Cloud storage has become an integral part of our modern, mobile lives. Services such as Google Drive, Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud and Box all vie to hold our vital data on their servers, but which one is the best for you? We review the best cloud storage services and explain what they have to offer.
With more and more people owning multiple computing devices – laptops, tablets and smartphones, the idea of your data being locked away in the belly of a desktop PC seems antiquated. Cloud storage has freed us from these restraints, ensuring that the files we need are available where and when we want them. Today you can sign up to a bewildering array of free services that offer to automatically upload your smartphone photos to the cloud, sync your documents across multiple devices, and enable you to work collaboratively on the web.
Sharing large files with friends is also made easier through online storage, as you no longer have to hope that the data we send won’t bounce back due to limits imposed by email servers. Instead you just send a link to files stored within a cloud service and friends or colleagues then have access immediately. In fact, if this is all you want to do then there are the likes of WeTransfer and HighTail that specialise in this area rather than long-term storage.
How to choose a cloud storage service
It’s really quite surprising how much free cloud storage you can get these days. Signing up to free services from Google, Mega, Microsoft and a host of others will give you many gigabytes of space where you can store your photo library, important documents, or music.
To help you choose between the myriad providers, we’ve hand picked what we consider to be the best cloud storage services and put them through their paces to see which ones are worthy of your treasured data. Some focus on high security, others on cross platform availability, but it’s safe to say that most of them are an excellent choice if you want to bolster you ailing hard drive or simply backup some files to an easily accessible folder in the cloud.
Choosing which service to use will depend on several factors - the variety of devices you use, the amount of space you need, and the level of security your data requires. As well as covering the most popular services to see just how much you can get for nothing, we also explain the extras some services offer which make it worth paying a small fee per month or year to keep you files online.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Dropbox
Dropbox is one of the only online storage solutions to offer clients for Linux and Blackberry, alongside the usual Windows, Mac OS X, Android and iOS standards. Plus, an official Windows Phone app was released in January 2015. This goes a long way to ensuring that your data can be with you, no matter what flavour of technology you want to use.
The basic, free account comes with a rather small - in comparison to rival services - 2GB of storage. For documents this is still huge, but if you want to store any kind of media – photos, music, or video - it will disappear very fast. You can upgrade to the 1TB plan for around £7.99 per month, but Dropbox also offers 500MB of additional free storage for each friend you get to sign up to the service - with a limit of 16GB.
Other ways to bolster your account include linking it to Facebook, Twitter (both give you 125MB extra) or setting up a Mailbox account (currently offering a 1GB increase). You'll get 250MB just for taking a tour of the Dropbox basics, too. Enabling the camera upload feature will also gain you 3GB, and automatically backup your smartphone/tablet photos to the cloud. It’s also worth looking out for deals with smartphones and tablets: Samsung recently offered 50GB of free Dropbox space when you bought a new handset.
All this space becomes a moot point unless the syncing and storage actually works, but there are no worries there. Dropbox functions by creating a local folder on your device or PC that then syncs with an online version. This means you have all your data available whether you are on or offline. Files appear quickly online once you place them in the Dropbox folder on your PC, and you also have the option of making select files available offline on your tablet or smartphone (they’re all offline by default), with offline editing functionality among the best we’ve seen.
Folders and files can also be shared with friends either by sending them links (these work for non-Dropbox users) which allow them to view the data, or by sending a collaboration invite for the file. An important point to note about the collaboration option is that you can’t set permissions, so files can be edited (and even deleted) by other users, as the name suggests. It's not a total disaster, though, as Dropbox backs up any changes to files for thirty days. So if you need an older version or want to undelete a file, it’s still there.
If you choose to spend the £7.99 per month to get the Dropbox Pro account, you'll be able to enable viewer permissions. You'll also be able to set passwords and expirations for shared links if you have Dropbox Pro.
Security features include two-step authentication (always worth turning on) and all files held on the Dropbox servers are encrypted by AES 256-bit encryption, albeit employed from Dropbox’s side rather than the user, with SSL for the data being uploaded and downloaded.
Dropbox is an excellent, cross-platform solution that remains a benchmark against which others must compete. It may lack a few of the whistles and bells of its rivals, but it’s rock solid and compatible with so many applications.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Google Drive
In much the same way as OneDrive (which we talk about below) links into Microsoft products and iCloud (also below) to Apple, Google Drive is at the heart of the various online services that Google currently offers.
