Best Cloud Storage: Picking The Right Service in 2021

Choosing the best cloud storage provider is difficult. This guide shows the 10 top cloud storage for cost, safety and collaboration features.

Ben StocktonAleksander Hougen
By Ben Stockton & Aleksander Hougen (Editor)
— Last Updated: 2021-09-23T02:22:33+00:00

Welcome to our updated 2021 guide to the best cloud storage services. Cloudwards.net has been conducting cloud storage reviews for several years now, and in that time much has changed.

Competition between big corporate players like Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive, and the emergence of privacy-oriented providers like Sync.com, pCloud and MEGA, has been a boon for consumers. To save you some time we have a list of what we think are the top players for your money.

Key Takeaways:

  • Sync.com is the best cloud storage option with excellent sharing, versioning, security and more perks.
  • pCloud and Icedrive take the number two and three spots, and both offer excellent lifetime plans.
  • MEGA offers the most free cloud storage (20GB) and is also super secure.
  • The eight other cloud storage services that make this list all have their own benefits, but also some aspects that leaves them out of the top four spots.

If you’re particularly interested in cloud storage speeds we have custom data that shows a performance comparison of the top providers below .

Our analysis of 12 top cloud storage services showed that around half of them only take 25 percent longer to upload and 27 percent longer to download than expected. You can also read our cloud storage CPU comparison to see which services use the most computer resources.

Note: Our work is entirely reader supported, so we may earn a commission if you buy a storage plan based on our reviews. We’re not sponsored by any provider and our opinions are our own.

Find the best Cloud Storage
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    1. Starts from $ 708 per month for 500 GB
      Free plan available Save 11 % (All Plans)
    • 07/02/2021

      Cloudwards.net updated the top 10 cloud storage services rankings, including IDrive in the list, removing iCloud and adjusting other providers.

    • Sync.com is our favorite personal cloud storage provider, with good pricing plans, strong encryption and innovative features. Other good options are available, though, such as pCloud, Tresorit, MEGA and Google Drive, to name but a few.

    • For businesses, you can’t go wrong with a Sync.com, pCloud or Tresorit subscription, as our best business cloud storage list shows. If you’re unsure, key features to look out for are zero-knowledge encryption, server locations and document collaboration features.

    • pCloud is our top choice for free storage, although MEGA and Google Drive both offer a little more space. The beauty of free cloud storage providers is that you can try out a number of providers to find the perfect fit, with a provider like Koofr allowing you to combine multiple free storage providers together.

    • Our top choice for the best online storage for photos is Amazon Photos. It offers unlimited storage, will automatically upload photos from your phone and computer, and comes included with an Amazon Prime membership.

    • There are a number of providers that offer packages with unlimited storage, but the best unlimited cloud storage provider is Dropbox Business. Be aware that most providers offering unlimited storage usually have a set limit, and if you go above the cap, you’ll need to request additional storage.

    • Google Drive tops our list as the best cloud storage for Android, but our number-one choice for iPhone users is Sync.com. However, most providers offer pretty good smartphone apps.

    The Best Cloud Storage Comparison

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      5-Unlimited GB
      $ 199
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      15 GB - 30 TB
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      $ 164
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      2 GB - 3 TB
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      -Unlimited GB
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      5 GB - 30 TB
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      1-500 GB
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      100 GB - 5 TB
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      $ 825
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      100-1000 GB
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      10 GB - 4 TB
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      • : No
      25 GB - 10 TB
      $ 093
      Save 17 %
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      • : No
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      10-2000 GB
      $ 417
      Save 17 %
    28. 28
      • : No
      75-1000 GB
      $ 761
      Save 29 %

    The Best Cloud Storage for 2021

    We’ll start off our guide with a quick explanation of the basic difference between cloud storage and online backup services.

    Then, we’ll present our top cloud storage picks by category, with entries like file sync, file sharing and cloud security.  This approach is designed to help you hone in on the service that makes that makes the most sense for you needs.

    1. Sync.com — Top cloud storage pick for sharing, versioning, large files, iPhone and more
    2. pCloud — Best online storage pick for Windows, Mac, Linux and music 
    3. Icedrive — Top cloud drive newcomer
    4. MEGA — Excellent free cloud storage with security
    5. IDrive — Best cloud storage-online backup hybrid
    6. OneDrive — Best cloud storage for Office integration
    7. Google Drive — Top pick for integrated apps and students
    8. Koofr — Top pick for multiple cloud accounts
    9. Dropbox — Best pick for cloud collaboration
    10. Box — Great pick for business cloud storage

    Then after we dig into all the details of these 10 cloud storage services, we will discuss the general details of how cloud storage works and the advantages of using cloud storage.

