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Google caters for dozens of our on­line needs, but is it the best at all of them? No, says Barry Collins, who nds eight bet­ter al­ter­na­tives

The same way Mi­crosoft lever­aged Win­dows to hook us on to the other prod­ucts in its port­fo­lio, so Google uses search to drag us to­wards its other ser­vices. But are all of them best in class? No, not even close.

We’ve scoured through Google’s ex­ten­sive reper­toire of soft­ware and ser­vices and tested them against ri­vals in each mar­ket. If you’ve been sucked into the Google way of do­ing things, here’s your es­cape route.


Chrome is the rst app many peo­ple in­stall on a new PC, but there are bet­ter al­ter­na­tives – and one of them is con­ve­niently built on the same browser en­gine.

Vi­valdi runs on Chromium, the open-source en­gine that sits un­der­neath Chrome. That has one big ad­van­tage: ac­cess to the Chrome Web Store. All the ex­ten­sions you’ve grown ac­cus­tomed to in Chrome can also be in­stalled for Vi­valdi.

Vi­valdi’s much more than Chrome with a fresh lick of paint, though. It pro­vides a tremen­dous set of tools for power users – peo­ple who want a browser to do much more than house their book­marks and pass­words.

Found your­self 20 links deep in a web­site and don’t want to press Back 20 times to ght your way back to its home­page? Vi­valdi’s Rewind but­ton – just along from the reg­u­lar Back but­ton – will quickly get you back to the start of the do­main.

The browser’s Notes fea­ture is a bless­ing for those of us who spend hours re­search­ing stuff on­line. High­light a pas­sage of text in the browser, right-click to Copy To Note, and you’ve got a last­ing, search­able ref­er­ence saved, along with a link to the orig­i­nal piece should you ever need to re­fer back.

The browser even has its own Task Man­ager, al­low­ing you to squelch trou­ble­some tabs with­out drag­ging the rest of the browser down with it.

Vi­valdi is supremely cus­tomis­able, has a strong eth­i­cal bent and doesn’t try to force you down Google tun­nels at ev­ery turn like Chrome does. The only se­ri­ous down­side is that Vi­valdi is yet to re­lease its promised mo­bile ver­sion, mak­ing cross-de­vice browser sync im­pos­si­ble.


Google Pho­tos has un­de­ni­able strengths, es­pe­cially if you’re an An­droid user. A seam­lessly backed up copy of ev­ery photo or video you take on your


smart­phone might be worth it for that alone.

But there are al­ter­na­tives, with Flickr our top pick. It’s in the midst of tran­si­tion to new own­ers, af­ter years of ne­glect at the hands of Ya­hoo, but one of the few good things it did for Flickr was give ev­ery cus­tomer 1TB of free on­line stor­age for their pho­tos. This dwarfs the free quota of stor­age pro­vided by Google Pho­tos, which is shared with Drive, Gmail and any other Google ser­vices you may use. Af­ter more than a decade of pick­ing up tit­bits of free stor­age here and there, my Google stor­age quota still stands at only 17GB – al­most 60 times less space than what Flickr’s hand­ing out.

Google’s Snapseed (avail­able on both An­droid and iOS) is un­de­ni­ably bril­liant for a free photo-edit­ing app, of­fer­ing al­most all the tools a ca­sual-grade tin­kerer would want. If your am­bi­tions are loftier and you’re look­ing for a Pho­to­shop­grade tool, the Af nity Photo app for iOS (only com­pat­i­ble with high-end iPads) is as­ton­ish­ingly pow­er­ful for a rea­son­able $79.45. Pay care­ful at­ten­tion to the bun­dled video tu­to­ri­als, though, par­tic­u­larly those on sav­ing and ex­port­ing les; for all its strengths, Af nity has a pe­cu­liar way of han­dling les and op­er­at­ing some com­mon tools.


When they write the book on how jour­nal­ism was mur­dered, Google News will be amongst the chief sus­pects. Turn­ing once re­spected publi­ca­tions into click-chasers, Google’s tight bundling of News into its main search en­gine is the rea­son why you’ll see ev­ery ma­jor news­pa­per site now writ­ing sto­ries about what hours Tesco keeps on Bank Hol­i­days, just to make sure they’re fun­nelling enough traf c to their sites.

