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What's the best cloud storage service to use?


What's the best cloud storage service to use?

We compare Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud Drive and the cloud storage newcomers

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.

Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft OneDrive and Apple’s iCloud Drive are all looking to be your cloud service of choice, but which is best? Let's take a closer look at each of these four offerings.

Google Drive


Google has combined a number of its online services under the Google Drive banner, creating a single formidable and flexible productivity tool with numerous abilities. 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.

You’ll also be able to bag lots of free storage through partner deals. Many Chromebooks give you some added GB, while we were gifted 100GB for opening up Google Drive on the One M9.

What are the key features?

Google has pulled its Docs, Sheets, and Slides services 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 allows you to quickly attach documents from Google Drive, while it's also possible to set attachments to automatically save to the cloud. Some larger files need to be uploaded to your Drive before you can send them.

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, Docs and Slides apps, you can also edit documents (including MS Office docs) from your phone or tablet.

Each of these apps has seen a recent Material Design infused update, with a flatter design and a load of of new visual elements. They’re all pretty fantastic - slick, quick and everything just works. Start a document on your iPad, pick it up on your Chromebook and even finish it on your Android phone while you’re on the bus - it’s seamless.

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.

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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, some phones are sold with 50GB of extra storage for two years as a sweetener though this seems to be somewhat dying a bit, with many choosing to offer up Google Drive storage instead.

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.

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. It’s available on iOS and Android, plus the web and there’s even a very pretty native OS X app that is much better than Apple’s Mail Client.

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

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.

Dropbox has a dedicated photos app (available on iOS and Android) called Carousel. This pulls in all backed-up snaps and lays them out in a grid view, scrollable by day, month or year. It even has a ‘Timehop-esque’ ‘On This Day’ feature which pings your phone with a snap from your past. Ah, reminiscing over that awful haircut you once thought was cool.

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. But, many apps do plug into Dropbox so you can easily pull down files to your favourite. Microsoft Word, for example, now plays nice with Dropbox - simply sign-in and all your documents will be accessible.

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 8.1, and Linux.

The mobile apps are extremely spartan and functional - particularly on iOS, where it subscribes to the iOS 8 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. The coolest addition to the iOS 8 app is support for TouchID, letting you ditch the password and use your thumb to add an extra layer of protection to your 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


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. They are both real bargains. Good on you, Microsoft.

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.

How good are the apps?

One of the big benefits for OneDrive is that it is one of the only cloud services on this list that has proper Windows Phone integration, Dropbox aside, so if that’s your mobile operating system of choice the available options are much narrower.

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 8 design language, making it very easy to negotiate. You can also, just like Drobox, add an extra bit of security by using TouchID. Its Android app is a slightly messier mixture of Microsoft and Google elements, but it works well enough.

iOS and Android users also have the option to use Microsoft's Office for tablet and phones, which are fantastic, fully featured little apps. You need a full-on Office 365 sub to access all the features, but the majority of things we use on a daily basis are all free.

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iCloud Drive

iCloud Drive

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

Yeh, don’t get your hopes up guys. This service is better than the failure that was MobileMe, but it’s still bottom of the pile here.

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. 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.

Basically, you’ll be paying if you want anything that won’t get instantly filled up with a few photos and a couple of device back-ups.

What are the key features?

Apple's revamped cloud storage offering adds a Dropbox-like drag and drop desktop files system to the existing service. It’s available on Windows too, but only through a browser.

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. But you weren’t expecting anything else from Apple, were you?

How good are the apps?

Unlike the rest of the offerings, there is no iCloud app as such. We feel this is a massive misstep from Apple. A couple of third party apps, Documents 5 by Readdle for example, mimic the functionality of a native client, but it’s far from a perfect solution.

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.

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.

Photos is a big sell for iCloud Drive, and it’s finally available for all thanks to the latest Yosemite update. Take a snap on your iPhone and it’ll instantly appear on all other device linked to that iCloud account - be it a Mac, iPad or even your second iPhone.

Even if you make an edit on the fantastic Mac app, it’ll appear right away on your other devices. It really is seamless. If you’re a Windows user, you’ll notice the ‘Photos’ app on iCloud.com, so again you’re not completely left out.

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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 native 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.


The Outsiders

The big-hitters above aren’t the only solutions out there, especially if you have more specific needs. Here are a few other services you might want to consider.


The biggest service just sitting outside the top 4, Box is mainly designed for business users. It puts security at the forefront of things, so all your top secret files *shouldn’t* fall into the wrong hands. There’s plenty of collaboration features too, so your team can work on projects together. Multiple subscription options are available, ranging from the fairly limited Personal plan (this gives you 10GB of space, but you’ll only be able to upload files up to 250MB and it lacks many of the top security features) to the £11 per month business plan. This one gives you unlimited storage, with the 5GB per file upload limit, but it does need a minimum of three users.

virgin cloud

Virgin Media Cloud

Not a Virgin customer? Move along, this isn’t the cloud service you’re looking for.

