Google released version 1.1 of Google Drive for iOS Monday. Now iPhone and iPad users can edit Google Docs natively on their devices for the first time. With 5GB of free storage, integration with other Google services, and powerful text and image recognition when searching for files, Google Drive is now a formidable challenger to Evernote on iOS. How do they stack up?
Best User Interface: Google Drive
Evernote’s design resources are stretched pretty thin. It’s a tiny company compared to Google, and yet its highest priority is to build an interface for every popular operating system, as well as the Web, and make them all work together. Consequently, while Evernote’s storage and syncing back end are rock-solid, its interfaces are fairly weird.
The iPad version is the clearest example. Evernote for iPad arrays all your notebooks as shabby piles of lined paper, and notes as individual sheets. They even cast shadows. It wastes a ton of space, and since the piles aren’t organized beyond being sorted left-to-right by one criterion at a time, it takes serious effort to find anything.
If Evernote just cloned the two-column view of the desktop version, it would be closer to iPad conventions. It would work just like the built-in Mail app, which is fine.
On the iPhone, Evernote is just cramped. It’s simpler, but as a result, the important info and settings are spread way too far apart. It’s also too slow to create notes on the go, which is the critical use for an app like this.
Google Drive for iOS is faster, cleaner, and better organized. It looks and works more like a basic utility, as it should. And Google Drive has also had years of refinement in the browser as Google Docs. Its desktop interface is beautiful and functional, while Evernote’s browser version is barely the latter.
Best Editing Features: Google Drive
As a rich text editor, Evernote is almost okay. You get a fair amount of formatting control, but the appearance doesn’t always carry over well from one device to another, which can be a bummer.
It’s much better for photo capture. Evernote’s optical character recognition makes images of text searchable, and its new Page Camera mode detects and cleans up pages you’re capturing, so it looks better to people and machines alike. Evernote also offers clunky but functional collaboration on notes.
Google Drive has OCR, too, and it also brings Google’s search power to bear in a way Evernote can’t. Google Drive has image recognition, so if you search for “Eiffel Tower,” it will be able to find your photos from your France trip, even if you never gave them titles.
Google Docs formatting is comfortable for anyone who has used a word processor, and it remains consistent wherever you view it. Collaboration and commenting on Google Docs is still kind of a pain to manage, with all the adding and subtracting of accounts, but it’s no worse than Evernote, and the actual editing and commenting parts work perfectly.
Best Storage Features: Evernote
Google’s image recognition search will be tough for Evernote to beat. That is pretty fancy stuff, and it’s only possible when you have Internet-scale image search data like Google does. But Evernote has some advantages for a certain kind of user.
There’s one sense in which Google Drive is better for storage. Evernote has a limit of 25MB per note for free users and 50MB for paid users. That means you can’t store files bigger than 50MB, so video is basically out of the question. Google Drive works like any disk, so you could upload your entire movie library if you had enough space.
So, sure, you can use Google Drive as a Dropbox-like service. But it’s exceedingly rare to need more than 50MB at a time for notetaking and archiving. Trust me, if anyone using Evernote for personal notes and archives were likely to hit that limit, I would have by now.
Premium subscribers can use Evernote on iPhone and iPad without an Internet connection. The whole archive, or just individual notebooks, can be stored locally. That way, you never have to worry about being able to access your notes.
But Evernote also offers extensions for a different, very common kind of archiving that Google Docs doesn’t have. Its Clearly and Web Clipper browser extensions make it easy to grab and store articles and pages from the Web. That lets you keep favorite articles, recipes and how-to guides in Evernote effortlessly. This is the main thing I do with my Evernote account.
It’s not hard to imagine Google Drive supporting solid third-party applications for this purpose, but for now, Evernote is the better tool for the digital packrat.
See also: Evernote: A 0-to–60 MPH Guide
Best Business Model: Evernote
Evernote’s position is shaky in every way except one. Its business model is exactly the opposite of Google’s. Google provides a hefty Google Drive service for free; you pay only if you want more space. But it does so to use your data to better optimize ads it delivers to you across the Web. This means Google will have to compromise on features that don’t support the ad business.
Evernote goes out of its way to draw a contrast to that model. It doesn’t use the data in your account for any external purposes. It even offers built-in text encryption, so you can feel safer storing sensitive data. If you want complete privacy, it’s better not to put your information on the Web at all. But Evernote values privacy because it wants you as a paying customer. Google’s business model has other people’s interests at heart, and sometimes it crosses the line.
I’m a dedicated Evernote user, and I’m not yet ready to switch. But to be honest, it’s mostly the Web Clipper that’s keeping me on Evernote. As an iOS user, I’m eagerly watching the evolution of Evernote and Google Drive to see which ends up being the better tool for me in the long run.