Access to decent cloud storage is practically a necessity these days whether it's for work or play, but everyone seems to have an opinion on which one is best. Let's break down three of the most popular file syncing services out there and see which one reigns supreme.
You're probably already acquainted with Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive. We've talked about all three services before, and have even highlighted the best add-ons to make Google Drive better and showing off clever ways to use Dropbox. We've even pieced apart OneDrive to see how it stacks up against other cloud services, and had a faceoff between Google Drive and Dropbox back when Google Drive launched. That said, things have changed a little for all three services since then. Here are the basics:
- Google Drive: Google Drive launched in 2012. It's free to use as long as you have a Google account, but the service also offers more storage, from 100GB to 30TB, for a monthly fee ranging from $2.58 to $388.41 a month. more storage for a monthly fee. You can use it to store any type of file, share those files with others, and use the Google Drive office suite that allows collaborative editing of documents, spreadsheets, forms, and slideshow presentations. Google Drive has apps available for Windows, OS X, Android, and iOS.
- Dropbox: Dropbox launched in 2007. Dropbox Basic accounts are free, but there is also a Pro version that offers 1TB for $13.99 a month (or an annual fee of $139). You can use it to store any type of file, share those files with others, and sync local files automatically.. Dropbox has apps available for every major platform and some smaller ones, like Linux, the Blackberry, and Kindle Fire.
- OneDrive: OneDrive, formerly known as SkyDrive, is a Microsoft service that launched in its current form in 2014. You get 5GB free with a Microsoft account, but Office 365 subscribers have access to 1TB. If you're not an Office 365 subscriber, you can get 50GB by upgrading to OneDrive Basic, for $2/month. OneDrive lets you store any file type, and organizes them by file type for you. The service is also integrated tightly with Microsoft Office, and it's built into Windows 8 and Windows 10. It's available on Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and Windows Phone.
You can use all three services for free on most platforms, but if you're looking to upgrade, it's good to know how they differ and where they excel.
Storage Plans and Pricing
When it comes to cloud storage, size matters, especially if you're looking for a place to store and share large files. Each contender has upgradable storage plans and pricing beyond their free storage options, but let's start with what you can get without paying anything:
- Google Drive: 15GB of free storage with a Google account (this includes Gmail storage).
- Dropbox: 2GB of free storage with a Dropbox Basic account (can earn more free storage).
- OneDrive: 5GB of free storage with a Microsoft account.
It should also be noted that OneDrive once offered 15GB of free storage, but that is no longer the case. Late last year, Microsoft downgraded the storage for Office 365 subscribers as well, turning their unlimited storage into 1TB. They also removed their 100GB and 200GB plans. They did offer a chance for people to opt in to getting more storage, but it's too late to do that now.
Dropbox's free storage may seem limited at 2GB, but you can increase the limit of your free account through several means: you get 500MB of additional storage space for referring someone to Dropbox, 125MB for linking each of your social networks, 250MB if you take a tour of their Dropbox Basics tutorial, and get an extra 3GB by enabling "camera upload" on your mobile device. There is a limit of 16GB for free Dropbox storage space, though, so there's no need to get too referral crazy.
If the amount of free storage each service offers isn't enough for you, they all have paid tiers that offer even more space for your money:
- Google Drive: Google will give you 100GB for $US2 a month, 1TB for $US10 a month, 10TB for $US100 a month, 20TB for $US200 a month, and 30TB for $US300 a month.
- Dropbox: A Dropbox Pro account will give you 1TB for $13.99 a month. There's also a Dropbox Business plan that gives you "unlimited" space for $17.50 a month per user (it starts off at 1TB per user).
- OneDrive: Microsoft offers a 50GB option for $2 a month. If you're an Office 365 subscriber, however, you get 1TB included with your subscription ($9 a month).
If you're looking for the most free storage with minimal effort, Google Drive is the way to go. But if you need more than 15GB and you're willing to pay for it, both Google Drive and Dropbox offer pretty decent pricing. OneDrive's 50GB option seems kind of pricey compared to Google Drive's 100GB plan, but if you're knee-deep in the Microsoft Office suite or Windows, it might be worth the price.
Day-to-Day Use and File Syncing
While all three of these services are fairly easy to use and widely available, they each have their own set of distinct features and quirks that make them suited for certain types of users. Google Drive and OneDrive, for example, are deeply integrated into their respective ecosystems. Dropbox, however, is more of a free agent that makes cloud storage super accessible regardless of what platform you're on or what apps you use. Let's take a closer look at some of their standout features and major differences.
Google Drive can be accessed through your browser, a desktop app that creates a Google Drive-linked folder, or mobile app. Once you've logged in, you can upload individual files (up to 5TB per file), create file folders to organise your files, or create new files using Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, or Google Drawings.
Once you've installed the Google Drive desktop client, you can also drag and drop files into the linked folder on your desktop to sync them with your account in the cloud. A local copy stays on your computer, and you can access those same files on any other device with the app installed, or through a web browser. If you use Gmail, Google Drive lets you attach and save attachments directly through Drive. Any of your files and folders can be shared with others via email invitation or link, and you can invite others to collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, or other files in real time.
Google Photos makes Google Drive a great place to keep all of your photos, especially if you want to be able to search through them quickly. Photos automatically organizes your photos by where you took them and who's in the photo. It's important to keep in mind, however, that while Drive offers the most free storage upfront, it's shared across Photos, Docs, and even Gmail.
Dropbox can also be accessed through any web browser, its desktop app, or the Dropbox mobile app. You can upload files of any size with Dropbox, and you can drag and drop files or folders into the Dropbox folder and they will sync right away, leaving a local copy on your device. Unfortunately, though, you can't drag and drop entire folders for upload in the web app (you have to grab each individual file).