While there’s nothing specifically wrong with Virgin Media’s cloud attempt, we wouldn’t recommend it for anyone but the die hard Tivo addicts.

It works ok - you get 5GB (plus an extra 5GB for other family members) of storage, plus further options can be added (£3.99 gives you 50GB, while £26.99 gives you 500GB), with videos, pictures and music all available to upload. You can even check your photos and music from a Tivo box, which is a nice touch.

It’s lacking any collaborative features, the apps are a tad on the ugly sides and it all seems just a bit slow and clunky. With so many better options out there, we say avoid this one.

BT Cloud

Just like with Virgin Media’s Cloud, this isn’t of much use unless you’re a BT customer.

Working in a similar way to the above attempt from Virgin Media, BT Cloud is a pretty basic digital locker service that can be used to backup files on multiple device and share content quickly between others.

There are some fairly old-fashioned looking apps available for iOS, Android and Windows 8.1 and of course everything can be accessed through a browser. Your initial free amount of storage depends on your broadband package - Unlimited Broadband Extra and Unlimited BT Infinity 2 customers bag a nice 50GB free, while all others will have to make do with a meagre 5GB. This can be upped by 50GB for £3 per month or by 500GB for £9.

Again, unless you just want some basic cloud storage, we’d advise you don’t put all your eggs in BT’s basket. It’s just very limited.

The Wildcard


Now, this isn’t for everyone. It’s not for file sharing, document calibration or anything like that, but we feel Flickr deserves a mention here. Especially if you have lots of photos you want backed-up and accessible everywhere.

The killer feature with Flickr is just how much free storage you - a whopping 1TB. That’s a lot of full resolution photos. It also has the sleekest mobile apps, a great array of editing options, a fast website and a dedicated Windows or Mac uploader that’ll take all the shots on your computer and send them up to the cloud.

It’s the best cloud photo storing solution out there, period.

Daniel Pugh

July 31, 2014, 3:54 pm

just a thought but one thing not covered is reliability. dropbox just works, google drive pretty much just works, onedrive has _lots_ of problems with the desktop client although it is slowly getting better. in particular the 5000 file limit is a big issue. sharepoint and team sites are a big plus points for business users though! we have migrated >1000 users to both google and they are both great as is dropbox


July 31, 2014, 5:50 pm

I agree, and I just renewed a few weeks ago my Pro plan. It is expensive, and I tried all of the above, including some not listed, yet Dropbox is the only one that "just works" - including across the many platforms I use (OS X, Win, iOS, Android).

Their "Packrat" feature is also well implemented, and has been helpful a few times.


July 31, 2014, 6:07 pm

Box.com has been by far the best cloud service I have used out of all of these services; in terms of space, dependability, speed and ease of use. Surprised it was overlooked here.

Ethical Studios

July 31, 2014, 8:33 pm

Totally agree. Dropbox just works. We use Google Drive as well but never quite trust it. It's let us down on a number of occasions. Files sometimes go awol and synchronisation can take quite a while... or worse it can get stuck. We still use it as the feature range you get for the money is great! We just make sure we back anything up that is vital.


July 31, 2014, 9:14 pm

where's Box?

Kitipan K.

August 1, 2014, 3:26 am

Personally, I find in terms of managing shares scores best on Dropbox > Google Drive > One Drive.


August 1, 2014, 5:04 am

I personally just got rid of the horrid dropbox. I have had nothing but problems with it including simply uploading to the cloud via the website. I am only using one drive now as I got a few 1tb with my new surface pro 3. It has been flawless and easy, though Google drive seams to work good as well. I think I will stick with one drive though.

Arpit Agarwal

August 1, 2014, 6:35 am

I think OneDrive is the best. I use Windows 8.1 on my laptop and in my tablet. On mobile, I use Android. OneDrive allows me an excellent access in both these platforms by means of native integration on my laptop and tablet. Additionally, it provides a very good Android app as well. Above all, the monthly subscription fees is also low. DropBox is a costly affair. Google Drive is only accessible by means of app on Android. It has a seriously lackluster support for Windows. iCloud is out of question for me. Therefore, best bet is Microsoft OneDrive.

Lewis Evans

August 1, 2014, 6:46 am

"Apple has been slow to get its act together when it comes to the cloud" ?! http://en.wikipedia.org/wik... where have you been for 14 years?


August 1, 2014, 7:10 am

I'm surprised you guys haven't checked out Mega.co.nz yet (50Gb free) and other types of ENCRYPTED cloud storage. Although I have used Dropbox (expensive) and OneDrive (2Gb file size limit) for many years now, I now think personal privacy is an important selling point due to all four services sharing your data with the US government (and others).


August 1, 2014, 7:11 am

vs Owncloud...


August 1, 2014, 7:23 am

If you subscribe to Office 365 (£7.99/month for 5 users), each user now gets 5TB of storage on One Drive and 60 mins of free Skype minutes to mobiles.