The stand­alone Google News site (news. google.com) is a poorly for­mat­ted mess. The one thing we do still like about it is a re­cent con­ver­sion to sup­port­ing proper jour­nal­ism cour­tesy of its Fact Check sec­tion, where you’ll nd links to ar­ti­cles such as “What does im­mi­gra­tion do to wages?” – a re ex­tin­guisher to the ames that Google it­self started by re­ward­ing in am­ma­tory click­bait.

Flip­board (both an app and a web­site at ip­board.com) is our pick for a more per­son­alised news stream. It both asks for your in­ter­ests up front and learns them as you go along, pre­sent­ing a tai­lored stream of head­lines in an at­trac­tive, mag­a­zinestyle for­mat. Once trained, it’s very good at

piquing your in­ter­est with sto­ries you’d be un­likely to find on a reg­u­lar news trawl.


It’s hard to be too crit­i­cal of Google Drive when it hands you a free buck­et­ful of gi­ga­bytes for stor­age, but it’s not the best in the busi­ness.

We use a paid-for ver­sion of Google Drive to share files for the pro­duc­tion of this very mag­a­zine, but its less-than-flaw­less syn­chro­ni­sa­tion means that older files linger on peo­ple’s ma­chines. It also wants to fun­nel you into the Google way of do­ing things. Doc­u­ment ver­sion his­tory is much eas­ier to man­age if you’re us­ing Google Docs for text-based doc­u­ments rather than Word files, for in­stance.

Drop­box re­mains the king of cloud stor­age in our ex­pe­ri­ence. No ser­vice is per­fect, but we can’t re­mem­ber the last time we had a se­ri­ous sync er­ror, and even if things do go miss­ing, Drop­box makes it eas­ier than Drive to re­store an old ver­sion and fish out an ac­ci­den­tally deleted file.

Drop­box also has much wider sup­port for third-party in­te­gra­tions. If an app of­fers cloud stor­age for its files, it will al­most al­ways sup­port Drop­box. The same can’t be said of Google Drive.

If you’re a Drop­box fan but work in an or­gan­i­sa­tion that uses Google Drive, you can get the best of both worlds. The bril­liant Cloud HQ (cloudhq.net) lets you sync a Drop­box folder with one on Google Drive. We’ve been us­ing it for over two years now. In that time, the only prob­lem we had was when we tem­po­rar­ily hit our stor­age limit on Drop­box and the sync failed to re­sume au­to­mat­i­cally when files were cleared, but there are un­der­stand­able rea­sons for that.


Google Maps is the def­i­ni­tion of a generic brand – it’s al­most ev­ery­one’s go-to ser­vice when they need to find where that restau­rant is or want di­rec­tions on their phone. And it’s good, no ques­tion.

But there are bet­ter ser­vices out there, one of them Google-owned. Waze is a bet­ter op­tion for turn-by-turn nav­i­ga­tion on your smart­phone. It has sev­eral ad­van­tages over Google Maps: the abil­ity to plan mul­ti­ple jour­neys in ad­vance and get a no­ti­fi­ca­tion when it’s time to leave; Spo­tify in­te­gra­tion in the Waze in­ter­face, mean­ing you don’t have to skip be­tween apps at traf­fic lights to change your playlist; and an unerring abil­ity to di­vert you around traf­fic jams be­ing chief


amongst them. We’re some­what baf ed why Google Maps and Waze still co-ex­ist. Surely it makes lit­tle sense for Google to prop up two sat­nav apps? Let’s hope we’re not tempt­ing fate.

Where both Google Maps and Waze fall down is pin­point ac­cu­racy. Try and meet some­one in the mid­dle of Hyde Park, on a beach in Surfer’s or half way up a hill in the Blue Moun­tains, and Google’s wares are about as much use as a puffer jacket in a sauna. What3­words breaks the en­tire globe into a grid of 3 x 3m squares and gives each of them a three-word name.

