iCloud Drive vs Dropbox: Which is best?

A person using a desktop computer.
(Image credit: Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock)

When it comes to storing data online, there are two schools of thought: a cloud drive similar to your computer’s existing hard drive, which promises to make files accessible from virtually anywhere; and a cloud backup tool that makes a copy of your existing, physical hard drive to help protect you against emergencies. 

Two heavy hitters in the world of cloud storage are iCloud Drive and Dropbox. Each of these platforms generally has personal and business offerings to choose from, but because iCloud Drive is primarily a personal product, we’re exploring that avenue in this head-to-head. The sort of product that is regularly used for cloud document storage or photo cloud storage.  

Of course, coming to a definitive answer in the iCloud Drive vs Dropbox debate is not easy. There are a multitude of factors to weigh up, including features, support, pricing, and more besides. If you want a more detailed look at both solutions, our Apple iCloud Drive review and Dropbox cloud storage review should both be on your reading list. 

If you're simply interested in a comparison between iDrive and Dropbox, however, then the below guide contains everything you need to know. 

iCloud Drive vs Dropbox: Features

Apple’s iCloud Drive was built to take on key rivals Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive, as well as other long-term players in the cloud game, including Dropbox. Because it’s an Apple product, it will likely be the default solution for many macOS and iOS users. 

The slickest experience, particularly for users already working from Apple’s own hardware, will come from the desktop client and mobile apps. There isn’t so much a dedicated client for Macs, iPhones, and iPads, but rather a series of settings to toggle. Depending on what you have enabled, files will show in Finder or the mobile Files app, the Photos app, and other applications like Notes, Reminders, and Calendar.

The “Optimize Mac Storage” switch inside System Preferences on Mac allows users to control whether all files should be downloaded, or to keep them in the cloud and only download them when necessary. Other desktop clients, including Dropbox, do offer greater control in terms of bandwidth throttling, however for the most part iCloud Drive does a solid job of syncing in the background. 

There is browser access, too, which looks slick and incorporates access to the entire iCloud ecosystem. There are online versions of Pages, Numbers, and Keynote, however, we much prefer working from the desktop versions of the apps, which are available free of charge, though on Mac only. Apple’s own apps can open Microsoft Office files by default (with some loss of formatting), but to open an Apple file on Windows devices, you’ll first have to convert and export it accordingly. 

We can’t move on without finally mentioning Photos, which is one of a handful of other services included with iCloud Drive. Photos and videos reside in the Photos app, which is available on macOS and iOS, as well as in the browser if you don’t have an Apple device. Left to its own devices, it will hide what it considers to be junk (like screenshots) for a perfectly curated gallery - of course, you can show all content - and tagging by location and faces works well, too.

Things become rather more limited when you’re trying to run iCloud Drive on another device, such as a Windows machine. Yes, there is a Windows client that has most of the same core functionalities, but it’s nowhere near as neatly integrated or slick as it is on a Mac.

Dropbox provides a more universal approach, but it is less deeply integrated into either operating system. For the most part, files reside in one parent folder, however, there’s nothing stopping you from organizing folders within this to mirror your preferred usage, such as separating documents, photos, and videos.

Dropbox does have its own dedicated e-signature tool, which gives most paying users access to at least three e-signatures per month. There’s also a separate backup product for users who just prefer to work from their computer as normal, but have a safe copy somewhere in case of an emergency. 

iCloud Drive and Dropbox are among some of the most featureful cloud storage solutions available. The final tool worthy of mention in this showdown is password management. iCloud users get access to Keychain, which not only stores passwords but also two-step verification codes, which support autofill without needing to open a third-party verification app. Dropbox Passwords can be accessed more widely on non-Apple devices, and is free for all accounts, however, free Dropbox plans with 2GB of storage can only save up to 50 passwords.

iCloud Drive vs Dropbox: Performance

We tested more than 20 cloud storage tools side-by-side to get an idea of comparative performance, using the same 1GB test file in mock uploads and downloads. 

iCloud Drive uploaded the file in under six minutes, but this was beaten by Dropbox’s time of just over four minutes. Dropbox came out on top for downloads, too, with a sub-one-minute time vs iCloud Drive’s three-or-so minutes.

The difference is fairly notable, however, with both desktop clients able to manage syncing in the background, it will rarely be noticed in day-to-day use unless you regularly deal with large media files like videos. It’s also important to note that these times are only a guide from our own experiences, and are not truly representative of their performances.

iCloud Drive vs Dropbox: Support

iCloud Drive has one of the best support systems out there, with an endless array of self-help articles online for easy troubleshooting, and phone and live chat support for real-time answers. If you’re fully immersed in the Apple ecosystem, you can even chat with Apple staff directly through their iMessage channel. 

Self-help articles have now become an industry standard, with companies hoping that this will reduce some of the pressure on their staff. As such, Dropbox also has its own guides and articles. Live chat is available to all customers, but only certain high-paying customers can get instant phone support. For the most part, though, chats are answered pretty quickly.

iCloud Drive vs Dropbox: Pricing

Despite there being no business plans for iCloud Drive customers, there are plenty of other options and combinations. It all starts with a 5GB free account, which is enough to give users a taste but leaves them wanting more.

Should they choose to subscribe, there are three iCloud+ tiers to choose from. The 50GB, 200GB, and 2TB plans can be shared among up to six users, and all come with a tool that’s designed to obscure your IP address (called iCloud Private Relay), a unique and random email generator to better manage spam emails (called Hide My Email), and support for your own email domain. They also come with support for one, five, or unlimited HomeKit Secure Video cameras, if you use those on your own own. They cost $0.99 (£0.79), $2.99 (£2.49), and $9.99 (£6.99) per month respectively, however unlike many other competitors, there are no annual plans, so no great savings to be had.

If you want to subscribe to other Apple services, there may be cumulative savings to be found with Apple One memberships. Paired with Apple Music, Apple TV+, and Apple Arcade, you get either 50GB (Individual: $14.95 or £14.95 per month) or 200GB (Family: $19.95 or £19.95 per month). There’s also a Premier tier with Apple News+ and Apple Fitness+ added, along with the full 2TB of storage, for $29.95 (£29.95) per month. Compared with buying individually, you could save up to £22 per month, but don’t be fooled into paying for services you’re unlikely to use.

Unless you’re happy with the 2GB of free storage that comes with Dropbox, you’ll want to subscribe to the 2TB Personal Plus plan for $11.99 (£9.99) per month. This can be upgraded to 3TB for the total cost of $19.99 (£19.99) per month. There’s also a 2TB plan that can be shared among six users (note: 2TB total, not each), for $19.99 (£16.99) per month, though there doesn’t seem to be a 3TB option. Unlike iCloud Drive, savings can be made by purchasing annual subscriptions, reducing costs by up to 20%.

It’s unfair to compare business plans given that Apple doesn’t offer any for iCloud, but for reference, Dropbox has three plans starting at 3TB. They cost between $18 (£14.50) and $83 (£65) per user per month.

iCloud Drive vs Dropbox: Our Verdict

If you’re working from non-Apple devices (or a mix), we think Dropbox provides the best all-around accessibility, though it is slightly more costly than iCloud Drive. For its sheer convenience and extensive list of features, if your life revolves around Apple devices, iCloud Drive is the way to go.

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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!

With contributions from