    If you are still figuring out how to best pick the right service for you, we have a handy video guide, below.

    Cloud Storage vs Online Backup

    Before you start shopping for cloud storage in earnest, it helps to have a good understanding of what “cloud storage” actually means. That way you don’t end up with software that doesn’t really meet your expectations.

    The first hurdle to overcome is knowing the difference between cloud storage and online backup. It’s easy to see why one might confuse these terms: both cloud storage and online backup are used to safeguard files in remote data centers. Both let you access the files stored in these data centers from different devices. Online backup is even sometimes confusingly called “cloud backup.”

    The difference between the two is that the ultimate goal of online backup is disaster recovery, while cloud storage is generally best suited to quick file access and collaboration. We generally like to think of cloud storage as a productivity tool here at Cloudwards.net, although many people use such solutions for things like streaming music, watching videos and sharing photos, too.

    Online backup safeguards hard drives better than cloud storage thanks to backup schedulers, better data recovery options and a few other things that you can read up on in our guide to best online backup.

    Aside from storage, there are two features generally common to cloud storage: file sharing and file sync. On top of that, a handful of cloud storage tools have integrated apps like word processors and task managers that help facilitate productivity.

    We have an entire article dedicated to the differences between backup versus storage if you’d like to learn more about this subject. Also, it’s important to note that there are a handful of cloud solutions that blur the lines between storage and backup. IDrive and SpiderOak ONE are two of the best.

    1. Sync.com

    sync-versioning

    More Details About Sync.com:

    • Pricing: 5GB free, 2TB for $96 per year ($8 per month)
    • Number of devices: 5 on Individual Plans
    • Website: Sync.com

    Pros:

    • Excellent value
    • Secure cloud storage
    • Easy to use

    Cons:

    • Slower than some rivals
    • Lacks collaboration features

    Sync.com is our best cloud service for many storage categories. We’ve put it up against all the other major players in a wide range of cloud storage comparisons, and more often than not, Sync.com is hitting the top. If you’re looking for a cloud storage service that’s packed with great features at a competitive price, then you can’t go far wrong with Sync.com.

    To start with, Sync.com comes with zero-knowledge encryption as standard. This type of encryption means that Sync.com doesn’t know your encryption key, so only you can access your files. If there was a security breach or the authorities demanded access to your account, they could view the files but not what they contain, keeping you in control.

    Of course, if you’re looking for a cloud storage service that allows you to share files and sync them across multiple devices, Sync.com will more than cover you. Strong encryption does put it at a disadvantage, though, as it means that Sync.com can’t offer collaborative features you’d see with other storage clouds, such as Dropbox.

    Sync.com Pricing

    Sync.com may struggle with collaboration (and it might not be the speediest service in the world), but its pricing is where it truly shines. Not only does it regularly beat out other providers in terms of features, but it also does so at a truly competitive price for consumers.

    Sync.com comes with 5GB free storage, which is a reasonable starting point that puts it alongside OneDrive and Amazon Drive. The Pro Solo Basic account offers the most value, though. For just $8 per month (paid annually), you get 2TB of storage space to use Sync.com as a cloud backup service.

    For comparison, the same amount of storage from Dropbox is $9.99 a month. In fact, pCloud is the only provider in our top 10 that offers 2TB of storage for a lower price, but at $7.99 per month, it’s only one cent less than what Sync.com charges.

    All in all, Sync.com is a great online storage provider at a price you’ll be hard-pressed to beat. It also has a good number of features, as well as support for Windows 10 and Mac users (it even makes the top of our best cloud storage for Mac shortlist). If you want to learn more, take a look at our Sync.com review.

    2. pCloud

    pCloud-Web-Interface-Files

    More Details About pCloud:

    • Pricing: 10GB free, 2TB for $95.88 per year ($7.99 per month)
    • Number of devices: Unlimited
    • Website: pCloud.com

    Pros:

    • Excellent value
    • Choice of encryption levels
    • Clever virtual drive
    • EU servers available

    Cons:

    • Zero-knowledge encryption isn’t free
    • No document integration

    You’ll often see us praise pCloud in our cloud storage reviews, and it’s not hard to see why. It has a number of unique features that make it an excellent choice for users, competing well in a market dominated by the bigger players, like Google and Microsoft. As we’ve already mentioned, it offers great pricing (putting it alongside Sync.com), but it shines in other areas, too.

    pCloud and Sync.com fight hard to be the top-value services in this list. However, you can save even more money by signing up for a pCloud Lifetime account, giving you online storage that remains yours — forever. 

