Cloud

How to use the Dropbox Paper cloud-based collaboration tool

Is Dropbox Paper the cloud collaboration tool of your dreams? Maybe not in its beta version, but Jack Wallen says it's still impressive and worth a try.

paperhero.jpg
Image: Jack Wallen

There's a good reason why Dropbox has been synonymous with cloud storage...the product is quite good. As of May 2016, Dropbox had staggering usage: over 500 million users worldwide, 200,000 business users, and a 1.2 billion daily file upload count. But up until now, collaboration with Dropbox was limited to file sharing. That ends with the release of Dropbox Paper.

With Dropbox Paper your teams are (as it were) on the same page. Collaboration is simple with document creation, comments, task tracking, file feedback, and more. The app is currently in beta, but you can kick the tires before it gets a full release.

To use Dropbox Paper you must have the official Dropbox app installed and be logged into your Dropbox account. You can also use Dropbox Paper from within a web browser by heading to the official site and logging in with your Dropbox account. Let's install Dropbox Paper and see what the app has to offer.

Installing Dropbox Paper

  1. Open the Google Play Store on your Android device (it is also available for iOS).
  2. Search for Dropbox Paper.
  3. Locate and tap the entry by Dropbox.
  4. Tap Install.
  5. Tap Accept.
  6. Allow the installation to complete.

Once installed, locate the launcher in either your App Drawer or on your home screen, tap it, tap Sign In With Dropbox, and tap the Dropbox account to use for Paper. That's it—you're ready to collaborate.

Using Dropbox Paper

On the Dropbox Paper main window (Figure A), you'll notice your Dropbox files aren't there—that is intentional because you're effectively starting from scratch; you can't even import documents and files from your Dropbox account.

Figure A

Figure A
Image: Jack Wallen
Dropbox Paper running on the OnePlus 3.

The first thing you will do is create a document. Tap the + button, give the document a name, and type something under the title (Figure B). Tap the check, and the document will be saved.

Figure B

Figure B
Image: Jack Wallen
Creating a new document in Dropbox Paper.

Next, you'll want to share the new document with collaborators. Tap the Share button (directly left of the star icon in the top toolbar) and then type the email addresses of those you want to collaborate with. Tap the Send button, and the collaborators will be notified. Everyone you invite to collaborate will be able to join the Dropbox Paper beta program. Collaborators can opt to immediately view (and collaborate on) the document from within the Dropbox Paper browser window.

Keep in mind that the document editor is minimal; in fact, it should be called a text editor and not a document editor. There isn't even the mechanism by which you can upload full-fledged documents into Paper. But, this is beta, and my guess is that the goal is to bundle Paper into Dropbox for one, cloud-based, file sync/sharing, collaboration tool. If that's the case, Dropbox is certainly going the right route.

As your collaborators work on the document, their changes/additions will appear (Figure C).

Figure C

Figure C
Image: Jack Wallen
Changes being made to a shared document.

One nice feature is the ability to drag and drop images from your desktop file manager into a document on the web-based edition of Paper. If you don't have a supported file manager available, you can open the document for editing, tap where you want to add the image in the document, tap the popup + button, and select the image icon from the popout menu (Figure D).

Figure D

Figure D
Image: Jack Wallen
Adding an image on the web-based edition of Paper.

You can also add photos from the mobile app by tapping the edit button (once you have the document open) and then tapping the image icon (Figure E).

Figure E

Figure E
Image: Jack Wallen
Adding an image from the mobile Paper app.

The web-based edition of Paper offers more features—you can add comments, insert code, strike-through content, add tables, insert from Dropbox, and more. So when you're kicking the tires of Dropbox Paper, make sure to give the web version a go before you shrug off the lesser mobile app.

Is Dropbox Paper worth your time?

When you consider that Dropbox Paper is still in beta, it's impressive. I like where Dropbox is going with this, but until they roll all the features found in the web edition into the mobile edition, the tool feels pretty limited. However, if the intention is to merge Dropbox and Dropbox Paper into one tool, this could be an early glance at something very special.

If you're looking for a way to collaborate on simple documents with others, and you're already a Dropbox user, give Paper a try and see if it doesn't wind up your default cloud-based collaboration tool.

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website jackwallen.com.

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