Photo: Flickr Steven Damron
Cloud storage services are everywhere these days.The internet has gotten cloudier than my memories of Burning Man ’05. Each claims to rule the sky, but there can be only one. Find out who it is.
We tested eleven of the most popular cloud storage services out there, looked at their price-per-gigabyte, and considered their various features and functionality.
Read on to meet our gladiators, and to see which was the one cloud to rule them all.
Amazon Cloud Drive isn't much more than a hard drive in the sky, but if that's all you need, it's a good option as it's cheaper than most of the others. Its interface is fairly basic and it's pretty much all web, but it's got nice tunes. Amazon distinguishes itself here with its capability of streaming your music to you via the web or a very nice Android app (iOS folks have to use the browser interface). This is a big draw for music-lovers.
Your first 5GB are free, and if you buy any album (which are almost always significantly cheaper than they are in iTunes) you're automatically upgraded to 20GB free (and the MP3s you purchase through Amazon MP3 don't count against your limit). Max file size is a beefy 2GB, but there's no syncing or anything like that.
• Storage Options Prices/year: 5GB/FREE, 20GB/$20, 50GB/$50, 100GB/$100, 500GB/$500, 1TB/$1,000
• Max file size: 2GB
• Access: Web, Android
Box.net's main focus is collaboration, and it's definitely geared more toward business users. The sharing features are really pretty good, with tools to manage workflow, versions, tasks, and comments (with a similar look to Facebook). It also plays nicely with Google Apps. It has a good reputation for reliability.
The bad news is that gig for gig, Box.net is our most expensive competitor. In fact, it costs twice as much as our second most expensive service. Other downers: 25MB max file size if you're on the free 5GB account (which is pathetic), and 50GB total is as high as you can go without upgrading to an even more expensive business account.
• Storage Options Prices/year: 5GB/FREE, 25GB/$120, $100GB/$240,
• Max file size: 25MB for free accounts / 1GB for paid
• Access: Web, iOS, Android, TouchPad
Dropbox is everywhere, it seems, because it's so ridiculously simple and convenient. You have a folder, you put stuff in it, and that folder is synced across all of your computers. You make a change to a Word doc in your Dropbox folder, save it, and it's updated across all of your computers' Dropbox folders. It looks like any other folder in your computer. You just drop stuff in there and you know it's going to do its thing. Sharing stuff is easy, and there's no size limit on files.
The downside: You only get 2GB for free (though you can increase that to 16GB free by referrals). Also, the files that are synced have to be in that folder (or sub-folder), not elsewhere on your computer (though you can work around that). It's also one of our most expensive options, and the max size is 100GB unless you want to shell out even more for a Team account which starts at $795/year for 350GB shared between a maximum of five people (say what?).
• Storage Options Prices/year: 2GB/FREE, 50GB/$120, 100GB/$240
• Max file size: Unlimited
• Access: Windows, Mac, Ubuntu, Web, iOS, Android,
This will get you the most bang for your buck. Google's cloud solution, creatively called Google User Managed Storage, gets very cosy with Google's other services, such as Docs and Picasa.
Docs users get (a measly) 1GB of storage for free, which can be used for any type of file, but you can buy more elbow room at very nice prices. Google Docs has excellent sharing and syncing capabilities and you can sync your Microsoft Office documents with it via Google's Cloud Connect plug-in.
The downsides: puzzlingly, the extra storage you buy doesn't apply to your Gmail account, so you're still limited to the free 7+GB. Why??
Also, the storage you buy can't be pooled or shared with other Google Apps accounts. Kind of lame. 1 free gig isn't particularly generous. (Note: Google also has Google Music Beta which allows you to upload 20,000 of your songs for free into the cloud and stream them. It's still in Beta, it's not currently expandable, and it's separate from their User Managed Storage, but it's worth mentioning.)
• Storage Options Prices/year: 1GB/FREE, 20GB/$5, 80GB/$20, 200GB/$50, 1TB/$256
• Max file size: 1GB
• Access: Web, Android, Mobile Web
Apple's iCloud is the new kid on the block. It's designed to integrate seamlessly with your many devices... but only if they have an Apple on them.