    Of course, cloud storage pricing isn’t everything, and as our best cloud storage for music shortlist showed, pCloud is a good option for media lovers. That’s thanks to features offered in the embedded pCloud audio player, which allows you to play your music files from within the pCloud web or smartphone app.

    Its features are good, too, allowing you to create playlists, shuffle songs and loop albums. 

    Syncing and sharing files is also easy with pCloud, which it does even faster than Sync.com. It uses a slightly different system than most other providers, creating a virtual drive that allows you to sync your files without using up any space. If you’re constantly running up against the limited size of an SSD, then this feature could be a real lifesaver. 

    pCloud doesn’t offer zero-knowledge encryption out of the box, which is a downside. You’d have to pay $3.99 per month for this protection — called pCloud Crypto — although it is included for free with business plans. However, pCloud Crypto is a little different from the kind of encryption you’ll see other providers offer.

    Your data is stored either in the U.S. or the EU. If you’re at all concerned about your digital privacy, you’ll want to pick the latter option, since it means your data will be safe on pCloud’s servers in Luxembourg, which has much stricter privacy laws than the US.

    What Is pCloud Crypto?

    With pCloud Crypto, you get a specific area to store your files that you want to be protected with zero-knowledge encryption. Anything outside of pCloud Crypto can still be read by pCloud’s servers, allowing you to preview files or play content from within the app.

    This prioritizes your sensitive data, keeping it safe and away from other files. Although pCloud could be forced to give up access to your unencrypted data, these could be non-sensitive media items or photos, keeping your other files safe in your pCloud Crypto online backup storage.

    Your information may be secure, but you can still easily access your data from within the pCloud interface on mobile or the web — you just can’t edit or view them without your encryption key. This gives you a bit of both worlds, and it’s a unique solution that might encourage you to better protect your data. You can read more about pCloud Crypto in our pCloud review

    If you’re still struggling to choose between the first two providers in our list, then take a look at our Sync.com vs pCloud head-to-head article, where we pitted the two providers on everything from features to customer service.

    3. Icedrive

    01_icedrive_review_browser_encrypted
    The Icedrive web interface, showing a list of encrypted files.

    More Details About Icedrive:

    • Pricing: 10GB free, 1TB for $49.99 per year ($4.17 per month)
    • Number of devices: Unlimited
    • Website: Icedrive.net

    Pros:

    • Secure Twofish algorithm
    • Zero-knowledge encryption
    • Preview encrypted files

    Cons:

    • Zero knowledge isn’t free
    • Limited choice of plans

    Icedrive is a new entry on our list, and it’s a provider you may not have heard of before. That’s not surprising, given it has only been in operation since 2019. It’s been making waves, though, with highly competitive pricing and some interesting features that set it apart from some of its more established rivals.

    One of the biggest differences from the other providers on our list is that Icedrive doesn’t use the industry-standard AES 256-bit encryption. Instead, it uses an algorithm called Twofish.

    Twofish was one of the final contenders for the Advanced Encryption Standard contest at the turn of the century. Some consider Twofish to be more secure (if sometimes slower) than the eventual winner, Rijndael (now known simply as AES). Icedrive points out that the current standard is backed by the NSA — make of that what you will, but don’t let it scare you just yet.

    Paid accounts include zero-knowledge encryption as standard, so files should be safe from prying eyes. Unlike most other zero-knowledge providers, Icedrive lets you preview certain files by streaming them in encrypted form to your computer, where they are then decrypted on the fly. 

    For a company focused on security, it’s a shame that there’s no two-factor authentication (2FA) for Icedrive at present, which is something you’ll see offered by security-focused providers, such as Tresorit. That said, it has a no-nonsense privacy policy that rules out most problematic behaviors, and as a UK-based company, Icedrive is governed by stringent GDPR regulations.

