Dropbox Paper: Does it Live Up to the Hype?

Meet Dropbox Paper, a Google Doc-esque collaborative document editing service. Dropbox Paper is Dropbox’s newest innovation, a result of its acquisition of Hackpad back in 2014. Dropbox has recently been pushing towards increased collaboration and is trying to expand beyond simple document storage (if you’re an Office 365 user, you may have noticed the Dropbox “badge” in Word, PowerPoint, and Excel). Dropbox Paper was the logical next step, and they did a great job.

Dropbox Paper’s main claim to fame is its elegant simplicity. If you’re looking for a word processor with powerful text-editing features and customizability, you might be disappointed. While all the basics are there (bulleted lists, tables, bold, italics, etc.) there is only one font with three size options. But that’s the beauty of it. I personally spend 5 minutes each time I create a new Word document or Google Doc making it look nice (adjusting font, spacing, etc.) Dropbox Paper takes care of this for you; each document you create looks beautiful at all points in the process.

Convenience is also an enormous factor; for teams who use Dropbox (like mine), Dropbox paper is the perfect way to collaborate directly in the environment you’re used to. My team creates dozens of Google Docs each week out of necessity. Now, half of my company-related files are in Dropbox, and the other half are in Google Drive (although Meta's instant cross-platform search makes this is a non-issue).

Without further ado, here’s what Dropbox Paper does right:

No distractions

When you create a Dropbox Paper Doc, you are met with a clean and simple title page with only two options: “Give me a name,” “And start writing.” A literal clean slate. Recently, Dropbox has gotten a bit more creative with its new Docs (“Name your composition…Or we’ll name it for you” and “I’m sorry, Dave…I’m afraid I can't do that” are my personal favorites).

The basics

With Dropbox Paper, all the functionality you need is right at your fingertips - no more wading through complex menus to find what you need. Hovering your cursor over the left margin will cause a “plus” button to appear. When you click it, you'll have the option to upload a photo, insert a file directly from Dropbox, create a table, list, divider, or snippet of code. To format text (bold, strikethrough, header), create a list, add a comment, or insert a hyperlink, simply highlight the text in question and a mini formatting palette appears. So easy!

Insert tables

Dropbox Paper absolutely nailed table creation (Microsoft and Google, take note!) In other programs, creating a table is always such an ordeal. With Dropbox Paper, you simply click the “plus” button, select the table, and bingo! You’ve got a table. To add rows or columns, all you have to do it press the plus button that appears when you hover over a divider between rows or columns. Simple as that! No more Table > Insert > Table > and guessing how many columns and rows you’ll need (and then Table > Insert Rows Above / Columns to the Right when you guessed wrong!) To delete a row or column, simply highlight the unwanted row or column and hit delete. That wasn't so hard, was it?

Create lists (bulleted, numbered, checklist)

Dropbox Paper might not have a ton of formatting options, but what it lacks in variety it more than makes up for with ease of use. To create a list, simply hover over the left margin until the plus button appears and select one of the list options (or to convert existing text into a bulleted list, highlight it and select the list option.) Personally, I’m a huge fan of the checklist option - there’s just something so satisfying about checking tasks off of a list. You don’t find this feature in most word processors!

Share with ease

Like Google Docs, Dropbox Paper has a share button right at the top of the document for quick and easy collaboration. And of course, the standard share options are available (edit vs. read-only, etc.) It’s easy to see who has access to the document and who's currently working on it.

@mention teammates

A super useful feature. @mention a teammate and he/she will be notified via email. Great for delegating tasks on a checklist or asking for clarification on something a teammate has added.

Comment and collaborate

Simply highlight some text and press the comment bubble (or hover over the right margin to select an entire section of text). Voilà! The selected text will be highlighted and your comment will appear on the side. Slightly less useful than Word’s “Track Changes” (you can't actually make changes that need to be accepted), but a cool feature nonetheless.

Insert emojis

I would be lying if I said emojis aren't a daily (or hourly) part of our team communications at Meta. For all those things words can't express, Dropbox Paper has you covered.