Free space is generous with 15GB available when you setup your Google account - or link to an existing one. In fact, as Google unified its services under one login ID earlier this year, the chances are you already have a Drive account if you use Gmail, Google Calendar, or even YouTube.
The storage space is shared across all these services, so if you have large attachments on emails then they will count in the 15GB, and enabling the automatic photo backup to Google+ from a smartphone acts the same way.
Google exempts any photos below 2048x2048 resolution, and videos shorter than fifteen minutes, so you could always adjust the settings on your smartphone accordingly and get unlimited storage as they don't count towards the 15GB limit. Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Presentations, Drawings and files that others have shared with you don't count either.
Unlike OneDrive and Dropbox, Google Drive doesn’t have any way of adding storage through referrals or linking your account to social media. There have been plenty of promotions, such as 10GB for free when users downloaded Quick Office, or various mobile phone deals, and the search giant does offer 100GB free for two years if you buy a Chromebook. Google Music – a separate service - allows you to keep 50,000 songs in the cloud for free and not count against your Drive storage.
Drive works in the same fashion as most cloud storage solutions, with a local folder on your PC linked to a duplicate cloud version. Versioning is supported, as is real-time collaboration on documents via the Google Docs app. Clients are available on PC and Mac, with mobile versions for Android and iOS, but Google and Microsoft’s supposed ongoing feud looks to keep the service off Windows Phone for a while to come.
On the whole, the interface across the apps is smart and simple to navigate, with a basic file tree showing where your data is kept. You can choose specific files to be available offline on the mobile versions, and these can be edited - if they were created in Google Docs - then synced when you return online. For other formats (such as Word) you’ll need to open them in another app - thus creating a duplicate copy.
Data stored on Drive is, similarly to Apple, encrypted in 128-bit AES rather than the 256-bit employed by Box, OneDrive, and Dropbox. Google asserts that it won’t pry into the content of your Drive folder unless compelled by law enforcement agencies, and you can set up two-step verification on your account to add another layer of security.
Google Drive: verdict
With 15GB of free storage, Google Drive is the most generous of all the services in this test. If you live in the Google universe then it really is an excellent storage option.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Mega
While the cloud remains one of the best places to store your data - due to ease of access, a convenient backup to your originals, and the restrictive storage space on many modern devices - it isn’t without its issues. The major one of course is that of privacy and security. Since Edward Snowden revealed the level of governmental monitoring and collection of everyone’s private data, plus the spate of aggressive hacking attacks that have taken place by groups such as Anonymous and LulzSec, security has become a real concern for online services.
Mega is a New Zealand based company that puts its security credentials front and centre. A quick look on the website reveals that it calls itself the Privacy Company, and it’s easy to see why. Unlike some of its rivals this service provides encryption in every part of the process. So anything you send to the cloud is encrypted locally, on-route, and on the destination server. What’s more Mega itself doesn’t have any way of accessing your information, as you hold the encryption key. The upshot of all this is that anything you store on Mega is only able to be opened by you. To achieve this there are local clients for Windows, OSX, and Linux, plus there are also secure browser plugins for Chrome and Firefox. The mobile world is also well covered with apps available for iOS, Android, Windows Phone, and even Blackberry.
Of course all of this is only useful if the service is affordable and offers a decent amount of storage, so it’s heartening to see that the standard free package affords a whopping 50GB of space. This really is enough for the vast majority of people, but you can always move up to a professional account which gives you either 500GB (99 Euros per year), 2TB (199 Euros per year), or 4TB (299 Euros per year) and increased bandwidth with each package so you can share files back and forth with friends. As Mega is the spiritual successor to MegaUpload.com, the famous torrenting site, the idea of sharing bandwidth for files will be familiar with those who have used those kind of services before. In essence it’s just a way of distributing the load out across the users who are passing files back and forth.
Sharing is easy with other members of Mega, behaving in much the same way as Google Drive and Onedrive, by allowing you to send an invitation to a friend and set the level of actions they can complete (view, edit, etc.) You can also send links to non-Mega users, but this involves also privately sending them an encryption key so they can access the files. While this is easy, it’s definitely a better option to have your friends on the service itself if you want to keep things secure, especially as this also opens up the ability to collaborate on files in real-time. Mega also has a few secure communications options too. MegaChat is a Beta feature that allows you to exchange audio and video calls with other members. These are encrypted end-to-end, making them somewhat more private than Skype or Google Hangouts. At the moment the service is only accessible through a Beta address, which can be a bit confusing when you log into the web portal, but hopefully it won’t be long until this is added to the normal Mega interface. There is also a new feature due to be released soon which is a kind of encrypted email and IM messaging; so Mega could realistically become a working environment for those who need to make adjustments while out in the field and want the data to remain private.
