The Best Cloud Storage
How We Found the Best Cloud Storage
5 Experts Interviewed
45 Providers Considered
4 Top Picks
The Best Cloud Storage
The best cloud storage should offer the space you need, on the operating system you love, at a price you’re ready to pay. It should also be easy to use and navigate so that you’re able to just dive right in without needing a crash course in the basic use of the platform. After evaluating more than 45 different options, interviewing power users across the nation, and testing the top apps, we are confident that our picks are the best, most reliable cloud storage providers on the market today. All four will provide you with roughly the same lineup of features, and each has a version that'll let you take advantage of the cloud without paying a dime.
The Best Cloud Storage: Summed Up
How We Chose the Best Cloud Storage
Cloud for business vs. personal accounts
Nearly half of our initial list only offered accounts to businesses, not individuals. There’s a reason they’re not offered to people: they come with a plethora of features that most people would find confusing to use. More importantly, most people don’t need features like task management and user comments to get the most of out the cloud. We booted those off our list right away. The best cloud storage will offer a free version for those looking to gain only the minimum out of the service -- and even this minimum shouldn’t be too limiting. The ability to utilize secure cloud storage shouldn’t be limited to those with business accounts; although security tends to be emphasized more on the business side, we favored those that secured personal as well.
We know that most people are staunchly team Apple or team PC. Cloud storage, regardless the type, should let you have the freedom to access and import the data you want from wherever you are, using whatever device you choose. Some of the contenders we considered didn’t offer services to Windows and OS X, Android and iOS -- if that was the case, we put them on the chopping block.
Speaking of the people who use the cloud, out of the users we surveyed, 53 percent primarily use cloud storage for media and file sharing services. What did that tell us? That people aren’t looking purely for a backup service. We wanted our top picks to be well-rounded and empower users with the tools to share and collaborate work rather than focus on automated, system-level backups — so we nixed backup-focused services.
After a broad first pass of all cloud-based software solutions out there, we compiled a list of 45 different providers. To narrow it down to the best online storage sites, we surveyed people who use the service, read reviews from top technology blogs, dissected user guides and toyed with settings. We then spent a week testing them all on four different operating systems (OS, Windows, iOS, and Android) and on seven different devices. We updated files, shared a ton of pictures, and installed a bunch of apps. We even used Google Drive to write and edit this review.
We also tested the transfer speeds for each contender by uploading a leisurely afternoon’s worth of iPhone photos (about 30) from three different locations. Microsoft OneDrive consistently logged the fastest times, while Box and Dropbox duked it out for last place.
We concluded that all of our top recommendations will probably get the job done. Choosing the right one comes down to how much you’re willing to pay and which operating system you’ve already invested in.
The 4 Best Cloud Storage Services
Why we chose it
Ease of use
Dropbox is easy to use, so if you’re new to online file storage, this is a great place to start. The file management is intuitive, and all the apps (including the browser client) are built around a minimalistic theme that offers the same fluid experience on all major operating systems and devices — which is something we can’t say about all of its competitors. Whether you’re on an iPhone or a Galaxy, the operating system integration is tight, and you’ll feel right at home.
Camera upload feature
One of Dropbox’s handiest features is Camera Upload — especially because there’s no file size limit on mobile. Enable it from the Photos menu on your phone or tablet, and any photo you take will automatically be uploaded to your Dropbox account the next time your device connects to a WiFi network.
Points to consider
Low storage amount for free users
Dropbox is very basic, and its collaborative features are a bit behind other services like Google Drive — although it did release a more synergistic tool, Dropbox Paper, in 2017. The one underlying issue is that, unlike the more classically collaborative Google Drive’s 15GB of free storage space, you’ll have to pay at least $12 per month if you want anything more than 2GB with Dropbox. And if you want to utilize the handy Camera Upload feature, note that photos pile up and can burn through 2GB pretty quickly. However, if you do want extra space, we suggest paying outright for a full year (you’ll end up paying less per month).
Why we chose it
Collaborative file sharing
Drive is more than a cloud storage service; it’s a powerful, collaborative office suite that wraps all of Google’s services into a neat little package — we considered it one of the best file sharing and storage sites. You can create spreadsheets, documents, presentations, Google Forms and connect to a whole slew of third-party apps — everything you do syncs conveniently into your account as long as you have an internet connection. And if you don’t have a connection -- all you have to do is enable offline access and use the Google Drive extension for Chrome.
Like most file-sharing interfaces, Google lets you specify the people you want viewing or editing your work at any given time, and you can easily grant or deny access requests. You can also opt for Google’s Backup and Sync feature, which lets you connect your Drive to your personal computer and any other files you choose outside the existing data in your cloud storage.
Another seriously powerful aspect of Drive is its search functionality, which uses Google’s image-recognition technology, or optical character recognition (OCR), to surface photos that are relevant to your search keywords. For example, when we searched for “cat,” it found documents that included the word “cat” and photos of one of our team member’s yorkiepoo (who apparently could pass for a cat).
Points to consider
Google Drive works best on Google-fied devices (although we were truly happy with how smoothly the iOS apps run). Drive also requires a Google account, which means you’ll have to create one whether you like it or not in order to use the cloud services. It might also be worthwhile to consider how this tight-knit Google circle affects your life. The company has a history of breaching user privacy and even admitted to gathering unsolicited information.
