One of the original companies to truly understand cloud storage (opens in new tab) and syncing (opens in new tab), releasing the original version of its client way back in 2008 to replace the then ubiquitous USB drive – a goal that it's definitely managed to succeed in reaching.
- Want to try Dropbox? Check out the website here (opens in new tab)
Working seamlessly with Windows, macOS, Android and iOS, DropBox (opens in new tab) keeps your files backed up to the web and in sync- across multiple machines- without any additional user effort. The question is, how does the grandparent of cloud storage compare to younger and more nimble competition?
With Dropbox installed on Windows or macOS, everything is then put into your designated Dropbox folder to get synced with the cloud. This may sound familiar, as Windows and macOS natively support this in conjunction with their own cloud services, however realize that Dropbox was one of the initial apps to trailblaze this, and despite a whole host of new competition, it still performs incredibly well offering a slick experience.
A limitation of Dropbox is that you can't include network drives or external drives in your Dropbox, because anything that you want to be synced should be moved into this dedicated space on your desktop. However, you can certainly select which files and folders are synced to which device, choosing to keep files only in the cloud which saves space on your hard drive. The mobile apps are top-notch as well, offering integration with native document management systems like the Files ecosystem on iOS.
Like many other cloud-based apps, the mobile versions of Dropbox offer background support for photo library backup, which is especially useful on trips where your smartphone or tablet becomes your one and only device. Of great use in the digital age is the built-in document scanner which is great for archiving bills, invoices and receipts in a far corner of your storage device - and remember, you can select for these not to sync onto your computer to minimize the impact on your desktop, and to help keep things running smoothly.
When it comes to sharing and collaboration, Dropbox excels at giving other people access to files and folders. It even has its own Google Docs clone which is called Paper (opens in new tab), which lets you collaborate with other people to work on documents in real-time. There are also built-in search capabilities that are powerful, enabling you to search text within documents with one of the paid-for Dropbox options.
Previous versions of files stretch as far back as 30 days on the free plan or 180 days on the paid plan into the past, and Dropbox even throws in a file sharing tool called Dropbox Transfer for sharing large files across the web where usually email would leave you wanting for more. It’s worth noting that to get the full 100GB allowance here, users need to be subscribed to the Professional or Advanced business plans - otherwise, this is capped to a less impressive 2GB. The feature list is impressive, and even better, all these functions are well thought out and intuitively presented.
One of the company’s newest features is what it calls Dropbox Passwords. It’s a feature available to all subscribers, offering an unlimited number of saved passwords for paying customers and a limit of 50 for free accounts, which is still respectable. It works in conjunction with a browser extension that, in our experience, worked well. The autofill process wasn’t quite as slick as the native support which - in our case - used Safari’s service which works together with iCloud to sync passwords across all devices.
Client apps for Windows and macOS are kept up to date, and have a modern-looking interface. Recent changes to your files are listed, which provides a good overview of what you (and your teams, if applicable) are doing inside Dropbox. To manage syncing settings and bandwidth use is quite straightforward, with strong performance all-round. Uploading both the browser and desktop client provided near identical speeds, which were up to twice as quick as some other services we tested using the same network parameters.
While the desktop clients are somewhat basic in what they offer, the web interface is rather impressive, so good that some other cloud storage services would do well to emulate it, with files and folders at the ready, media ready to be played directly from the web, tons of options available with a click of the mouse, and smart touches spread throughout, such as your most recent file changes displayed up top.
On the mobile front, the Dropbox apps also have a clean layout with slick functionality. You can get at all of your files and folders easily, along with uploading files from phones and tablets. Put simply, Dropbox’s crisp aesthetics provide a welcoming sight regardless of how you access the service.
Dropbox provides 256-bit AES encryption for your data. However, the files aren't fully end-to-end encrypted like on some other services, which means in a pinch, Dropbox staff can get at your files, but it also means that the files are not always secured from anyone looking. We leave it up to you as to how concerned you should be about this limitation, but it's worth noting that not having end-to-end encryption makes it an easier process for Dropbox to offer a polished, fully-featured web app. Other, fully end-to-end encrypted cloud drives and backup services that we’ve tested are a little more clunky to use, at best.
Two-step authentication is another option Dropbox offers to accounts to keep them better protected, along with numerous measures for keeping your data secured. Of note, a serious data leak did occur back in 2012- although it wasn't publicly disclosed until 2016. The company has focused on security ever since, so things should be at least a little more secure by now.
Credit to Dropbox for offering a free tier, although 2GB of cloud storage space really isn’t much to write home about. However, you can certainly try out the service for free forever, which is something a lot of rivals won't allow. This can even be expanded somewhat through referrals of other people to Dropbox, with the understanding that you'll miss out on some of the more advanced features offered by the service, such as offline folder access when mobile.
Personal plans have access to 2TB of storage, either for solo users or to share among up to six users. These cost £9.99 and £16.99 per month respectively. Dropbox will sell 3TB and some extra features for £19.99 per month in what it calls its Professional plan, recommended for individuals such as self-employed workers. Larger businesses will need to pay £12 per user per month for 5TB, or £18 per month for “as much space as needed”.
It’s worth noting that, like many subscription-based models, savings are to be had for annual commitments. In the case of Dropbox, a 20% saving is not to be sniffed at.
Dropbox is at the top at what it does. While it lacks the online office suite capabilities of Google Drive (opens in new tab), and the tight iOS and macOS integration of iCloud (opens in new tab), it excels when you need to sync files and folders between devices running different operating systems. In short, Dropbox is just about the best in the business – and has been for a while, which is why OneDrive and iCloud have been playing catch up for too long - but they are…
It's not quite perfection, but the desktop, mobile and web apps can leave a lot of Dropbox's rivals in the dust, both in what they can do and how well they do it. Dropbox has more than succeeded with its mission to make USB flash drives (opens in new tab) redundant. It also has gone on to do considerably more besides, as it offers intelligent, reliable, secure file syncing and cloud storage that anyone can use. Really it is not an overstatement to say that Dropbox can genuinely change the way you work.
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