One of the originals in the cloud storage (opens in new tab) space, Box (opens in new tab) has been busy doing file syncing (opens in new tab) and storing way before it was cool and the likes of Apple and Microsoft caught on. As a result, it's packed with oodles of features and options, and is available just about everywhere you're going to need it.
- You can sign up for Box here (opens in new tab)
Standing out from the crowd are Box’s business packages that make Box, but it does cater to consumers also. With a focus on syncing files inside of a dedicated folder, and not backing up entire systems and hard drives, and here's the lowdown on it.
Taking the Dropbox (opens in new tab)
approach to cloud storage, Box sets up a specific folder on your Windows or macOS computer, and then keeps all of its contents in sync with the cloud along with any other devices with Box installed. For a solution to back up absolutely everything on your hard drive with OS, settings and all, then look elsewhere as Box has different strengths. This is a cloud storage platform, not a cloud backup solution.
Similar to Dropbox, Box neatly integrates itself with File Explorer on Windows or Finder on macOS. The Box folder lives alongside other key folders on your system, with the choice to have all of your files downloaded for offline access, or to keep them online and transfer them when needed (a handy trick to maximize the free space of your local drive).
The sharing of files and folders is a simple and straightforward task, whether you need to collaborate with other people on something or just for generating a link to be distributed to whoever needs it. Businesses can benefit as Box integrates smoothly with Microsoft 365 (opens in new tab), Google Workspace (opens in new tab), Adobe Creative Cloud (opens in new tab) among other software packages, and it's really at the business end of the spectrum where Box is the most impressive, with tens of other integrations including Slack, Airtable, Tableau and so many more. In fact, for the most well-rounded cloud storage that’s capable of handling the ultimate workflow and sharing needs, it’s easy to recommend Box.
Keeping this in mind, the team management features are par excellence: controlling access to files and folders, seeing who is collaborating on what, checking the use of files and data across an entire country, and so on. For a large company that has a need to manage cloud storage data in complex ways, Box is easily one of the best options out there, while remaining aware that for everyone else, it's not quite as compelling.
It’s worth mentioning that the free account is fairly limiting in its uses, but the 10GB of storage is up there with some of the best, with no need to provide payment details. File uploading here is limited to a rather small 250MB, unlike the 2GB or 5GB limits imposed on paid-for personal accounts, and up to 150GB for business accounts.
File versioning is also restricted to just the one for free accounts, compared with 10 or 25 for the personal accounts. At least security is guaranteed on all accounts, with the likes of file encryption and two-factor authentication - more on that below.
The Box interface tends to stay basic and minimal across its multiple apps, but that's not necessarily a negative, as it is definitely polished and straightforward to use, although we would like to see a few more options and features up front rather than hidden behind menus. The software slickness carries through to the mobile apps for Android and iOS too, to easily get at your files from anywhere.
Box really does feel fully integrated into the Windows and macOS operating systems - we really can't give it much higher praise than that. A downside to mention is that there's no way of throttling bandwidth use when you've got a pile of files to transfer. We did find the syncing process speedy and responsive though, providing some of the best upload and download speeds we’ve tested among other competitors.
The web experience is slick and easily navigated. Pulling up the most recent changes to your files can be done with ease, for example, along with creating a list of favorite locations within your Box folders that can get done with a click. It’s clear that a huge portion of the company’s investment has been poured into its user experience, which goes a long way towards streamlining the process and making it an easy service to use. Also appreciated is the auto-delete feature to set some files and folders to go away on a specific date (though you can only access this if you're on one of the paid-for packages).
The mobile app looks great, and integrates well with native file management, however the best functionality comes from using the Box app directly. Unlike the desktop client, there is some degree of control when it comes to network usage, but even this is just a warning for smartphones when uploading or downloading files over 20MB in size.
The automatic camera backup - disabled by default and buried deep in the settings - is a great option for those looking to store their photos and videos securely, but remember that videos may not upload due to the 250MB limit on free accounts or up to 5GB limit for personal plans.
Additionally, Box interfaces well with third-party apps and plug-ins, blending into the background and feeling like a native feature and not an add-on. In plenty of situations, there isn't really a Box interface as such, which might be a plus or a minus against the service, depending on your perspective. Taken as a whole, the years that Box has had to refine its software offerings definitely is apparent.
Box takes security very seriously indeed – there's AES 256-bit encryption as standard, and if you need full end-to-end encryption (so not even Box can get at your files in an emergency), it's available with an add-on. Two-factor authentication (2FA) is included here as well, which adds another layer of security to your account- even if someone manages to have your username and password.
The mobile app adds an extra layer of security with a passcode or biometric barrier - and this can be a different passcode to the one you would usually use to log in to your tablet or smartphone. Handy.
Each and every file transfer, login and even a Box application installation is tracked and logged, and by the addition of the full Admin console, you get even greater auditing and control options. Anytime a file or folder is accessed, you can be informed by email (so for example, when someone says they read your report, you’ll know that they're being less than truthful). Finally, a full range of compliance and regulatory tools are on offer as well, and it all adds up to a very secure and comprehensive service indeed.
The options are aplenty from Box of paid-for plans to choose from, and that even includes a free tier – provided you can get by with 10GB of cloud storage and a file size limit of 250MB.
An upgrade to the Personal Pro plan will cost $14 (£11) per month and offers 100GB of storage with 5GB upload limits. Compared with its competition from mainstream competitors like Apple, Microsoft, Google and Dropbox, this doesn’t represent great value, with 2TB generally being available for around $10 or £10 per month, or less.
A cheaper option is available for teams of three users or less in the form of the Starter plan, which can be useful for families. It offers a similar prospect to the Personal Pro account, with 100GB of storage, however the file size limit is reduced to 2GB. This costs $7 (£5.50) per user, per month.
Business plans offer unlimited storage, higher file size limits, and deeper integration with productivity tools, among other features. They all require a minimum of three users, starting with the Business plan ($20 or £16 per user, per month), moving up to the Business Plus plan ($33 or £26.50 per user, per month) and the Enterprise subscription ($47 or £37.50 per user, per month). A top-spec Enterprise Plus plan is available, though this requires Box getting to know your business needs in order to provide a quote.
Regardless of plan type, discounts are to be had for annual plans, currently with 24% to 29% savings. It goes without saying that opting for one of these presents the best value.
Owing simply to the 100GB maximum storage allowance imposed on individual users, it’s hard to recommend Box for personal use. Businesses will get the most out of this service.
Box certainly tailors its offering for the business market, even though it does have a couple of plans for consumers too. It's stacked with collaboration, data compliance and automations, and makes plenty of APIs available in case you need something bespoke. Certainly with one of the more expensive plans, with unlimited storage and useful tools, it's an appealing overall package.
Alternately, for consumers that want to stretch every dollar, that money is arguably better spent elsewhere. Box's apps aren't quite as user-friendly as the ones offered by its rivals, and it gets expensive depending on what you need. While it's a great option for cloud storage and syncing, it's not a great option for everyone.
- Also check out our roundup of the best cloud backup (opens in new tab) services
Also read: What is cloud storage?