by Christina Warren

Now that Google Drive is finally a reality, how does it stack up against the cloud competition?

Google’s new cloud-based document and storage solution is priced aggressively and boasts best-in-class integration with other Google services — including Google Docs. As you can see from our hands-on, Google Drive is an impressive product.

Still, the cloud storage and collaboration space is more competitive than ever before. Google faces competition not just from cloud companies such as Box and Dropbox, but from Apple, Microsoft and Amazon as well.

Storage and Pricing

Google is pricing Google Drive at a VERY aggressive level. For $30 a year ($2.50 a month), users get 25GB to use for Google Drive and Picasa, plus 25GB of Gmail storage.

This is more than what Amazon and Microsoft charge for an additional 20GB, but less than the price of Dropbox, Apple and

For $60 a year ($5 a month), Google offers 100GB of Drive and Picasa storage (plus 25GB for Gmail), which clocks in below Amazon, Apple, Dropbox and For penny pinchers, Microsoft’s offer of 100GB of additional storage — on top of the 7 or 25GB that users already get with the service — is just $50 a year.

Dropbox and Box are among the more expensive services. In the case of Box, the company’s real focus is on business users. In fact, the company has told us on multiple occasions that its focus isn’t so much on Dropbox, but on Microsoft SharePoint.

A 100GB Dropbox account costs more than three times what a Google Drive account costs. In this area, Google is clearly trying to undermine its competition on a per-GB pricing basis.

Box’s pricing is also significantly higher than Google Drive; however, that differentiation is also part of the company’s focus. As Box has told us on multiple occasions, it wants to replace Microsoft SharePoint in the SMB and Enterprise space. While Google is also looking in this direction, Box has a bevy of services and integrations that are focused on replacing a company’s central file server.

Upload Limit

The most limiting factor of the majority of cloud storage and collaboration services isn’t the total amount of storage — it’s the limitations on upload size.

Google has an impressive 10GB limit on files or folders. This is significantly more than the 2GB limit imposed by most cloud services. Only Dropbox’s desktop apps for Mac, Windows and Linux do better. With Dropbox, the only limitation is the size of a storage plan.

Collaboration and Sharing

Like Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Box, Google Drive offers in-browser access to files and folders, including document editing via Google Docs.

And like SkyDrive, Box and iCloud, third-party applications can plug into Google Drive to retrieve or store files. This makes keeping apps synchronized across devices and platforms much more seamless.

Mobile Integration

Although Google Drive’s Android app is already around, Google is making iOS users wait for access to the app. This is in contrast to Dropbox, Box and SkyDrive, which all offer official or unofficial solutions for multiple mobile platforms.

Amazon and Apple are behind in the mobile access game. Apple makes iCloud exclusively available to iOS 5 users, and Amazon’s Cloud Drive only integrates with Android (and the integration is limited at that).

Desktop Integration

Part of the reason that Dropbox has such a loyal following is because of its fantastic Desktop integration. Mac, Windows and Linux users can automatically sync and share files from their native file systems without having to bother with desktop uploads.

This is a similar approach to the one Box has taken with its Box Sync service for Windows, and to what Microsoft employs for SkyDrive for Windows and Mac.

Google Drive’s desktop app works essentially the same as SkyDrive — in other words, it isn’t as tightly coupled with the file system as Dropbox, but it does the job.

Final Thoughts

Which cloud storage service an individual or business decides to use is a decision that should encompass more than just comparing specs and pricing. Take time to use a service and see how it integrates into your workflow before plunking down cash on an upgrade.

For users and businesses heavily tied to Google Docs, Google Drive will likely make sense. For those that love Dropbox or need some of Box’s more robust features, Google Drive might not fit the bill. For Microsoft Office users, consider giving Microsoft SkyDrive a try — it works well and also offers online access to basic web and editing apps.

Ultimately, neither offering from Apple nor Amazon is likely to compete with Google Drive — the products are focused on different use cases.

We’d also like to give Canonical’s Ubuntu One a shout-out. We didn’t include it in our direct comparison because of its more limited options, but for Windows and Ubuntu users, its free service is worth a look as well.

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