A few years ago, a majority of Americans thought a lightning storm could interfere with cloud computing. Today, cloud storage services are as ubiquitous as cumulonimbus in a Kansas tornado season. There are lots of cloud storage services out there luring in new users with free accounts, extra space, and social-networking rewards.
Today, most people use a cloud storage service. Even so, while cloud storage companies take security very seriously, there are still very real concerns about what kind of data you store on systems that could theoretically get hacked without your even knowing it happened. For this reason, we always recommend encrypting sensitive files before entrusting them to the cloud.
Still, there are some general facts and figures to consider when choosing a cloud storage solution. Here are our seven favorite cloud storage services.
Star Wars reference aside, Carbonite is the best outlet for unlimited storage space. Yes, that means unlimited space. Who needs unlimited space? Businesses, mostly, but also anyone who has, say, thousands of high-resolution photos could do with a worry-free backup as well. The cloud-based service automatically uploads photos, movies, music and documents to the cloud from a variety of devices. Automatic backups will keep your recent photos and files secure.
In terms of platform support, Carbonite has clients for Windows and MacOS, and apps for Android and iOS. The file storage offers several data storage plans that vary in price. The basic storage plan costs $60 a year, and provides full backup for a single computer. Carbonite also offers advanced services, like localized backup, but those plans cost more.
The Lowdown: Carbonite is an affordable option for unlimited storage space.
The reasons for Dropbox’s success are simple. The service is full-featured and easy to use. It also helps that the marketing is top-notch. Promotions styled like gaming quests encourage users to invite friends to the service, earning more storage space.
Even though a number of services offer more initial free space — Google Drive’s 15GB, Mega’s 50GB, iCloud’s 5GB, or OneDrive’s 5GB outweigh Dropbox’s meager 2GB — many customers seem to find Dropbox’s referral rewards system irresistible (up to 16GB free space total). Upgraded Plus accounts start at $8.25/month on annual subscriptions (or $9.99/month when billed monthly) for 1TB, and DropBox also offers business plans with more features for more money. Mobile support includes Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows 10 Mobile, and Kindle Fire.
To get started, just make an account and download the desktop client. This installs a folder where you can drag-and-drop files in order to transfer them to the cloud. You’ll see a pop-up notification anytime anything new is added to your account; if this annoys you, you can disable it in preferences.
Dropbox boasts excellent sharing abilities. Invite someone to share a particular Dropbox folder with you and that folder will appear right on their desktop. You can also send a link to an individual document or image. In addition, folders full of images can be viewed as a gallery, making Dropbox a viable photo-sharing alternative to Imgur and Flickr.
The lowdown: Least amount of starting free space; best version-control backup; great sharing capabilities; good for multiple computers and devices.
Google Drive is great for anyone who prefers Google’s ecosystem. The web giant thrives on integration with Google’s other services, like Gmail and Google Docs. In fact, Google recently re-branded some of its services, and now Google Drive actually integrates Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. For the low, low price of absolutely nothing, you’ll get 15GB of Google Drive space for files, Gmail, and Google Photos. Upgrades cost $2/month for 100GB, $10/month for 1TB, and $100/month for 10TB. Mobile support includes iPhone, iPad, and Android.
Signing up is as simple as logging in with a Gmail address and password. From there, Google Drive appears right in your Google toolbar, just a click away from your email inbox. You can drag-and-drop files straight into your browser, or download the desktop client to have access to Google Drive as a folder, just like with Dropbox.
Google Drive borrows from Google’s powerful search algorithm to allow searches of not only file names, but also text in scanned documents and objects in images (a neat trick for those with years of vacation photos).
But Google Drive’s standout features are its sharing and collaboration tools. Thanks to integration with Gmail and other Google services, you can share files with a click, with or without requiring a password. And when you work with partners on the same word file, spreadsheet, or presentation, either separately or right at the same time, Google Drive marks the contributions of each person with differently colored labels to make clear what has changed.
