14 incredibly useful things you didn’t know Google Drive could do

If you’re thinking of Google Drive as a mere place to plop your files, you’re missing out on some pretty powerful possibilities.

Beneath its fluffy cloud exterior, Drive holds all sorts of useful tools for collecting information, working with data, organizing your virtual goods, and sharing stuff externally. In some cases, the options are built directly into Drive; in others, they require a little help from a connecting app or service.

They all have one thing in common, though: They’re right there and just waiting to be embraced. All you have to do is uncover ’em. Here are 14 ways Drive can make your days a teensy bit easier—and pave the way for a more productive, hassle-free week.

Speedy data saving

1. Scan documents and receipts directly into Drive with the Google Drive app for Android. Just open the app, tap the plus symbol in the lower-right corner, and select “Scan”—or save yourself some steps by long-pressing the app’s icon and selecting “Scan” right then and there. You can also drag and drop that “Scan” option onto your home screen or use the Drive widget for on-demand, one-tap access.

The Google Drive Android app offers several options for on-demand scanning.
The Google Drive Android app offers several options for on-demand scanning.

However you do it, Drive will save your image as a PDF and then make its text searchable for future discovery. (And sorry, iPhone-toting pals: The option isn’t available in Drive’s iOS app as of now.)

2. Save any web page, image, file, or screenshot directly from your browser to Drive by using the official Save to Google Drive Chrome extension. With the extension in place, you can right-click (or Ctrl-click, on a Mac) on any hyperlink to save its target into your Drive storage—or click the icon in the upper-right corner of the browser to capture and save a screenshot of your current view.

Next-level file manipulation

3. Got a PDF file you need to edit like a regular document? No problemo: Right-click (or Ctrl-click) the file’s name on the Drive website and then hover over the “Open with” option. Select “Google Docs” from the list that appears, say hocus-pocus for good measure—and in a matter of moments, Drive will convert your PDF into plain text and open it as a new Google Doc for you.

4. If marking up, highlighting, annotating, or signing an actual PDF file is what you’re after, add the DocHub app to your Google account. That’ll let you open PDFs directly from Drive, using that same “Open with” option, and then use the service’s Docs-reminiscent full-screen editor to edit your PDF in any way you want. When you’re done, you can save the file back to Drive or download it to your computer.

DocHub lets you annotate, highlight, and mark up PDFs from Drive.
DocHub lets you annotate, highlight, and mark up PDFs from Drive.

DocHub is free for basic use, with an optional $5-a-month upgrade for unlimited editing and other advanced options.

5. Maybe you have a PDF document you want to save as a JPG—or a WAV audio file you want to save as an MP3, a TIF image you want to save as a BMP, or almost any sort of file conversion imaginable. With the CloudConvert app connected to your Google account, any such process will always be a couple clicks away in that same Drive “Open with” menu. The service is free for up to 25 minutes of file converting a day and with a max file size of 1 GB; if you need more than that, you’ll have to purchase a one-time credit package or sign up for a subscription.

6. Drive now lets you edit Microsoft Office files—no specialized software or fancy conversions required. Just drag and drop the document, spreadsheet, or presentation onto the Drive website, click the file’s name in the lower-right corner of your screen once the upload has finished, and that’s it: Within a matter of seconds, the file will open in an Office Compatibility Mode editor.

7. Prefer to do your work in Docs, even when an Office file is sent your way? You’ve got it: Just click the gear-shaped icon in Drive’s upper-right corner, select “Settings,” and then check the box next to the “Convert uploaded files to Google Docs editor format” option. The next time you drop a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint file into Drive, the service will skip the Compatibility Mode interface and instead convert your Office file right into the Google Docs format and open it for you there.

8. Give your most sensitive data extra protection by telling Drive to upload your files with encryption and then require a password for future access. The secret lies within the free Secure File Encryption Drive add-on: Simply install the app, follow the steps to authorize it—and then, when you’re ready to upload something new, click the big “New” button in Drive’s upper-right corner, hover over “More,” and select “Secure File Encryption” from the menu that appears.

Protect your most sensitive files with an extra layer of encryption right within Drive.
Protect your most sensitive files with an extra layer of encryption right within Drive.

You can read more about how exactly the app works and what security methods it relies on in the developer’s FAQ.

Advanced organization

9. Google Docs lets you look back at different versions of a document, in case you need to see or restore your work from an earlier point. You can follow that same model and maintain multiple versions of any file in Google Drive—a PDF, an image, an archive, an audio file, you name it—for easy reference and later restoring. To get started, right-click (or Ctrl-click) a file in Drive and select “Manage versions.” Click the “Upload New Version” button and upload the new version of the file, then repeat that process as needed over time. Drive will show just a single file in its main interface, but when you right-click (or Ctrl-click) the file and select “Manage versions,” you’ll be able to see and download all the different versions you’ve created.

Just note that by default, only 100 older versions are saved—and older versions are deleted after 30 days. You can tell Drive to hang onto a version eternally by clicking the three-dot menu icon next to the file’s name and selecting “Keep forever” from the menu that appears.

10. Drive can color-code your folders to make different areas of your storage easily identifiable at a glance. Right-click (or Ctrl-click) any folder and look for the “Change color” option.

11. Don’t forget that in addition to being able to search for text within PDFs, Drive can find images in your storage via a keyword search. Just type whatever you’re looking for into the search box at the top of the site—”sunset,” “computer,” even a specific color such as blue—and then click the downward-facing arrow within the search box and set the “Type” field to “Photos & images.” Drive will show you every image that matches the description you entered.

Just like its cousin Photos, Google Drive can find images when you search for keywords.
Just like its cousin Photos, Google Drive can find images when you search for keywords.

12. Running out of space? Let Drive identify your biggest files so you can see what’s eating up your storage and work to clear out some room. Look for the word “Storage” on the left side of the screen and click the area directly beneath it, where your current storage total is displayed. Make sure the arrow next to “Storage used” is pointing downward on the screen that comes up next—and if it isn’t, click it once to change its direction. All of your Drive files will then appear in order of their size, starting with the largest and decreasing from there.

Smarter sharing

13. If you have a paid G Suite account, you can opt to make a file in your Drive storage available to someone else only for a limited period of time. Right-click (or Ctrl-click) the file and select “Share,” then type in the name or email address of the person with whom you want to share and click the “Send” button. Once that’s done, make your way back to that same sharing menu—and this time, click “Advanced.” See the timer icon next to the name of the person with whom you’re sharing? Click it, and you’ll be able to set a date on which their access will expire. Make sure to click the “Save changes” button once you’re done.

14. Ludicrous as it seems to any non-Luddite, faxing is occasionally still required in this digital-centric world of ours. Why keep a clunky old fax machine around, though, when you can send faxes directly from Drive? A third-party add-on called HelloFax is standing by and ready to do all the dirty work for you.

To get started, click the big “New” button in Drive’s upper-left corner, select “More,” and then “Connect more apps.” Search for “HelloFax” in the window that appears, then click the green “Connect” button and follow the steps to authorize the service.

Now, when you’re ready to send a fax, just right-click any document, PDF, or other fax-friendly file within Drive, select “Open with,” and then select “HelloFax” from the menu that appears. The app will prompt you to allow it access the first time you use it, after which you can select “Fax document” and fill out the appropriate info to get your fax underway.

If you need to send more than five faxes per month, you’ll have to either pay a per-page price or subscribe to a monthly plan—the latter of which also enables you to receive faxes by having them sent to a specific number and then forwarded to you as PDF files.

All that’s missing is the ear-piercing screech—and I think we can all agree that’s a good thing.

All Rights Reserved for JR Raphael

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