As the migration of our data from our desktops to the ‘Cloud’ continues, it is of the utmost importance that we find the right place to put it. The place that suits us best, that caters to our individual needs, and a place we can trust. There are any number of options out there from developers which differ massively in their backgrounds.
In this article, we’ve drawn up a comprehensive comparison between what the offerings of what are considered the five leading lights in the cloud storage sector: Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Dropbox.
Cloud Service At a Glance
Category Google Drive iCloud Amazon Cloud Drive SkyDrive Dropbox
Free Space 5GB 5GB 5GB 7/25GB 2GB
Max. Space 16TB 55GB 1TB 107/125GB 10TB
Price per year* $59.88** $100 $50 $25 $99
Price per GB per year* $0.60 $1.82 $1 $0.44 $1.98
Desktop App Mac, Windows, Chrome OS Mac, Windows Mac, Windows OS X, Windows Mac, Windows, Linux
Mobile App Android, iOS iOS Android iOS, Windows Phone iOS, Android, BlackBerry
Browser ✔ ✗ ✔ ✔ ✔
*Based upon buying 50GB of extra storage
*Based upon buying 100GB of extra storage
A quick look at the table above will give you some minor insight into how the companies vary in terms of the bits and bytes they’ll provide you with, however there’s a lot more to the story than that. It actually gets a great deal more complicated, and there are a range of options worth considering from each service, depending on your needs.
Of course, the majority of users may not need more than what’s offered free of charge (in fact Microsoft’s Steven Sinofsky was quoted as suggesting that nearly 95% of SkyDrive users use less than 7GB of storage, and a great proportion of those fall short of 2GB). However, there is an all important, revenue-driving, 5%, which demands a lot more than that, and if cloud storage is going to be a success, this 5% needs to be catered for adequately. So let’s see how they each stack up.
Each of the services offer users the ability to add extra storage though, but usually for a cost. Dropbox, by the way, . Otherwise, you’ll have to splash the cash to expand your portion of the cloud, and pricing varies massively between providers, but we’ll look at that later.
Apple’s iCloud allows you to add either 10, 20 or 50GB of extra space to your initial 5GB quota, however with this service your content purchased through iTunes: movies, TV shows and music, do not count towards to the allotted space. Neither do the last 1000 photos you have stored in Apple’s PhotoStream application through iPhoto or your iOS device. So essentially what they’re offering, is 55GB (maximum) of space for your documents, backups and anything sourced elsewhere.
Google doesn’t offer any such allowances, however in contrast to Apple, offers a plethora of storage options, ranging from 25GB, right up to 16TB, stopping off incrementally at 100GB, 200GB, 400GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB and 8TB along the way.
Amazon Cloud Drive
Amazon sits on the fence between these two in many respects. Although topping out at just 1TB, 20GB, 50GB, 100GB, 200GB and 500GB options are also available. Within this allowance, though, you’re allowed an unlimited quantity of songs purchased through Amazon’s own MP3 store (1000 songs if using the free service of 5GB).
Microsoft’s SkyDrive offers 7GB of free space to new members. If you’re an existing member of SkyDrive, though, you may have 25GB, which was offered to all prior to a recent update. If you once had 25GB from Microsoft, and have now been reduced to 7GB, you can still reclaim that extra space for free for a limited, but indefinite time.
Microsoft only offers a trio of additional options, allowing you to add either 10, 20, or 50GB of space to your initial allowance, leaving you with either 57, or 75GB maximum. There’s no waiving this for Microsoft’s own content either, either if you are one of the relatively few who purchase your content from the Zune store.
Dropbox goes all-out to offer massive flexibility to its customers in terms of storage space. Obviously starting out at just 2GB, its a little behind the others on free space, however if you’re willing to pay, you can get a massive 10TB of space if you sign up for what’s called the ‘Team’ package, which connects a number of users to the same Dropbox account. Perfect for companies wishing to collaborate through the cloud on large projects. You can customise your ‘Team’ storage space using a simple slider, allowing you to change the number of users in your team, with 200GB of extra space being added for each user, on top of a 1TB minimum for the first 5 users, up to a maximum of 50 users for 10TB.
