SkyDrive, which has been active since 2007, is Microsoft’s cloud service, letting users access documents over a network from anywhere — and now, from a lot more devices.
We took the iPhone version of SkyDrive for a quick test flight, and compared it to cloud-storage competitors Dropbox, Box.net and Pogoplug.
The verdict: SkyDrive 1.0 is a competent cloud app. But it can be confusing at times, lacks some key features and does nothing better than its competitors — other than offer storage.
It’s 1.0, and It Shows
Let’s start with the good. The SkyDrive app syncs anything you upload on another machine almost instantly. Folders are clearly labeled; you can nest them, and photos uploaded into a folder will become that folder’s thumbnail. I liked being able to choose between a thumbnail view of files and a more detailed list with information about file size, time modified, and so on.
There’s some weirdness right off the bat, though. SkyDrive’s “Recent” option doesn’t actually show recently uploaded files; instead, it appears to be a repository of items you’ve created in OneNote. That would be great if SkyDrive actually let you browse the notes and open them, or at least tie in with the OneNote app.
It actually does none of those things. A Microsoft spokesperson told Mashable that the Recents option just shows the items you’ve most recently worked on via the Web, not the app, and that OneNote access would be coming in a future version.
The most glaring problem with SkyDrive is the absence of an option to save or “favorite” a file for accessing it offline. Both Box.net and Dropbox have prominent Favorite buttons, but SkyDrive only lets you save photos, not any other kind of file. This feature needs to be added if Microsoft hopes to put a dent in those other services’ market share.
Otherwise, SkyDrive is a pretty good cloud app. You can pinch-zoom and swipe photos right from the app, and movies stream quickly and clearly over Wi-Fi — a bit slower over 3G. All kinds of files are compatible; generally, if an app can open it, so can SkyDrive.
Among rival cloud services, Dropbox and Box.net are my favorites. If I had to choose, Box.net’s friendly interface and list of recent uploads give it a slight edge. Dropbox’s desktop software is impressive, though the app isn’t. Also appreciated: Box’s handy option that will shout warnings if you’re about to move big files over a cellular connection.
Pogoplug suffers from an extremely confusing file system — but is potentially the most versatile. The service began as a way to remotely access your own computer and hard drives. Its interface could definitely use a revamp, though — several times I uploaded files only to never see them again. In addition, the quality of video streams was poor.
For raw storage, however, SkyDrive is the champ. Microsoft gives you 25GB free with signup. Box.net and Pogoplug offer just one-fifth of that (5GB), and Dropbox trails at a measly 2GB.
When Apple debuted iCloud earlier this year, Microsoft retorted that it had offered SkyDrive for years, which provided similar functionality. While they’re both cloud services, the execution is quite different. Whereas iCloud is a service that mostly runs in the background, storing and backing up data automatically, SkyDrive aims to appoint the user Chief Cloud Executive of their own files.
In that respect, SkyDrive is not as good as its competitors yet. But if Microsoft can quickly build bridges to its other iOS apps, it could really have something here. Those who aren’t already using SkyDrive can skip the 1.0 version, but it’s worth keeping on your “save for later” list.
Here's the screen that greets you when you first fire up the SkyDrive app.