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Google Drive vs iCloud Drive vs Dropbox vs OneDrive

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Which is the best cloud service?

We've been told for several years now that the future of computing lies in the cloud. That future is now here, with a number of highly accomplished cloud storage services currently competing for our data — and our money.

This autumn Apple will launch iCloud Drive, which will finally see the company offering a complete cloud storage solution to compete with the likes of Google Drive, Dropbox, and Microsoft OneDrive.

With all of the major players involved, then, which is the best choice for consumers? Let's take a closer look at each of these four offerings.

Google Drive

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Google has gradually combined a number of its online services under the Google Drive banner, creating a single formidable and flexible productivity tool with numerous abilites. It's also one of the cheapest cloud storage solutions of the lot.


How much storage do you get?
You get up to 15GB of storage for free, which is the equal best base amount of the four. You can then rent 100GB of additional storage for $1.99 (around £1.17) per month, or an extra 1TB for $9.99 per month (roughly £5.90). That's pretty good value, but note that Google charges you in dollars, and some banks will charge for such a "foreign" transaction.


What are the key features?
Google has pulled its Docs, Sheets, and Slides service into Google Drive, allowing you to share and collaborate on documents, spreadsheets, and presentations seamlessly from within Drive. What's more, none of these documents will take up any of your allowance.

Gmail now allows you to quickly attach documents from Google Drive, while it's also possible to set attachments to automatically save to the cloud.

Google has also integrated its Google photo sharing facilities into Drive, which allows you to automatically upload your phone snaps to Drive. Here Google automatically enhances them with its "Auto-awesome" tool. What's more, if they're less than 2048 x 2048 in size, your uploaded photos won't count against your allowance.

All told, Google Drive offers a very comprehensive set of tools to use. If you're familiar and comfortable with using Google services, it's hard to argue against using it.


How good are the apps?
Google has Drive apps for Android, iOS, Mac and PC, and all have been well adapted to the host platform.

The smartphone apps are typically minimalistic and easy to navigate, though on iOS they subscribe to Google's design language more than Apple's. If you download the additional Sheets and Docs apps, you can also edit documents (including MS Office docs) from your phone or tablet.

Meanwhile the desktop apps stay out of your way, simply adding a Google Drive folder to your PC or Mac's file system that stores and syncs everything.

This being Google, you can work just as well with Drive through the Drive website. Indeed, it's essential to do so for document collaboration. Accessing Google Drive through a mobile web browser is also fast and intuitive.

SEE ALSO: Android 5.0 release date, name and features

Dropbox

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If there's one brand name that can be said to be synonymous with cloud storage and sharing, it's Dropbox. Established in 2008, it currently has more than 200 million users worldwide. Many of the features adopted by Google, Apple, and Microsoft in this field have been directly informed by Dropbox.


How much storage do you get?
Dropbox offers the least amount of initial free storage at 2GB, but this can be expanded to 16GB through referrals (getting others to sign up). Additional storage rental is relatively pricey, though. An additional 100GB will cost you £7.99 per month, 200GB is £15.99, and 500GB is £39.99 per month.

You can often get extra storage through other means, though. For example, many phones are sold with 50GB of extra storage for two years as a sweetener.


What are the key features?
Dropbox's biggest feature is simply how well established and easy to use it is. The setup procedure is painless, regardless of platform, and there's a good chance most of the people you deal with over the internet — whether clients or friends — have a Dropbox account already, making sharing that bit easier.

As with the other services, Dropbox encourages and facilitates automatic mobile photo uploads, although unlike Google Drive they count against your allowance regardless of size.

Like Google with Gmail, Dropbox now has its own email app in Mailbox. This too plays nicely with the company's own cloud storage service, allowing you to attach Dropbox files to emails and, conversely, save such attachments to the cloud.

Of course, Dropbox has the advantage here because Mailbox supports both Gmail and iCloud accounts, with others said to be on the way.

Dropbox for Business is a popular choice with companies due to its proven reliability and security. It gives companies 1TB of storage for five or more users at £11 a month per user.

The only issue with Dropbox is it doesn't have its own productivity apps. This is a small weakness, albeit one that's less important if you have a package you already use.


How good are the apps?
As mentioned, Dropbox's biggest strength is its ubiquity. This extends to its apps, with versions for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Mac, Windows, and Linux.

The mobile apps are extremely spartan and functional - particularly on iOS, where it subscribes to the iOS 7 design language. In both iOS and Android you get a list of stored folders in alphabetical order and additional tabs for photo uploads and 'favourite' files.

On desktop platforms, you get Dropbox's famous folder approach, allowing you to sync local files simply by dragging and dropping them.

You also get a handy little task bar icon that notifies you of recently edited shared folders, as well as offering shortcuts to your Dropbox files on the web.

Microsoft OneDrive

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Microsoft's cloud storage service had a bit of a stuttering start to life, with various chops and changes along the way — not least to its name. Remember SkyDrive? Now, though, the company has settled on a pure vision of OneDrive as its one core cross-platform cloud storage service.

How much storage do you get?
Microsoft has recently bumped up its free storage allowance to 15GB, bringing it level with Google Drive. You can add an extra 3GB by switching on automatic camera uploads in the mobile app, and an additional 5GB by referring 10 friends, all of which makes it the most generous allowance at present.

