Dropbox Paper Review: Is It Good Enough?

Dozens of products have popped up in the past decade to solve a difficult problem for modern offices: collaboration.

Dropbox Paper joined the fray a few years ago, and it has undergone some recent upgrades, seeking to become a more viable option for the busy office.

It doesn’t quite offer the same structure to its interface as do other collaboration tools. Some people will love this freedom. Some will hate it.

Once you gain the hang of the interface and how to make the most of it, though, we think you’ll appreciate it.

To understand just how Dropbox Paper works and how it can fit into a busy office setting, we’ve broken down this collaborative tool.

Dropbox Paper overview

Dropbox Paper enables communication and collaboration on projects you create in the program.

With Dropbox Paper, users have some freedom in how they create documents within various projects, along with tracking deadlines, assignments, and milestones. It offers the ability to create very basic word processing documents or presentations, and its ability to incorporate images, video, and audio within documents is impressive.

Sharing links to documents and invitations to participate in projects is a relatively easy process when using Dropbox Paper, further showing off its strength in collaboration.

Dropbox Paper pricing and plans

One of the best parts of Dropbox Paper is that it’s free to use after you create an account. You’ll have to endure significant limitations on your storage capacity if you’re using the free version only. But if you have a paid Dropbox account already, Paper is free with that account, using storage limitations that match your Dropbox tier.

We’ve listed the four Dropbox pricing tiers here, and Paper is free to use within each one.

Dropbox Plus

  • $9.99 per month when billed annually
  • Primarily for individuals
  • 2 TB of storage space
  • Text search within documents
  • Sync the account across an unlimited number of devices

Dropbox Professional

  • $16.58 per month when billed annually
  • Primarily for individuals
  • 3 TB of storage space
  • Advances sharing controls for files
  • Smart Sync storage optimization

Dropbox Standard

  • $12.50 per user per month when billed annually (5 users minimum)
  • Primarily for business teams
  • 5 TB of storage space
  • Includes HIPAA compliance
  • Includes account transfer tool

Dropbox Advanced

  • $20 per user per month when billed annually (5 users minimum)
  • Primarily for business teams
  • Unlimited storage space
  • Tiered administrative roles
  • Includes audit logs

Dropbox Paper key features

  • Develop multiple individual projects, setting milestone dates within them
  • Easy to invite others to collaborate on projects
  • Create to-do lists and assign due dates
  • Tag others on the project with the @ sign
  • Monitor all deadlines through a visual calendar or chart for simple tracking
  • Insert links to other Dropbox Paper documents and files
  • Create documents with multiple types of integrated media, going beyond simple text with images, audio, and video
  • Sync document changes within the project page
  • Make edits to documents in real time for all team members to see
  • Leave attributions connected to each person’s edit
  • Leave comments within a document
  • Make use of any of multiple templates to help you start

What makes Dropbox Paper different?

Beyond its easy to use collaboration tools, the best individual feature of the Dropbox Paper is its interface. Versus other collaborative programs, the Paper interface provides a lot of freedom for users looking to create documents, calendars, to-do lists, and projects with various milestones that need tracking.

Now, some people won’t like this type of interface. They may prefer more guidance and step-by-step instruction for setting up their projects and documents.

However, Dropbox Paper simplifies the process of adding media files into your documents and projects versus some of its competitors, which is what sets it apart.

Here are some of the pluses and minuses for businesses considering Dropbox Paper.

Dropbox Paper pros

Similar desktop and mobile versions

Jumping from the desktop (web-based) version of Dropbox Paper to the mobile version, you’ll appreciate that both versions are fairly similar. That’ll make you far more effective when working, because you won’t have to learn two different interfaces.

Given the strengths of both the mobile and desktop app, you should be able to use Paper successfully on just about any device.

We prefer the desktop version, just because it’s easier to select text and make significant edits on the larger screen. But the mobile version is still useful for tracking changes and keeping in touch with project stakeholders when you’re not in the office.

Uncluttered interface provides freedom

We chose to put the freedom of the Dropbox Paper interface into the pros column, fully understanding that for some people, the lack of structure in the interface will be a negative. If you’re looking for an interface that has a bit more structure, and you can get it with something like Google Docs or Microsoft 365, Paper probably won’t appeal to you.