    Icedrive Pricing & Lifetime Plans

    One of the biggest selling points of Icedrive is the price, though. If you pay annually, 1TB of storage costs just $4.17 per month. If you need more space, the next tier up gives you 5TB of storage for $15 per month (for accounts paid annually). That’s quite a big jump, which might be costly for some users, but you can also opt for a lifetime subscription.

    That may or may not be a risk, though, especially given how new of a provider Icedrive is. Still, if you’re looking for a highly secure provider and need less than 1TB of storage space, then Icedrive is a great option. Learn more in our Icedrive review.

    4. MEGA

    05_mega_review_pricing_rewards

    More Details About MEGA:

    • Pricing: 20GB free, 2TB for $122 per year (around $10 per month)
    • Number of devices: Unlimited
    • Website: MEGA.io

    Pros:

    • Zero-knowledge encryption
    • No U.S. servers
    • Great free storage

    Cons:

    • Time-limited rewards
    • Ownership concerns

    If you’re worried about privacy with other free cloud storage options, like Google (our number seven pick), you can go for a provider at the other end of the privacy spectrum: MEGA. Although MEGA’s colorful founder Kim Dotcom has had run-ins with the law, he’s no longer part of the company. MEGA’s focus is security, so zero-knowledge encryption is the absolute standard, with nobody but you having access to your files. 

    In terms of privacy, MEGA has servers in Canada, New Zealand and Europe. They’re all locations that have reasonable privacy laws that, as you might have noticed, is exactly why no data is held on American servers. 

    Because MEGA uses zero-knowledge encryption, it can’t read any of the files that you store, but it does keep some of your metadata (like IP logins) to monitor access.

    There is also some controversy about how much of MEGA’s stock is owned by people under the influence of the Chinese government, which could be a concern for some users. You can read more about this in our MEGA review.

    Best Cloud Storage: Free 20GB

    MEGA is a good option for users who want to try cloud storage for free. In 2021, it increased its free storage space from 15GB to 20GB. Plus, you can extend your free space by completing various tasks — like installing the desktop app or mobile apps — but that extra space expires after a year.

    Although its paid plans aren’t the cheapest cloud storage options out there, at the end of the day, the base 20GB still blows its free cloud storage rivals away, earning it the fifth spot on our list. The good news is that, even if you don’t pay for a MEGA subscription, free accounts get full access to the privacy and protection that MEGA’s encrypted service provides.

    5. IDrive

    IDrive desktop app sync tab

    More Details About IDrive:

    • Pricing: 5GB for free, 5TB for $5.79 per month
    • Number of devices: Unlimited
    • Provider website: idrive.com

    Pros:

    • Cheap storage
    • Both backup & cloud storage
    • Easy to use
    • Packed with features

    Cons:

    • Slow
    • No monthly plan

    IDrive is a unique option, offering a hybrid solution for both cloud storage and online backup — it’s actually our number one pick for online backup, a fact that it owes mostly to its incredibly affordable prices and incredible wealth of features. 

    Besides all the backup features like disk-imaging and courier recovery that we won’t spend too much time on here — check out our IDrive review for that — it also boasts proper file sync and share features that earns it a spot on this list.

    You can designate any folder on your device as a sync folder, and you can move them wherever you want. There’s also selective sync, which can save you a lot of time and bandwidth if there are certain large files you want to exclude. In comparison, the file-sharing is a bit bare-bones, though you can set access privileges on the share-links that you create. 

    Hybrid Cloud Storage & Backup With IDrive

    Although IDrive works great as traditional cloud storage, online backup is its bread and butter (check out our cloud storage vs online backup guide to understand the difference). That means that unlike other entries on this list, IDrive is an excellent solution for backing up your entire device automatically, since you won’t have to manually move things you want to protect into a sync folder. 

    One of the best aspects of IDrive is just how much storage you get for such a cheap price. The IDrive free plan only comes with 5GB, but the two paid personal plans are incredibly generous. These offer 5TB and 10TB of storage — which is a lot — for just $5.79 and $8.29 per month respectively. 

    The only downside here is that you have to sign up for a full year, but if you’re a first-time user, you can snag a year’s subscription for just $17.38 by using our IDrive promo code.

    6. OneDrive

    onedrive-splash-2

    More Details About OneDrive:

    Pros:

    • Excellent collaboration tools
    • Great integrated apps
    • A large variety of features
    • Generous free storage

    Cons:

    • No zero-knowledge encryption
    • Limited file versioning

    There are big names in cloud computing, and then there’s Microsoft. There isn’t a market in computing that Microsoft hasn’t tried to dominate, and it’s not surprising that it has an online storage offering in its OneDrive service, which offers seamless integration with other Microsoft services, such as Office. It’s even integrated into Windows itself.

