Earlier this week we compared the speed and reliability of popular cloud storage services. While we discovered that Google Drive is the fastest service, and Box the most reliable, we still need to know more in order to decide which service to use. Here we compare Google Drive, iCloud, Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive, and Hightail (formerly YouSendIt) in a qualitative way, assessing each service in relation to specific tasks.
- Free Storage Space: 15 GB, shared between Drive, Gmail, and Google+ photos larger than 2048 x 2048 px
- Premium Space: 100 GB for $4.99/month; 200 GB for $9.99/month
- Document editing: Yes
- Defining Feature: Real-time, online collaboration
Google Drive provides a great system not only for syncing files between multiple devices and the internet but also for sharing files. Plus, Drive seamlessly integrates with Gmail, a handy feature for Gmail users. But Drive's true standout feature is real-time collaboration. Within Drive you can create documents, presentations, spreadsheets, forms, and drawings. When you share these files with others, they can view and/or edit (depending on the permissions you give them) within their browser; there is no need to open additional software such as Microsoft Office. Most importantly, changes made to the file are viewable in real time. This allows for arguably the best file collaboration online, good enough to write multi-author books and crowdsource the content for a social protest ad (which incorporated as many as 20 writers editing the document at the same time!). As a bonus, Drive also stores your files from Chrome apps like Pixlr Editor and WeVideo.
- Free Storage Space: 5 GB along with free storage of music, movies, apps, books, and TV shows purchased from the App Store or iTunes along with your 1,000 most recent photos
- Premium Space: 10 GB for $20/year, 20 GB for $40/year, 50 GB for $100/year
- Document editing: Coming soon
- Defining Feature: No setup required
iCloud is a service that comes preloaded on iOS devices and Macs. By simply logging into your iCloud account, iCloud will sync your music, movies, TV shows, books, and photos across your connected devices. It also syncs your device settings, app data (such as your Safari browsing history and calendar items), home screen and app organization, messages, and ringtones.
Because of its closed nature (iCloud is not available on non-Apple devices), I'd label iCloud as more of a backup service for iOS and Mac than a full-fledged cloud storage tool. But that's not to say it doesn't come with neat features. For example, iCloud provides a special sharing space for photos, called Photo Streams, where you can view and comment on friends' pictures.
iCloud is bound to become a bit more open in the near future, though. As we reported during Apple's Worldwide Developers Conference, Apple will soon release iWork for iCloud, which will allow you to edit iWork and Office documents within Safari and (gasp!) Chrome and Internet Explorer.
- Free Storage Space: 2 GB initially, up to 18 GB through referalls
- Premium Space: 100, 200, or 500 GB starting at $9.99/month
- Document editing: No
- Defining Feature: Universality. Dropbox integrates with many apps, web services, and devices
Unlike Google Drive and iCloud, Dropbox isn't brought to you by a tech giant whose sole goal is to force you to use their entire suite of services. Rather, Dropbox focuses only on cloud storage and how to make it as easy for you to use. In other words, Dropbox is an equal opportunity cloud storage service: no matter if you prefer Google over Apple or the Kindle Fire over the iPad, you can use DropBox. Besides bringing you solid document syncing and an intuitive Web interface for organizing your files, Dropbox is available to integrate with almost every other app, service, and device you use. No other cloud storage service offers this same flexibility.
Here are just a few of the services Dropbox integrates with, helping you backup photos, share files, and stream your music, among other things:
- Yahoo Mail
- Samsung flagship devices from phones to televisions
- HTC phones including the flagship HTC One (sorry, I shameless brag my phone every chance I get, kind of like it's my child)
- Fedex — yes, you read that right
- DropSpace for Android
- CameraSync for iOS
Whew, that's enough. Or is it? At Dropbox's first ever developers conference this week, the company's CEO, Drew Houston, announced Dropbox Platform, an API for developers that will allow Dropbox to integrate with apps. This means that you will soon be able to create a document on, say, your Android phone during your morning commute, and finish it on your iPad later. Dropbox is so open to other services that Houston said he would consider integrating Google Drive's editing and collaboration tools. This openness is why Dropbox is being nicknamed "iCloud for everything."
