With OneDrive (opens in new tab), Microsoft was relatively slow to catch up to the likes of Dropbox and Google Drive. Now though, it's got a cloud storage (opens in new tab) system good enough to rival the biggest names in the business, with improvements and new features arriving regularly too.
OneDrive is quite tightly integrated into Windows 10 (opens in new tab), as well as part of the Microsoft 365 (opens in new tab) subscription package with the Office suite. Separate client tools are available for multiple platforms that cover macOS, Android, and iOS. The other benefit is that you can also get at your synced files through the web.
- You can sign up for Microsoft 365 here (opens in new tab)
1. IDrive is the best cloud storage provider (opens in new tab)
IDrive, the cloud storage veteran, delivers tons of storage online for an incredibly small outlay. 5TB for $3.48 for the first year is unmatched till now and so is the support for unlimited devices and the extensive file versioning system available.
2. pCloud provides a lifetime cloud storage subscription (opens in new tab)
The Swiss-based company is more expensive than the competition but the one-off payment means that you won't have to worry about renewal fees that can be very horrendously expensive. $350 for 10 years is less than $3 per month.
Microsoft OneDrive works similarly to other well-known consumer cloud storage options, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud Drive. You specify the files and folders you want to be backed up, and they get automatically synced with copies in the cloud, along with the other computers and devices that you've got OneDrive set up on.
It should come as no surprise that OneDrive is best used by Windows workers, given that Microsoft is the company behind both. Much like iCloud Drive is closely intertwined with the macOS experience, OneDrive offers seamless performance for those running the Windows operating system.
What it doesn't do is provide unlimited, bare metal backup of devices. This means that you'll need to reinstall operating systems, settings and applications should the worst happen in a catastrophic drive failure, as OneDrive only takes care of your files, and external drives and NAS drives aren't supported. This is fairly common for this consumer-facing type of cloud storage service; Google Drive and iCloud Drive also only back up files and not an entire hard drive. OneDrive can also bring back previous versions of your files from as far back as 30 days ago.
Drop a file or folder into OneDrive, and it gets synced to the cloud and your other devices. If you want to save space on your local machine, the option is to just keep a copy in the cloud, which is handy. Sharing files and folders with other people is a breeze too, as OneDrive can generate a link for you.
For sharing, when you opt to store your Office files (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) in OneDrive, extra tricks get enabled such as autosaving so you never lose your work, and advanced collaboration features to let you work on files simultaneously with other people, right inside the desktop applications or on the web. Additional cool tricks include being able to play audio and video files directly from the web, and using AI-enhanced search on photos you've stored in the cloud for spotting landmarks and objects, though this is now commonplace among its key rivals, too.
Whether you’re using OneDrive as an individual, managing important documents as a family, or dealing with sensitive information on behalf of a company, we like the Personal Vault feature which adds an extra layer of security when it’s required. Files (including photos and videos) can be protected with additional authentication, including biometrics, a pin, or a one-time code sent by SMS or email.
We found upload speeds to be as expected, however in our tests downloading the same file for offline access took longer than the upload. This was more notable using the desktop client, which should be less of a concern because this is typically left to run in the background.
When running Windows, OneDrive shows up in the navigation pane, right alongside Documents, Desktop, and everything else, to quickly right-click on files and folders to move them to the cloud or make sure you've got local copies available. It's seriously slick and easy to use.
Alternately, the web interface, which can be accessed from any computer using your Microsoft ID, lacks a level of sophistication – it doesn't have the simplicity and style of its competitors: Google Drive or Dropbox. It does get the job done of displaying your media, sharing your files, and letting you move files around, but it hardly has any panache.
On other interfaces, it's a mixed bag. The syncing client for macOS isn't anything that notable, but like the web interface, it covers everything you're going to need without getting too confusing, running from the menu bar, and can optionally start up with macOS. Unfortunately, it tends to get a little bit in the way of iCloud though.
That said, the desktop client does offer extra control for things like throttling bandwidth and saving files to your computer or storing them in the cloud only, both of which help you to free up space or speed on your computer.
Perhaps on the mobile front is where OneDrive does its best work. The apps for Android and iOS are elegant and intuitive to use. Users are enabled to jump around folders and files with a few swipes and taps. They are particularly strong at syncing and displaying photos and videos that have been snapped on the smartphone – though OneDrive has plenty of competition in this area not least from Google Photos and iCloud Photos. There’s a decent level of control within the mobile apps, for passcode protection and mobile data use, though some other cloud drive apps offer more thorough management.
By the very nature of a cloud drive, users will be minimizing their use of physical devices in favor of an access-anywhere nature. Part of this may involve eliminating the home printer, which has long served as a scanner, too. We like the handy document scanning feature in the app, and while it will never match the quality of a dedicated scanner, it does its job very well.
With the whole Microsoft account and Microsoft 365 subscription running, OneDrive gets protected by two-factor authentication (2FA (opens in new tab)), which is reassuring. This means that even if your username and password are exposed, access to your files and your account is still going to be blocked. There's also a Personal Vault feature, which requires yet another layer of authentication (like a fingerprint or a PIN) for access.
AES 256-bit encryption protects files in transit and at rest, which is not the same as end-to-end encryption, meaning that Microsoft engineers can access your data when needed such as for a restoration, but Microsoft promises this is tightly controlled. Microsoft stores the files across multiple data servers as well, to further guard against data loss, and overall, we consider it an impressively robust system.
Like iCloud Drive, Microsoft OneDrive offers personal customers 5GB of free storage to entice new users into the company’s ecosystem. A 100GB storage plan costs $1.99 (£1.99) per month and offers very little more.
A pair of Microsoft 365 plans come in the form of the 1TB Personal plan and the 6TB Family plan, which offers 1TB of storage for up to six people. Both add access to Skype and the suite of Office apps, including Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, which can be downloaded on up to five computers. These cost $6.99 (£5.99) per month and $9.99 (£7.99) per month respectively, which is a touch more expensive than iCloud Drive and Google Drive, which both offer 2TB of storage.
It’s also worth noting that the free plan does have access to online-only versions of Word and so on, much like Google Drive. iCloud Drive has online tools, too, but Pages, Numbers, and Keynote are free to download on macOS and iOS regardless of subscription tier setting it one step ahead of OneDrive.
Annual subscriptions offer small discounts, however this doesn’t help to undercut many of OneDrive’s rivals as they also offer similar incentives. iCloud Drive is a monthly-only subscription.
For those that need business features, like user management and advanced file auditing, a variety of business plans are available too. Prices start at $5 (£4 plus VAT) per user per month, if you pay annually – that gets each user 1TB of space. More expensive packages are available, that add in unlimited cloud storage for every user, or the Microsoft 365 apps, but somewhat enigmatically, not both. Prices climb to $12.50 (£9.40) per user per month.
OneDrive really deserves to be considered in context, as for a dedicated Windows user, and for those that make regular use of the Microsoft 365 suite, then OneDrive follows as a cloud storage extension to other Microsoft products. However, as an add-on for macOS, Android, or iOS, we hardly find it as impressive or as useful.
Put another way, it's not about the features or the pricing of OneDrive that makes it a good or a bad deal, it's really more dependent on what software and services you're currently using. What we can say for sure is that OneDrive is considerably more polished than it was just a few years ago when it debuted as SkyDrive. OneDrive has matured to reliably take care of all your file backup and syncing needs capably, across multiple platforms.
We've also highlighted the best Microsoft Office alternatives.