Also, larger files may take a while to upload depending on your internet speed, but if you enable LAN syncing, you can increase file syncing speeds between devices dramatically as long as you're on your local network. It's useful when you're sharing large files like music, movies, or photos between devices at home. Dropbox also keeps track of revision history and file changes, and if someone deletes a file you shared with them (or you accidentally delete something), you can access and restore deleted files for up to 30 days after deletion. That said, Dropbox shouldn't be your sole backup for files.
Dropbox lets you share files and folders through email invite or link (which can be accessed without needing a Dropbox account), and Dropbox users can also collaborate on Microsoft Office Online files in real time. For other file types, you can still collaborate on them, comment on them, and re-share them -- just not in real time. It's still super useful, but it can lead to confusion if two people try to make changes to one file at the same time.
Dropbox doesn't have a suite of apps for creating files within the service (like Google Drive and OneDrive), but where it lacks in additional tools it makes up for in ease of use and third party apps and tools. Dropbox's open API makes it easy for developers to integrate Dropbox with almost anything. All in all, Dropbox is the cloud service that popularised cloud storage, and it's been around for a long time. Most cloud storage and file sharing services try to emulate it.
OneDrive is essentially Microsoft's answer to Apple's iCloud, but it works with multiple platforms. This means it's great for anyone who is in the Microsoft ecosystem, but also still useful for everyone else. Like the others, you can access OneDrive through a web app, desktop app, and mobile app. OneDrive is actually baked right into Windows 8 and Windows 10, and doesn't have a separate app to use. In Windows 10, for example, OneDrive is a background app, and just shows up as an option when you save files or use the file explorer. So if you're on Windows 10 and have a Microsoft account, you're kind of already a OneDrive user.
You can upload any files or folders up to 10GB in size and OneDrive automatically sorts them by file type. You can also access your files from anywhere, including your Xbox 360 or Xbox One console. Additionally, OneDrive is integrated with Outlook, so you can attach files in the cloud to emails on the fly. If you take a lot of photos, OneDrive automatically organizes your photos into galleries based on location and when you took them. You can also add captions or location tags, and even post your photo galleries right to Facebook.
Microsoft Office is also completely integrated with OneDrive. This makes sharing documents, spreadsheets, and slideshows easy, and it also allows real time collaboration for Office 365 subscribers. You can share other files with an email invitation or link just like Google Drive and Dropbox.
Security and Encryption
Of course, what's the point of all this storage if it isn't secure? That bad news is that neither Google Drive, Dropbox, or OneDrive support encryption natively. That means if someone can get into your cloud storage, they can access all of your stored files.
There are plenty of things you can do on your own; like enabling two-factor authentication, auditing all of your connected devices and services, and encrypting your data yourself. Dropbox also lets you store encrypted volumes and then unpack them on your computer. Basically, if you want your files to be secure with these services, you're going to have to do your best to keep it secure yourself.
When it comes to privacy, Google, Dropbox, and Microsoft all approach your data, and who has access to it, a little differently. Google and Dropbox insist on seeing a court order before snooping on, investigating, or turning over your data to the authorities. Microsoft, on the other hand, has a long history of scanning and snooping on people's OneDrive files (which is similar to how Apple handles iCloud privacy as well). If you're looking for cloud storage options that are more focused on security right out the gate, there are much better options available. Of course, you could also set up your own private cloud storage service if you're extra concerned about the security of your data.
Google Drive Is Best for Google Die-Hards, OneDrive Is Best for Microsoft Office Pros, and Dropbox Is Best All-Around
Google Drive, Dropbox, and OneDrive all do a fine job storing files in the cloud, and they all do it in a very similar way. Beyond that, it's really about what additional features you need.
Google Drive is easy to set up and offers a lot of storage for free. If you do a lot with Google's apps and services -- especially Google Docs and Google Photos -- Google Drive is your best bet. It's also not bad if you just need a ton of no-hassle, free file storage. The only downside is your Gmail Inbox counts against your Drive storage, so that free 15GB might get eaten up faster than you think.
If Google Drive is for people who live in Google's ecosystem, OneDrive is ideal for anyone who's invested in the Microsoft ecosystem. If you have Windows or live in Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint every day, OneDrive is near-perfect. The same applies if you use Outlook and Xbox Live frequently. It's still a decent-enough option if you don't spend much time with Microsoft products, and does some really neat things (like converting whiteboards and documents into PDFs), but it's obviously meant to draw you into using the rest of Microsoft's services.
Dropbox is for everyone else and it works great no matter what platform you use. In fact, if you're a die-hard Linux user, it's your best option. It doesn't come with a lot of extra features, but it does cloud storage right by making everything so simple. The Dropbox desktop app integrates with your computer's file system seamlessly, and Dropbox syncs files with all of your devices almost instantly. Dropbox has a massive open API and is pretty developer-friendly, so that means there are tons of third party apps, helper tools (for things like syncing other folders with just a right-click), and other services that integrate with it. The service has also been around for ages, so if you have any special needs for your cloud storage, there's probably already a Dropbox-supported plug-in or app that can do what you need. Dropbox's web app isn't as streamlined as its desktop or mobile apps, however, and "earning" free storage is kind of a drag, but hey, free is free.
There's nothing that says you can't use all three services either and divide the workload with each one's strengths in mind. For example, you can use OneDrive to collaborate with your team in Microsoft Office, store photos and other media in your Google Drive, and keep Dropbox as your all-purpose, reliable storage option for everything else.