15GB for all Google services
Because all of the company’s services are integrated with Drive, they dip from the same 15GB pot you get with the free account. For us, that’s not enough; one of our testers had amassed almost 10GB just in archived emails in his personal account over the past five years, which would leave him with only 5GB of space for everything else. If he were a photo-fanatic, that wouldn’t be a whole lot of space.
Why we chose it
Ease of use
Previously known as SkyDrive, OneDrive is Microsoft’s own combo of a cloud storage solution and an Office suite. If you’re primarily a Windows or Microsoft Office user, taking advantage of this cloud is almost effortless. OneDrive is deeply integrated with Windows 10 and Windows Phone and best serves those already invested in the ecosystem. However, outside the Windows system, it’s a bit more difficult to navigate. We also had to go through the verification process several times before it stuck on all the devices that we used throughout the week.
As far as the user experience goes, we’re legitimately impressed with its clean (albeit Dropbox-esque) interface on iOS devices. OneDrive also performed well and actually logged the fastest times during our upload test.
Like its competitors, OneDrive offers an automatic photo-backup feature — and it’s actually pretty great. The Photo menu does a good job of automatically grouping your image files according to some predefined tags. For example, one of our testers went pond fishing this past spring, and the pictures of him in a boat were tagged “#Outdoor” and the landscape photos of the lake were tagged “#Waterfront.” OneDrive’s browser client even lets you ship image files directly to the nearest Walgreens for prints when you want them.
Points to consider
Microsoft doesn’t offer encryption services for personal OneDrive accounts; business and SharePoint online are the company’s only encrypted online storage platforms. This means if you want to use your own personal account through Microsoft’s cloud and not have to deal with potentially compromised information, you might have to encrypt your own data to ensure your files are secure. In addition, the company’s history of battling “privacy concerns” goes hand-in-hand with its reputation for tracking users without transparent disclosure.
In recent news, Microsoft has announced the planned launch of Personal Vault which serves as a protected area in OneDrive. It’s being touted as a new layer of security for your personal OneDrive account with strong authentication methods, including fingerprint, face, PIN, and/or codes sent via email or SMS. Plans are underway to rollout this new feature in Australia, New Zealand, and Canada and it will be available to everyone by the end of 2019. How comparable this new vault will be to the encryption services provided to business and SharePoint clients remains to be seen.
Low data limit for free users
If you don’t want to shell out extra money for storage, Microsoft OneDrive only gives you five GB, which is on the lower end of our free options. So if you’re a heavy photo-user, this won’t give you much leeway.
Why we chose it
Really, it’s a lightweight business toolkit — as long as you’re using the browser client, that is. Although the mobile apps only have basic functionality, one huge benefit to using Box is that it can be integrated with a ton of third-party apps and services, including Asana, Facebook, and IFTTT. So if you’re working with a small team, Box is a great choice. It’s also efficient for those who want the basic Business features but don’t want to pay for the Enterprise option. And even if you aren’t ready to upgrade at all, Box still gives 10 GB of storage to free users.
Expanded privacy controls
Box’s privacy controls are independently analyzed by third-party auditors, and every file you store is encrypted using 256-bit AES encryption. Box also offers built-in FTP support and gives you full disclosure of the information it tracks from your data.
Points to consider
Upload and data limitations
Box didn’t fare as well as our other contenders in our upload speed test. It wasn’t always last, but it wasn’t always first, either. It’s important to note that you only get 250MB per file for a free and personal account, and 5GB for business/enterprise accounts.
How to Choose the Best Cloud Storage
Figure out how much file storage you actually need
To know how to tailor your cloud storage search, you’ll need to know how much available data you want at your fingertips. Are you sharing files all the time? Are you uploading photos (which are bigger files than documents) constantly and wanting to maintain their resolution? Once you have a decent idea of what you use on a daily basis, you’ll be able to narrow your search based on data storage availability and price.
Look for more than a backup service
The best cloud storage options will offer more than just a backup service. They should also facilitate easy file sharing, collaboration options and ways to manage your data in both business and personal settings. All of our top picks offer these options.
Make sure your data is secure
It’s a good idea to look at what types of encryption (in-transit and at-rest are customary now) and authentication methods are offered, and it also wouldn’t hurt to look into the company’s history with handling user data. Also, it’s important to check whose handling your data. Some companies have their own data centers to store user data, while others toss information to third-parties. Because of this, we suggest rummaging the service level agreements to see where and how your data is being stored — your cloud company’s reputation might not be the only one you need to evaluate.
Consider customer satisfaction
One of the best ways to gauge user-friendliness before trying a product is to look at the customer satisfaction ratings. We suggest looking for an average of 3.5 stars or higher from users on the App Store and Google Play Store to make sure your pick is (generally) well-liked and offers a good mobile experience.
Cloud storage cost
Whether you’re looking for a personal or business account, it’s in the best interest of any cloud storage service to offer a free version (hello, roping in new users), but it’s also a win for us consumers, especially when it comes to free encrypted cloud storage (hello, security). Many personal users won’t need the space provided in a premium plan, and plenty of services offer a free version that’ll more than satisfy — why pay when you don’t have to?