So, if you’ve set down your pic­nic blan­ket in Hyde Park and want to di­rect friends to your pre­cise patch, tell them to open what3­words, search for “moss.jelly.payer” and they’ll be there in ve.


We’ll square with you – we put Keep on our list and then went to play with it again, just to check it hadn’t got any bet­ter since we last ddled with Google’s todo-list-cum-note­taker. We were pleas­antly sur­prised to nd it had im­proved, with fea­tures such as timed re­minders for to-do items now ap­pear­ing in Google Cal­en­dar and a new Chrome ex­ten­sion for quickly clip­ping things you’ve found on the web.

Still, it’s not quite as good as long­stand­ing to-do list apps. Our cur­rent favourite is Todoist, which has apps for all the ma­jor plat­forms and a web in­ter­face to boot. Todoist’s great strength is its cat­e­gori­sa­tion: to-do tasks can be as­signed to dif­fer­ent projects, al­low­ing you to see all the jobs you have yet to com­plete on a speci c job and a chrono­log­i­cal list of to-dos across all of your projects.

En­ter­ing tasks is a dod­dle, once you get used to Todoist’s syn­tax. En­ter “Write col­umn Tues­day #PCTA” for ex­am­ple, and it will au­to­mat­i­cally add a task to write col­umn in the PCTA projects folder with a dead­line of Tues­day. There’s no faf ng around with fancy drop­down menus to set the date like there is with some other to-do-lis­ters.

Re­minders are synced to your Google cal­en­dar if you sign in with your Google ac­count, and you can also add to-do items from Alexa or Google As­sis­tant. Some ad­vanced fea­tures are pre­mium ($5.00 per month), but we get by with the free­bie ver­sion.



Play Mu­sic has one long-stand­ing trump card: it lets you up­load your per­sonal mu­sic li­brary to Google’s cloud, giv­ing you ac­cess to that ob­scure AC-DC boot­leg al­bum you bought on CD in 1992 wher­ever you may be.

But that’s as far as its ap­peal goes. There’s no freemium model, as there is with Spo­tify, al­low­ing you to play songs from the li­brary in ex­change for the oc­ca­sional au­dio ad. And it doesn’t have any­where near as many per­son­al­i­sa­tion fea­tures as Spo­tify for sub­scribers. For ex­am­ple, Spo­tify’s Daily Mixes pro­vide a never-end­ing, per­son­alised stream of mu­sic from dif­fer­ent gen­res that are per­fect for back­ground mu­sic, whether you’re work­ing in the of­fice or wash­ing the car.

Google also of­fers lit­tle in the way of ex­clu­sive con­tent, while you’ll find a reg­u­lar (ahem) stream of “Spo­tify Sin­gles” from big-name artists, where they’ve made live stu­dio record­ings ex­clu­sively for Spo­tify sub­scribers.


There’s not a lot wrong with Google Cal­en­dar as a ser­vice. And af­ter many years of leav­ing the web in­ter­face to rot, a re­cent re­vamp means Cal­en­dar fi­nally looks like a modern web app, not a con­tem­po­rary of Du­ran Du­ran.

Still, you can do bet­ter. In fact, you could do a lot worse than the Cal­en­dar app for Win­dows 10 when it comes to manag­ing mul­ti­ple cal­en­dars. The month view is clearly pre­sented, with ap­point­ments from dif­fer­ent cal­en­dars colour coded for ex­tra clar­ity. The weather fore­cast em­bed­ded into the cal­en­dar is a thought­ful touch if you have an ex­ter­nal meet­ing or an out­door event that could be im­per­illed by the Great British Sum­mer.

The Add Cal­en­dars fea­ture tucked away at the bot­tom of the screen is an­other valu­able ad­di­tion. This lets you drag in fix­tures from var­i­ous sports leagues or events. At the time of writ­ing, for ex­am­ple, you could add the foot­ball World Cup fix­tures and make sure you cleared your diary for Aus­tralia’s matches.

All man­ner of sports are cov­ered and you can drag in fix­tures for your favourite team.

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