The Best Cloud Storage
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 right cloud storage option will offer the space you need on the operating system you love at a price youre ready to pay.
Nearly half of our initial list only offered accounts to businesses, not individuals. Theres a reason theyre not offered to people: they come with a plethora of features that most people would find confusing to use. More importantly, most people dont 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 shouldnt be too limiting. The ability to utilize secure cloud storage shouldnt 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 didnt 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 arent 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 afternoons 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 youre willing to pay and which operating system youve already invested in.
Best for Light Data Users
Streamlined features across operating systems and a new collaborative tool make Dropbox intuitive to use but a low data limit for the free account make it a no-go for super users.
ProsEase of useCamera Upload feature
ConsLow storage amount for free users
Dropbox is easy to use, so if youre 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 cant say about all of its competitors. Whether youre on an iPhone or a Galaxy, the operating system integration is tight, and youll feel right at home.
One of Dropboxs handiest features is Camera Upload especially because theres 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.
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 Drives 15GB of free storage space, youll have to pay $10 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 (youll end up paying less per month).
Best for Teams and Collaboration
If youre buddy-buddy with Google already, using Drive is an easy-to-use no-brainer. But if youre tentative about signing up for an account, youll have some thinking to do.
ProsCollaborative file sharingSearch functionality
ConsGoogle-centric (works best on Google products)15GB for all Google services
Drive is more than a cloud storage service; its a powerful, collaborative office suite that wraps all of Googles 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 dont 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 Googles 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 Googles 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 members yorkiepoo (who apparently could pass for a cat).
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 youll 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.
Because all of the companys services are integrated with Drive, they dip from the same 15GB pot you get with the free account. For us, thats 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 wouldnt be a whole lot of space.
Best for Devoted Windows Users
An intuitive user experience, at its best within the Windows ecosystem. The free version has a low data limit, and the user experience isnt quite as smooth as its competition.
ProsEase of usePhoto storage
ConsSecurity historyLow data limit for free users
Previously known as SkyDrive, OneDrive is Microsofts own combo of a cloud storage solution and an Office suite. If youre 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, its 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, were 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 its 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. OneDrives browser client even lets you ship image files directly to the nearest Walgreens for prints when you want them.
Microsoft doesnt offer encryption services for personal OneDrive accounts; business and SharePoint online are the companys only encrypted online storage platforms. This means if you want to use your own personal account through Microsofts 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 companys history of battling privacy concerns goes hand-in-hand with its reputation for tracking users without transparent disclosure.
If you dont 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 youre a heavy photo-user, this wont give you much leeway.
Best for Enterprise Solutions
We can only recommend Box to businesses but its capabilities for that audience made it hard to ignore.
ProsBusiness-oriented featuresExpanded privacy controls
Really, its a lightweight business toolkit as long as youre 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 youre working with a small team, Box is a great choice. Its also efficient for those who want the basic Business features but dont want to pay for the Enterprise option. And even if you arent ready to upgrade at all, Box still gives 10 GB of storage to free users.
Boxs privacy controls are independently analyzed by third-party auditors, and every file you store is encrypted using AES-256 bit encryption. Box also offers built-in FTP support and gives you full disclosure of the information it tracks from your data.
Box didnt fare as well as our other contenders in our upload speed test. It wasnt always last, but it wasnt always first, either. Its important to note that you only get 250MB per file for a free and personal account, and 5GB for business/enterprise accounts.
To know how to tailor your cloud storage search, youll 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, youll be able to narrow your search based on data storage availability and price.
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.
Its 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 wouldnt hurt to look into the companys history with handling user data. Also, its 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 companys reputation might not be the only one you need to evaluate.
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.
Whether youre looking for a personal or business account, its in the best interest of any cloud storage service to offer a free version (hello, roping in new users), but its also a win for us consumers, especially when it comes to free encrypted cloud storage (hello, security). Many personal users wont need the space provided in a premium plan, and plenty of services offer a free version thatll more than satisfy why pay when you dont have to?
What does secure cloud storage look like?
Yes, there are a lot of things that could go wrong (take the Yahoo and Equifax data breaches, for example), but that doesnt mean you have to live in fear of the cloud just be smart with your data. Our top recommendations offer cutting-edge protection: two-factor authentication, facilities that are protected with 24-hour monitoring, and data thats encrypted in transit (SSL and TLS) and at rest (128-bit AES and on).
What shouldnt you store in the cloud?
At Reviews.com, we use cloud storage every day and just recommend healthy caution when it comes to the cloud: Its important to consider the risks before uploading sensitive information, like tax documents or bank statements, especially with a service that isnt a well-known and trusted authority in the cloud world.
How can cloud storage be used for collaboration?
Slow Wide Turns operates and communicates between multiple systems and cities scattered throughout the U.S., 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.
Chad Woody, co-founder and product designer of Slow Wide Turns
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.
Melinda Emerson, author, speaker and host of #Smallbizchat
One size doesnt fit all the storage you need might not even be in this review. Thats why weve listed similar reviews here.
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