Which Cloud Service Is Right for You?



Estimated Reading Time 4 Minutes

Amazon, Dropbox, Google, iCloud, OneDrive, or none of the above? Tech expert Marc Saltzman gives us the goods.

If you’re reading this article—perhaps on a laptop, tablet or smartphone—chances are you’ve wrestled with how to best protect your digital info on those devices.

That is, with all the important files you likely have, like important documents and irreplaceable photos and home movies, you need back-up for when (not if) something happens—like a nasty virus, power surge, corrupted drive, or if your gear is lost or stolen. Having at least two or three copies of important files or folders is critical.

Along with local back-up, like an external hard drive, memory card or USB stick (see sidebar), an online “cloud” account is an increasingly popular solution.

Why, you ask? Here are the benefits:

  • Cloud services can protect your data from local threats, such as a flood or fire, by keeping a copy offsite (securely hosted on the cloud company’s servers in another place).
  • You can conveniently set your phone to automatically upload a copy to the cloud every time you snap a photo.
  • You can access all your backed-up stuff from virtually any internet-connected device in the world (most cloud services have free apps that make it easy to download or upload files).
  • Sending large files to someone from your cloud account is better than trying to attach a huge file to an email (which may not go through).
  • The cloud is handy because you don’t need to plug anything into your device to back up files (which can be challenging on a smartphone or tablet).
  • Cloud back-up is free to start (for a few gigabytes), and then costs a couple of bucks per month after that (depending on how much storage you want).

OK, so you’re sold on cloud back-up. The question remains: Which service should you go with?

The following is a high-level look at what you get with each service, to help you decide between some of the biggest players, including Google Photos/Google Drive, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Apple iCloud, Amazon and Dropbox:

Dropbox

The granddaddy of cloud services, Dropbox supports multiple operating systems, and its clean and simple interface means it’s one of the easiest to use out of all cloud providers.

But Dropbox only offers two gigabytes (GB) of free storage (called Dropbox Basic), which is much less than other cloud providers.

That said, your storage can be significantly increased by referring friends, linking to social media and through other opt-in promotions.

Upload files from your phone, tablet or computer; send large files to someone (even if they don’t have a Dropbox account); and edit Microsoft Office files like Word or Excel from your mobile device. If you like, you can have all captured photos and videos automatically upload to Dropbox.

Dropbox Plus starts at $15.99/month for two terabytes (2TB), plus there are family plans (for up to six users).

Google Drive

Especially for Android users as it’s already integrated into the operating system, Google Drive offers up to 15GB of free storage, which is ample for most casual users, plus it works seamlessly with Gmail (ideal for large attachments) and Google Photos (for iOS, Android, Windows, Mac and Chromebook).

Similar to other services, once your files or folders are uploaded to your drive you can easily invite others to view or edit (or leave comments). Along with fast search, you can enable offline viewing of specific files, scan paper documents and more.

Unlike Dropbox and OneDrive, you cannot earn additional storage. More storage will cost you $2.79/month for 100GB (or $27.99/year), $3.99/month for 200GB ($39.99/year) or $13.99/month for 2TB ($139.99/year).

iCloud

Most ideal for iPhone, iPad and Mac users, iCloud is already integrated into the operating system (as it’s all the same company: Apple).

iCloud also works with Windows PC (a one-time download) or log onto iCloud.com. There isn’t an iCloud app for Android phones and tablets, but users can go to iCloud.com

But since you only get 5GB of free storage, expect to get a message about running out of space at some point—especially if you’ve enabled photo and video backup on a compatible phone or tablet.

You can opt to buy more storage, called iCloud+. You cannot earn additional storage like you can with some other providers, but costs are more reasonable for additional iCloud storage: $1.29 for 50GB/month, $3.99 for 200GB and $12.99 for 2TB.

Along with documents and media, iCloud also lets you sync contacts, calendars, email and bookmarks between devices. If you pay for one of the iCloud+ plans, you also get a custom email address, the “Hide My Email” feature (which generates a random email address whenever you fill out an online form or sign up for something, to avoid spam in your main inbox) and a HomeKit Secure Video support for one camera (if you own a compatible camera at home).

OneDrive

Just as Google Drive is integrated with Android, and iCloud built into iOS, Microsoft’s OneDrive is already part of Windows 10 and Windows 11. In fact, when you set up a computer for the first time, you’ll be prompted to create a OneDrive folder in Windows Explorer (or you can add it later on). There’s a Mac version, too.

But if you’re an avid Windows user, OneDrive is for you. It’s even listed as a yellow folder in Windows Explorer, so you can drag and drop files between your cloud account and local drives (internal or external).

With the OneDrive app for phones and tablets, you’ll get the same 5GB of storage for free (or 100GB for $1.99/month), or better yet, with an annual Microsoft 365 Personal subscription ($79.99/year), which includes Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and so on), you’ll get 1TB of OneDrive storage. Microsoft 365 Family ($109.99/year) also includes Microsoft Office apps and provides 6TB of storage for the family (up to 1TB/user).

Features include the option to automatically upload captured photos and videos; receive notifications when a shared document is edited; easily find photos on your OneDrive (thanks to automatic tagging), and even annotate and sign PDF files stored online.

Amazon Photos

Finally, whether you use the app for mobile devices or computers, Amazon Photos (for iPhone/iPad or Android) gives you 5GB for free to use however you like, and is supported by multiple devices.

Need more storage? Additional plans start at $2.79/month for 100GB.

But the real value is if you’re an Amazon Prime member ($7.99/month or $79.00 per year), as you get free unlimited photo storage. Yep, it’s baked into your Amazon Prime account.

Along with unlimited online photo storage, Amazon Prime gives you free one- or two-day shipping on millions of items, access to Amazon Prime Video (movies and TV shows), Prime Music, free Kindle e-books, free Twitch Prime and more.

For more from tech expert Marc Saltzman, check out marcsaltzman.com or follow him at instagram.com/marcsaltzman.

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