By Nate Adcock on Thu, 12/29/2011
SugarSync is a full-featured cloud backup and file syncing service (reviewed previously in our magazine by Doug Goldring here), but you can also create and edit documents on-line, play music from your synced collection, and transfer photos via iPad or other iOS device. There are clients for iOS, Android and several other mobile OS flavors, so you can sync from just about anywhere. I was specifically interested in the ability to write articles and save pictures and research to a consolidated folder I could later access on my computer. Currently, I use Evernote for the sometimes extensive article content I compile (mostly photo/text/weblink data), but it's somewhat aggravating to reformat everything for our blog editor later, so recently have taken to simply editing blog posts in raw HTML on our site (or in Notes), which is also a pain. SugarSync didn't bring my content together exactly the way I wanted, but it is a great file sync and backup product...
The sync features for the PC client are extensive, though somewhat confusing. The iPad app is pretty simple, but not really that intuitive either. Probably of all the options, I liked the web client version the best, and I must say, this is probably the most full-featured and flexible cloud storage toolset I have seen. It reminds me of a much better version of the Ubuntu One web app available for Ubuntu users (Ubuntu Linux has had cloud syncing ability built-in for years now). You get 5GB of SugarSync storage for free and with it comes a ton of features. They also offer little tutorial and incentive app alerts that allow you to get free storage additions. I wish I could integrate SS with my Windows Home Server machine to add a cloud-level, off-site, backup option.
The PC file manager client app has hooks that oddly call the browser-based app for some functions, so the client-side apps seem somewhat an afterthought. If you simply want to sync up a few files from your computer, you could easily do this from the web app, but you probably will want to run the PC installer to set up the main sync folders for your important files. Once installed, creating a synced folder is as easy as right-clicking any folder using Windows Explorer, and selecting "Add Folder to SugarSync". Weirdly the client app would not recognize my permanently USB-connected external drive where I keep all my audio/video, photos and article data. Only internal drives, including my add-on SSD drive were recognized. I was able to manually select folders on the USB drive (a Seagate model), however nothing would sync from that drive... (though the folder was created in the cloud archive)?
The SugarSync app is only 8MB in size, and it crashed more than once while running it on my iPad (1G) and iPod touch (4G). The iPad interface at a glance seems easy to navigate. The main "Files" screen is a basic display of the various device types you have connected to the service for syncing. You can access the various files/folders you have selected to sync, or quickly navigate to recent docs. Use the magic briefcase item to shortcut to quickly synced content (the briefcase is a somewhat antique sync notion from Windows of yore). You may not know you can still easily use Briefcase syncing even in Windows 7 on multiple computers natively, which will sync files between computers automatically (see this to set up Win 7 Briefcase).
You can browse SugarSynced file content by drilling down into the file system representation of your computer, much as if you are accessing it directly. Changes or additions are then synced back to your computer. The service allows you to even browse through file versions, though not from the iOS app. Photos are treated to their own icon on the menu, which is a filter for browsing photo content in the folders you have synced. It would be nice if there was a similar feature for music content as well.
Uploading photos and videos (the only file types that can be pushed up to the cloud store from iOS), is also somewhat tedious as you must select each file individually, though you can configure mobile photos to automatically sync up. The menu system also requires a somewhat aggravating to and fro between screens when adding files or editing content from iPad. You can stream supported music files from your store via a simple player plug-in. You cannot create playlists or filter music files, and cloud-synced files incompatible with the IOS plugin will not be playable (.wma for example).
When not connected to a network or in airplane mode, iPad (or whatever iOS device you are using) is still browse-able, but it doesn't really seem you can do much and I had lot's of in-app errors. I specifically selected content options to sync and access file/folder data, but docs I had synced were not accessible, and I often had unresponsive app screens. I really didn't understand the point of even allowing you to select/navigate the iPad/iPod/iPhone as a device, as seems you can't do much more than view files/folders listed, and you cannot create new documents to be synced later. Instead, I would have added a simple function in the app that allows you to store a cached copy of any document for off-line editing, and is then indicated by a flag. Maybe I need to configure something to make this work better, but did not locate any specific info detailing off-line configurations.
I understand that "everywhere doc authoring" is not really the point of this service. The main purpose is to allow you to back up and store files from your PC in a cloud archive, and maybe access them remotely. However, I would like to see much better iOS integration in the future. If you want to back up data to a cloud store in automated fashion, then SugarSync does this well, but the access to synchronized mobile content is somewhat wonky in my experience.
My overall opinion on SugarSync is that it is a good service if you are connected to your on-line file store from a PC, especially if all you need to do is sync a few mobile photos or get a quick view of a file. Personally, I will probably stick with native iCloud sync for photos and HTML content editing options using the Notes app. I'm using Google's free beta music service, which is frankly pretty awesome (think Pandora for your PC music library, but synced to the cloud). I'm going to look into integrating SugarSync with my Windows Home Server (if possible). If you need a remote way to access your on-line PC documents, then the iOS SS client will suffice, though I had some difficulty with off-line access.