Got an email address? Use a computer? Is that a smartphone in your pocket? Then you need to get yourself some cloud storage. Having an always-accessible repository of your most important photos and files makes sharing files with friends less of a hassle and grants you peace of mind. With options from every major tech company, you might find yourself drawn to one or another based on the tech you use on a daily basis and what each service offers.
Each option offers both desktop apps and at least one mobile app, and all will automatically upload your photos for safe keeping. Some come bundled with office suites while others are able to function as a primitive backup solution for the lazy. Whatever your preference, here are the cloud storage services you should consider before your computer’s hard disk decides to kick the bucket.
Platform: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Web
Starting price per month: $2.50 (100GB)
Storage Options: 100GB, 1TB, 10TB, 20TB, 30TB
Google Drive is my personal choice for cloud storage thanks to the ecosystem in which it exists. In fairness, I also rely on Gmail, but every other aspect of Google Drive is appealing no matter who your email provider is.
Every Google account comes standard with 15GB of cloud storage spread across all your Google services (think Gmail file attachments, full-resolution videos and images in Google Photos, and files stored in Google Drive).
Google Drive also works across nearly every platform (Linux users can use the third-party Insync app to get Google Drive on their desktop), and offers syncing options that surpass its competition.
You can use Google Drive offline to edit your Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides by installing the Google Docs offline Chrome extension or by syncing your Docs, Sheets, Slides, and Drawing files in your Google Drive settings page.
Its web interface is good enough for some basic file management and sharing with other users, but if you’re dealing with lots of large files (like full-resolution images) you might notice a slowdown in your browser.
On the desktop, Google’s Backup & Sync app for PC or Mac can back up particular folders on your own machine, no matter where it is on your hard drive.
That means you won’t have to drag and drop your folder of family photos or your repository of GIFs into your computer’s Google Drive folder to keep them synced and secure. You can simply pick and choose which folders and files to keep synced and available in the cloud.
You can squeeze a few more megabytes of storage out of your plan by changing how you store certain items. Items in Google’s office suite (Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, Sites), along with files shared with you by someone else, do not count against your storage limit.
Photos stored as “High Quality” images in Google Photos are also exempt from your storage cap, though images larger than 16MP will be resized to 16MP, and high resolution videos will be converted to 1080p videos. If you care about fidelity, store your photos and videos in “Original Quality” mode (and get ready to buy more storage).
That space-saving image storage feature might make 15GB just enough storage for you to use it for free without worry.
Platform: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, Web
Starting price per month: $3/50GB
Storage Options: 5GB, 50GB, 1TB
Microsoft OneDrive is perfect for Windows 10 users, or at least people who swear by Microsoft Office. For starters, every Premium OneDrive subscription (starting at $10 per month) comes bundled with an Office 365 subscription and 1TB of storage, allowing for collaboration with other Office 365 users.
OneDrive’s web interface is similar to the Google Drive web layout, albeit a bit cleaner. You can automatically upload photos taken on your iOS or Android device (though OneDrive will not upload iOS photos when they are optimised for iCloud).
While you can sign up for a free 5GB plan or pay $3 per month for a 50GB storage plan, neither includes the very capable Office 365, and Google’s 15GB of free storage is triple Microsoft’s free offering. Might as well pay the $10 per month for 1TB of cloud storage and an Office 365 subscription.
Apple iCloud Drive
Platform: PC, Mac, iOS, Web
Starting price per month: $1.50/50GB
Storage Options: 50GB, 200GB, 2TB
Apple’s iCloud Drive is, of course, the company’s cloud storage option aimed at macOS and iOS users. Much like every other cloud storage option, apps for PC and Mac are available, although Android users are out of luck (unless they want to manage their iCloud Drive storage through a web browser, I guess).
You’ll probably be storing mostly photos taken with your iOS device. If that’s the case, first consider Apple’s My Photo Stream, which syncs up to 1000 images taken over the last 30 days across your iCloud-connected devices, and does not count against your standard (and pitifully small) 5GB storage cap.
It’s perfect for those who don’t take many photos, or use another cloud storage service. Most iOS users should sign up for the 50GB storage plan. At a buck a month, it’s worth the cost of admission to easily store the entirety of your photo library using iCloud Photo Library (which stores all photos instead of the last month’s worth) without worrying about their expiration date.
Upgrading your storage lets you store even more files and photos, and if you sign up for the 200GB or 2TB plan you can share the extra storage with family members part of your Family Sharing feature, which lets you share apps, music, iCloud storage, and location with up to six people in your household. You can snag 2TB for $14.99 per month, undercutting Google Drive’s 1TB offering for the same price.
On your iOS device, you can get to your stored iCloud files in the Files app, which lets you manage both your iCloud Drive files as well as files stored in other cloud storage services (like Google Drive or OneDrive), or locally on your iOS device.
So, which one do you get? For most users, no matter their device, the platform-agnostic Google Drive is the option I recommend. It’s bundled with a suite of free productivity tools, offers the most storage at no cost, and lets you sync files stored in places besides your Google Drive folder.
If you’re a fan of Apple devices of all sorts, and don’t rely on Google for anything more than its search functionality, iCloud Drive is the way to go. Windows users, whether relying on iOS or Android devices on the go, should turn to OneDrive for its seamless integration with Windows 10, along with its willingness to play nice with other competing platforms like iOS and Android, unlike Apple’s iCloud Drive.