The good news is that iCloud will sync your iWork documents across your computers and make them web and mobile accessible. It'll sync your email, you get 5GB free, and your music and videos don't count against your storage limit, but only if you purchased them from Apple.
Now the bad news: if you're on their free storage, iCloud's max file size is 25MB. Say what!? Even if you upgrade to one of the paid plans, that only bumps you up to 250MB. I don't know what they're thinking there (forget storing any HD video). Also, at it's twice as expensive as Amazon's offering, and EIGHT TIMES as expensive as Google's. Currently, 50GB is as much as you can get. Those are some serious iDings against it.
• Storage Options Prices/year: 5GB/FREE, 10GB/$20, 20GB/$40, 50GB/$100,
• Max file size: 25MB for free accounts / 250MB for paid
• Access: Mac, iOS, Web
iDrive Sync is similar to Dropbox, but more advanced in some ways. Like Dropbox it has a desktop app, but unlike Dropbox you can sync folders that are outside of your main folder. It also keeps backups of all versions of your files for 30 days, just in case.
It offers 5GB for free, or for $49.50 you get UNLIMITED storage! On paper, this should be the obvious pick. So why isn't it?Calling iDrive 'intuitive' would be like calling the global economy 'stable.' The web interface is an assault on your eyes, and even the desktop app leaves a lot to be desired. Currently iPhone is the only mobile app it has. It's also somewhat buggy.
In my testing I found that it's just still not as clean, polished, or reliable as it should be (especially since it's been in the game for almost five years), which is a shame, because I really wanted it to be my cloud saviour .
• Storage Options Prices/year: 5GB/FREE, Unlimited/$49.50
• Max file size: Unlimited
• Windows, Mac, Web, iPhone
WindowsLive SkyDrive is an interesting one. It gives you a whole ton of space (25GB) for free. It integrates very nicely into the Microsoft Office Web suite, Hotmail (boo!), and other Microsoft Live services. The web interface is straightforward, and it works very well with Windows Phone 7. If you run Windows on your desktop you can sync folders via Windows Live Mesh. It's basically a big lump of storage, for free.
The bad? Well, it's just a big lump of storage, for free. That's not bad, per se, but there's not much else to it. If you're not on Windows, you don't get any bells or whistles. No OSX, Android, or iOS support. If you just want a place to store stuff and you don't want to pay for it, this is a great option. Unfortunately, there's a 50MB size-limit on your files, which is, y'know, stupid.
• Storage Options Prices/year: 25GB/FREE
• Max file size: 100MB
• Windows, Web, WP7, Mobile Web
Mozy is a little bruiser. It has cross-platform desktop apps that allow you to choose which folders you want to back up, and then you pretty much don't have to think about it any more. It offers robust encryption and even has bandwidth throttling so you can still stream your pornNetflix movies while it's backing up. It also offers version backups for the last 30 days, and it has one of the cleanest, easiest UIs we've seen.
Downside: After the free 2GB the next level up is $72/year for 50GB, which is about mid-pack, price-wise, but it's kind of a big jump. The biggest negative, though, is that it's not really built for sharing. This is a big drawback if you do a lot of collaborating. If you want super-easy and reliable backup, though, this is a pretty good option.
• Storage Options Prices/year: 2GB/FREE, 50GB/$72, 125GB/$120, 200GB/$216, $500GB/$576, 1TB/$1,176
• Max file size: Unlimited
• Mac, PC, Android, iOS, Web
SugarSync really kinda has everything. Keeps files in sync across multiple computers in (almost) realtime? Check. Apps for all major smartphone operating systems and a nice web interface? Yep. Easy and intuitive sharing and collaboration? Indeed. High level encryption with redundancy across multiple data centres? Nice interface? Streaming music to mobile or desktop? Yes yes yes.