On a personal-user level, there are just two added options, allowing you to expand to 50GB, or 100GB of space. However, Dropbox is the only company which allows users to earn more cloud space. You can do this by referring other users to the service, or occasionally finding promotions. On the standard 2GB option, you can add 500MB of space to your quota per user referred up to 18GB. However paying customers will earn an extra 1GB per referral, up to 32GB.
Access to your Storage
It’s all well and good paying thousands of dollars for terabytes of cloud storage, but it’s no good if you can’t get at it. Of course there are no examples here of cloud storage which you can’t access, but these services do vary in terms of how they’re accessed and synchronised, and ease of use. As you can see in the table at the top, I’ve already mentioned that some of the services have desktop and mobile apps, as well as access via a browser, however the big question is: which way is best?
For example, iCloud isn’t directly ‘accessed’ at all. Instead, it automatically syncs your files across all of your iOS devices and Windows PC’s in the background, as part of Apple’s ongoing strive for losing the visible filesystem altogether. It’s a neat system, although you do lose a lot of the flexibility as you can’t decide precisely what gets synchronised and backed up, just from a list of general areas, such as ‘documents’, and ‘bookmarks’. You might not want all of your documents on all of your devices, however you might well want them all in the same place on each individual device. It has its drawbacks.
Google Drive and Dropbox on the other hand, are operated quite differently. Instead of working in the background, they’re brought right to the fore by adding a dedicated folder into Windows Explorer, or OS X’s Finder alternative. This functionality comes packed when you install the desktop apps for Mac OS X and Windows. There’s also a Linux version of Dropbox, which implements a folder into your default Home folder.
SkyDrive tends to, in typical Microsoft style, sit right on the fence between the competition, opting not for a folder implementation, but just a dedicated app for each main platform which allows direct access without being forced upon you. Additionally, it has in common another feature with iCloud, and that’s that photos taken on your Windows Phone are automatically duplicated and backed up to a folder called ‘SkyDrive Camera Roll’, which is accessible via anywhere SkyDrive is available (apps, browser), as well as the Photos app on your Windows Phone device.
Amazon Cloud Drive is also accessed via an app on Mac or Windows, as well as on Android for mobile users. No iOS in particular is a crippling fault with the service when compared with its rivals, particularly considering that although under usual circumstances you can access your cloud storage via a browser, it doesn’t work in Safari on your iPhone or iPad. Having said that, the implementation to the Mac MenuBar is particularly impressive. Simply dragging and dropping a file or folder onto the icon will have it upload to the default location, and you can change the default download location to a folder in your home directory easily from there as well.
All in all here, Google Drive, SkyDrive, Dropbox and Amazon Cloud Drive take a similar approach to access and organisation of your cloud storage, opting for a simple folder view in the browser as you’d be accustomed to on the desktop particularly, or instead through a dedicated app, which again don’t differ too greatly from one another.
iCloud though is greatly distinguished in this area, either to your satisfaction or irritation, but it comes down to personal preference. It gets out the way, stays simple and makes sure you can get at your stuff no matter which (Apple) device you’re using. There is a version for Windows which is helpful and works identically to the Mac implementation.
Cloud Storage Price Plans
iCloud Price Plans
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Google Drive Price Plans
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Amazon Cloud Drive Price Plans
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SkyDrive Price Plans
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Dropbox Price Plans
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Value for Money
As you’re probably aware, price and value are two very different things. So okay, SkyDrive is by a fair distance the cheapest per GB, however you’re restricted in that you can only buy an extra 100GB for that. Google Drive is a little more expensive, but can give you 160-times more space if you need it. If you need 500GB, SkyDrive is worthless to you. I think what I’m getting at here, is that the value of these products varies hugely on your individual needs, while we’re talking about space and price. Your first instinct might be to go for the option that allows you to have the space you require, at the cheapest price. However, there are a number of other factors you might want to consider.