In use the Mega site is well laid out, with a clean interface that doesn’t throw up any nasty surprises. Functions are clearly labelled, you have a decent amount of control over how your files are stored, and the mobile apps are equally straightforward. The only real obvious omission, especially when you consider the space available, is that you can’t use Mega as a scheduled backup for your system. Still, there are security issues that a service like that brings, and if you work mainly on one computer then the included ability to select which folders are mirrored in the cloud is certainly a good alternative.
With its generous free account, fast service, cross platform appeal, and highly secure nature, Mega is a very good choice for most people looking for an online storage solution.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Copy
Copy has been around for a little while now and is a simple to use alternative to the likes of Dropbox, Onedrive, and Google Drive. The principles behind it are as you would expect from an online storage service. You can either access Copy via a web portal, download a desktop client for Windows, OSX, or Linux, or use one of the mobile apps that are available for Windows Phone, iOS, and Android. With these you can download or upload files, including syncing the camera on your phone, Making them available on all your devices.
In line with Google and Microsoft, Copy starts with a decent 15GB of free space to new users, and this can be increased via a referrals system that rewards both you and any new user with an additional 5GB each (up to a maximum of 25GB extra space). The interface is somewhat barren, which is the norm these days, and with its thin lined, light blue hue, it’s not hugely dissimilar in feel to Dropbox. If you use the desktop clients, then a folder is created on your PC, to which you drag files and Copy syncs them to the cloud. Files and folders can be shared with other users of the platform, or you can send direct links to any other friends or colleagues. All of this contains the ability to set different levels of control over the files so those you share them with can edit freely or be restricted to just read only status. As we say, all very familiar.
In operation the service works well, with decent speed, and no real issues. Copy also supports versioning, so previous copies of your files are retained after you make changes, and the whole service runs on 256-bit AES encryption that covers data in transit and on the copy servers.
While Copy is a stable and decent choice for consumer level storage, the real focus of the service seems to be on the enterprise side of things. Barracuda, the company behind Copy, offers a range of compatible apps that extend the features, including digital signatures, full system backups, and on-site hardware to improve performance. Some of these business features are available in Copy, with the option of creating groups that you can administer with simple but powerful controls. There is also a granular level of access that can be deployed, plus the handy feature of users being able to essentially split their copy storage into work and home, with company IT restrictions only being applied to the work section. Access privileges can be changed by the simple clicking of a dropdown menu, and if someone leaves a company then you can revoke their access entirely in a couple of minutes, or reinstate them should they return. The level of control is impressive, and the menu systems are easy to master thanks to their straight forward design.
A decent alternative to Dropbox and Onedrive, Barracuda’s Copy offers a generous amount of free space, but really it’s the business services that make this service interesting.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Microsoft OneDrive
Much of the functionality in OneDrive (previously SkyDrive) is similar to Dropbox, with apps available to Windows, Mac, Android, iOS, and of course Windows Phone users. Microsoft has also introduced a referral incentive whereby users gain 500MB of storage for every friend that signs up to an account through them. There's also an additional 15GB offered if you link OneDrive to your mobile phone’s camera roll (are you spotting the theme here?), enabling it to automatically back up your photos online.
There's also an additional 3GB offered if you link OneDrive to your mobile phone’s camera roll (are you spotting the theme here?), enabling it to automatically back up your photos online.
One deviation from the Dropbox model is that OneDrive offers 15GB like Google Drive, although the referral system is limited to 5GB. That means OneDrive would top out at 20GB as opposed to the 18GB on Dropbox. Still, either is very useful. Office 365 users get 1TB of OneDrive storage as part of the monthly subscription fee.
The OneDrive interface is in keeping with Windows 8’s Modern UI design. Lines are clean and you can select between the boxy style or a more traditional file tree. Folders and files can be created on the web, including Office and OneNote formats thanks to tight Office Online integration.