    Office integration is the biggest selling point for OneDrive users — or rather, the collaboration benefits that come from a combined Office and OneDrive service. A Microsoft 365 Personal subscription (previously Office 365) includes 1TB of OneDrive storage, but it also comes with full desktop versions of Office apps, with Word, Excel, Outlook, and PowerPoint thrown in. 

    These Office apps make collaborating on documents simple. You can share any of your documents stored in the cloud, and multiple users can work on them together in real time. Any changes are instantly visible to all other co-authors and automatically saved to the cloud.

    You never have to worry about losing that 90-page thesis to a hard drive failure ever again. With a Microsoft Personal subscription, you can install Office on up to five different devices, allowing you to share the service across an entire family or household. You can learn more about these collaboration options in our OneDrive review.

    The collaboration features come at a cost, though. OneDrive doesn’t have zero-knowledge encryption, so your information is visible to Microsoft and anyone else who gains access to its servers, legally or not. Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that as a U.S. company, Microsoft servers are based stateside, so your data is subject to intrusive laws, such as the Freedom Act.

    OneDrive Family & Business Plans

    You can take things a step further with a Microsoft Family 365 subscription, which gives users 1TB of storage for up to six people at just $8.33 a month (paid annually). This can save you a small fortune on storage and productivity apps for the family, making it a good value option.

    OneDrive also has some excellent business options that  make it our favorite value product in our list of the top enterprise file sync and share providers (where a business online storage provider like Egnyte reigns). With Office and Windows integration, as well as pretty good pricing, OneDrive is certainly a provider we can recommend with confidence.

    OneDrive Basic 5GB
    • : 5 GB
    OneDrive 100GB
    • : 100 GB
    Microsoft 365 Personal
    • Comes with Office 365 Personal
    • : 1000 GB
    OneDrive for Business Plan 1
    • Price per user
    • : 1000 GB
    OneDrive for Business Plan 2
    • Price per user
    • : Unlimited GB

    7. Google Drive

    04_Google_Drive_Review_Features_marketplace

    More Details About Google Drive:

    • Pricing: 15GB free, 2TB for $99.99 per year ($8.33 per year)
    • Number of devices: Unlimited
    • Website: google.com/drive

    Pros:

    • Excellent collaboration tools
    • Great integrated apps
    • Generous free storage

    Cons:

    • No zero-knowledge encryption
    • Privacy concerns

    If you want a similar experience to OneDrive, you may want to try Google Drive. Like Microsoft’s service, Google offers storage that integrates well with its own suite of office applications, which serve to replace the Microsoft Office experience in full — and do so pretty well, too.

    You can collaborate in real time using Google Docs, leave comments and roll-back changes, thanks to Google’s built-in versioning features. Only OneDrive and Dropbox can really rival Google Drive for collaboration, and you check out our Dropbox vs Google Drive vs OneDrive article to see how they compare.

    There’s an entire marketplace of other Google Drive apps, so you can integrate other productivity apps, grammar checkers and more. You can also use Google Drive with other apps, including Google Calendar and Google Keep, a simple note-taking app. 

    Beyond Integrations

    These kinds of integrations make Google Drive our top choice as the best online cloud provider for integrated apps, but it shines in other areas, too. If you have a Gmail account, you’re already using Google Drive, with 15GB of free storage thrown in, although its pricing is reasonable if you require more.

    Unlike some of the other providers we’ll mention, free users gain almost all of the same features that come with paid subscriptions. Powerful collaboration options in a free product help Google Drive to come out near the top of our list of the best no-cost cloud storage

    If you’re curious about Google Drive pricing, then you can add 100GB of extra storage for a very reasonable $2 a month. There are some downsides, though. As you can read in our Google Drive review, there’s no zero-knowledge encryption, which is particularly concerning given that Google is not renowned for having the greatest policies when it comes to your personal data.

    The price you pay for accessing the collaboration tools and app integrations is that Google will scan the contents of anything you upload to Google Drive; it has full access to read, catalogue and use that data. You’ll need to decide for yourself whether you’re willing to give up some privacy to benefit from the useful tools that Google offers.