Firstly, there are, as we’ve discussed already, a number of added extras on top of the services, for example the free music allocation of Amazon and the media allocation as part of iCloud. If you’re a personal user who just wants to keep your Mac in sync with your iPhone, then iCloud would obviously be the best option for you. But what if you have an Android phone?
Security also plays a major part in this for me, and again this depends on what data you’re storing in there, but Dropbox and Google Drive with their desktop folder implementations seem rather insecure. Without the aid of a third-party piece of security software, your Dropbox or Google Drive folder is accessible to anyone who happens to use your computer. The browser-based version of the service is of course protected by a standard login form, and so is the mobile app if you sign out, but the desktop folders remain accessible even if you close the applications. Similarly, iCloud isn’t protected by anything. It’s just makes your data available for you anywhere, on any Apple device.
SkyDrive and Amazon Cloud Drive’s applications and browser implementations require secure sign-in, so these two probably would be considered the hardest for others to access. But by the same token they’re also the hardest for you yourself to access. So again, it’s striking a balance of what you actually need. Is security vital to you? Then you may have to sacrifice some productivity. It’s a conscious choice you’ll have to make.
There are also added features you want to consider, for example Google Drive has Google Docs built into it, and is the default location for your created files. It features a number of sharing options and collaboration tools that the likes of SkyDrive and Amazon Cloud Drive don’t offer. Great for teams of people working on a shared project. Dropbox also goes down this line with either its ‘Teams’ packages, or you can create public folders that you can share with any of your friends or colleagues via an email invite.
So a number of factors make up the value of each product, apart from just the price you pay for the space. To re-iterate, it just comes down to your personal preferences and how much the extra features or added security will benefit you and your usage of the cloud.
If you use a number of Apple products then iCloud is a terrific tool to have running, so you don’t have to keep emailing yourself documents or fiddling with USB drives. I think Apple has taken a very different approach to the cloud with iCloud and it works well, however if you’re trying to move your files away from your local storage, it’s not a lot of good.
I believe the weakest of the services is SkyDrive. Now that Microsoft has reduced the free space allocation from an albeit generous 25GB to 7GB, and doesn’t allow much other than just a backup of files, which isn’t an especially quick process as you have to actively do it, you can’t shove it in a folder and let something else take care of it, Microsoft has no grounds on which to compare itself favourably with the competition.
Google Drive is a more recent invention from Google, and has a lot of promise with some gargantuan storage provisions if you’re willing to pay, a number of extra features such as the brand new integration of an HD video player, as well as Google Docs. Now with access on iOS as well as many other platforms, it’s right up there as one of the industry leaders on paper. The only surprising aspect of Google Drive is that there is no Linux app. Google has a strong connection with open-source and particularly Linux, and this is the only area where it is trumped by Dropbox in this area.
I don’t think Amazon really does much differently from Google Drive, apart from the allocation of music bought from the Amazon MP3 store. It’s accessible in all the same ways as Google Drive, with nothing extra, but it’s more expensive and you can’t have as much space. It’s a decent product, but it’s not as good as Google Drive so isn’t a worthwhile choice.
It’s difficult to declare an outright winner, but Dropbox is certainly my favourite. Maybe because of its humble beginnings and its sub-atomic size relative to the companies behind its competition. It’s an extremely accessible service, available on almost all platforms you can think of, and if not then in a browser. The price plans are a little expensive, but maybe you don’t mind supporting the underdog. Google Drive is probably the next best. In fact it’s almost identical to Dropbox to be honest, however it is a little cheaper. You get more free space than on Dropbox as well. I think the two are pretty much on a par, and it’ll come down to your own conscious choice which to use. Either way you won’t be disappointed.
An honourable mention for iCloud here. It’s a totally different experience to the competition, and adds a lot of functionality to Apple’s products. It’s more something I’d use in unison with one of these other services though, than something I’d use exclusively.