Computers

Cloud Storage Comparison Guide

Cloud Storage Comparison Guide
Microsoft SkyDrive has recently been relaunched as OneDrive
Microsoft SkyDrive has recently been relaunched as OneDrive
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Microsoft SkyDrive has recently been relaunched as OneDrive
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Microsoft SkyDrive has recently been relaunched as OneDrive
Microsoft OneDrive is available for most operating platforms
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Microsoft OneDrive is available for most operating platforms
Dropbox was one of the first cloud storage services to market
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Dropbox was one of the first cloud storage services to market
Google Drive offers the highest free storage capacity on sign-up
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Google Drive offers the highest free storage capacity on sign-up
Google Drive interface
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Google Drive interface
Amazon's Cloud Drive offers good value cloud storage for users needing a high capacity
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Amazon's Cloud Drive offers good value cloud storage for users needing a high capacity
Apple's iCloud provides a variety of additional features that support iOS
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Apple's iCloud provides a variety of additional features that support iOS
Apple's iCloud provides a variety of additional features that support iOS
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Apple's iCloud provides a variety of additional features that support iOS

Following Microsoft's recent relaunch of SkyDrive as OneDrive, there is a little more parity and competition at the top of the cloud storage market. How do the options stack up against each other though? This article provides a comparison of the main players – Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Apple iCloud and Amazon Cloud Drive.

First thing's first, a point on how I've chosen the services for comparison. The services featured are the biggest players in the consumer cloud storage market. It should be noted that there are some other worthy cloud storage services, but this approach means that most people may already have an account for one or more of the services featured.

Platforms

The first consideration is on what platform each of the offerings are available. As you'd expect, all provide software that can be installed on Windows and Mac computers to allow for easy upload and syncing of files to the cloud. Apple is the most restrictive, however, and does not offer an Android application for iCloud, unlike its competitors.

Amazon's Cloud Drive has an app for Kindle and Microsoft has a OneDrive app for Xbox, both of which may be useful for users in those niches, but are unlikely to be deal-breakers for most people.

More significantly, Microsoft already has a OneDrive app available for Windows Phone, where the others currently do not. Although iOS and Android dominate the mobile landscape, Windows Phone has recently been confirmed as the fastest growing mobile OS and so, all things considered, that's enough to give OneDrive the edge.

Winner: OneDrive

Microsoft OneDrive is available for most operating platforms
Microsoft OneDrive is available for most operating platforms

Free Storage

All of the services featured use a freemium model of business as a means of getting users on board. There's quite a disparity between how much free space is offered, though. Google is way out in front here, offering users 15 GB of space for free when they sign up. The next highest is 7 GB offered by OneDrive, less than half of the space provided by Google Drive.

Apple and Amazon both offer users 5 GB of free space with their respective offerings, but Dropbox only offers 2 GB of free storage. This amount may have seemed generous some years back, but it feels conspicuously low now, particularly as Dropbox was one of the first cloud storage services to market.

It should be noted that Dropbox offers up to 16 GB of extra free space to users who successfully refer others to the service. The only other service that takes this approach is OneDrive, which offers up to a potential extra 5 GB of free space to users for successful referrals, and a further 3 GB for enabling its auto-camera-backup option.

It's notable that these are the two services that perhaps have the most to gain from adding extra users, hence their use of the referral model. Although it is a plus point, for the purposes of this comparison we'll take free in the strictest sense of the word.

Winner: Google Drive

Google Drive interface
Google Drive interface

Paid Storage

Each of the services featured allows users to pay a regular fee for increased storage space. The size and timeframes offered vary, but for this comparison we'll take the first increment to which users can upgrade.

Microsoft and Amazon lead the way here, each offering a value of 24 GB per dollar per month. Both offer their lowest upgrades over the course of a year, but OneDrive is 50 GB for $25, while Cloud Drive is 20 GB for $10. Google isn't far behind, with an entry offer of 100 GB for $4.99 per month. That works out at 20 GB per dollar per month. Given the low entry price and high value, this one goes to Amazon.

Like Google, Dropbox offers an upgrade to 100 GB, but the cost is $9.99 per month, which works out at 10 GB per dollar per month. iCloud users, meanwhile, receive just 3 GB per dollar per month for their subscriptions (5 GB for $20 per year), but as we'll see below, there's a good reason for this.

