbox is one of the most popular cloud storage services on the planet — and a major part of its appeal is the fact that it works well on a wide variety of mobile devices, including Android, Blackberry, iPhone, iPad, and Kindle Fire (though you might have to sideload it, depending on the model). Downloading the mobile app to any of these devices will give you the ability to upload, download and share files easily.
But there are some hacks you might not be aware of that can help you to get the most out of the Dropbox experience. Here are several of the most useful, with special emphasis placed on getting the best mileage out of the mobile app. We’ll take a look at how to use the Dropbox app to upload pics from your phone or tablet, bookmark favorites, sync to your desktop, and more.
One of the scariest things in the world — aside from the possibility of a Dirty Dancing remake — is the thought of losing photos. In ye olden days before digital, losing precious family photos was usually only something to worry about in the event of a fire or natural disaster.
Nowadays, all it takes to wipe out the evidence of a loved one’s existence is human error, electronic malfunction, or theft, all of which happen with a lot more frequency than disasters do. With your mobile device at constant risk of theft or destruction, storing a local cache of irreplaceable photos is a fool’s game.
Not so, though, if you install Dropbox’s iOS or Android mobile app and enable Camera Upload, which automatically uploads all of the pics and videos on your smart phone or tablet and stores them safely in the cloud. Uploads can also be facilitated by physically connecting your device to your computer and running the desktop app, but let’s be real. Wired connections are so 2004.
In the cool category (as well as the convenient category), Wi-Fi is the way to go. If you don’t want to rack up data charges, be sure to visit your app settings and specify to only upload when connected to a WiFi network. If leaving your pics and videos to upload automatically doesn’t sit right with you and you’d rather be picky about what gets saved and what doesn’t, you can back your files up manually by creating an online folder, tapping Upload Here and making your selections.
Dropbox offers a user friendly interface which translates beautifully to your mobile device. But even with the simplest of platforms, finding what you’re looking for quickly and easily while you’re on the go can often be a pain in the neck — especially if you’re a die-hard devotee who’s backed up every single movie or music file you own to the cloud.
If you’re not down with the idea of having to page through thousands of folders to get to what you want, you can favorite certain frequently accessed files and folders on your mobile device so that you don’t have to hunt and peck each and every time you want to pull them back up again. Bookmarking a specific file actually downloads it to your device so that you can have access to it even when you’re not connected.
Naturally, this will eat up your available local memory so if there’s an issue of limited space, you may not want to favorite too many items. To favorite an item, click the drop-down arrow next to the file to launch an action menu. You can also just long tap the file until the action menu pops up. From there, either tap the star icon or tap the Favorite option. Voila! The item is downloaded to your device — and rather quickly, we might add. You can also access and manage all of your favorites by clicking the star icon on the top toolbar of your mobile app.
As mentioned above, favoriting an item on your mobile device downloads the file to local memory for easier access, giving you the option to enjoy your frequently accessed files even when you’re on airplane mode. If you want to remove the file from your device to free up space without deleting it from your Dropbox account, it’s a simple matter of un-favoriting it. To do that, click the star icon on the top toolbar of your app to bring up your favorites. Then, either long tap the file you want to remove or click the drop-down arrow beside it to launch the action menu. Removal from your device is accomplished by simply selecting Favorite again or tapping the star icon.
Files and folders can be shared straight from your mobile device, using a variety of different methods. Sharing an item sends your recipient a secure link that gives them access to specific files or folders in your Dropbox vault. To share an item, long tap the file or folder and select Share from the pop-up menu that appears. A link can then be sent with your mobile device using e-mail, text, IM, Facebook, Google Plus, Skype, or any other application that’s conducive to electronic communication. Video link sharing works a little differently, allowing your recipient to preview up to 15 minutes of a shared video before having to actually download the file to watch via their own Dropbox app.
Syncing Over WiFi
Any time you launch the Dropbox desktop app, it syncs your uploaded items automatically. The mobile app works differently in that it takes into account the very likely fact you won’t always have unlimited data access. For this reason, the mobile Dropbox app is defaulted to only download updates if it detects that you’re on a WiFi connection. Otherwise, if you’re connected through a cellular network you’ll be required to run all sync updates manually — putting any inadvertent data overage charges squarely on you. Smart, indeed.
Another reason why Dropbox rules is the fact that it’s stupid-proof. Operating on the understanding that sometimes people press the “delete” button for no good reason, Dropbox has a fail-safe control installed that’ll save all of your deleted items for up to 30 days — more than enough time for even the slowest on the uptake to go “Whoops!” and realize their mistake.
If 30 days of do-overs doesn’t sound long enough, for an additional few bucks you can upgrade your Dropbox account to contain a feature known as Packrat, which comes included when you upgrade to a Pro account ($9.99 per month for 100GB).
Packrat takes the concept of stupid-proof and amps it up by allowing unlimited recovery for deleted files. This means that if you accidentally erase an entire folder of family photos and realize that six or seven months down the line, you can still recover them. The only catch is that the function only works if you’re still paying the monthly Pro account fee. Currently, file recovery isn’t a feature that’s enabled on the mobile device so you’ll have to perform all boo-boo recoveries from the desktop app. This is done by simply clicking the garbage can icon on your browser’s main Dropbox page. All deleted files are displayed as grayed-out titles that you can click to restore.
Racking Up a Ton of Space for Zero Bucks
Not everyone’s into the idea of paying for cloud storage, which is why Dropbox lets you have 2GB of free space just for setting up an account. The trouble is, 2GB doesn’t get you very far anymore, if it ever really did.
But that’s where things get really cool with Dropbox — they reward referrals. For each and every friend that you refer who signs up for an account, you’ll get an additional 500MB of free space. Not too shabby, but that’s not where it ends. There are lots of other ways to earn bonus gigs of free Dropbox space, including completing the steps outlined in the Get Started guide, connecting your account to your Facebook and Twitter profiles, following Dropbox on Twitter, Tweeting about Dropbox, linking your account to Mailbox for iOS, using the Camera Upload feature, and even submitting feedback.
Dropbox also runs mobile promotions for free space for users of some HTC and Samsung devices, which can score you even more space (although certain service providers like AT&T and Verizon don’t allow their customers to participate). Alas, Dropbox freebies aren’t eternal, and max out at 25GB. Still, that’s 23 more than you started out with and the monetary equivalent of $2.50 per month when compared with the current going rate of $9.99 for 100GB.
All Things Considered
Dropbox isn’t the cheapest cloud storage service in the world. In fact, it can be downright expensive when you consider that storing 500GB of data will cost you $49.99 per month.
The 2GB of free storage (and the additional 23 gigs you can earn through some of the aforementioned methods) should give you plenty of room to play around without having to fork over a single cent. Still, while other cloud storage options may be able to compete on price, few can compete on ease of use, feature set, or cross compatibility – and making your life easier is often worth a few bucks.
Have a favorite Dropbox feature, fact, or “hack?” Be sure to sound off in the comments and let us know!