    8. Koofr 

    05_koofr_review_mobile_app_menu

    More Details About Koofr:

    • Pricing: 2GB free, 1TB for $10.85 per month
    • Number of devices: Unlimited
    • Website: Koofr.eu

    Pros:

    • Links to other cloud accounts
    • Virtual drive
    • Integrates with Microsoft Office 365

    Cons:

    • No zero-knowledge encryption
    • More expensive than some

    It’s by no means a household name, but Koofr offers some features that set it apart from the other providers on our list. One of the most useful is the ability to link it to other cloud storage services. Currently, you can connect accounts from Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive, allowing you to mix and match your services in one place. 

    Up until the end of 2019, you could also connect your Amazon cloud storage to Koofr, but Amazon decided to stop third-party applications accessing its services, as our Amazon Drive review explains in greater depth. This is a shame, as Amazon ranks as one of the best cloud storage for photos that we’ve seen.

    Still, with other big platforms available, this is only a minor blip in a pretty unique offering from Koofr.

    Once you’ve connected your accounts, you can access all your remote files at once, letting you move and copy files between each of your linked accounts, as well as search for files across all platforms. Any files stored in your other cloud accounts won’t count against your Koofr storage quota.

    Virtual Network Drive

    Another highly useful feature is the ability to set up a virtual network drive for all of your files from Windows File Manager as if they were stored on your computer. You view not only the files you have stored in your Koofr account, but also the files from any other online storage accounts that you’ve linked with Koofr.

    Unfortunately, this level of access between services does mean that Koofr lacks the kind of zero-knowledge encryption that privacy-focused providers offer. Still, Koofr’s servers are based in Germany, so your data falls under much stronger EU privacy laws. Koofr does offer 2FA to help keep your data safe in the event that your password is hacked, though.

    Koofr integrates with Microsoft Office 365, though this feature has a few limitations. Free accounts can create an Office document but only paid accounts can edit it. Plus, Koofr doesn’t let you set editing permissions for files (only for folders), so you can’t really collaborate with other people on documents.

    As a downside, Koofr isn’t the cheapest, as our Koofr review will explain. It has some very cheap plans that offer 100GB of storage or less, as well as a free 2GB plan. Of course, you can still integrate with other services, allowing you to mix and match your storage pots together.

    You’ll pay around $10.85 per month for 1TB of storage (prices are in euros, so conversion rates will fluctuate). This is costly, compared to Sync.com or pCloud, which offer double the storage for a similar cost. If you don’t need a huge amount of space but want to have all your cloud accounts in one place, then it’s worth taking a look at Koofr.

    Starter
    • : 2 GB
    L
    • : 100 GB
    XL
    • : 250 GB
    XXL
    • : 1000 GB
    XXXL
    • : 2500 GB
    10XL
    • : 10000 GB

    9. Dropbox

    dropbox-menu

    More Details About Dropbox:

    • Pricing: 2GB free, 2TB for $203.88 per year ($16.99 per month)
    • Number of devices: 3 to unlimited
    • Website: Dropbox.com

    Pros:

    • Collaboration with both Office & Google
    • Smart sync
    • No U.S. servers

    Cons:

    • No zero-knowledge encryption
    • Not the cheapest
    • Privacy concerns

    Dropbox may not have been the first cloud storage service, but it was the first to really bring the idea into the mainstream. More than a decade after its launch, it’s still going strong, with only Google Drive having a larger market share. Dropbox also has the name recognition that providers like Sync.com can only dream of at present.

    One of the reasons why Dropbox is still so popular is the excellent collaboration it offers, which is why Dropbox Business is one of our top recommendations in our cloud storage for collaboration shortlist. 

    We’ve already seen how well OneDrive works with Microsoft Office files, and Google Drive works with Google documents. If you’re looking for a service that lets you collaborate on both types of files, then you need Dropbox.

    That’s right: you can launch and collaborate on both Microsoft and Google documents with Dropbox, making it a good solution for users who need to use both services. Both formats work seamlessly, allowing you to co-author documents in real time, which are then automatically saved to the cloud.

    The excellent collaboration tools come at a cost in two ways. First off, this integration is only possible because Dropbox’s servers can access your files, due to the lack of encryption. Dropbox has had security breaches in the past, which we discuss in our Dropbox review. This could be a reg flag for some users, and for good reason.

    Dropbox is also more expensive than some of the other providers in this list, with 2TB of storage costing $9.99 per month if you pay annually. If you’re looking for information on Dropbox’s business storage plans that are paid per user, you can find out more in our Dropbox Business review.