- Free Storage Space: 5 GB
- Premium Space: Up to 50 GB
- Document editing: Yes
- Defining Feature: Integration with Google Drive, Salesforce CRM, NetSuite, and Jive
While Box offers reliable file syncing, its real value lies in corporate and group solutions. Box partners with universities and companies to provide cloud solutions for their storage needs, offering them the flexibility to manage not only their files, but projects as well.
Box allows you to create shared online workspaces where you can share documents with others and view, edit, and comment on the same files. Box tracks your file versions, so work done is never lost. Box also allows groups to manage projects, allowing you to assign tasks and send notifications to colleagues, all supported by a real-time activity feed. One of the most handy features of Box, though, is the capability it lends for file editing. You can edit a file online and offline using Box, and the service will resolve conflicts between disparate versions across users' accounts. On Windows computers you can even edit Box files directly within Microsoft Office. Box also offers Google Drive integration, so you can view, edit, and sync Google Docs within Box.
- Free Storage Space: 7 GB
- Premium Space: 20 GB for $10/year, 50 GB for $25, 100 GB for $50
- Document editing: Yes
- Defining Feature: Use Microsoft Office online for free, even if you don't have Microsoft Office installed on your computer
SkyDrive, though often looked down upon as inferior to services like Google Drive and Dropbox, offers features you can't find anywhere else. Just like Google Drive, SkyDrive allows you to collaborate on documents online in real-time. The difference is that you're collaborating on actual Office documents instead of online-based Google Docs. Similar to Box, SkyDrive stores the 25 previous versions of a file so you can revert to an older version. SkyDrive also integrates with a fair share of apps, including IFTTT, HelloSign, HelloFax, and iAnnotate PDF. The distinguishing feature of SkyDrive, however, is that it provides you free access to Microsoft Office, even if you don't have Office installed on your computer. Given, this is a limited version of the software available online, but this feature is still helpful when working on someone else's computer or when not every team member owns the same version of Microsoft Office.
Hightail (Formerly YouSendIt)
- Free Storage Space: 2 GB
- Premium Space: 5 Gb for $9.99/month; unlimited storage for $15.99/month
- Document editing: No
- Defining Feature: Easily send large files
Hightail (formerly YouSendIt) is a cloud service best known not for storing but for sending files. With their recent name change, however, Hightail is rebranding their company as a full-service cloud storage tool.
Using Hightail you can store and send files up to 2 GB in size (50 MB for free accounts). The tool also syncs your documents across all your devices, a handy feature as Hightail integrates with a solid set of services and and apps, including Outlook, Thunderbird, iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows 8 phones and tablets, and Yahoo Mail. Hightail also offers solid solutions for businesses, including the ability to give feedback on documents and sign them, too. The service claims that 92% of Fortune 500 companies use YouSendIt for secure business collaboration, an impressive adoption rate that speaks to Hightail's value.
So Which Service Do You Choose?
Despite the differences in their features, Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, Box, SkyDrive, and Hightail offer unique solutions for a variety of users. This is why it's so hard to choose one service to manage and store all your files. Instead, using a variety of services brings you the most features and ease when it comes to cloud storage. For example, you can spread your files across services to avoid having to pay for space, like syncing your personal documents to Dropbox and reserving your Google Drive space for collaborative work. On the other hand, if you frequently work with Office documents from a variety of devices, you may want to store all of your Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files in SkyDrive so you can edit them from anywhere. For more formal collaboration and project management, Box will serve you best, as it comes equipped with functionality for tracking tasks. As for photos, if you're constantly snapping shots using your camera phone, Dropbox could be a good way to automatically backup pictures as you take them. If you're movie buff, Hightail probably offers you the most streamlined way to share with friends.
And if you can't decide, you can always use a service like cloudHQ to sync your files across various services – a cloud for the cloud.
Which cloud storage services do you use? Why? Let us know in the comments.