There’s also a social element to the web version, as various popular social networks are available to be linked to your OneDrive account. This might not improve productivity, but it will make it easy to share files with colleagues. In doing this you can set permissions for each user ranging from read-only to complete editing ability, even if you're using the free version (unlike Dropbox which requires Dropbox Pro).
There is also a feature that allows you to remotely access files on another PC via the OneDrive website. The target machine needs to be turned on and running OneDrive with the Fetch Files feature enabled, but the catch is that recent updates mean that PC can't be running Windows 8.1 – it must be on an earlier version.
If privacy is a major concern then it should be noted that Microsoft reserve the right to scan your files to look for what it would deem objectionable content. This could be copyrighted material or things of an explicit nature. Apple has a similar policy, making the two potentially more intrusive than their competitors.
The recent updates to OneDrive help make it a competitive option, especially now that 15GB free space is offered. Office integration is extremely useful but it's a shame that the Fetch Files feature seems to be on its way out.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Tresorit
There are several services that offer secure storage in the cloud - Mega and Spideroak being a couple of examples (reviewed below) - but to our knowledge none of them have offered a cash incentive for hackers to actually break into them. None, that is, except for Tresorit. This Swiss company is so confident in its product that there is a standing reward of $50,000 for anyone who can overcome its security systems. So far, the company reports, one thousand hackers have been actively trying for around five hundred days but the system remains intact. So if your data is valuable, then you could do a lot worse than try out the Tresorit offering.
Obviously this level of security is probably a little much for pictures of your holidays, or your bucket list word document, and this is reflected in the basic free package. You get 3GB of storage space, with a file size limit of 500MB, which can be used by up to three devices. There are also limits on the amount of people you can share files with (ten) and encrypted links that you can create each month (ten again). That’s not to say this isn’t useful, as you can always keep your less important data on a service like OneDrive and reserve any sensitive information to Tresorit. Of course the restrictions loosen up when you move to a paid package, with the Premium tariff (£8p/m) jumping up to 100GB, unlimited sharing, versioning support for previous instances of a document, and granular controls over user permissions on the files and folders you share.
One of the reasons that Tresorit is so secure comes down to the way files are encrypted. With a local client installed on either your Windows or OSX machine your data is encrypted locally, then sent, using TLS, to the Tresorit servers where it remain encrypted. You retain the decryption keys (not that you’ll ever see them) and not even the staff at Tresorit can access your files, thanks to their Zero-Knowledge policy. To add a further level of security you can enable two-step verification, so even if someone steals your laptop or ID, they’ll need your phone to access the data. The servers are also based in the EU and governed by Swiss privacy laws which should keep it out of the hands of any invasive national agencies that feel it is their right to purloin your personal information.
Business package customers, who pay £16 p/m for 1TB of storage, also have the ability to destroy documents remotely, ban the ability to print, copy, or email documents, and set restrictions on how much a recipient can edit a file.
Tresorit hasn’t skimped on the design elements of its UI though, with desktop clients, web portals, and mobile apps (Windows Phone, iOS, Android, and Blackberry) that look good, are simple to use, and perform reliably. On the desktop client you can drag folders from other drives into the Tresorit app and it will encrypt and sync the files up to the cloud but leave them where they are on your machine, so you don’t have to restructure your files to fit in with Tresorit. Alternatively you can save files directly to the My Tresors folder and it will be available through any Tresorit app.
The basic, free package is somewhat limited, but if you are looking for a very secure method of storing and sharing sensitive data with colleagues and friends, then the premium or business packages are an excellent choice.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Box
Sometimes mistaken for the similarly named Dropbox, Box has actually been around longer than its more famous counterpart, starting out in 2005. The possible reason for its less well-known stature is that for most of that time the company has focussed on the business side of the market, building up an impressive enterprise reputation.
Box still offers solid personal storage options, however, with a generous 10GB of space for any new account. This isn’t quite as rosy as it sounds though, due to the fact that Box limits the file size to 250MB.T
This is markedly lower than the 10GB limits of Google Drive, OneDrive and Dropbox. Of course 250MB is more than adequate for most documents and spreadsheets, but if large media files – particularly videos - are part of your plan then this could be a problem.
Uploading a photo library won’t be a problem for the vast majority of users, with the average top-resolution image from a smartphone generally being around 2-5MB, but video is the sticking point. The free account doesn’t support versioning (being able to restore previous versions of a file) – that’s a feature reserved for those paying a subscription.
