In the recent history of file transfers, floppy disks begat USB sticks begat the vast nebulous world of the cloud. In this always-online time, we've all trained ourselves to keep everything that's truly important on ever-accessible cloud drives. That way our files are always there when we need them. The thing is, lower storage costs, burgeoning data centres and a high demand means there are hordes of options to choose from. So which is the best?
It turns out there isn't a best of the best in this case. There are more secure options, options which offer more storage, and options which proffer advanced file management and collaboration tools, but nothing that jumps out amongst them all.
This list represents our top ten picks, but read on to discover which one would be most appropriate for you and your workflow, and bear in mind that all of them either offer a free option or can be trialled without paying a penny.
Price: Free or from £6.58 (around $8.50) per month
Dropbox, veteran of the cloud drive scene, isn't only a service built on file storage. It's one built on full-bore file management, at least once you get past the rather light 2GB free offering.
While a 1TB pro license (£6.58 – around $8.50 – per month) will get you goodies like 30 days of file versioning, Office 365 integration, password-protected file sharing and the ability to remote wipe your files from a lost or stolen device, there's more on offer.
Business users (monthly plans start at £9.17 – around $11.90 – per team member for teams of five) get everything the pro version offers with no storage limits, unlimited file versioning and deletion history, and a host of admin tools on top.
While most will outgrow the free option quickly, the mobile and desktop apps make it a good secondary storage option even if you're not willing to upgrade your account.
Price: Free or from £3.50 (around $4.50) per month
Let's get one thing straight: this isn't Dropbox, despite some similarity in their names and a massive similarity in their businesses. Box, in fact, came first to the market in 2005, three years before Dropbox.
Its free option is more reasonably equipped at 10GB, with features that its main rival doesn't offer. There's a stack of app integrations which range from Office 365 to Salesforce to Google's online office suite, with a collaboration structure that lends itself to using Box with communication tools like Slack. It's also adept at document previews, besting Dropbox by viewing over 120 file types without requiring a download.
Upgrade your team to Box's £11 (around $14.20) per month business plan and users get unlimited storage, a custom-branded version of its slick web interface, and your IT guy gets to use Box's API and the ability to access it 50,000 times a month – perfect for integration into internal systems.
Price: Free or from €4.99 (around £4.29, $5.60) per month
Mega is a name most commonly associated with illicit file sharing. It's an association of some legal contention, though it's cleaned up its act somewhat in recent years; the Mega.nz service which arose after the fall of MegaUpload is much hotter on legitimate takedown requests for public files, but also more stringent on the privacy of its users.
It's also rather astonishingly well-provisioned, with an enormous amount of bandwidth leading to super-quick file transfers. Sign up for free and you receive a huge 50GB of storage, with packages up to 4TB available at reasonable prices. There's also a desktop sync app, Chrome and Firefox extensions, and mobile apps too.
Price: Free or from £1.59 ($1.99) per month
Google Drive's attachment to Google's other services – particularly its office suite and Gmail – is one of its key selling points. The inherent link between them means you can edit your stored files on-the-fly, access them from anywhere, and even collaborate with others to work on and share the contents of your cloud storage.
It has a desktop app, good support on mobile, and reasonable levels of free storage, totalling 15GB shared between Google Drive, your Gmail account and any high-resolution photos you store on Google Photos. Depending on the age of your email account and how diligent you are with deleting cruft, this may not be adequate. Thankfully jumping to 1TB is a wholly reasonable £7.99 ($9.99) per month, or a bump to 100GB is just £1.59 ($1.99).
If there's a criticism to be made, it's that Drive doesn't have the best web interface. Like a number of Google products, it seems the engineers have got it to the point where it works and then moved on to new projects before making sure it's not confusing to newcomers. If you're looking for something slick, look elsewhere.
Price: Free or from £1.99 (around $2.60) per month
If you hadn't noticed, Microsoft would really like you to use OneDrive, integrating it so tightly with Windows 10 installs that we can almost see an Internet Explorer-style lawsuit being raised. Let's hope that doesn't happen: OneDrive – once known as SkyDrive – is a great service.
Having files automatically synced to your PC without the hassle of installing an additional application is really quite cool, particularly since they're visible so handily from the left-hand sidebar of Explorer. It's not just for Windows users, though: there are apps for Mac, mobile (including, inevitably, poor Windows 10 Mobile users) and older versions of Windows too.
