For those unaware, Dropbox.com is an online file storage service that gives users a free account to store up to 2GB of files.
As you install the client software on other systems, your files become instantly accessible, providing a very convenient way to share data between home, work, and mobile devices (an official iPhone client was released on September 29, 2009).
I’ve been a Dropbox user since the fall of 2009, when a coworker gave me a demo of how he used his account to synchronize files between a Linux and Windows system for doing web development. I was instantly hooked, and found ways to integrate it into my own development environment.
What The Dropbox Android Client Has To Offer
I was in the right place at the right time when the Dropbox team announced via Twitter last Friday that the next 500 users headed to a sign up page would be added to the open beta of the official Dropbox client for the Android platform.
I was accepted and got my hands on the client v0.9, which I am reviewing today. Dropbox's own beta review can be found at http://blog.dropbox.com/.
When you start the app for the first time, you see a splash page (image 1), then prompted for your credentials, then you’re immediately shown a list of your files.
You’ll need to go into the application menu to access the help screens (image 2 and 3), or you can read a PDF file which Dropbox installs for you at the root level of your shared drive (image 4).
The help screens are well written and there’s a tutorial video to watch that helps explain how to use Dropbox on multiple systems to share your data.
As you scroll through your folders and files, Dropbox does a fine job of showing icons for common file extensions (image 1). Holding down a tap on a folder has no effect (image 2) – you are unable to rename, move, delete or create folders. You will need a full client installed on another system to make any modifications to folders themselves. A long tap on a file will prompt you for an action (image 3): open the file, or copy, Email or share a public URL link to the file. Empty folders will announce themselves with a “left intentionally blank” notification (image 4). You can refresh your current file list at any level by selecting the application menu and pressing the Refresh icon (image 5). I created a new folder on my laptop which, you can see, appears at the top of my file listing (image 6) as all file lists are first sorted by folders then files, each in alphabetical order.
Opening Files In Dropbox
It’s important to note the main difference between a full Dropbox client and the mobile Dropbox client applications, such as the Android version: the mobile clients do not download all of your files. Rather, they download them as you request them, or allow you to access a public URL to share via Email, SMS/text, etc. if you need to share something publicly.
When you long-tap a file, you are prompted with an action dialog (image 1) where you can open the file or share a link to the file via public URL.
When you opt to open a file, the client connects to Dropbox (image 2), downloads a fresh copy of the file (image 3), and then prompts you for how you want to use the file (image 4). Note that files are not cached on the device - a whole copy is downloaded every time you open a file.
In my case, opening a Jpeg graphic prompts me to use the Android Gallery app, or to view the image in ASTRO which I have installed.
PDF files (image 5) prompt for a built-in PDF viewer or Quickoffice, music files are streamed into a built-in audio player (not shown), and text files allow a few extra options (image 6).
If you select the Dropbox Text Editor, you are able to modify the file at your leisure (image 7).
It’s also interesting (to say the least) to note that viewing a Word document (.doc extension) in Quickoffice will remove some of your formatting (image 8) and does not allow you to edit the file.
Dropbox Settings Menu
The Settings menu can be accessed through the application menu (image 1). I’ve included two screenshots (images 2 and 3) because the menu is just slightly longer than one full screen.
Some of the “settings” are just informative lines showing your username, disk usage, and the client application version.
The selectable settings allow you to unlink your Dropbox account (presumably to switch to another account), watch a tutorial video about Dropbox, access the same help menu as the main application menu’s Help icon, an option to “share” a note about Dropbox with your phone contacts, and a feedback form.
Incidentally, the Dropbox client switches from portrait to landscape mode (image 4) just fine in every screen I tested.
Uploading Files To Dropbox
It’s all fine and good to retrieve your files, but how about adding the photos or music from your Android device back to your Dropbox account?
From the application menu, you can select the Upload icon (image 1), and will be presented with an options dialog. From here, you can take a new photo or record a new video and immediately send it to Dropbox, import existing photos and videos already on your microSD card, select an audio or media file, or upload a text file.
Taking a new photo (image 2) or video will immediately switch to your default camera app – if you opt to record video and have additional video apps installed such as Qik or Ustream, you will be prompted whether to use the Android Camcorder app, or any other third-party app.
For still photos, once you take a photo and tap your Back button, you will immediately see your photo available within your Dropbox account, though depending on your bandwidth, it may take a few moments to fully upload and be available on your other Dropbox installations.
I’m going to jump ahead on the upload menu for a moment, and show the audio upload options (image 5). I chose the “Select Music Track” option, which generated a very long list of every audio file on my device. I selected a rockin’ tune (image 6), tapped Ok, and immediately saw the file in my Dropbox file list (image 7).
Finally, uploading a text file seems broken in this version (image 8).
Finally, I wanted to note that the Import Pictures or Video option is currently broken in the v0.9 beta client:
When you select the Import Photos or Video option, you are taken to what appears to be your gallery browser, however nothing is drawn on my Nexus One device (image 9).
Tapping around the screen eventually showed some checkboxes and a secondary options menu along the bottom of the screen (image 10). Selecting a checkbox and the More option shows a Details feature (image 3) which reveals that the checkboxes are selecting entire albums on your device and will, presumably, show some additional information (image 4) in a future release. Selecting multiple albums and selecting the Share feature does absolutely nothing.
Overall, two upload bugs seem relatively minor for my personal use, as I tend to use the mobile client for accessing files I already have in my Dropbox account.
Conclusions And Availability
There are other Dropbox clients in the Android Market, such as an existing app named Dropbox, Droidbox (Free and Pro) and Droid Box.
However, the availability of a client app directly from the service provider gives a user comfort level, especially when having to enter user credentials for a third party service which may hold sensitive information. I’m excited to see a fully functional Dropbox app from their development team.
Their blog site indicates a full release will come in “a few months.”