Winner: Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon's Cloud Drive offers good value cloud storage for users needing a high capacity
Amazon's Cloud Drive offers good value cloud storage for users needing a high capacity

Features

Above and beyond storage space, Apple's iCloud is unquestionably the most feature-packed service in our comparison. Aside from offering relatively basic extra functionality like its iWork productivity suite and photo sharing, iCloud provides a host of other features, including (but not limited to) cloud access to apps, the ability to switch seamlessly between devices when browsing on Safari, storage of passwords across devices and daily device backups that can restore your device to where you left off should it be wiped for any reason.

iCloud is far more than just a cloud storage platform for its users. It supports Apple's entire ecosystem in different ways. OneDrive and Google Drive, meanwhile, are far more stripped down services, but they are not trying to be anything else. They both provide good free productivity offerings in Office Online and Google Docs, and it has to be said that the ubiquitous familiarity with Microsoft Office plays in OneDrive's favor here. But whether or not you need all the bells and whistles that Apple offers, the functionality is still there and can't be said to be anything other than impressive.

Of the two remaining services, Dropbox offers an auto-camera-backup feature and Amazon Cloud Drive will sync any music stored with Cloud Player so that it can be easily listened to.

Winner: Apple iCloud

Apple's iCloud provides a variety of additional features that support iOS
Apple's iCloud provides a variety of additional features that support iOS

Interface

When many people think of tech design, they automatically think of Apple. iCloud is certainly intuitive and looks slick, but so too does OneDrive. In terms of design, however, OneDrive has one other benefit over iCloud. Microsoft's ubiquity, as mentioned earlier, provides a familiarity among users that design alone can't create. Although Apple products are widely used, Microsoft products have been exposed to more users over the years. As such, not only is OneDrive good looking and intuitive, but it is even easier to use because users are so comfortable with Microsoft's approach to interface design.

As with many of its other products, design often seems to be an afterthought with Google. That's not to say that its products, or Drive in particular, look bad. They tend to offer a stripped down and very simple interface, which is neither difficult to use or hugely intuitive. Dropbox and Amazon Cloud Drive, meanwhile, provide only very simple interfaces for file browsing.

Winner: Microsoft OneDrive

Conclusion

Although it seems a little strange to say it, as an avid Google and Drive user, for those starting from scratch, Microsoft OneDrive is the cloud storage platform I would recommend. Each of the options featured here have their merits and other people will have reasons for choosing otherwise, but, for me, OneDrive ticks the most boxes.

It is accessible on the most platforms, provides a good amount of free storage space from sign-up, offers well priced upgrades for more storage, has the excellent Office Online deeply integrated into it, and benefits from a slick and easy-to-use design.