Business users will be pleased with the option to integrate with Office 365 and the collaboration that this allows, although it's not a cheap route compared to Google Drive and Docs, clocking in at £5.99 (around $7.80) per month – though this does grant users 1TB of storage.
Price: Free or from 79p (99 cents) per month
Apple's cloud storage option matches the free capacity of many of its rivals at 5GB, but tied into the Cupertino ecosystem this seems incredibly small. Try to automatically back up an iPhone to iCloud and you'll soon realise that 5GB is far from enough.
To really keep your iOS device safe you'll need to invest, though not an incredible amount. Apple has recently sliced the price of many plans in half – a measly 99 cents/79p a month for 50GB should cover you for one device, and prices go all the way up to $9.99/£6.99 for 1TB.
iCloud isn't only for iOS backups, of course: the iCloud Drive portion is a super-simple file storage area that works fine through any browser, and it's all tied in with Apple's online apps – the likes of Keynote, Pages and Numbers – to ensure your files are accessible when you need them.
Price: Free or from £6 (around $7.80) per year
Amazon's massive server farms power cloud storage and services for a huge portion of the world's businesses, which is why we're slightly surprised the company's personal storage service, Amazon Drive, is so little-known.
Prime members get unlimited photo storage with 5GB free storage for everything else (Amazon phased out its free offer last year). Any pictures you upload are later accessible through the Amazon Photos app or a Fire TV stick, organised in a neat, highly usable timeline.
Additional storage is easy to come by and reasonably cheap – £55 (around $70) per year to jump up to, well, unlimited and its online interface is easy to use and fast, if a little simple.
While we're looking at Amazon, don't ignore Cloud Music, which offers free online storage for up to 250 songs (or 250,000 of them with a paid upgrade) along with all of your Amazon digital purchases.
Price: Free or from £4.99 (around $6.50) per month
Mozy is most concerned with keeping your data safe, being (predominantly) an automatic cloud backup service, and a very good one at that. The company keeps reasonably quiet about the fact that you can get a free 2GB MozyHome account, probably because that little storage is rather useless if you're using it for cloud backups – but it's more than enough to make use of Mozy's file sync service.
It's not far removed from similar affairs provided by competitors: install the software on your computer, drop files in your designated folder, and they'll be automatically synchronised with Mozy's servers. You can later access them from the web, other computers, or your phone or tablet.
If you decide to sign up for the service proper, which includes a double-backup protocol to keep your files mirrored on an external drive as well as in the cloud, a 50GB plan is £4.99 (around $6.50) per month, with 120GB running to £7.99 (around $10.40).
Price: Free or from $3.99 (£3.10) per month
This is an offering that's worth considering if you need a lot of space, since pCloud's personal account rates are really rather reasonable – you get 20GB for free, jumping to 500GB for $3.99 (around £3.10) a month, or 1TB for $7.99 (around £6.20). If you need the security of client-side encryption that's an additional $3.99 (around £3.10), and there are business plans available by negotiation.
There are apps available for all major platforms, but it's the web interface we're most impressed with – it's clean, well-constructed, plus all of its major controls are accessible at a glance. While pCloud isn't a collaborative file-sharer like Google Drive – only a single user can access a file at any one time – that's a small concession to make for the volume of storage you get for the price. If you're archiving a large number of images, videos or even database backups, pCloud is a fine choice.
Price: From £15 (around $19.40) per month
So confident is Tresorit of its security, the company ran a hacking competition with a $50,000 (around £39,000) prize for the first to breach its walls. Over a thousand tried, but none succeeded. In addition to this hardened outer security, the company is based in Switzerland, which has stronger data privacy laws than the European Union or the USA; you can be reasonably sure that the internal security of your files as they rest on Tresorit's servers will be just as tough.
It's predominantly a plan for business users – small businesses with two to nine users can sign up for £15 (around $19.40) per month, which bags you 1TB of storage per user, end-to-end encryption, file permissions, admin tools, plus versioning and deletion history for 30 days. Scale up and the price-per-user goes down, and there's a solo plan for €25 (around £21.50, $28) per month.
Tresorit, which brings the same security to the web, desktop and its mobile apps, is actually the only cloud service we've looked at here that doesn't offer a free version, though there's a 14-day trial available on its main packages.
- Also check out: Best cloud storage for photos