August 1, 2014, 8:28 am

We will certainly add it in future updates. We just wanted to cover the most well-known services before moving onto other ones.


August 1, 2014, 10:24 am

I have office 365 so get 1TB of storage. I also have a Lumia 930 so everything is stored on ONEDRIVE. It just works on everything. All the others are restrictive in one way or another on other platforms or not on other platforms at all. If you need something that works everywhere and on all platforms and thus will allow you to change platform at a future date then onedrive is the one.

OneDrive now has music integration. Just create a music folder on your PC under OneDrive, drop your music there and it is available on all your devices and can be played on the web!


August 1, 2014, 10:48 am

I've tried all of the extensively, except for Apple's offering, and I honestly prefer Onedrive the most, simply because its Android app is the most stable. Dropbox offers such a tiny amount of free storage that it isn't worth bothering with. Google Drive is nice, but I often had issues with uploading files from my phone (which is strange, seeing as how Google made my phone's OS).

OneDrive works flawlessly, and I can upload and download large files with ease. My phone's camera roll automatically backs up there too, which is really nice.


August 1, 2014, 3:41 pm

Actually, Google has unlimited storage now for apps customers for only a small extra per month.


August 1, 2014, 4:20 pm

OneDrive is horrible under OS X. It has issues with files names that Dropbox handles just fine, and it continuously had issues keeping everything synched. Not to mention Microsoft horrible cancellation policy/procedure. I tried to cancelled a few months ago, but it kept giving me a cryptic error saying that I needed to call log to a Microsoft forum and put it as request, but never got a reply ! I managed to get out of the trap by changing my credit card in my account, to one that was about to expire, so they just cancelled my account when the renewal didn't go through. It's something you will never experience with Dropbox, their service is just stellar. You get what you pay for, and my data is worth more than OneDrive's cheaper price.


August 1, 2014, 6:23 pm

Dropbox allows users to add their own layer of encryption, making their data undecryptable by Dropbox even under court order.


August 1, 2014, 6:39 pm

I have tried them all, although I have not tried iCloud Drive just iCloud as is at the moment. I have now settled on OneDrive and it works great on my iOS devices and Mac so far. I have Office 365 so I get 5TB (1TB per user) included. Plus the integration with Office is great. It has been fast as well, on my fibre connection I uploaded 2GB in about 30 mins. The only thing I miss about Dropbox is the ticks on the folders plus Dropbox has better support in apps. One example is TextExpander so I have to keep Dropbox just to sync my snippets.

As someone who uses Apple devices almost exclusively, given the margins Apple makes on its products it would be nice if Apple just gives anyone who purchase an Apple device 1TB free iCloud storage. The only other problem with iCloud is that it can be slow when the files get large.

Coline Russelle

August 1, 2014, 9:05 pm

And just what happens to your life's work if you miss a payment...?


August 1, 2014, 9:25 pm

As regards Google Drive, you'll be given a grace period in order to set up and pay the amount due. If you default completely ALL uploaded files is still accessible but further uploads and GMail [since data counts against quota] is blocked. Read more here: https://support.google.com/...


August 1, 2014, 9:42 pm

Never had any major issues with Google Drive. Sync works perfectly. Certainly can't beat 1 TB for $9.99 a month which equates to about $120 or £70 a year. Paid users also get phone and web support which has also proved useful a couple of times.

Google Drive works very similarly to the folder structure of a PC or Mac, thus folders inside folders can be uploaded directly.

This is not the case with One Drive where one can only upload files into a folder made within the application.

Dropbox is fine but expensive, and just like One Drive only remains as a backup to share and send things to people who are more familiar with these systems. Also Google Drive and Dropbox being blocked in China, One Drive is sometime the only way to share large folders with people or companies there.

Mega, as someone mentioned, is fine as it stand and certainly offers a generous 50GB. However my experience has shown it to be EXTREMELY SLOW even with 50MB broadband.

I'm sure the Apple fanboys will rave about Apple's new offering, but NSA privacy issues aside, Google Drive comes out on top for cost, reliability, features and connectivity between it and other services such as search within GMail, picture sharing within Google+ etc.

Nicholas ONG

August 2, 2014, 5:12 pm

True that, I tried migrating from DropBox to OneDrive because I subscribed to the Office365 and I encountered a nightmare situation from slowness to poor sync issues. Hope Microsoft pours resources into it, otherwise, it's just gonna be a white elephant and I think I'm gonna move elsewhere. If you are talking about space, look at WeiYun by Tencents (China based company), they offer 10TB of storage. If you value your privacy or don't trust China based company, encrypt your files.

Michael Garry

August 2, 2014, 6:30 pm

Nothing. With all of these services (now they have copied the Dropbox way of doing things at least) all of your files are stored at all times on your own pc. They just mirror them in the cloud and share them with all computers that you have installed your account onto. Miss a payment / don't renew and the worst that can happen is your files are only on your PC.

Coline Russelle

August 3, 2014, 9:22 am

Typical! Overpriced if you are single...

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