Overall winner: Microsoft OneDrive

23 comments
milkboy
i have used quite a number of cloud storage provider over the years and aside from the mentioned list, theres also others which i think is good, but i'll just list my fav. BOX, which is my current favourite for personal storage and sharing. they give free 50GB free account from time to time (i'm on the free 50GB). OWNCLOUD, self-deployable, scalable and customizable solutions and my favourite for business purposes.
Dave Shevett
The number of flaws in this article are legion. Lets just point out a couple of the basics. 1) I searched. No where in this article is the word 'security' used. If I'm using a cloud service, I want some basic assumption that what I put there is private. Microsoft has a documented history of looking into files stored on SkyDrive, and banning users if they find the files offensive. I will have nothing to do with them for this reason only. Directly from the TOS for a Microsoft account: "3.3. What does Microsoft do with my content? When you upload your content to the services, you agree that it may be used, modified, adapted, saved, reproduced, distributed, and displayed to the extent necessary to protect you and to provide, protect and improve Microsoft products and services. For example, we may occasionally use automated means to isolate information from email, chats, or photos in order to help detect and protect against spam and malware, or to improve the services with new features that makes them easier to use." 2) Apple's iDrive is an integrated API for use with Apple products. I would hardly lump it in with Dropbox as a cloud storage system. It's prone to failure and inconsistent behaviour, difficult to manage, and has virtually no team / group services (how do you share a single document privately with a group you're working with?) 3) The 'interface' win for Skydrive is laughable. "It wins because everyone knows microsoft stuff, right?" - what an absurd statement. Microsoft's interface designs change daily, with no consistency, very little UX application, and just plain bad choices. Dropbox probably has the cleanest interface of all the services. SkyDrive is NOT a microsoft desktop application, it's a webservice, with a web interface. Everyone knows how to use web browsers, so why isn't that applied? 4) Last but not least, you give Microsoft the win for this inane statement "Although iOS and Android dominate the mobile landscape, Windows Phone has recently been confirmed as the fastest growing mobile OS and so, all things considered, that's enough to give OneDrive the edge." - the 'fastest growing mobile OS' is an absurd statement. If there are 5 windows mobile phones out there, and another 5 are launched, that's a 100% increase! The fastest growing platform! According to Gartner Research, Windows Mobile has 3% of the marketplace. Blackberry has 2.7%. Dropbox is available on Blackberry, IOS, Android, Windows Phone, Symbian, MeeGo, Mac Desktop, Linux, and of course, desktop Windows. Other than Microsoft platforms, Onedrive supports only OSX, iOS, and Android. How can you possibly support OneDrive having better platform support?
Ron_S
Everything here is true, and I use a few of these services myself for casual file transfers that are too large for email attachments, etc. The one dealbreaker for me, however, and the reason I will not use any of these to store personal information, photos, or anything else that matters to me, is that none of them have client side encryption. Every day, another article appears detailing how easy it is for private documents, photos, or videos to wind up in the hands of people or organizations for whom they were never intended. So the last thing I would ever do is entrust my documents or photos to a service that is wide-open to theft. Yes, I could encrypt everything before I send it up, but why should I have to go through that trouble when perfectly adequate services are available that do this for me, and also operate on all of the systems that I use, including Linux , Windows, and Android? SpiderOak is one that meets all of these requirements , and I'm sure there are others. So I would strongly advise that users think long and hard before placing photos of their children, or their tax documents, strategic business documents, or anything else into cloud storage without considering the risks.
Rann Xeroxx
Not really seeing the added features of iCloud mentioned in this story that are somehow better than either Google Drive or OneDrive. I have a Mac and an iPad, I have logged into iCloud both from the web page and the settings and not seeing anything other than they do have a "find your device" settings. I also run a Surface RT and am in the OneDrive (SkyDrive) a lot. It seems to be on par with iCloud.
Gaëtan Mahon
Before I did the change from Windows 7 to Windows 8 I was able to access ALL the files from my main PC using a remote desktop like feature built into the SkyDrive Web Application as long as your hardware was actually online. No messing around with putting needed files into specific folders in order to access them while on the go or stuff like that... Kinda miss that feature wherever it went since Windows 8 and it's native integration of SkyDrive - Used to have a Desktop Client which made the remote desktop feature possible. Ah well... For now I changed to Bittorrent Sync to keep automatic Backups across all my hardware without the need to think twice. Has neither a cost attached to it nor does it come with any restrictions and it's storage space is only limited by your own hardware, what's more to ask for?
Makda
I run Linux, Android and Windows 8 at home and interact with apple and windows xp users - dropbox has been the easiest service for me to use. I find the tablet version of google drive a little more useful than the dropbox version but both fail in tablet/phone versions since they seem to be designed to not sync files locally (unless specific files are selected for local sync). both these services need to allow a configuration option to allow all files to be available offline when device is not online ( and also to save on bandwidth costs)
GvillaThrilla
The only one that I would consider paying for is Amazon Cloud. A while back they offered 20 Gb with unlimited MP3 storage for $20 a year. With the unlimited MP3 storage I have not come close to filling the 20 gigabytes up...
BZD
Good comparison. I wonder how long it will be before Microsoft needs to change the name of their Cloud again. There is a internet hosting company by the name of One and they even offer a Cloud solution among their services, so I can't imagine them being happy and for sure Microsoft is more in conflict with them than with Sky media.
Daniel Bennett
So I am pretty happy with dropbox and one drive now because I was able to get over 100gb of space for "nothing" and what I mean by that is with dropbox I searched how to get free space and ended up getting 50gb for no cost. I also got the s4 and when you setup the phone it gives you 50gb for free (1yr only) and then with one drive I was able to get 100gb by using bing search on my browser and use there reward system to get 100gb for nothing other then sometimes not getting as good of search results as Google but hey it got me 100gb cloud space for a 1yr now.
yrag
"Although iOS and Android dominate the mobile landscape, Windows Phone has recently been confirmed as the fastest growing mobile OS and so, all things considered, that's enough to give OneDrive the edge." LOL—WOW Stu! Last time I checked, Windows OS comes in at a VERY distant third of mobile OSs after Android and iOS and through some kind of pretzel logic known only to you, you convince yourself that gives Microsoft some kind of advantage. I won't be using you to place my bets on the ponies—that's for sure!