    Dropbox Smart Sync

    When Dropbox first launched, it used the now-commonplace system of a sync folder. You drop your files into this folder on your desktop and everything in it syncs to the cloud, and vice versa — all very straightforward. 

    One of the issues with this system, though, is that if you have a lot of data, you can quickly fill up your hard drive. Dropbox’s first way of dealing with this was to introduce Dropbox “selective sync,” which allows you to decide which folders sync to your drive and which ones remain in the cloud. 

    The downside of this system is that it means you can’t see all of your Dropbox files in your file explorer. The solution to this is “smart sync” from Dropbox, which allows you to set all of your files and folders to be either stored locally or online-only. The online-only files still show up in your Dropbox folder, but they don’t take up any space. 

    If you have a laptop with a small-capacity SSD, this can ensure that you don’t have problems with your drive filling up with items you’ve stored online. There are other providers that offer similar systems, but these use different methods to help you save space, such as the virtual drive system used by pCloud.

    For many users, Dropbox continues to be a good choice. Its pricing and a lack of encryption could put you off, as could historical data breaches, but features like “smart sync” show that Dropbox continues to innovate, and it still remains one of the greatest services for users who are looking to collaborate on documents.

    10. Box

    best efss services box
    Box is an impressive service all around, but it really shines with a long list of third-party integrations.

    More Details About Box:

    • Pricing: 10GB for free, 100GB for $14 per month or $120 per year
    • Number of devices: Unlimited
    • Website: box.com

    Pros:

    • Strong collaboration options
    • Google Workspace and Microsoft Office integrations
    • Great security

    Cons:

    • Primarily business focused
    • Expensive
    • Private key management costs extra

    Although Box is a cloud storage provider that focuses on businesses, it still offers two plans for personal users — one free and one paid. Due to its nature as a business-focused storage option, Box comes packed to the brim with advanced features. Everything from strong collaboration options to two-factor authentication, note-taking and project management is present, which makes for a solid list of features.

    The one thing that is missing out of the box (we’ll show ourselves out) is private key management. This is a feature that you have to pay extra for with Box, and the company won’t even tell you the price unless you contact them directly.

    Collaboration With Box

    The clear standout feature of Box is the long list of collaboration options it offers to users. The two most important integrations for this are obviously there, namely Google Workspace and Microsoft Office, but Box goes far beyond these two popular options. 

    Instead of forcing you into the apps themselves, Box lets you edit and collaborate on documents directly from its own software, and this even extends to the mobile version. If you ever find yourself needing to edit a text or spreadsheet while on the move, Box is one of the few cloud storage options that let you do this directly from your mobile device.

    By far the biggest drawback to Box is its frankly absurd price. As mentioned, there are only two plans available for personal users. The first is free and gives you access to 10GB of storage and most of Box’s features. However, the paid plan is a terrible value for money if all you want is storage. A mere 100GB will cost you $14 per month or $120 per year, which is outrageously expensive.

    If you’re more concerned with collaboration and security than you are with price and storage space, then Box is an excellent cloud storage solution. If that’s not the case, you’re better off with any of the options presented above. For a deeper dive into the service’s pros and cons, check out our Box Review and our Box vs Dropbox showdown.

    How Does Cloud Storage Work?

    Cloud storage is a way of storing your files and folders on online servers, allowing you to access them from any location and on any device with an internet connection. Your data is stored on servers that belong to your cloud storage provider, which usually offers a web interface, desktop app or mobile app to access your information.

    These servers might be located in your own country or on the other side of the world. Most services use a sync folder on your desktop, allowing you to store files easily. Any files you put into this folder are also uploaded to the cloud servers, which will automatically update if you make any changes.

    Why We Use Cloud Storage

    People use cloud storage for many different reasons, starting with storage. While services like Dropbox and Sync.com might not be great for disaster recovery, they work very well for short-term storage of files that you access often.

    In fact, that’s exactly what Drew Houston had in mind when he dreamed up the “sync” folder model commonly used by cloud storage services today back in 2007. He was traveling from New York to Boston on a Chinatown bus and realized that he left his USB drive behind. He decided he wanted a means of storing and accessing files online in a way that required little effort on his part.

