Cloud storage is one of the best recent advances in modern computing. For relatively little expense you can back up all of your files and data online where, unlike a memory stick or external hard drive, they can’t be lost.
Even better, you can access the files from any phone, tablet or computer anywhere in the world thanks to cloud services’ convenient websites and apps. These services are designed for individual personal use through to small team collaboration, right up to acting as platforms for huge enterprise businesses.
It can be a little tricky to know where to start when it comes to cloud storage though. Why are there so many options, and how are they different?
It’s also worth considering if you should be paying for your storage, and if so, how much should you be parting with for the convenience? Here we take a look at six of the best and most popular consumer cloud storage options to help you decide which is best for you.
- Excellent cross-device syncing
- Top collaboration tools
- Only at its best if you use Microsoft 365
Microsoft’s OneDrive is the best option if you want to easily access Office documents across all your devices. It works on PC, Mac, Android and iOS very well and means you can access your work wherever, whenever.
It can also store any kind of file, so it works well as a remote file access client and comes with a very generous 100GB, though it’s not a free service – it comes as part of a Microsoft 365 subscription. If you already pay for that, then using OneDrive is a no brainer, and we prefer it overall to Google Drive for file storage and speed of syncing. It also has an auto-sync feature for your phone’s photos.
OneDrive feels easier to grasp than Google Drive, and Microsoft’s mobile software is also much nicer to use than Google’s. It works best with Android and Windows but the iOS apps are also excellent, and you can integrate it into the Mac’s Finder.
- 15GB free tier
- Works well on all platforms
- Not a great web experience
One of the most-used options, Google Drive is convenient if you have a Google account and Gmail email address as it integrates seamlessly and gives you a generous 15GB storage for free.
Google Drive is a standalone app but the Google cloud in general also incorporates Google Photos and Gmail to back up pictures and email within your 15GB. If you want, you can pay for more storage right up to 30TB with a scheme that’s being renamed Google One – your one place to go for all Google storage.
Google Drive is a good option in particular if you have an Android phone as it’s well integrated, but it does work across all major platforms.
- Best if you use all Apple devices
- Easy to back up entire devices
- No Android app
- Confusing to use
If your devices are iPhones, iPads and Macs then iCloud Drive may make sense for you, though we don’t find it the most intuitive or seamless option. It is now accessed via Apple’s Files app on iPhone and iPad, where you can sync it and other cloud storage providers. On the Mac you access if via the Finder.
Apple only gives you a stingy 5GB so you’ll very likely have to pay for more storage – you may well have over 5GB of photos and videos already. It’s a good option if you want peace of mind as paying for enough is not only a way to back up all your files, it also stores backups of your photos, messages and set up of the devices, so you can restore an exact backup if you lose phone, tablet or laptop.
There is a Windows client for iCloud but this is a very Apple-centric storage option. It’s the best way to backup your Apple devices but if you only want one cloud storage service there are more versatile services.
- Best for paid business use
- Limited free version
Once the king of cloud storage, Dropbox has become more of a business-focussed cloud storage provider recently so it’s not one to go for if it’s just for personal use as there are better options.
The basic free tier only gives you 2GB storage though a recent redesign of its apps means it’s fairly pleasant to use. But Dropbox is best if you pay for it, but its tiers are confusing. There’s Individual for US$9.99 per month with 2TB storage, unlimited devices and helpful services like Dropbox Transfer for sending large files and a password manager.
Professional is US$16.58 per month for 3TB and some nice extras like account recovery and text search within all stored documents.
Dropbox Business could be the option for you if you run a small business and don’t want to pay for Google G Suite for any reason. But if you’re collaborating in mainly Google Docs/Sheets or Microsoft Office, Google Drive or OneDrive are worth considering. But Dropbox Business has Microsoft 365 integration and more advanced features like remote device wipe, document watermarking, an admin console and online support.
- One-payment lifetime subscription option
- Optional added encryption
- Very limited free version
pCloud is a lesser known cloud storage service but the only one on this list that offers a lifetime subscription option. At the time of writing it was US$175, which gets you 500GB storage. You’ll want to pay this or annually, as the free tier is annoyingly limited.
It’s a good choice if all you really want to do is store and occasionally share large files and it’s reasonably priced if you pay annually, but it falls down versus Google or OneDrive because of its lack of integration. This is cloud storage as storage only, with collaboration tools limited to sharing files rather than simultaneously working within them – the advantage of being locked into G Suite or Microsoft 365.
That said, if you want local encryption and browser extensions or simply like the idea of not having all your files stored by one of the tech giants then pCloud is a solid choice.
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- Superb collaboration tools
- Integration with major pro apps
- Free tier has 250MB upload limit
Like Dropbox, Box (no relation) is a business and collaboration focussed clod storage that excels in its management of tasks and notifications. Particularly in its iOS and Android app, it’s a good place to surface your to-dos and add colleagues to tasks and discussions of work – all based around shared file access.
It’s a good option if you want to view it as a separate cloud management tool, and it can integrate with G Suite and Microsoft 365 subscriptions. It also integrates with popular professional apps like Slack and Salesforce that could make it the perfect option for your business.
So it should be clear this is not the best option if you just want cloud storage for solo personal use, but it does exist, with 10GB free and not much else. Business plans start at US$7 per month per user.