To insert an emoji, simply type a colon, and a list of emojis comes up. Unfortunately, there is no easy way to browse all the emojis (like in iMessage, Slack, etc). To find the emoji you’re looking for, you’ll need to start typing its name (which requires you to know its name). While some emojis have intuitive names, this is not the case for all (because I can promise you that “japanese_ogre” was definitely not my first guess for this emoji: 👹). And since when is this emoji (🐬) not a dolphin, but a “flipper”? And if you’re looking for a particular country’s flag, you better know its 2-letter country code (or else good luck finding it). I could go on.

Eventually, I’m sure you’ll memorize the names of your go-to emojis. But in the meantime, here is a comprehensive list of emojis and their official (and unofficial) names. You’re welcome.

Also, shoutout to the Dropbox team for making this glorious emoji (💩) available as “hankey” (in addition to the less-surprising “poop”).

Comment with stickers

…because why not? For now, the sticker options are a little limited, but I’m sure more offerings are on the way.

Beautifully and seamlessly insert media

Dropbox Paper really hit it out of the park with this feature. Pasting a YouTube, Vimeo, SoundCloud, etc. link embeds the media directly in your document - and it looks great! No more opening links in a different tab! You can also drag and drop (or upload) images right into your document. You have the option to center or right/left align the image, and any text automatically wraps beautifully around it.

Attach files right from Dropbox

A great way to keep all files from a project in one central location. Simply hover over the “plus” button along the left margin to upload a file from Dropbox (or type a “+” followed by the file’s name to link to another Paper Doc).

Complimentary table of contents

Like a web page, a Dropbox Paper Doc is a single page. Any text you format as a header (H1 or H2) is linkable. Clicking a header and then clicking the bookmark symbol that appears next to it reveals the link to that section of your Doc. Perfect for when you want to send someone to a specific section of a lengthy Doc. Plus, your headers are displayed in a table of contents at the top of your Doc - clicking any of the headers will take you the appropriate section of the Doc!

If you need to write a paper of a specific length (or if the feeling of accomplishment of reaching a new page gets you through your writing), then Dropbox Paper might not be for you. Personally, I love Dropbox Paper’s pageless nature because I don't have to worry about tables, images, etc. being bumped down to the next page if there’s not enough room (and leaving a hideous gap on the previous page!)

Keyboard shortcuts abound!

You can use all the standard keyboard shortcuts (cut, copy, paste, undo, redo, etc.) in Dropbox Paper. In the formatting palette, you only have the option to bolden or strikethrough text. The usual keyboard shortcuts to underline or italicize text (command + U and command + I for Mac or ctrl + U and ctrl + I for Windows) work, however. For a complete list of Dropbox Paper’s keyboard shortcuts, click the question mark at the bottom right of your document and select ‘Keyboard Shortcuts’.

Complete revision history with a single click

Clicking “Updated…” at the bottom right of your Dropbox Paper Doc reveals a history of all changes made to the Doc (and who made them!) Just don't type anything embarrassing - your team will know.

Sync with Google account

I opened Dropbox Paper and at the top of my list of notes was a note called “New doc for your next meeting,” followed by “Click to sync with your Google Calendar.” I was intrigued. I clicked, and next time I opened Dropbox Paper, there was a note called “Notes for Call w/ Steve” (referring to a call I had scheduled for that afternoon).

Additionally, if you paste the link to a Google Doc in a Paper Doc (that’s confusing), you’ll be prompted to connect your Google Drive account. If you do, a mini preview of the Google Doc appears (title, last modified, etc.) Hooray for services playing nice with each other!

Bonus: share a document with a friend to give him/her beta access!

Dropbox Paper is currently in invite-only beta. So if you want to test these awesome features yourself, you can join the waitlist. Or if instant gratification is more your style, get a friend with Dropbox Paper to share a document with you - you’ll automatically receive beta access!

Cons (because you just can't have it all)

The Verdict

Yes, Dropbox Paper deserves all the hype it gets! Aside from a few minor shortcomings, Dropbox Paper is a fantastic service (and is highly conducive to collaboration!) If you're a fan of elegance, simplicity, collaboration, convenience, and/or emojis, definitely give Dropbox Paper a shot! Join the waiting list and see for yourself!

And yes, I outlined and drafted this entire post using Dropbox Paper 😂 (in case you were wondering).