Online storage and syncing services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, and SugarSync offer a convenient way to make sure you can access your files from any computer or mobile device. However, you might not be able to view those files on your tablet or smartphone when you don't have an internet connection--unless you enable offline access beforehand, when you still have a data connection. Here's how Google Drive, Dropbox, SugarSync, and SkyDrive compare when it comes to offline access, and how to enable this important feature (if available). ~April 29, 2013
What Is Offline Access?
Offline access, simply put, gives you access to files while you're without an internet connection. It's incredibly important for anyone who works on the road and even in many everyday situations. This comes in handy, for example, when you have to review files while you're on an airplane, if you have a Wi-Fi-only iPad or Android tablet, or your mobile data connection is spotty.
You might expect that the mobile apps for cloud storage services such as Google Drive and Dropbox would automatically store your files for anytime access, but that's not actually the case. I learned the hard way that unless you proactively set up offline access, your files are inaccessible until you're online.
Google Drive Offline Access
Google recently updated its Google Drive storage service to automatically sync Google Docs (spreadsheets, word processing docs, and presentations)--and make them available offline. Unfortunately, this isn't available yet on Android, though it works on desktop or laptop computers if you use the Chrome browser or Chrome OS.
To enable offline access for these kinds of files in the Chrome browser, you'll need to set up the Drive Chrome webapp:
- In Google Drive, click the "More" link in the left navigation bar.
- Select "Offline Docs."
- Click "Get the app" to install the Chrome webapp from the store.
- Back in Google Drive, click the "Enable Offline" button.
To enable offline access for specific files on any device: You'll have to select the files you want available, while you have internet access, and mark them for offline access:
- In Google Drive on Android, for example, long-click on a file you want available offline.
- In the context menu, select "Make available offline"
Dropbox Offline Access
Similarly, to get offline access to your files in Dropbox's mobile apps, you have to specify which ones you want to be able to access without an internet connection. This is done through starring (or "favoriting") those particular files:
- In the Dropbox app, click on the down arrow next to the file you want available offline.
- Click the star icon to make it a favorite file.
SugarSync and Box Offline Access
Both SugarSync and Box also require you to set up your files for offline access, but they have the easiest system for doing this, because you can sync an entire folder for offline access rather than having to select the files individually.
- From the SugarSync app on your iPhone, iPad, Android, or BlackBerry device, click on the name of the computer you want to access and browse to the desired folder or file for enabling offline access.
- Click the icon next to the folder or filename.
- Select the option to "Sync to Device" and the file of folder will be synced to your device's local memory.
For Box, select a folder from the mobile app and make it a favorite. Note that if you later add new files to the folder, you'll have to go back in when you're online to "Update All" if you want offline access for those new files.
SkyDrive Offline Access
Finally, Microsoft's SkyDrive storage service, unfortunately, does not have an offline access feature. You can, however, export documents from SkyDrive to save them locally on your device (For example, from within Office Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, go to More > Save to > Phone). Note that these saved files won't be synced with SkyDrive even when you have a network connection:
The Best Online Storage Providers for Offline Access
My pick goes to SugarSync, because you can sync an entire folder without too much fuss for offline access. Google Drive's automatic syncing is great--but only works on devices with the Chrome browser/Chrome OS.