When you open Dropbox Paper, it literally looks like a blank sheet of paper. Formatting menus and other controls are not immediately visible until you begin working and highlight some text or a photo. You can lay out each project page in a way that makes the most sense for your needs, which is perfect for folks who want maximum flexibility.

Embed code and media files

You’ll discover one advantage of Dropbox Paper versus some of its competitors when you begin to insert audio, video, and image files into your projects and documents. Just insert a URL to the media file, and Paper automatically embeds it. Paper offers extensive integration with services and websites like YouTube, Vimeo, Soundcloud, and Spotify, which is extremely helpful for quickly adding media files.

For documents or projects that require several images, Paper automatically creates a gallery of your images after you upload them, keeping them organized.

For developers, Paper simplifies the process of adding snippets of code into the projects and documents–for example, if you need feedback on a piece of code.

Overall, this process is a bit easier in Paper than it is with programs like Google Docs or Microsoft 365.

Strong collaboration features

You would expect a collaboration tool like Dropbox to simplify adding others to your projects, and you’d be correct. Just click the “Invite” button on the page, and you can add anyone to your project, regardless of whether they’re using Paper currently. (To collaborate, they’ll have to sign up for a Dropbox account if they don’t have one.)

Once you have a project up and running, others who are part of your group can see edits and messages in real time. You can leave specific messages for your team members, and you can assign individuals certain tasks. Any member can make edits or comments on the documents and project.

Paper integrates well with services like Trello and Slack for extra collaboration functionality.

Dropbox Paper cons

Rudimentary document formatting tools

For those who want to create documents and presentations that have a polished look to them, Dropbox Paper will be a huge disappointment. Multiple fonts are not available. You’re primarily limited to making changes in text sizes and adding bold, underlined, or italic text.

The program doesn’t even offer a simple spell check feature, so we’d hesitate to create important business documents in Paper. You’re better off creating your documents in word processors with a larger number of formatting features and then importing those files into Paper, or exporting your Paper documents into a better word processor to add the final touches.

Its presentation creation feature isn’t much better. It’s made primarily for simple presentations, as it’s difficult to control the screen layout.

In short, if you want to create documents in Paper, it should be for basic collaboration and the fleshing out of ideas, rather than for desktop publishing.

No going back to previous versions

Dropbox Paper does not save old versions of your documents or projects, so if someone on the team makes an editing change you don’t like, there’s no way to revert to a previously saved version and pretend the edit didn’t happen.

This is a major drawback in a program that’s made for collaboration, because so many different people are able to make changes without restrictions.

Not outstanding in any one area

Probably our biggest peeve with Dropbox Paper is that it doesn’t offer any capability you can’t get from its competitors. It even has a few that lag behind competing solutions.

We’d feel better about recommending Paper if we could point to one or two unique tools or features, but there just aren’t any. The clean, uncluttered interface comes closest, but its lack of structure is a disappointment for enough people that we can’t call it a must-have tool.

There is very little reason to switch to Dropbox Paper from other tools you may already be using, such as Google Docs, because of this lack of differentiation. On the other hand, if you don’t currently use a collaboration tool, and you’re already paying for Dropbox, then Paper is worth considering.

Wrap up: Here’s what we’d recommend

Should you use it?

Dropbox Paper does leave much to be desired in terms of word processing features, but its minimalist feel will appeal to some. Want an interface that offers plenty of flexibility in collaborating with coworkers? This is Paper’s greatest strength.

Who should use it?

It’s ideal for non-writers and groups who want to collaborate in real time. Those who want to work regularly with images, videos, and other media files will appreciate the ease with which you can embed files in Paper. If you find other collaborative software tools too restrictive, you’ll benefit from the freedom that Paper provides users. And if your organization makes regular use of a paid version of Dropbox, you might as well take advantage of the ability to collaborate in docs within the same environment.

Who should avoid it?

If you’re looking to produce beautifully formatted, polished documents, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. Its document creation capabilities–again, not even including a spell check feature–are basic. Google Docs and other G Suite services offer many of the same features as Paper for collaboration, and then some. Read our full review of G Suite here.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira