The Best Cloud Storage
- January 23, 2018 - We revisited and reevaluated our top picks, and stand by the four options we chose. Several of their features, however, have changed since this review was first written. For accuracy, we updated prices, file size limits, and storage options. In Dropbox’s case, we took into account the addition of Dropbox Paper. By rewriting and reorganizing content, we also made the review easier to read.
After evaluating over 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. Now it’s up to you to pick the one that fits your needs. The right cloud storage option will offer the space you need on the operating system you love, at a price you’re ready to pay.
Its features make it simple and easy to use. But it only offers a measly 2GB of storage on its free plan, so it only makes sense for light users or people willing to shell out $10 for the cheapest premium option.
Google Drive stands out with tools that make it simple to edit and share projects, plus 15GB of free storage space and a cheap premium option. That’s perfect for groups, just know you’ll have to set up a Google account; that may be a dealbreaker if you’re wary of putting data in Google’s hands.
Kind of like Google Drive, but for Microsoft faithfuls — you’ll get a (toned-down) Office suite and cloud storage in one free package. Plus, it’s got a great photo-backup feature. The only drawbacks: It’s a little more difficult to use than the competition and the freemium version gets you just 5GB of space. Plus, the cheapest upgrade will give you half the storage space for the same price as Google Drive’s.
The black sheep of our picks, we only recommend Box for businesses. It’s got extra features and high potential app integration that will come in handy in that case. But individuals won’t love its mobile app, and its cheapest premium option is the worst deal you’ll find in the top picks.
The Best Cloud Storage
Any of our top four picks are a great place to start, but only you know what your priorities will be as you make your decision. To choose, think about the size of the files you’ll be uploading (photos will be bigger files than documents), how much space you’ll ultimately need, your budget, and what features will work best with your current workflow.
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How We Found the Best Cloud Storage
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, we surveyed people who store their data in the cloud, read reviews from top technology blogs, dissected user guides, and toyed with settings.
We cut the field down to services you can use for free.
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.
Others offered services to individuals, but only for a price. It’s in the best interest of any cloud storage service to offer a freemium version (hello, roping in new users), but it’s also a win for us consumers. Many individual 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? Those paid-only services were out too.
And narrowed it even further based on customer experience.
We know most people are staunchly Team Apple or Team PC. But you should have the freedom to access the data you put in the cloud from wherever you are, and on whatever device you choose. Some of the contenders we considered didn’t offer services to OS X, Windows, Android, and iOS — if that was the case, we put them on the chopping block.
Those with apps of every sort were already halfway there, but they also had to meet a high bar for customer satisfaction. To us, that means an average of 3.5 stars or higher from users on the App Store and Google Play Store. Because if there’s one thing that should be indicative of good cloud storage, it’s mobility. If it doesn’t earn the respect of the people who use it, it’s not the best.
And speaking of the people who use the cloud: Out of the cloud users we surveyed, 53 percent primarily use cloud storage for media and file sharing. What did that tell us? That people aren’t looking for purely a backup service. We wanted our top picks to be well-rounded and empower users with tools to share and collaborate on work, rather than focusing on automated, system-level backups — so we nixed those backup-focused services.
In the end, those criteria cut our list of 45 down to the top four — we were ready to get our hands dirty.
Then we tried them out ourselves.
We spent a week testing them all on four different operating systems (OS X Yosemite, Windows 10, iOS 9.1, Android Lollipop 5.1.1) and on seven different devices. We updated files, shared a ton of pictures (maybe one or two selfies), 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.
And came to a novel conclusion: Cloud storage is cloud storage
After putting each cloud service through the wringer, it confirmed our collective gut feeling: 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 are already invested in. To help you make that decision, here’s a more in-depth look at each service:
The Best Cloud Storage
Best for Lightweight Users
DropboxStreamlined features across operating systems and a new collaborative tool make Dropbox intuitive to use — but a low data limit for the freemium account make it a no-go for super users.