Upgrading the Personal plan will cost you £7 per month, gleaning you 100GB of storage and a file size limit of 5GB, or you could switch to the Starter plan for £3.50 per month, which also offers 100GB, a slightly lower 2GB file size, but crucially twenty five previous versions of any file.
Functionally, Box is very good. The interface in the mobile apps (available on iOS, Android, Windows, & Blackberry) is slick and well designed. There are plenty of options for creating, uploading and sorting files.
The web portal gives you the ability to create new documents in either Microsoft Office, Google Docs, or web-based formats, which you can then edit in Box via a free, downloadable plug-in.
All your files can be assigned tasks and comments easily from the main page, which could be very useful when you start collaborating with colleagues, another thing Box does very well.
Sharing and linking features are pretty standard, but again you’ll have to upgrade if you want to allocate granular permissions. General security is the standard 256-bit encryption on the servers, with SSL for data in transit.
One of the real benefits of its enterprise background is the excellent range of apps that exist to increase Box’s versatility. There are programs that allow you to link Office directly to Box, so all files are saved there, an FTP app so you can migrate older data onto the site, and a whole host of others that are listed on the website.
There’s a lot to like about Box. The service is fast, solid, and offering 10GB of storage space certainly catches the eye. It’s just a shame that many of the best features - such as versioning - are only available to paying customers.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Knowhow Cloud
It’s not unusual to go to the checkout at a computer retailer and be offered the chance to upgrade something on your machine. Usually this will be some kind of extended warranty or virus protection (both of which we would suggest don’t always offer the best value), but one that might seem somewhat surprising is online storage. Knowhow by the Currys/PC World group has a few decent features that could make it a useful addition to your trolley.
Under the retailer’s branding beats the heart of the LiveDrive engine, itself a popular service in its own right, which is currently preparing to launch an all new version of its software (we'll review this when it launches). We’ve heard many good reports about the reliability of LiveDrive, so that’s a good start, as keeping your data safe is the whole point of signing up to a service such as Knowhow.
There are two types of service - backup and storage. The first is as it sounds, automatically backing up the hard drive of your PC or Mac (at least the folders you specify) at intervals defined by the user in the control panel. These increase in hourly units, or if you prefer you can set a certain time of the day to run the task when you’re not using the computer. Think of it as a mirrored version of your hard drive in the cloud.
The second element of the service is the Briefcase, which is a general online storage facility not linked to a specific PC. Here, via the web portal or your computer, you can upload and download files just as you would on Dropbox or OneDrive. These files can be accessed via your PC, phone or tablet, with apps being available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
The storage space available is determined by which package you buy. There are several available, combining variations of device numbers, storage space, and how many years they last. It’s a bit confusing to be honest, and should be simplified to make things clearer. The most tempting offering we found was for a 2TB allotment covering five devices and costing £30 per year.
Design wise, the interface is clean, simple to understand, and when you finish the initial install the app immediately starts a backup of your system. We’d like to see the options of which folders you want in the cloud appearing first, but it’s an easy thing to quickly rectify. Still, presumptuous software is something that never finds us overjoyed.
Security is obviously an important element in any online service. Knowhow Cloud encrypts data in transit using TLS to fend off any interceptions, and the Briefcase files are encrypted on the users machine as well. Files on the Knowhow servers are not stored in an encrypted form, but Knowhow assure us that they remain very secure behind several layers of protection and are unidentifiable to any snoopers. The servers are all based in the UK, which in some ways is encouraging - as it keeps the NSA at bay - but of course we have our very own GCHQ to worry about. Any problems are handled by a UK-based customer support team - a pleasant surprise.
Knowhow Cloud: Verdict
Knowhow Cloud is cleanly laid out and the backup features are genuinely useful. If you have a lot of data you want to store securely in the cloud, then it could be a good service, but for most people it seems pricey and may offer more storage than you need.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Mediafire
Mediafire might be a new name to many, but the Texan company has been around for nearly ten years. The early part of that time saw the site function mainly as a file sharing service with unlimited upload file sizes for users, but over time Mediafire has become a more standard online storage service. You can of course still share files, in much the way that you can on Google Drive, Onedrive, Dropbox and others, by sending either public links to people, or sharing files and folders with other members (something called Following on the site). You can also post pictures, videos, and other files directly to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, or Blogger, from within the Mediafire portal.
