How to use some of Dropbox's new and more advanced features, plus a guide to getting started with the cloud storage service.
The days of solely relying on physical devices for storage are disappearing. USB drives and the like still have their place, but cloud storage is becoming increasingly vital for sharing data with colleagues and clients, as well as between our own devices – such as laptops, tablets and smartphones.
There’s no shortage of options, including Google Drive, Microsoft’s One Drive and Box, just to name a few. However, cloud storage pioneer Dropbox is still extremely popular, with 500 million users.
Dropbox makes it easy to synchronise a folder on your computer with your cloud account and other devices that access that account. However, Dropbox has been steadily added features each year, and while it’s still simple to use, it’s evolved well beyond the basic app it used to be.
To help you use Dropbox to its full potential, here are six handy tips and tricks, plus a guide for newcomers.
Feel free to skip this section if you’re an experienced Dropbox user. But for others, the first step is to set up an account at dropbox.com. If you already have a Google account, you can use this to quickly as you sign up for an account. A basic free account includes 2GB of storage.
If you need more storage, a pro account costs $139 per year and boosts your storage to 1TB, while adding a number of additional features, such as priority support.
If you have a large team, there’s also a business account option that gives you access to unlimited storage, along with more advanced administrative tools, the ability to integrate with Microsoft Active Directory, and unlimited file recovery.
The next step is to download the desktop app for your PC or Mac. Once this is set up, your Dropbox will appear as a folder on your desktop, and you will be able to manage the files in your account as you would any other file on your computer.
This means you can drag and drop, copy, paste and delete files, or save documents to your Dropbox as you normally would with any other folder.
The next step, allowing you to access the files in your Dropbox on your smartphone or tablet, is to download a mobile app. You can do this from the Apple App Store, Google Play, Windows Store or BlackBerry.
You can also log on to your account through dropbox.com and view all your files from your web browser.
Once you're up and running, you're ready to tackle these more advanced tips:
1. Collaborate on documents with Paper
Using Dropbox's web app, you can also easily share files with others. But for more advanced collaboration, Dropbox have recently added a new feature called Paper, which allows teams to work together on a document at the same time.
When you start a new document in Paper, you’re given a blank document that you can type on. By clicking on a plus icon on the top left hand corner, you can embed photos, videos, charts, Dropbox documents, checklists and other content.
To format text, just highlight it and then select the formatting option you’re after.
By clicking the share button in the top right hand corner of the screen, you can invite another user to join in with you in editing the document.
2. Open Dropbox files in Office 365 using your web browser
Collaborating in Paper is fine for some projects, but sometimes you need to work together with your colleagues on a Word or Excel document.
The good news is that if you already have both Office 365 and Dropbox, it’s easy to do with Chrome, Firefox, Microsoft Edge or another desktop browser.
First, login to dropbox.com, and click on any Word, PowerPoint or Excel (.xlsx, .docx, .pptx) file to open it.
At the top-right-hand corner of the screen, next to the open button, there will be a button titled ‘Open’. If there’s an arrow next to it, click on the arrow, but otherwise click the button itself. If you clicked the down arrow, select “Microsoft Word/Excel/PowerPoint Online”.
You should be taken to a screen that asks “Microsoft Office Online would like access to only the specific files you select”. Click allow. Your document should now open in Office 365.
3. Open Dropbox files in Office 365 from your smartphone
If you’re away from your desk, you can collaborate on Dropbox documents using your Android or Apple smartphone or tablet. Here’s how you set it up.
First, open your Dropbox mobile app and select any file, then tap the edit button.
If you don’t already have Word, PowerPoint and Excel installed, you will be taken to either the Apple App Store or Google Play to download it. Tap the Install button.
Once the download has finished, go back to the Dropbox app. If there’s a ‘Next’ button on your screen tap on it, otherwise select the file again and tap ‘Edit’.
You should be prompted to allow the document to be opened in Word, Excel or PowerPoint. Tap the ‘Accept’ or ‘Okay’ button.
You will then be taken to the Word, Excel or PowerPoint app, where you might be prompted to log into your Office365 account. Fill in your name and password to log in. Your document should now open.
When you’re done, just tap the back arrow to save, and you will be taken back to Dropbox.
While the setup might be a little tedious, the good news is from now on editing an Office document will now be as easy as selecting a file and tapping edit.
4. Create a PDF, using your smartphone as a scanner
When you’re using the Dropbox app on your iPhone or Android smartphone, you might notice a little plus sign at the bottom-right-hand-corner of the screen. One of the options that should appear is ‘scan document’.
Tap it and you’ll see two options. The first allows you to take a photo using your smartphone, and the second allows you to use an existing photo you’ve previously saved to your phone.
As you take a photo, a blue border should appear around the item you’re focusing on. Make sure your document isn’t either crumpled up or reflecting too much glare.
After you either take or choose a photograph, you will be taken to an edit screen.
To make adjustments to the photo, just tap the icon with three sliders at the bottom-middle of the screen. You can then adjust the scan area by moving the blue dots, or select a filter at the bottom. (This can be useful if you want to make your document more readable by capturing it in black and white only.)
When you’re finished making changes, tap ‘Done’ at the top-right-hand corner of the screen.
If you’re scanning a book and need to capture multiple pages, just tap the icon at the bottom-left-hand corner of the screen with multiple pages and a cross.
Once you have all the photos you need, tap the arrange button at the top to order them how you would like.
Once you’re done, tap next at the top-right-hand-corner of the screen, and you should be taken to a screen where you can name your file and save it.
5. Save client tax returns in Xero Tax to Dropbox
If you run an accounting firm, it’s possible to use Dropbox to store and share your clients' tax returns.
To set it up, go to the Business tab in Xero, and then click Settings.
Scroll down until you see a heading called ‘Connections’ and click on Dropbox.
Enter your Dropbox username and password, then click ‘Sign In’ and ‘Allow’.
Once you’re set up, go to the Tax tab and click Returns, then select a client. You should be taken to the return's Overview screen.
Within Xero, you should see a Print button. Click it, select the items from that return you want to save into Dropbox, then click the ‘Save to Dropbox’ button.
The file will be saved in a folder called ‘Apps’, in a subfolder called ‘Xero Tax’, under the name of the client and year.
6. Create an app using Dropbox's APIs
Is there a feature you can think of that Dropbox is missing? Maybe you have an idea for an app that enhances the service?
Or, perhaps your business has an app that you would like to integrate with Dropbox in some way? For example, it might be convenient for your customers to be able to use a photo or files from their Dropbox account in your app, or save files a from your app directly to their account in the same way as Xero Tax.
If so, the good news is that Dropbox now has a whole website dedicated to helping users develop add-ons that use Dropbox’s application programming interfaces (APIs).
The site includes an API Explorer that allows you to test out your ideas using Dropbox’s APIs, along with app console to make it quick and easy to get your app idea off the ground.
If you're not a developer, you're bound to find someone in the thriving Dropbox developer community who would be happy to turn your idea into reality.