Dropbox is fabulously easy to use. So if you’re new to cloud storage, this is a great place to dive in. 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 that can’t be said of its competitors. Whether you’re on an iPhone X or a Galaxy S8, the OS integration is tight, and you’ll feel right at home.
Dropbox is very basic, though, and its collaborative features are a bit behind other services like Google Drive. Dropbox still exists primarily as a file-syncing service, but released its new collaborative tool, Dropbox Paper, in 2017. The one issue there is that — unlike the more classically collaborative Google Drive’s 15 GB of free storage space — you’ll have to upgrade to paying $10 a month to get anything more than 2GB. (Here's a tip: If you do want that space, you can pay a little less per month by opting into a full year.)
On a positive note: 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 be automatically uploaded to your Dropbox account the next time your device connects to a WiFi network. (None of your pics will be uploaded via cellular data unless you say so.) The only downside is that photos can pile up rather quickly, and can easily burn through the service’s 2GB free plan.
Best for Teams and Collaboration
Google DriveIf you’re buddy-buddy with Google already, using Drive is an easy-to-use no-brainer. But if you’re tentative about signing up for an account, you’ll have some thinking to do.
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. You can create spreadsheets, documents, presentations, Google Forms, and connect to a whole slew of third-party apps — and everything you do with them will be stored conveniently in your account. Another seriously powerful aspect of Drive is its search functionality, which uses Google’s image-recognition technology 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).
There are a couple of trade-offs with Drive. First, it obviously works best on Google-fied devices (although we were truly happy with how smoothly the iOS apps run). Secondly, Drive requires a Google account, which means you’ll have to create a Google account whether you want one or not. So if you’re worried about Google’s reach into your private life, this might be a no-go.
It’s also worth mentioning that 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 has amassed almost 10GB in just archived emails in his personal account over the past five years, which would leave him with only 5GB for everything else. If he were a photo fanatic, that wouldn’t be a whole lot of space.
Drive also offers the ability to automatically upload every photo that you take from your phone or tablet. However, if you don’t care about saving photos at their original resolution, Google has another attractive option. The Google Photos app, which is separate from Drive, grants free unlimited photo backups. The catch is that Google reduces those pics to what it calls a “high quality” resolution, so you might lose some quality along the way.
Best for Devoted Windows Users
OneDriveAn intuitive user experience, at its best within the Windows ecosystem. The freemium version has a low data limit, and the user experience isn’t quite as smooth as its competition.
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. But even if you aren’t, Microsoft’s pricing options are just as attractive as Google’s — just don’t forget that the company seems to have a knack for frustrating its customers. In fact, a few years ago Microsoft once promised an unlimited storage option, then backpedaled that promise — an obvious attempt to win more users to the 1TB Office 365 subscription.
As far as the user experience goes, we’re legitimately impressed with its clean (albeit Dropbox-esque) interface on iOS devices. As for everything else, 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. Otherwise, OneDrive 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.
Box is a close competitor to Dropbox. What sets it apart, however, is the service’s selection of business-oriented extras, including user assignments, expanded privacy controls, and built-in FTP support. Really, it’s a lightweight business toolkit — as long as you’re using the browser client, that is. The mobile apps have only basic functionality. Another 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. Plus, it’s only $5/month per user for the Starter plan. Outside of its tight security and 10GB free plan, though, it’s hard to recommend Box over the competition.
Is your provider of choice missing?
We’ve published in-depth reviews about our top picks, plus several unmentioned services. Check out what we found:
- Google Drive
Plus, we’ve got a few tailored reviews if you didn’t find one that feels like a fit for you on our list:
- The 4 Best Personal Cloud Storage Providers
- The 4 Best Cloud Storage for Business
- The 4 Best Free Cloud Storage Providers
- The 4 Best Cloud Storage for Students
Did You Know
There are several reasons you might use the cloud.