The free account comes with 10GB of space, but this can quickly be expanded by various easy tasks. Linking your Twitter and Facebook accounts will garner you 1GB for each, while the act of installing a desktop client for your Windows or OSX machine will give you another 2GB. The same is true for any mobile app you download, with smartly designed versions being available for Android and iOS. As is the norm, you’ll also be rewarded for any friends you bring to the service through a referral, with Mediafire handing out 1GB per new account, up to a maximum of 32GB. All in all, you can boost the free account up to a very respectable 50GB of space, which is plenty for most people.
There are a few signs that the basic account is free. File sizes are limited to 200MB, which is something to consider if you were hoping to keep any kind of movie files on the service, plus you’ll see ads when sharing or downloading any files from friends. These are hardly draconian measures, but if it does feel restrictive then you can move up to a Pro account which costs $4.99 p/m (currently reduced to $2.49) for 1TB of space, up to 20GB file sizes, and no ads.
Using Mediafire is pretty much the same as most other online storage offerings. You can create folders, upload and download files, plus (if you want it to) your mobile device will automatically backup any pictures you take. If you install the desktop client then a new folder is created on your hard drive and you can just drag files to it like any other standard folder, except the Mediafile one will then sync automatically to the cloud drive. There are a few nice touches in the interface. Any media files (Mediafire supports a wide range of formats) can be played in the Mediafire browser, which means you don’t have to download the file first. In practice this worked well in Chrome and Internet Explorer, but Firefox had issues playing back videos in our test.
Another smart feature in the desktop client is the ability to take a screenshot on your PC, annotate it, and then share it with friends. While this might seem a little random, it could be very useful if you’re collaborating with others on something and want to quickly show them what you’re thinking. There are also new features on the way, with mentions of music and photo apps that will presumably have a focus on social media and sharing.
Mediafire is a solid, simple-to-use service that can be built up to a hefty 50GB of free storage if you have a few friends. It’s nothing new, or indeed special, but that’s not always a bad thing.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Apple iCloud
As of October, Apple's iCloud has become distinctly more like its rivals mentioned in this test, expanding the service as iCloud Drive to allow you to store any document, even if it wasn't created in an Apple app, and access them from a PC (via iCloud for Windows or icloud.com) in addition to iOS and OS X devices.
There's no app for Windows Phone, Android or Blackberry, though, so it's not the most ideal option for users of smartphones or tablets running anything other than iOS.
It's now possible to store any file in iCloud Drive, and apps like Numbers and Pages now create their own folders in iCloud and default to storing their documents there.
It's not just Apple apps either, lots of third-party apps are iCloud-enabled.
Photos taken on iOS devices can be backed up in iCloud Photo Library, and photos and videos are synched across all devices which are logged into your iCloud account.
One particularly neat feature is that, in addition to synching your Safari bookmarks across devices, you can also see a list of open web pages on other iDevices. iCloud also allows you to have any purchases made on the iTunes store automatically download to your library no matter which device you used to buy it.
A recent addition to iCloud is iWork - Apple’s Office suite - now available for free via the website. The three apps - Pages, Numbers, and Keynote - have clean interfaces, work well up to a point, and sync with the equivalent apps on your Mac or iOS device.
This means you can start work on your iPad then continue without issue on your PC (files can be downloaded from iCloud.com in Microsoft Office formats). The functionality is a little basic, most likely so that it ties in with the iOS versions of the software, but syncing between devices and the cloud is fast and reliable.
Of course, the other benefits of iCloud include the ability to backup your iPhone or iPad ready to restore the data should your old device be stolen, fail or be damaged.
The 5GB of free storage offered initially seems generous, as purchases don’t count against it. But when you start turning on all the options that make the service useful, such as backing up your device, then the space is immediately insufficient. You'll have to pay 79p per month for 20GB, £2.99 per month for 200GB, £6.99 per month for 500GB or £14.99 per month for 1TB.
While iCloud is secure, much of the data is encrypted at what Apple calls ‘a minimum of 128-bit AES’, with the more standard 256-bit reserved for Keychain Passwords. Apple also reserves the right to explore the contents of your files if it have cause to believe that it contains illegal or harmful material.