If you still need extra, 100GB costs £1.99 per month, and 200GB costs £3.99 per month.


What are the key features?
Perhaps OneDrive's biggest stand-out feature is its support for Office Online, allowing you to not only store MS Office documents in the cloud, but edit them from your web browser too.

Of course, this is a response to Google Drive and its Google Docs features, but Microsoft's implementation gives you native access to the most widely adopted document formats around. This will make it ideal for many businesses.

OneDrive for Business currently has 50 percent off, costing £1.60 per month with an annual commitment for 1TB and additional administrative support.


How good are the apps?
One of the big benefits for OneDrive is that it's the only cloud service on this list that has proper Windows Phone integration.

That sounds stupidly obvious — of course Microsoft's cloud service is built into Microsoft's mobile OS. But with no official Google Drive, Dropbox, or iCloud apps on the Windows Phone Store, those who use the third biggest mobile platform around (relatively small in number though they are) have only the one choice.

Of course, Microsoft has also made OneDrive apps available for PC, Mac, iOS, and Android. On the app coverage count, then, it's up there just behind Dropbox.

Like Dropbox, the OneDrive iOS mobile app subscribes to the iOS 7 design language, making it very easy to negotiate. Its Android app is a slightly messier mixture of Microsoft and Google elements, but it works well enough.

iOS users also have the option to use Microsoft's Office for iPad apps, though these require an Office 365 subscription as well.

SEE ALSO: Office for iPad review

iCloud Drive

iCloud Drive
Apple has been even slower than Microsoft in getting its act together when it comes to the cloud. Launched in 2011, iCloud was the start of the company bucking its ideas up, and the forthcoming iCloud Drive will complete the picture with a full cloud storage solution to match the others on this list. Finally.

How much storage do you get?

iCloud Drive will give you 5GB of storage for free, which is one of the lesser amounts on offer here. We know now that an extra 20GB of storage will cost 79 pence a month, while 200GB will cost £2.99 per month. 500GB packages will cost 6.99 per month and if you go for a mammoth 1TB, that's going to cost you £14.99 a month.


What are the key features?
Apple's revamped cloud storage offering will add a Dropbox-like drag and drop desktop files system to the existing service.

While iCloud Drive will be available on Windows too, Mac users will be able to search for their online cloud files and tag them directly through Finder as they would any local file.

Mac users also get all the current iCloud offerings. These include seamless iWorks file syncing, Keychain for secure password storage, and backup for your contacts, emails, calendars, notes, and more. iPhone and iPad users also get to wirelessly backup their devices, as well as auto-upload their photos.

All very good for Mac and iPhone users, then. A whole lot less useful for everyone else.


How good are the apps?
Unlike the rest of the offerings, there is no iCloud app as such. There's unlikely to be one when iCloud Drive arrives, either.

Rather, iCloud works quietly in the background on iPhone to sync all of the above, while a simple control panel app allows you to tweak your settings on Mac and Windows. When it arrives, iCloud Drive will form a local folder in which to drag and drop your files, similar to the other services.

Of course, while Apple has acknowledged that many iPhone users are also PC users with its Windows iCloud support, there has been no talk of an Android iCloud app or support for any other platform.

Like the other services, Apple allows web browser-based access to your iCloud files. This means web-based versions of its iWork apps, Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Moreover, the desktop versions of these apps are free on any new Mac and iOS device.

This gives Apple a similar 'all-in-one' solution to Google and Microsoft, though the web apps are still in 'beta' and this sometimes shows in slightly sluggish performance.

SEE ALSO: iOS 8 release date, features, apps and news

Conclusion

As cloud storage matures and expands, there appears to be something of a consensus developing on how these services should operate. Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive, and soon iCloud Drive all do the same basic things very well indeed.

All allow you to sync your desktop files with an online folder by dragging and dropping, all allow easy sharing of these files, and all allow you to access them seamlessly from your mobile.

Making a choice comes down to two main things, then: price and unique features specific to your needs.

Dropbox is arguably the most accessible and ubiquitous service of the lot, and has the strongest business presence too. If you're using the cloud for sharing serious amounts of files to a wide variety of clients or colleagues, it's probably your best bet.

It's not cheap, though. In fact, Dropbox is the most expensive service here — as it needs to be as the only true cloud storage specialist. Its weakness is the lack of deep platform level integration, the lack of dedicated productivity apps and the limited free and pricey additional storage.

If you want the best balance of copious free storage, low expansion prices, and useful additional features, Google Drive appears to be the best bet right now.

With its Google Docs integration making collaboration on documents a doddle, tight Gmail integration, and handy photo uploading and enhancement services, it will be the best all-round package for a great many users.

Of course, there's a third criteria that brings the other two packages into play — platform choice. If you're heavily invested in Windows and/or Windows Phone, or OS X and/or iOS, then OneDrive and iCloud Drive will automatically become a whole lot more appealing to you. In fact, their tight integration into the respective platforms will make them a default, almost non-negotiable choice for certain tasks.

All of which means that in the immediate future, we're all likely to be signing up for and using at least two of the above services simultaneously.

It's far from an ideal situation. But when these cloud storage solutions are this uniformly good, free, and similar in basic function, it's something we should all be able to learn to live with pretty comfortably.

Next, read our Android 4.4 tips and tricks or out iOS 7 tips, tricks and secrets guide

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