    Sync folders facilitate device synchronization, which we call “sync” for short. Any file you drag and drop into a sync folder gets automatically sent to the cloud, then sent to any other devices with a sync client installed. That way, you never have to worry about messing with removable storage. Changes to files also get synced across devices, which is what makes cloud storage ideal for getting work done, even remotely.  

    Syncing Mobile Apps

    Cloud storage tools also generally have mobile apps for Android and iOS that let you access files stored in the cloud. Many let you manually and automatically upload files, as well. That makes them convenient for safeguarding photos taken with your smartphone camera and saving memory at the same time.

    Take a look at our roundup of the best cloud managers for Android if you have multiple cloud storage accounts.

    A handful of cloud storage tools don’t sync devices. We can’t think of any tool, though, that doesn’t let you share files. File sharing can be used for both collaboration and socializing.

    Most cloud storage tools let you invite specific users to access files based on their email address and generate links to files that can be more broadly used. Many cloud storage tools also let you share folder access, even granting others edit and upload permissions.  

    Some cloud storage solutions also integrate with productivity tools like Office Online, Google Docs, Trello, DocuHub and DocuSign. Unfortunately for home users, such integrations are more common with EFSS tools, which are basically cloud storage services for businesses.

    Is Cloud Storage Safe?

    Most cloud storage services encrypt your data when it’s being sent to their servers and many store your data in encrypted form. However, no system is completely secure, and cloud storage servers can be hacked.

    For instance, Dropbox suffered a major breach in 2012, when 68 million passwords were leaked. Government authorities may also request to access your data for legal reasons. You can help to keep your data more secure by using a service with zero-knowledge encryption, which means that the only person who can decrypt your data is you.

    We also recommend setting up two-factor authentication with cloud storage services. This requires you to use an additional code when you log in, which is either sent to your phone as an SMS message or generated by an authenticator app. Even if someone has your password, 2FA means they can’t log in to your account without access to your phone, too.

    Cloud Storage Speed Tests

    Speed is one of the most important aspects of any cloud storage service. Although the time differences for a gigabyte or two may not be all too large, the time spent uploading or downloading terabytes can add up substantially. The upside of faster cloud storage is clear: using a faster service means you can access your files more quickly across your devices. 

    If you know where to look, you can find fast cloud storage services, too. Our recent analysis of 12 top cloud storage services showed that around half of them only take 25 percent longer to upload and 27 percent longer to download than expected. This is using raw megabytes per second as a baseline, ignoring all other network conditions. 

    Providers:Average Provider Upload Time (Expected: 23 min 41 sec):Percent of Extra Time for Uploading 1GB Folder:Average Provider Download Time (Expected: 4 min 22 sec):Percent of Extra Time for Downloading 1GB Folder:
    pCloud28:3821%4:5629%
    IceDrive28:3621%4:5834%
    SugarSync29:4526%5:5937%
    OneDrive29:5226%5:0456%
    Koofr30:0227%5:2825%
    MEGA30:1027%5:4331%
    Dropbox30:1828%5:3327%
    Woelkli30:2829%5:3126%
    Tresorit30:5130%5:1922%
    Google Drive30:5931%6:3450%
    Amazon Drive32:5039%5:5134%
    Sync.com36:1853%7:5481%

    Note: Testing was performed in Macedonia using 5.9 Mbps upload and 32 Mbps download speeds.

    Of the lot, pCloud and IceDrive were the fastest across upload and download, with SugarSync following closely behind. Google Drive and Sync.com trailed the pack with the slowest speeds. For Google Drive, that’s bad news. Sync.com, on the other hand, offers full end-to-end encryption, so the speed loss makes sense. 

    Final Thoughts: Best Cloud Storage

    This list has our current top 10, but there are other good-quality providers that didn’t make the list. SecureSafe, Amazon Drive, SugarSync and others all have their strengths, so be sure to take a look at our full list of cloud storage reviews to learn more about some of the other options out there, with new providers being added as they appear. You can also use our online data storage price list, to make sure you’re getting the best value with today’s best deals.

    Sync.com and pCloud are great, privacy-focused options for most users, but if you’re more interested in document collaboration, you can’t go wrong with bigger players like Dropbox, Google Drive or OneDrive. However, MEGA offers more free storage, plus excellent security. While, if you need online backup options in addition to cloud storage, IDrive is the way to go.

    Do you use any of the products on our list? Do you think there are some glaring omissions, or do you think we’ve been unfair (or too fair) with any of the providers we’ve mentioned? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below and, as always, thanks for reading.