It's still relatively early days for iCloud Drive, and it's sure to become more useful as more apps begin to support it. However, it still lacks some of the great collaboration features that rivals including Dropbox offer. If you're an Apple user and are willing to pay at least 79p per month for the privilege then it's well worth taking advantage of iCloud Drive, but for those using other operating systems we'd suggest looking elsewhere.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Mozy
While the name might suggest something that would keep you up at night with its high pitched drone and potential for a nasty bite, Mozy is in fact an online backup and storage service that aims to give you peace of mind. The most obvious way of doing this is to ensure that your data is protected from prying eyes - be they criminals or your own government. This is accomplished by Mozy offering two types of encryption (256-bit AES or a 448-bit Blowfish key) which perform the essential part of encrypting your files while still on your computer, rather than sending them across the internet to the servers to do the job there. The upshot of this is that it is much harder for someone to hijack your information on route to the servers and find anything they can use. A welcome feature in these dark days of doxing.
Aside from the security aspect, Mozy is a pretty standard online storage package that allows users to select which folders from their hard disk they wish to store online, syncs automatically (once you download and install the client software), and allows you to access the files from other computers via a web portal or mobile app. Clients are available for Windows and OSX, while iOS and Android platforms are also supported. We spoke to Mozy about any upcoming apps for Windows Phone or Linux variants, but at the moment there are no plans to develop in those areas.
Some useful features include 30-day versioning, where all instances of a file are kept for 30 days so you can restore them to a point in time before mistakes were made or corruption might have affected them. There’s also the ability to download all of your stored files with one click, which could prove very useful if you need to move to a new computer. Bear in mind though that there are some restrictions on the amount of hardware you can use. The lower tier packages are limited to backing up one PC, although you can access your files via the web on other machines. For a multi-computer setup you’ll need to move up to the £7.99 p/m service, which supports three PCs and gives you 125GB of storage. The basic, free, package entitles you to a rather paltry, by modern standards, 2GB of space but this can be increased through the usual referral system where you invite friends to sign up. To be fair Dropbox offers the same small initial space, but it often has deals with phone manufacturers and other websites that can quickly add a few free GBs to your plan, alongside its own referrals rewards.
The interface is nothing special, but acceptable and stable. Once the Mozy Home and the Sync clients are set up you simply click and drag folders into the Mozy drive and it will store a copy in the cloud, plus you can adjust which folders are backed up, along with several other modifiers, all with relative ease. The mobile apps follow a similar pattern in the design stakes, with aesthetics giving way to functionality. Performance wasn’t exactly stellar though, and we’d hope that the mobile side of things would see an overhaul in the very near future, otherwise Mozy could easily find itself left behind other more optimised services.
If security is your prime focus then Mozy has a lot to offer. The versioning support is good, local encryption is always our preferred method, and the one click restore option is a nice addition. There’s still work to be done on the design elements though, and 2GB of free storage (even though Dropbox and Spideroak offer the same) is very small these days. In the end Mozy seems to be intended for your most valuable data, rather than necessarily a storehouse for everything, and viewed that way it could prove a very useful tool.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Spideroak
If privacy is a major concern then Spideroak might be the cloud storage service for you. Most of the mainstream offerings such as Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive, and Box all encrypt your data on their servers, but Spideroak has a different approach.
Once you’ve set up your account and downloaded the desktop client (Windows, Mac, and Linux are available) you can transfer files to your local folder, which will then encrypt them before syncing them to Spideroak. This might not sound that different, but it means that your data is readable only by you, as the key is local to your machine. Spideroak calls this ‘Zero-knowledge privacy’ as the employees at the company can’t access your data and, by extension, it should also mean any interested government parties would also find it extremely difficult.
Traditionally this would make accessing files from numerous machines more problematic, not to mention sharing with others, but the team has worked ways around that. Spideroak Hive is the control centre of your storage. This app, which runs locally, is very similar to the Dropbox-style of folder on your desktop, although the interface has a little more detail.
This includes which of your other devices have the desktop app installed, and gives you access to the file tree within their Spideroak Hive folders. You can also choose local files to backup via a menu, and there are helpful stats to keep you up to date with the activity on your account.
Where rivals such as Google Drive and OneDrive are tightly integrated into wider productivity suites, Spideroak is simply there to store your files securely. This means no Office-style apps, or online collaboration with colleagues. You can easily share items and send secure links to files from the Spideroak Hive, although this involves setting up a Share ID (free and simple) as another way to protect your data. This obsession with security runs throughout the system, with strong warning messages appearing if you decide to let the app remained logged in all the time.
