7 hidden features of Google Drive


Google Drive lets you sync files on PCs, phones and Google’s servers.


I use Google Drive every day. I use it for work. I wrote this blog post in Google Docs, in fact. I use it at home, whether using Sheets to map out the summer schedule for my kids, or adding to my ever-expanding folder of recipes — it makes it easy to share favorites with friends or access needed ingredients on my phone when I’m at the grocery store. It’s hard to imagine my digital life before Google Drive.

I’ve used Drive long enough that I’ve discovered a few hidden gems along the way that make Google’s cloud service an even better tool. Here are seven features that I use that might also help you.

Kick photos out of Recent view

I turn to Google Drive’s Recent view to find the documents I’m working on this week or this month. Or, I did before I started using Google Photos to back up photos on my iPhone. Now, photos clog my Recent view, rendering it largely useless. I wish Google would give me an option to exclude photos from my Recent list of files, but until it does, you can use this workaround. In the search field, enter -jpg and all of your photos will be filtered out, letting you browse the files you’ve recently created or edited. You can use this workaround in Google Drive on the web and the mobile app.

Turn on Quick Access

This new feature adds a belt of thumbnails across the top of the My Drive view that give you, well, quick access to recently modified files. (And, thankfully, it doesn’t include photos like the Recent view does.) You’ll find a line for Quick Access in Drive’s settings. Just click the box for Make relevant files handy when you need them and then refresh the page.

Filter your searches

This one’s hiding in plain sight. In the search box at the top of Google Drive, there’s a down-arrow button along the right edge. Click it and you’ll get a panel of search options to filter your search results. If you’ve used Google Drive for years and have accumulated a large library of files, then these search options are hugely useful to narrow your results. You can filter by file type, date modified and owner. For shared documents, you can filter by someone with whom you’ve shared a file. And so you don’t leave someone hanging, you can also filter by files that have an action item assigned to you or have suggestions waiting for you in a file.

Filtering searches can save a lot of time.

Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Send links to files instead of attachments

There’s a little Drive icon at the bottom of Gmail’s compose window. It lets you attach files you have stored in Drive or simply send a link. For Google Drive formats — Docs, Sheets, Slides and so on — your only option is to send a link to the file. For other file types — PDFs, Word docs, images — you have the option of sending them as an attachment or a Drive link, which lets you share files larger than Gmail’s 25GB size limit for attachments.

Quickly clear formatting

You’ve got a few options for clearing the formatting for text you paste into Docs. You can highlight the text and select Normal text from the toolbar at the top. Or you can go to Format > Clear formatting. (For the latter, you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-, or Command- for Mac.) You can avoid the format-removal process by holding down Shift when you paste text. Yep, Ctrl-Shift-V pastes without any formatting.

One-tap phone backup

Want to back up your phone’s important data to Drive? You can! And with a single tap. On the mobile app, go to Settings > Backup and choose what you want to back up — contacts, calendar events or photos and videos (or all three). Just tap the Start Backup button to get rolling. It’ll likely take a while, so you might want to start the process overnight. Your phone will need to be plugged in and connected to Wi-Fi.


Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Sync folders on PC or Mac

You’ll soon be able to use Google Drive to backup and sync any folder on your computer, but for now, you can make the Google Drive folder appear like just another folder on your desktop instead of accessing it from a browser. Just install the Drive app for Mac or PC and head to Preferences > Sync Options and you can sync the entire My Drive folder or just certain subfolders within it. I use Google Drive on my MacBook, and the My Drive folder appears along with my local folders in Finder.

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