The lowdown: Only service to integrate so closely with Gmail and Google Docs; best sharing and collaboration capabilities; access files directly in-browser; you can edit documents directly in-browser; one of the most economical file sharing services.
OneDrive has undergone some significant updates over the last few years, and now serves as a strong foundation for Microsoft’s overall productivity solutions. It’s not so much that Microsoft OneDrive does one thing better than other cloud storage systems (other than being one of the few services to support Windows phones and Xbox). Instead, Microsoft’s cloud service delivers a well-rounded package.
If you don’t have a pressing reason to choose another service, then it’s hard to go wrong with OneDrive. Furthermore, if you’ve bought into Microsoft’s Windows 10 ecosystem, then OneDrive is the best solution for you. It touts a decent amount of free space (5GB), along with inexpensive upgrades and the ability to get 1TB of storage with an Office 365 subscription, which also gives you full access to Microsoft’s excellent productivity suite. Microsoft’s cross-platform strategy means that mobile support is very strong, including Windows phones, Android, iPhone, and iPad.
You can also post photos directly from OneDrive to Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and other social-networking sites, which is a nice, time-saving touch. The service also offers built-in remote access capabilities. From the OneDrive.com website, you can get access to any PC associated with your account that has the OneDrive client installed, even files not already uploaded to OneDrive. For example, say you forget to move a presentation to your OneDrive folder before leaving for work, but your home computer is still on. Simply sign into OneDrive and retrieve it from afar, whether it’s on your hard drive or a connected external hard drive.
OneDrive is one of the only services to integrate with free Office Web Apps, allowing you to work collaboratively on projects, much like in Google Docs. However, the Office Web Apps have the advantage of opening Word, PowerPoint, and Excel documents seamlessly, avoiding any formatting kerfuffles. OneDrive maintains the 25 most recent versions of every file, so if a partner makes a change you don’t like, you can easily revert to an easier version.
The lowdown: Only service to integrate closely with Microsoft Office Web apps; and a generous amount of free space (5GB); inexpensive upgrades along with the option to combine Office 365 and OneDrive storage in a single purchase; great collaboration tools and version-control backup; built-in remote access capability.
Apple’s cloud storage service doesn’t make waves on paper, but it works. And there might not be a better option for those who use iTunes as their central media hub. iCloud provides 5GB of free storage. Upgrading to 50 GB will cost $1/month, 1TB for $3/month, and 2TB for $20/month. Items downloaded from iTunes won’t count against your storage limit, but note that iOS devices use iCloud for backup, and that alone can quickly use up storage allotments.
iCloud also acts as a media sharing hub that works closely with Apple’s cloud-based productivity suite, iWork. It includes a word processor, among other things that can be shared with other iCloud users, all with an interface that looks a bit cleaner and more modular than Google Docs. Still, Apple can’t compete with Google’s price point or the universality of Google accounts.
The lowdown: Best for iTunes devotees. Google, Mega, and Dropbox don’t offer the same robust database of music and photo sharing options. But the free 5GB won’t get you very far with music and photos.
Box is an all-around solid service. It offers a compelling alternative to users who are wary of placing ever-increasing amounts of information in the control of Google, Apple, or Microsoft. Mobile support for all accounts includes Android, iPhone, and iPad.
Free accounts start at 10GB, and a Personal Pro account provides 100GB of storage for $10/month. There are also business plans that offer more storage and capabilities, such as version history, password-protected sharing, and search abilities.
In many ways, Box seems best geared toward corporate use, and it shows. Clients include Proctor & Gamble, Six Flags, and Pandora. If you’re a small-business owner or a startup, Box may be right up your alley. All accounts, even free ones, allow you to share files or folders with a link. Box also integrates the ability to add comments and assign tasks for easy collaboration and workflow management.
The lowdown: Best for businesses; integrated workflow management tools; great sharing and collaboration potential; free accounts lacking some features.