It also hangs on to the last five versions of your documents, it will auto-upload the pictures you take on your phone, and it has a very good bonus program that allows you to get extra storage for free. It even has the speed throttling I liked with Mozy, and it has a Dropbox like component called Magic Briefcase.
The downside? It's not our cheapest option, but it's right about in the middle. And if you want customer service to answer the phone, you'll have to pay extra for that (but to be fair, most of the others don't even have the option of phone support).
• Storage Options Prices/year: 5GB/FREE, 30GB/$50, 60GB/$100, 100GB/$150, 250GB/$250, 500GB/$400
• Max file size: 2GB when transferring between computers, unlimited if uploading directly to web
• Windows, Mac, Web, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows Mobile
Ubuntu desktop users rejoice! Annnd, that's about it. The closest comparison is Dropbox in terms of features. You get 5GB free and from there you can buy however many 20GB chunks for $30/year each. It has an integrated music streaming service that will stream to Firefox, Android, and iOS devices. If you're on Ubuntu you can sync file folders, and the interface is really pretty nice.
The downside, aside from the mobile platforms I just mentioned, it only works on the Ubuntu OS. There's a Windows version in Beta, but reports of mucho bugginess are abundant. Mac users are out of luck, although you can access it with your browser. It's also fairly pricey for what it is. Unless you're on Ubuntu, this one doesn't make a ton of sense.
• Storage Options Prices/year: 5GB/FREE, 20GB/$30, 60GB/$100, 100GB/$150, 200/$300, 500GB/$750, 1TB/$1,500
• Max file size: 5GB
• Ubuntu, Web, Android, iOS
YouSendIt made its name by sending your gigantic files for you. Eventually they figured, 'Hey, maybe we should just save these and let users continue to access them.' Smart of them. It features enterprise-level security and it's picked up a few tricks over the years, like plug-ins for many popular applications (Microsoft Office, FinalCut, and iPhoto, to name just a few).
Their pricing plans are somewhat puzzling. 2GB free storage (with many limitations on sharing), or an insane $120 for only 5GB storage (with fewer limitations)! I'm guessing that's because YouSendIt is still primarily used for sharing, so their servers will likely be more taxed? Who knows, but here's the humdinger: for only 60 bucks more than that, you get UNLIMITED storage! If you don't need sync, $180 bucks to store all of your everything is not bad at all. Fun fact: YouSendIt's storage is via Dropbox. Funner fact: YouSentIt's storage is NOT through Dropbox. They have a 'Dropbox' but it is in no way related to Dropbox.com.
• Storage Options Prices/year: 2GB/FREE, 5GB/$120, UNLIMITED/$180
• Max file size: 50MB for free accounts, 2GB for paid accounts
• Mac, Windows, Web, BlackBerry, iPhone (limited to tracking)
How sweet it is. SugarSync is essentially everything we wanted. It combines the best bits of all of the other services and weaves it together into a fast and intuitive package. It worked exactly like we wanted to. Super powerful, super easy, and tons of features. If 5GB (plus the extra you get for referrals) is enough for you, then this is a no-brainer.
If you don't mind shelling out for more storage, it's still a no-brainer as the rates are quite reasonable. NOTE: When I signed up for an account, I was informed that all paid accounts are currently 50% off + your first month is free. SugarSync was already the clear winner, and that made it even clearer.
If you don't need desktop syncing and you just want a ton of cloud storage space, but you don't want to pay much for it, Google User Managed Storage (get a better name for this, Google!) is your best bet. 80GB for 20 bucks? 200GB for 50? Solid. If you need an insane amount of storage, then go with YouSendIt's $180 for unlimited, or take your chances with iDrive Sync's unlimited plan.
25 gigs of completely free storage? If you just want a hard drive in the sky, for free, then Windows Live's SkyDrive is your answer. Even more so if you do a lot of Microsoft Office-ing online or if you only used Windows PCs.
If you or someone you love wants cloud storage but is a bit of a luddite and needs the absolute, most-basic interface possible, Dropbox is pretty easy to wrap your head around.