We talked to five pros about why they do, and here’s what we learned:
"The magic of having Drive, and paying for access to 1TB-plus of space, is that I can save everything. I have a scan of every credit card statement I have ever received, for example, which proves incredibly useful if I need to reference when exactly a specific product was purchased many years ago for a warranty or insurance claim. It also removes the 'Where is this?!' factor in life. For me, the answer is always the same: 'It’s in Google Drive — just search for it.'"
"By trade, I am a woodworker. I use antique tools and traditional forms of joinery to build custom furniture. Two years ago, this was all just a hobby. I more or less accidentally created an Instagram account (I wasn’t very tech-savvy back then) dedicated to the sharing of my experience-based knowledge. Due to its growing popularity and the opportunities afforded therein, last year, I quit my job and started my own woodworking business.
Around the same time, I was offered a job writing for several major woodworking publications. I was forced to learn and practice new photography techniques and started using Dropbox, Google Drive, and more recently, Adobe Creative Cloud daily to store, edit, and share my photos and magazine articles. In addition to my writing gigs, I’ve also since been commissioned to do several woodworking-related photography projects.
All of this is done remotely, and I’m daily sharing photos taken in Seattle, Washington, with people in Boston; Texas; Ontario, Canada; and Sussex, England. None of this would be possible without instant sharing and editing platforms like Google Drive, Dropbox, and Adobe Creative Cloud. It is fascinating to me that my pursuit of preserving traditional crafts and practicing antiquated methods has led me to quite so much time in front of a computer screen, but that time, I believe, is well-spent."
"Slow Wide Turns operates and communicates between multiple systems and cities scattered throughout the US, and file sharing and system backing is crucial to our success and overall company organization. Our design department is constantly submitting artwork files to be reviewed by directors and owners who operate in cities 500 miles apart. Uploading files to a well-organized, shared Google Drive account allows for a swift review process and has nearly eliminated the shortcomings related to file sharing and storage we had previously experienced.
Before using the Google Drive Cloud Storage system, Dropbox was our preferred way of accessing and sharing necessary files. Dropbox has a lot to offer, and continues to push the limits of compressed file linking and sharing. However, the convenience of having Google Drive a click away in an app located just below our Gmail tab has convinced us that Google Drive is the way to go."
Author, Speaker, and Host of #Smallbizchat
Dropbox has saved my business from the blue screen of death. Now anyone in my company can access critical documents from anywhere. We pay for Dropbox for business so that we can have extra room to store 16 years of data about our company and clients. We have team member folders and we use it to store a repository of graphics and images that we use on the blog and to promote the brand as well. I really love how easy it is to use.
We also use Google Drive to share documents and manage version control, so that everyone is operating from the latest version of a document. I keep my master login file in Google Drive. So often you change a password, and then you need a place to keep that data too, and Google Drive is perfect for that.
Skepticism about its security, though, is healthy.
Only 40 percent of the people we surveyed said they “feel secure” about their data in the cloud. That might seem like a depressing number, but the reality is that no data stored in the cloud is 100 percent safe (take the Target and Ashley Madison, hacks, for example). And cloud data isn’t just vulnerable on the digital front either; it lives on at least one physical drive somewhere that can be stolen, burned, or flooded. Let’s also not forget that the US government can step in and request access to any information it wants.
Yes, there are a lot of things that could go wrong, but that doesn’t mean you have to live in fear of the cloud — just be smart with your data. All of our top recommendations offer cutting-edge protection: two-factor authentication; facilities that are protected with 24-hour monitoring; and data that’s encrypted in “transit” (SSL and TLS) and “at rest” (128-bit AES and on).
At Reviews.com, we use cloud storage every single day, and firmly recommend a healthy fear of the cloud. Take time to consider the risks before uploading sensitive information, like tax documents or bank statements, with a service that isn’t a well- known and trusted authority in the cloud world.