Some may find this annoying, but you can override any of the warnings and it’s never a bad thing to be reminded that convenience isn’t always the bedfellow of safety.
A basic free account comes with 2GB of storage, which is one of the lowest of all the current services around. But this can be quickly increased by a referral system that gains you and a friend 1GB when they sign up to the service (up to a maximum of 10GB).
Spideroak nails its colours very clearly to the mast with its focus on security and privacy. If these are the most important elements you require then it is clearly the best choice. It may lack the sophistication and integration of some rivals, but what it does it does very well.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Amazon Cloud Drive
Not to be left out in the battle of the big players, Amazon has its own cloud storage solution to take on the likes of Google and Microsoft. The focus of Cloud Drive is simpler than its counterparts, in that there are no fancy plug-ins or web-based Office suites to add productivity to your data.
Instead, it’s very much focussed on being a place to store your documents, photos and videos. The desktop app is available on PC & Mac and once downloaded it will take the form of a folder that sits quietly in the background waiting for you to drag files into it.
The free account offers 5GB of storage, which Amazon assures us will store 2000 photos, but if this isn’t enough you can pay a very reasonable £6 per year to add 20GB, with more space available up to a limit of 1TB for an annual payment of £320. In addition to the basic package Amazon also includes a music storage service - Cloud Player - which entitles you to keep 250 songs online for free. These files can be accessed on your mobile device (Android and iOS) via the Amazon MP3 app, with the option to stream or download them.
If you're an Amazon Prime member (£79.99 per year) then alongside the free next-day delivery on items, and Netflix-style streaming content on Amazon Prime Video, you now have unlimited storage for photos on the Cloud service.
The mobile experience with Cloud Drive is very basic, and is centred around photo and video syncing. iOS and Android users can download the Cloud Drive Photos app (this acts as the generic Cloud Drive app) and have their camera roll automatically sync to Amazon’s servers when you have a Wi-Fi connection. Transfer time is reasonable, but if you use your smartphone camera often, especially for videos, then the 5GB will need to be monitored and managed lest you run out of space.
A very curious choice is to not make documents available in the mobile apps. If you add Word, PDF, or XLS files to the Cloud Drive folder on your PC they will sync with the Cloud server, but won’t appear on your smartphone or tablet.
Amazon does word its description of the app’s capabilities carefully, but you could easily miss this and then wonder why documents aren’t available in the app. Of course you can navigate to the web portal via a browser, but when you consider the other options available that keep everything in one place, the document omission is a large black mark against the service.
Addressing this in some way is a new service being unveiled in the US called Unlimited Everything. This works in the same way as traditional online storage - so you can keep documents, photos, music, videos, and whatever else you like - but with no set limits. Currently it’s restricted to the States and costs $59.99 per year, but it could well appear in the UK before long.
Amazon Cloud Drive: verdict
Cloud Drive is a confusing beast. On one hand, it’s a useful way to back up your photos and videos online - which it does well - with additional storage being very cheap. But the lack of support for standard documents is bizarre and means we can’t recommend it.
Best cloud storage services 2015: Conclusion
If you were to set up the most basic accounts on each of the services we’ve reviewed you’d have over 125GB of free online storage, and even more if you included camera uploads and friend referrals.
All are not created equal though, and there are some that stand out as the best deals. Dropbox is still a very impressive service that is often bolstered by free storage expansion through deals with phone and service providers. The thing that really keeps it on top is the sheer availability it has in a number of apps and platforms around the web. If something is going to link to a cloud provider you can bet that Dropbox is most likely the first on the list. It’s rock solid, focussed, and universally known as a quality product.
Google Drive and OneDrive are both excellent options, especially if you use Chromebooks or Microsoft Office respectively, as the vast free storage rewards on offer are well worth having. The 1TB OneDrive storage for Office users really is impressive, and almost subsidises the cost of the software.
Mega really impressed us with its developed UI, secure communications options, and generous allotment of 50GB of free space. The service is easy to use, gave us no problems, and will certainly be a resident app on our smartphones and PCs for the foreseeable future.
Lastly Tresorit is another up and coming service that deserves a lot of attention. Security is a very important consideration these days and Tresorit manages to provide encryption in a way that doesn’t interrupt a normal workflow and is easy to manage - especially in the paid versions. If you’re a small business owner, or work in a team that needs to keep data confidential, then it really should be your next port of call.
Additional reporting by Ashleigh Allsopp