Free cloud storage has really taken off thanks to fast, reliable internet connections. The appeal is understandable: you can store your files online and then access them from any device that's connected to the internet, including desktops, laptops, tablets and smartphones.
You can also back up important files to a remote location (essential in case your own hardware is damaged or stolen), and share files with friends, family and colleagues by simply sending them a link.
The only problem is choice. There are so many free cloud storage services to choose from, it can be hard to decide which is right for you.
Size isn't everything, so as well as capacity, we've also considered the security offered by each service, multi-platform support, ease of use, and any limitations on file size or bandwidth. On with the evaluation...
1. Google Drive
Free storage allowance: 15GB (expandable)
If you're a Google user, you already benefit from Google Drive integration, such as the ability to save email attachments from Gmail. However, anyone can sign up for the free cloud storage, even if they don't have a Gmail address, by creating a new Google account.
With 15GB of space for new users, Google Drive is one of the more generous cloud offerings, and there are occasional ways to boost this capacity free of charge. The catch is that this Google storage space is also shared with a user’s other Google services including Gmail and Google Photos.
Mobile apps are available to allow easy access for iOS and Android users, and Google’s Backup and Sync desktop app lets you synchronize files from your PC to the cloud. Google Drive also includes online office tools for word processing, spreadsheets and presentations which can makes sharing files with others effortless.
Free storage allowance: 10GB (expandable)
You might not recognize the name, but if you're looking for a decent chunk of cloud storage free of charge, pCloud could be just the ticket. To kick things off, you're given a fairly generous 10GB to play with, and there's a bandwidth allowance of 50GB of downlink traffic per month.
While we're primarily interested in the free version of pCloud, note that you can upgrade to 500GB of space for a one-time payment of $175 (around £125), or 2TB for $350 (around £250) – both of which are great deals for lifetime storage.
The initial 10GB free offering can also be expanded up to 20GB via an additional 4GB for completion of offers, as well as referrals that add 1GB each. It’s also worth noting that pCloud offers well-designed desktop and mobile apps that supplement the website for seamless integration into a user’s workflow.
With no limit on file sizes, and simple sharing options, pCloud is a great way to send large files to friends and colleagues – it's even possible to share with people who aren't using the service themselves. Add in decent streaming options and a neat online interface, and pCloud is well worth a look.
Free storage allowance: 5GB
Coming from Microsoft – a company with plenty of money to throw at the cloud – it's a little disappointing to find that OneDrive doesn’t include more space free of charge. Free users get a mere 5GB of storage, although it's relatively inexpensive to increase this to 50GB.
If you have Office 365, you'll automatically get boosted to 1TB of space, but not everyone wants an Office subscription.
Like Google Drive's appeal to Google users, OneDrive will be a good fit for anyone who is committed to using Microsoft's services. There's neat integration with Outlook.com, for instance. OneDrive also ties in nicely with Windows 10, and there is a selection of reasonable mobile apps to facilitate access on the move.
It's possible to share files with other people even if they aren't OneDrive users (complete with customizable permissions), and the ability to edit files online without downloading them is a welcome touch.
Free storage allowance: 2GB (expandable)
Dropbox is a stalwart of the free cloud storage world, with a web interface that remains streamlined and easy-to-use.
Despite its popularity, Dropbox actually has one of the least generous free packages for new users (just 2GB), but there are various ways to boost this space without paying, including inviting friends to join (you get 500MB per referral up to 16GB), completing the Getting Started guide (250MB) and contributing to the Dropbox forum (which elicits 500MB per 'Mighty Answer' provided).
DropBox really comes into its own when you start delving into the service’s extra features. There's a great collaborative working tool called Dropbox Paper that lets you restore files you've deleted, and – if you install the desktop app – you can back up photos automatically. The File Requests feature also allows you to request another user to upload a file to your Dropbox account.
There are desktop apps for Windows, Mac and Linux, and mobile apps including Android, iOS and even Kindle. This gives Dropbox broad appeal, as does the support for third-party apps and services.
The web version of Dropbox lets you edit files without needing to download them, and really the only thing that counts against the cloud storage service is that most alternatives offer more space to free users.
Free storage allowance: 10GB (expandable)
MediaFire has been around for over a decade, and those years of experience really show. You're given 10GB of free space initially, but you can boost this by an extra 40GB through activities like referring friends and following MediaFire's social media accounts. Few people would disagree that 50GB of free cloud storage is impressive. Free accounts carry ads, but this is a small sacrifice to make.
There's support for large apps up to 4GB, and the sharing options are very impressive, even allowing sharing with non-users.
The web-based interface is excellent too, and MediaFire offers mobile apps for convenient uploading and downloading on iOS and Android. These make it easy to access files you're storing in the cloud, and include convenient features such as automatic photo syncing.