Dropbox, the very useful cloud-based storage service, used to be fairly limited on mobile. It allowed you to see the files you had stashed in your Dropbox, but you couldn’t do a whole lot with them. Luckily, that’s changed with some recent updates to the Android and iOS apps for Dropbox.
Dropbox Mobile lets you do much of what you can do when using the desktop app or accessing via the Web. You can browse your folder library, delete and rename files, share them via social media, email or text message, and generate links to folders and files. I found it easier to share a file using Dropbox Mobile than I did on my desktop, though it’s not a difficult task on either device.
I also like how Dropbox Mobile is able to play back a variety of multimedia files, including audio and videos. I was able to stream a .wmv video seamlessly, though performance will obviously depend on the strength of your wireless connection.
It’s also a handy way to enjoy your music collection if space is limited and you don’t want to download it to your mobile device. Don’t expect music playback features to rival your phone’s built-in player, though; Dropbox plays a single file at a time. If you want playlist-like continuous playback, this is not the app for that task. And keep in mind that streaming a lot of audio and video could rack up some data charges, depending on your account.
Microsoft Office Integration
One of the biggest limitations of using Dropbox on your mobile device was the inability to actually edit files, especially Microsoft Word files. It was frustrating to be able to see list of files but not be able to edit them without some pretty time-consuming work-arounds. But now, Dropbox features tight integration with Microsoft Office, and those ties have made their way to the mobile app. When you open a file stored in your Dropbox, you just click an icon at the bottom of the screen to edit it, and the app asks you if you’d like to do so in the appropriate Microsoft Office app.
I tested several Microsoft Word documents, including some very long documents and a couple with heavy formatting. Long files were slightly delayed in opening, but I was pleased to see how quickly all of my edits were saved. All changes I made were seamlessly saved to Dropbox, and synced to my account so they were immediately available across my devices. The integration goes both ways, too. When you create a file using the mobile Microsoft Office apps, you can choose to save it directly to your Dropbox, which is handy.
This integration with Microsoft Office makes Dropbox mobile a must-have app for me, as it eliminates the one big annoyance I had with the app. True productivity doesn’t come free, though. To edit files in Microsoft Office apps, you’ll need an Office 365 subscription, which starts at $69.99 per year.
More Mobile Tools
Anyone who’s ever lost a phone that’s full of photos and videos will appreciate Dropbox Mobile’s Camera Upload. It automatically syncs all of the photos and videos that you capture on your mobile device to your Dropbox account, neatly arranging them by date taken. It’s a drop-dead simple way to back up all of the images you capture. By default, Dropbox only uploads the photos when your device is connected to Wi-Fi, but you can allow it to use your cellular data network, too.
Dropbox Mobile has some additional features that I was unable to test, but they sound promising. The Android app allows users to export files directly to SD cards, and Dropbox for Business user can connect both personal and business accounts for separate access from within the same app.
Dropbox Mobile isn’t perfect. I wish it played music continuously, and that you could sort files by type, not just by date. But it’s an insanely useful addition to an incredibly useful service, and it’s made even more so by its Microsoft Office integration.
Liane Cassavoy is a veteran technology and business journalist. She contributes regularly to PCWorld and has written about business issues and products for Entrepreneur Magazine and other publications. She is the author of two business start-up guides published by Entrepreneur Press.