SugarSync is an online backup service somewhat reminiscent of Dropbox. The SugarSync iPhone app from Sharpcast lets you access your backed-up files on the go, and share them with friends. You can also automatically sync new photos back to your computer, and even stream your MP3s.
To get started with SugarSync, you need to create an account. You can do so from right within the app. Of course, the app itself is pretty useless unless you install the cross-platform SugarSync software on your Mac or PC. I tested the desktop software on a pair of Macs and was pleased with its functionality, though wholly unimpressed by its interface. On the plus side, the iPhone app actually sports a clean, functional look.
The first time you launch SugarSync, the app presents a unique tutorial. They call it a game, but trust me when I tell you it can’t hold a candle to, say, Strategery. But the point of the SugarSync introductory game is to show you the different elements of the app’s interface, and expose its various levels of functionality. (Just by completing the game, you’re granted 250MB of storage, on top of the 2GB of free storage your SugarSync account comes with, so it’s probably worth it.)
SugarSync’s feature set is fairly robust. Once you start syncing documents from your computer, they’ll become visible in the iPhone app. Some document types—PDFs, Word documents—can be read right from within the app. Scrolling through PDFs feels notably slower than in other apps, unfortunately. Photos load instantly, and you can snap new pictures right from within SugarSync. You’re forced to wait while those new photos get synced, and it does take a few long seconds, even via Wi-Fi. MP3s can stream right from SugarSync’s servers, and played on my iPhone 3GS without stuttering.
Unlike Dropbox’s iPhone app, however, SugarSync doesn’t let you watch synced videos from within the app. You also can’t delete files that you no longer need, although renaming them is possible.
Whether SugarSync can open a file or not, it will always offer to let you send the file to someone else. Sending files isn’t as seamless as it should be, I’m afraid: There’s no auto-completion as you type your contacts’ e-mail addresses. And while the in-app address book includes all your iPhone’s contacts, it doesn’t necessarily respect your iPhone’s settings for your preferred sort order for contacts; it always sorts by contact first name.
I did encounter occasional oddities within the app. From time to time, when I went to to the central “Files” screen, instead of the groovy swirl-laden graphical overview of all the different places you can browse files from, I was encountered with a solid black screen. A simple relaunch fixed this each time, but it it’s definitely annoying.
SugarSync is good at its core features, but it’s missing some easy ones (like the ability to view Pages documents and Quicktime videos), and not particularly great at anything it does. Dropbox syncs faster, and its app feels a little more intuitive overall. Fortunately, both apps are entirely free, so you can try each one out and pick your favorite.
[Lex Friedman is a frequent Macworld contributor.]