Cloud storage services: how we tested them

Digital clouds against a blue background.
(Image credit: Shutterstock / Blackboard)

Less than a decade ago, it was hard to imagine a world in which all our computing needs revolved around the cloud. Sure, it was a thing, but the sheer thought that we would be storing some of life’s most treasured moments on a hard drive somewhere outside of our homes was ludicrous.

Now that this is a reality, picking the best cloud storage provider is crucial. Every option we have reviewed has been thoroughly tested by a number of staff and/or freelancers to get consistent results from multiple viewpoints.

How much do they cost? 

A cloud storage drive is a long-term solution, and value for money is number one priority here. We didn’t just look for the best deals, but companies that frequently offer good value deals for below their usual prices.

We favored solutions with flexible payment plans, though many also offered incentives for long-term commitments. Paying for 12 months upfront would often result in the equivalent of 10 usual monthly payments, for example.

Stress testing 

Each individual’s usage pattern will be different from the next person, but we tried to emulate as many scenarios as we thought any cloud drive would encounter. Text-only, photo and video files were uploaded and downloaded, topped only by our hefty 1GB test  file which was used to set the benchmark for upload and download times.

Most downloads had the pleasure of a fairly decent 350mbps connection, though as is the case with most broadband connections in the UK, the 30mbps or so upload speed was about as good as it got.

For reference, most uploads took around five to 10 minutes - finishing in under five minutes in this category suggests a healthy, unthrottled connection to the cloud storage drive’s servers. Downloads were mostly under five minutes, with sub-one-minute downloads being optimal.

Retrieving lost data 

Many people fear losing their data when it’s stored on the cloud, and that’s a perfectly natural concern to have. Ransomware can be particularly destructive, too, wreaking havoc in places you’ve never explored before, deep inside your computer.

For us to award a high score to any cloud storage or cloud backup service, it had to be able to assure us that our data was safe. There are two key elements to consider here: how many versions of a single file the system will keep (this can be handy if for nothing else just to track changes made in a document), and how long these versions are retained for.

Other features we looked for were file encryption, end-to-end transfer encryption, account protection such as two-factor authentication, support for online editing and the number of computers able to access the software, if applicable.

Comparing against the competition 

Many of us are already familiar with iCloud Drive, Microsoft OneDrive or Google Drive, either because they are deeply ingrained in our own computers or that we use them for work. As such, it is easy to compare lesser-known companies to these big players in terms of ease of use, compatibility and pricing.

It’s important to remember that there isn’t a clear-cut template for all things cloud storage - some focus on files, others on photos, and a select few aim to backup your entire computer. This is why we focus on the key rivals for each review, in the interest of fairness.

We've also tested the best free cloud storage.

Craig Hale

With several years’ experience freelancing in tech and automotive circles, Craig’s specific interests lie in technology that is designed to better our lives, including AI and ML, productivity aids, and smart fitness. He is also passionate about cars and the decarbonisation of personal transportation. As an avid bargain-hunter, you can be sure that any deal Craig finds is top value!