It’s hard to believe that we used to store our computer files on floppy disks. But these days everything is in the cloud and accessible from virtually every device.
Of course, not all cloud platforms are created equal. The key is to make sure that you pick the cloud storage service that best suits your needs. From gobs of space to gorgeous photo views to excellent collaboration tools, each one has something different to offer, so we broke down the most popular options so you can learn which would be right for you and your files.
2 GB for free, Dropbox Pro with 1 TB of space is $9.99 per month
There’s no doubt that Dropbox is usually the first option that comes to mind for online storage, and for good reason — it just works.
Dropbox is available on Android, Apple (iPhone and iPad), Blackberry, and Kindle Fire devices (sorry Windows Mobile users). The app is simple to use; largely going without any bells and whistles beyond an integrated file viewer and the ability to “star” individual files to ensure that they’re available for offline viewing if you lose your data connection. You can share individual files by email, Facebook, or Twitter, print, or open them in compatible apps.
The service may also be a “must” for you if you use certain other apps such as 1Password, which relies on Dropbox on the backend to synchronize passwords between devices. This is becoming less of an issue as Apple’s cloud services improve, though that can be bad news for those with multiple Apple accounts (one personal, one corporate).
One of the biggest advantages of Dropbox is the fact that you can earn a lot of additional storage through referrals, but that may not be as exciting these days since all of your friends probably already use Dropbox too. It’s still a great option that is easy to use, and while it would be nice to have some more features on the mobile apps, there aren’t really any downsides worth mentioning.
15 GB free, 100 GB for $1.99 per month, 1 TB for $9.99 per month, up to 30 TB for $299.99 per month
If you already use Gmail (and who doesn’t these days?) then you already have a Google Drive account, and you’re probably already using it — even if you didn’t know it. Google Drive is a cloud storage service that provides space shared between your Gmail inbox (for email attachments) and any documents and photos you upload to the service. The good news is that any documents you create with Google Docs/Sheets/Slides, as well as any photos smaller than 2048 x 2048 pixels, don’t use any of your storage space.
Like the other cloud storage apps covered in this article, Google Drive mobile apps are available for a variety of platforms, including Android, Apple (iPhone and iPad) and Windows and Mac computers. The app has grid and list view options, and tapping on the “I” information icon brings up a small preview window along with all of your options, including Share, Remove, Move To, Print, Unstar, Rename, Export, and Get Link. You can keep on your device in case you lose your Internet connection, and see when the file was last modified.
One of the nicest features of the app is the ability to see exactly who has access to a particular file, including whether they have editing privileges. You can turn link sharing on or off as well to restrict access between anyone who has the document’s link or a select group. If you need to edit a file, you can open it in a compatible app on your device.
Google Drive has the advantage of offering lots of free space, not to mention the fact that you may not even have to sign up for the service because you probably already have a Google account. It doesn’t have the nice photo view that Dropbox offers, but is mostly the same as far as features are concerned.
15 GB for free, 100 GB for $1.99 per month, 1 TB (including Office 365) for $6.99 per month
If you have a Microsoft account or use Outlook.com for email, you may already have access to Microsoft OneDrive. Like Google Drive, OneDrive offers 15 GB of space for free, though there’s also the possibility of earning additional free space by referring friends to the service or turning on automatic camera backup on a mobile device.
The mobile apps are a little bare bones right now, with little more than the ability to choose File, Photo, Recent, or Shared views. Once you select an individual file or photo, you can choose to share it with someone else, trash it, move it to another folder, download it, or open it in another app.
On Apple devices, OneDrive can be strongly tied to Office for iPad, and is the best way to manage files created or edited by the iOS versions of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint.
Microsoft OneDrive works as advertised, and it’s certainly a good option for those who are already using Microsoft’s other services. If you need extra space it becomes even more attractive, because the $7 monthly plan also includes full access to Office 365.
10 GB for free, 100 GB for $10 a month; Business & Corporate plans also available
Box (formerly Box.net) has a lot to offer when it comes to mobile file access. Like its competitors, it automatically backs up all of your Windows and Mac desktop files, just as you would expect.
Where Box really shines is in sharing and collaboration. There’s an update feed that shows when new files have been added or existing files have been edited in shared folders, and sharing folders is as easy as emailing a link from within the mobile app.
Box is also integrated into more than 1,000 mobile apps so it’s easy to edit your files and keep them all in one place. And of course everything stays secure, thanks to an optional passcode and individual permissions on shared folders.
You can access your files from mobile devices by using the mobile version of the Box web site or by downloading the platform-specific app for your device (it’s available for iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows Phone, and Blackberry). The file viewer is very good, and allows you to preview video files from within the Box app or open them in any other supported app you have on your device. You can also add comments to any file (which is especially useful for business collaboration), rename, move, copy, or delete.
Box is constantly being improved with the addition of new features — it’s definitely worth a look for those who want just a little more flexibility than Dropbox offers, or for those who just don’t want to follow the herd. It’s also a good option for extreme cheapskates, because Box offers five times more free storage for personal accounts than Dropbox.
Amazon Cloud Drive
5 GB free, plans start at 20 GB for $10 a year and go up to 1,000 GB for $500 a year; Prime members, Fire Phone users, and Fire tablet owners get unlimited photo storage
The photo storage features in Amazon’s online-storage service are particularly robust — you can delete photos from your phone and still access them with the free Cloud Drive iOS and Android apps. Photos are automatically backed up to the cloud so you’ll never have to worry about losing them, even if you lose your phone or tablet. The timeline feature makes it fast and easy to find what you’re looking for — just swipe from the right side of the screen to bring it up. Hold your tablet in portrait mode and you’ll get a grid view, or try landscape mode for a beautiful tiled view perfect for sharing your favorite shots with friends and family.
At this time, there’s no way to fully access any documents that you’ve stored in Amazon’s cloud service on your mobile device. You can use your web browser to access the Cloud Drive web site and view spreadsheets, but there’s no way to download the original files into another app such as GoodReader, Pages, or Numbers.
Hopefully there will be a full Amazon Cloud Drive app available in the future, but until then the Amazon Cloud Drive Photos app is great for photo buffs, especially those who already have a Prime account and can take advantage of the unlimited storage option.