So I have been testing the new offline (i.e. the ability to access your docs when you have no Internet coverage) capabilities of Google Docs over the last week on my trusty Asus EEE PC. This seemed like the ideal device for me to do the test on as it is so obviously designed for documents on the go.
Google Docs has been around for a while now and is being constantly updated. This latest update allows some offline capability but there are still some gaps as you will see. Unlike Google Reader where the offline synchronisation process has to be manually initiated, with Google Docs it is done automatically in the background. This copies the information required for offline working to your device ready for when you are away from an Internet connection. One thing I cannot find out is how much disk space this offline cache uses. For most this will be an irrelevant concern but for me with the limited storage on a 2G EEE it is something of a worry.
There follows an overview of the offline functionality available with each Google Doc type.
This is the most fully featured area of the offering in that you can update as well as view and this works well. In fact you wouldn’t really know that you were offline at all as pretty much everything operates as it does when you are connected. There are a few things that you cannot do offline, insert pictures for example, but on the whole it is all very impressive.
There are, however, a few niggles and the major one for me is the amount of screen real estate that is given over to the offline warning message (see below), a problem that is exacerbated by the small screen size of the EEE. I hope that Google will in a forthcoming release change this message so that it can be dismissed as once you have read it on document opening there really is no need to see it all the time.
The other thing to be aware of is that you can only edit existing documents – it isn’t possible to create a new blank document to work on. I am assuming that there is a technical reason for this and, again, it will be corrected in a future update. At present all you can do is have the foresight to create a blank document ready for this offline use.
I also had problems with the save process not appearing to complete when offline but when I synchronised found that it had in fact saved all the document.
Open a spreadsheet and again you wouldn’t know that you are offline as the data is presented in exactly the same way as when you are online. However, it is not possible to edit the data only to view it and on closer inspection only the raw values have been brought down for offline viewing so you cannot examine any underlying formula that might have been used to create a value.
For me offline spreadsheets are the most limited. One of the most useful things of using a spreadsheet is the ability to perform calculations and, at present, this isn’t possible but again this is planned by Google.
The final area is presentations and again it is a view only offering but here this is perfect for when you want to give a presentation and you cannot rely on a connection. This was an ideal compromise for me and it was very quick in use.
The only other changes are in the file management page where a number of options are unavailable when in offline mode, such as creating a new item, uploading and sharing. The only other changes are some visible notifications of the connection and synchronisation status and an indication of whether a document has been edited offline.
All in all this is a pretty impressive addition to Google Docs and the word processor is particularly useful as it has the ability to amend existing documents. As noted more screen real estate would be useful but that would simply be the icing on the cake.