At a Glance
- Universal app works well on iPad as well as iPhone / iPod Touch
- Makes it easy to view your Dropbox files on your iPad
- Download files for offline access
- Upload photos and video from your iPad to your Dropbox
- Default settings for upload quality causes images and videos to be resized when uploaded
- Can’t add music or video from Dropbox to your iPad’s music or video libraries
- Limited file management features
Most readers of this site will be familiar with Dropbox, the popular file synchronization and backup service. Today we’ll be looking at the Dropbox app for iOS – it’s a universal app that runs natively on both small screen devices like the iPhone or iPod Touch and on the large screen of the iPad. This review will cover Dropbox on the iPad – there are only some minor interface differences from the iPhone version.¬†Installation of the app is straightforward like any iOS application – download it from the App Store, either directly on the iPad, or in iTunes on your desktop and then sync it to your iPad.
When you first start the app, you’ll be prompted for your Dropbox username and password, or to create a new Dropbox account. Once you are logged in, you will see a list of all the files in your Dropbox account, and four simple navigation buttons at the bottom of the list – depending on whether your iPad is in portrait or landscape orientation, the list will either be an auto-hiding popup window or a sidebar, similar to how the message list appears in the iPad Mail app. Simply tap on a file to download it to your iPad.
For any files that are natively supported on the iPad (such as text, PDF, Office or iWork documents, QuickTime movies, and most audio files), you can view them directly in the Dropbox app. You can also send the file to any other app on your iPad that has registered itself as capable of dealing with that particular file type – for example, you can send PDFs to iBooks, or save an image to the iPad’s photo library. There are a pair of glaring exceptions to this, however – while you can play audio and video files in the Dropbox app itself, there is no ability to save these files to your iPad’s music or video libraries. We assume that Apple has imposed some sort of restriction that prevents Dropbox from doing that, in order to maintain iTunes as the only gateway for getting media onto your iOS device.
For all files, you can also mark them as a favorite, which means that they will be downloaded and kept on your iPad for quick access, online or offline. Unlike the desktop version of Dropbox, it does not automatically synchronize all your files to your iPad for offline use – only files marked as “favorites” are stored offline. Considering the limited storage space available in a typical iOS device, this makes sense, but it does feel out of place for those who are used to the behaviour of the desktop version of Dropbox. There is no ability to restrict how much space is used by “favorite” files, only how much space is used to cache recently viewed files. There is also no ability to mark a folder as favorite, only individual files.
While you can’t send a file from your Dropbox as an email attachment, it does have the ability to generate a direct download link. You can simply create a new email with that link directly from the Dropbox app, or you can copy the link to the clipboard and paste it in another app (for example, posting it to Twitter).
You do have the ability to upload pictures and video from your iPad to Dropbox, but be warned – the default upload quality is set to “medium” for both pictures and video. It’s easy enough to change in the settings, and you can adjust the quality for pictures and video independent of each other, but it can come as an unpleasant surprise if you were expecting the original files to be uploaded.
File management features within the Dropbox app are very minimal. You can’t rename files, you can’t move them to different subfolders of your Dropbox, and the only time you have the option of creating a new folder is when you upload photos or video from your iPad. The only thing you are able to do is to delete files or folders. There is also no indication of how much storage space is being used by offline “favorite” files, except by looking at the individual file sizes and doing the math. You can search files and folders by name, but not by contents. There is also no ability to re-order files in order to make it easier to find recently modified files.
Overall, the Dropbox app for iOS is very well done and easy to use, and for users who don’t need to have their entire Dropbox available offline on their iPad, it will be more than sufficient.