Dropbox was one of the first companies to really understand cloud storage and syncing, releasing the original version of its client way back in 2008 as a way of replacing the ubiquitous USB drive – a goal that it's definitely managed to succeed in reaching.
Dropbox fits seamlessly into Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, keeping your files backed up to the web and in sync across multiple machines without you having to lift a finger. Does it still hold up against younger, more nimble competitors? We've been taking a look.
Get Dropbox installed on Windows or macOS, and everything you put into your designated Dropbox folder gets synced to and from the cloud. This sort of functionality is commonplace these days (Windows and macOS can do it natively now after following Dropbox's lead), but Dropbox was one of the first apps to let you do this, and it remains one of the best in the business.
You can't include network drives or external drives in your Dropbox, but you can be selective about which files and folders are synced to which device, and you can choose to keep files just in the cloud to save space on your hard drive. The mobile apps work well too, and can back up photos and videos taken with your phone if needed.
Sharing and collaboration are other areas where Dropbox excels: giving other people access to files and folders is very well handled, and Dropbox even has its own Google Docs clone in the form of Paper, which lets you work in real time on documents with other people. The built-in search capabilities are powerful too, and you can search text within documents if you go for one of the paid-for Dropbox options.
You can rewind to previous versions of files that stretch back 30 days (free plan) or 180 days (paid plan) into the past, and Dropbox even throws in a file sharing tool called Dropbox Transfer for shifting large files across the web. It's an impressive feature list, and even better, all these features are well thought out and intuitively presented.
As you would expect from a service and app that's been around for so long, Dropbox has evolved to offer a very clean, elegant interface for managing all your files. Whether you want to share a folder of pictures or bring a group of files back from digital death, Dropbox makes the process straightforward no matter what device you're using.
The client apps for Windows and macOS have recently been given a fresh lick of paint, and are now much more modern-looking. They list recent changes to your files and give you a good overview of what you (and your teams, if applicable) are doing inside Dropbox. Managing syncing settings and bandwidth use is straightforward, and speeds are as good as we've seen from any other service.
While the desktop clients are relatively basic in what they offer, the web interface is a triumph that other cloud storage services would do well to take a long, hard look at – files and folders open in a flash, media can be played straight from the web, a plethora of options are available with just a click or two, and smart touches are spread throughout (like your most recent file changes showing up at the top).
The Dropbox apps for mobile have the same clean layout and slick functionality, so you can get at all your files and folders easily, as well as upload files from phones and tablets. As an added bonus, you can scan in documents and photos using the mobile apps as well. Whatever direction you're approaching Dropbox from, its aesthetics are appealing.
Dropbox applies 256-bit AES encryption to your data, but your files aren't fully end-to-end encrypted as they are on some other services – that means in an emergency, Dropbox staff can get at your files. It's up to you how much you're worried about that, but it's worth noting that not having end-to-end encryption makes it much easier for Dropbox to offer a polished, fully featured web app (see also Gmail).
Elsewhere, two-step authentication can be applied to accounts to keep them better protected, and Dropbox says it puts in numerous measures to keep your data safe. It's worth noting that a serious data leak occurred in 2012, which wasn't publicly disclosed until 2016, but since then Dropbox has had a very strong security record.
Full marks to Dropbox for offering a free tier – okay, 2GB of cloud storage space isn't much, but you can at least try out the service for free indefinitely, something which a lot of rival companies won't let you do. You can expand that somewhat by referring other people to the Dropbox app, but you'll miss out on some of the more advanced features offered by the service (like offline folder access on mobile).
Pricing for individuals is either $11.99/£9.99 a month for 2TB of space or $19.99/£19.99 a month for 3TB of space (you can save a bit if you pay yearly). The business plans start at $15/£12 per user per month (with 5TB of space per user) and go up from there (again it's less per month if you pay yearly) – that gets you access to more business-focused features, so you can manage file access across workplaces.
Dropbox is just about the best at what it does. It doesn't have the online office suite capabilities of Google Drive, or the tight iOS and macOS integration of iCloud, but if you need to sync files and folders between devices running different operating systems, Dropbox is the best in the business – and has been for a while, which is why OneDrive and iCloud have been trying to mimic it for so long.
It's not quite perfect, but the desktop, mobile and web apps put a lot of Dropbox's rivals to shame, both in what they can do and how well they do it. Dropbox has succeeded in its original mission of making USB drives redundant, and has gone on to do so much more besides – it's intelligent, reliable, secure file syncing and cloud storage that anyone can use, and Dropbox can genuinely change the way you work.
- We've also highlighted the best cloud storage services