Google Drive vs Dropbox : Which is best?

A person in a wheelchair working at a laptop.
(Image credit: Shutterstock: AnnaStills)

If you’re looking to extend beyond your company’s in-house servers or your own computer’s existing hard drive, and external drives aren’t quite cutting it, cloud storage can be an attractive alternative promising access from virtually anywhere.

Take the time to choose the right one, and you could save money while getting access to a whole load of features that you wouldn’t typically get with a standard hard drive or other physical storage device.

Dropbox vs Google Drive: Features

Talking about extra features, Dropbox is full of them, making it a well-rounded proposition for individuals and companies alike. Of course, its primary function is to store files in a pot of online storage. Browser access is available, and this is where you’ll find things like admin settings and subscription management. We found it easier to share files from here, too, with a more user-friendly interface for managing permissions.

That said, for most daily tasks that involve opening and editing files, the desktop clients do a great job of syncing everything in the background. With the client, files automatically sync into your computer’s native file management system (like File Explorer or Finder), so there’s little need to go into the actual Dropbox app. If you do, you’ll find extra controls for things like bandwidth throttling, which is a nice addition but for most users, an unnecessary addition that they’ll never need to use. 

There are mobile apps, too, which can automatically backup your camera roll if you need to free up space on your device. Like the desktop versions, you can mark files to be available offline if you expect to be without Internet or need to have a copy at hand.

For confidential files, Dropbox recommends storing them in its ‘Vault’ which is a password-protected space within your storage allowance, which can be handy for family accounts.

The company’s password manager Passwords is bundled in with every account, free and paid, however free accounts are limited to 50 passwords. It’s arguably a better system than Apple’s Keychain and Google Chrome’s built-in tool thanks to the fact that it’s available on most devices, regardless of operating system or browser, as it works through its own app.

Paid accounts get access to three e-signatures per month with the company’s HelloSign service, and while its Paper word processing app is a little limited, third-party integrations are aplenty with direct access to things like Microsoft Office from within the Dropbox interface.

Google Drive works in a very similar way to Dropbox, however it’s arguably better when accessed through a browser. From the browser, you have access to the entire Google ecosystem, including its free Docs, Sheets, and Slides apps, as well as other apps like YouTube, Maps, and Calendar.

If you prefer to work from a different set of apps, such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, the easiest experience will come from using the desktop client which keeps your files in File Explorer or Finder. That way, you can drag and drop your files and let them sync in the background without having to wait for an upload or download in the browser.

Google Drive takes a similar approach to managing files in its storage space, however the company’s own suite of word processing apps (Docs, Sheets, and Slides) are among the best in the business. Unlike Microsoft Office and Apple’s offerings, Google’s apps are online only: there is no desktop software.

For this reason, we think Google Drive is best accessed through its browser portal. It’s a good thing that the experience is slick then; the familiar-looking interface supports drag-and-drop from your desktop and is easy to navigate.

That said, if you do prefer to work from other, non-Google apps, maybe the desktop client would make more sense. It syncs files in the background and places them inside your native file management system - like File Explorer and Finder - so there’s little need to open the Google Drive app. 

Like Dropbox and Microsoft One Drive, Google Drive has plenty of settings to tailor things like bandwidth usage and proxy selection, which is more than can be said about iCloud Drive.

Business users especially will be attracted to the variety of third-party integrations supported by Google Drive, including mind-mapping tools and document converters, however Box supports a lot more.

Dropbox vs Google Drive: Performance

In an effort to find out which cloud storage drive is best, we took more than 20 of them and compared their features, value, and performance. For the latter, we used the same 1GB test file to check upload and download speeds, which gives an indication as to whether the company applies behind-the-scenes throttling.

Both Dropbox and Google Drive managed the upload in just over four minutes, which is as good as it gets give our broadband connection. The download took less than a minute for Dropbox, and a minute and a half for Google Drive, which we consider to be among the best. For reference, throttled services generally took around 10 minutes to download 1GB in our tests.

While these times are only a guideline, and are specific to our own machines and Internet connection, and should not be used to represent each company, they serve as a solid foundation for comparison. 

Dropbox vs Google Drive: Support

Because Dropbox was one of the first cloud storage companies to gain mainstream traction, it has had plenty of time to publish and refine its extensive catalog of self-help articles. There are also email and live chat channels for more responsive and real-time support, but only business customers are entitled to phone support.

Google Drive offers almost identical services, but it’s a little harder to get access to real human support as the company seems to be pushing its self-help articles, presumably to cut operating costs.

Dropbox vs Google Drive: Pricing

Free Dropbox accounts get 2GB of storage and access to most of the features, but the experience is somewhat scaled back and leaves users wanting more. The handful of personal plans offer adequate storage, but we would like to see cheaper options and scalability for even more storage.

The Personal Plus plan comes with 2TB and costs $11.99 (£9.99) per month - this can be upgraded to 3TB for $19.99 (£19.99) per month, which brings a couple of additional features like longer file versioning and more personalized sharing options. The Family plan costs  $19.99 (£16.99) per month and offers 2TB total storage to share among up to six users. Other than that, its features mirror those of the cheapest personal plan.

Along with the 3TB Professional plan which Personal Plus users can upgrade to, there are Standard and Advanced plans costing between $18 (£14.50) per user per month and $24 (£21.50), starting with 5TB and heading up to a customized amount (for a cost). All accounts get three free e-signatures per month as part of Dropbox’s HelloSign, however the Professional plan can be upgraded to an unlimited number of e-signatures for an additional fee. 

Google Drive has a wider range of plans, starting with its free 15GB of storage which is among the best you will find of any cloud storage drives. The Basic tier totals 100GB for $1.99 (£1.59) per month, while 200GB will cost $2.99 (£2.49) per month. The largest 2TB plan costs $9.99 (£7.99) per month, which is cheaper than Dropbox but not as cheap as iCloud Drive at £6.99 per month (though US users will continue to pay $9.99).

Google’s business plans - labelled Workspace - start with a fairly small 30GB pot which costs $6 (£4.60) per user per month. The 2TB plan for $12 (£9.20) per user per month sounds much more appealing, while the 5TB plan doesn’t look too shabby either at $18 (£13.80) per user per month. A final Enterprise membership offers customized pricing for as much storage as is required.

If you’re willing to commit long-term - and our guess is that most people seeking online storage are - all Dropbox plans are eligible for annual memberships which saves as much as 20%. Google Drive’s personal plans offer a similar scheme for a smaller 16-17% saving, but the Google Workspace membership works on a monthly basis.

Dropbox vs Google Drive: Verdict

As with everything in life, there’s no one-sizs-fits-all answer. However, for most cases, we think Google Drive provides the best combination of features, whether it’s its large pot of free storage, its endless sharing and collaboration options, or its free online word processing apps (which are some of the best around). While Dropbox can prove a little pricier, its features may very well outweigh those of Google Drive if you’re a business customer looking for specific things.

Craig Hale

With several years’ experience freelancing in tech and automotive circles, Craig’s specific interests lie in technology that is designed to better our lives, including AI and ML, productivity aids, and smart fitness. He is also passionate about cars and the decarbonisation of personal transportation. As an avid bargain-hunter, you can be sure that any deal Craig finds is top value!