Cloud storage services are so popular that some have hundreds of millions of users. They can store your content in the cloud and sync it across your devices but you can use them as more than that. They let you preview and share files, collaborate with your teammates, play music and videos and more.
Not only will uploading your files make it easier to collaborate with your team, but it will free space on your hard drive, too. Plus, in the event that your hard drive malfunctions or gets stolen, your files will still be in the cloud. Documents, designs, reports or even bigger files, such as 3D models and movies, are all good candidates for a trip to the cloud.
Many of the services can function as a network drive which means that any content you place in it will be stored only in the cloud and available for preview on your computer. You won’t be able to access it when offline, but it won’t take up space on your hard drive, either.
If your focus is on collaboration, read our best cloud storage for collaboration article. If you’re looking for backup, check out our list of the best cloud backup services. To be clear on the difference between storage and backup, read this article.
If you’re not sure how much space you need and you lean towards the “a lot” side read our guide for large files article.
How We Rate
Cloud storage services can be many things to many people, but for the purposes of this comparison, we took into account the criteria they all share and rated them accordingly. We’re going to outline them in this section.
File Sharing and Syncing
File sharing and syncing features are the foundation of a cloud storage service. You’ll more than likely going to use them first because syncing will get your files to the cloud while sharing files will help you, well, share them with others. Most of the services use the common model of sync developed by Dropbox in 2007. Read more about it in our Dropbox review.
The common model of sync consists of a system tray icon and a sync folder. The system tray icon is your go-to way of accessing your cloud storage. In most cases it opens up your sync folder, has a link which opens the cloud storage web client and the settings menu. The sync folder shows all the content that you’ve synced to your computer.
Many services let you share files using the desktop client, but all let you share it using the web client. You can share content to social media networks, via email, by copying and pasting a link or inviting users to your folders.
Folder invites can have different permissions attached to them while links have their own content control options such as passwords, expiry dates, download limits and more.
In this category, we check if a service integrates with third-party apps which include collaboration staples such as Microsoft Office Online, Google Office Suite, Trello, Asana and more. Many of the popular services have their own apps such as tasks managers, workflow and note-taking apps. Music and video players are also common.
If you love photos and videos read our guide for photos and videos article (no, Google Photos is not the only service you can use) to see which service will help you stream your multimedia from the cloud. We didn’t forget the music lovers who can consult our guide for music piece.
iOS and Android are the most popular mobile operating systems and most services offer an app for these platform. However, having and app doesn’t mean it’s good. So we test all mobile apps to see if they can match their desktop counterparts.
Placing your content in the cloud without proper security is a bad idea. Criminals might steal your credentials, someone might read your secret information and the government might be browsing through your photos. That said, having good security is a must so we consider how strong the security of each service is.
Cloud services use many methods to secure your data against potential threats. Two-factor authentication will stop hackers who’ve stolen your password from accessing your account. Still, you should make sure you have a strong password, to begin with.
The TLS protocol prevents man-in-the-middle attacks from succeeding, while encryption secures your data in transit and at rest. Private encryption prevents anyone other than you from reading your files. The drawback is that services which provide it won’t be able to reset your password if you forget it. To avoid losing access to your content use a password manager.
We considered all these features and how services implement them in our most secure cloud storage article.
Your security might be sufficient, but that doesn’t mean it guarantees your privacy. It’s no secret that governments spy on their citizens, thanks to laws such as the USA PATRIOT Act and CLOUD Act. The PRISM surveillance program in the U.S. is one example of that. With those in play, it’s paramount that you ensure the privacy of your information on the web.
That said, services differ in their approach to privacy. Google Drive and Dropbox have been connected to the PRISM project while Google scans your content and email to give you targeted advertising. You can find out more about Google’s approach in our Google Drive review.
We always like to see a service which adheres to the General Data Protection Regulation, EU’s iron-clad approach to cloud privacy. Many do, but those that stand out are Sync.com, Tresorit and MEGA.
One of the most important factors when choosing a cloud storage service is the price, there’s no point if you have a great service that costs an arm and a leg. It’s best if it has premium plans with good value.
Good value is determined by how much you get for the price. The more plans a service has, the better your options will be. It’s great if the service offers a free plan or trial, too, so you can test it before committing. If you’re only concerned with good value, read our best deals in cloud storage.
Most of the services offer a trial or a free plan. Free plans range from Dropbox’s meager 2GB to Google Drive’s generous 15GB that you can also use for Google Photos. You can get more information about free deals in our best free cloud storage piece.
Ease of Use
Like the previous category, ease of use is important because no matter how many great features a service has, it won’t do it much good if users find it difficult to use.
Because of that, straightforward user experience is better than one that’s complex, outdated and requires you to get help from an IT genius. Cloud storage services should work on most operating systems, as well as have attractive and intuitive interfaces.
Most desktop clients work on Windows and macOS, but we give bonus points to those that work on Linux. You can see which are those on our best online storage for Linux piece. If you work on Windows, consult our guide for Windows
Fast speeds depend on how close you are to a server and your internet service provider. We looked for services that let you tweak transfer settings to improve your connection and use a block-level transfer algorithm. It speeds up the process of updating files that have already been uploaded by only sending the parts that have changed.
To grade services, we perform several upload and download tests using a 1GB folder and measure how much time they take. We take into account our distance to a server, too.
Nobody wants to encounter a problem using a cloud storage service, but once they do, good technical support is priceless. Services usually have email support, while some offer chat or even phone support.
Before contacting the support team, though, users can consult the FAQ, knowledgebase and in many cases, user forums. Often, these will have tutorial videos, too. We take into account what types of support the services offer and how long they take to respond to our questions.
The Best Cloud Storage Providers
Some cloud storage services are better at one thing than another, but for the purposes of this ranking, we considered their overall performance across the criteria we outlined in the previous section. This section will give you a quick recap of the top five services on our list starting with the champion, Sync.com.
Sync.com is a service known for its strong security and privacy. It helps that its based in Canada which has strong privacy laws. It’s one of the best zero-knowledge cloud storage services. The drawback of that is that it doesn’t integrate with third-party apps.
It’s also at the top of our list for sharing thanks to its sharing and content control options, which protect your shared files and folders. They include password protection, private end-to-end encryption, expiry dates, download limits and more. To share content you can create links or team folders.
If you’re thinking Sync.com must be expensive as hell because it provides all this, you’d be wrong. It has some of the most competitive prices on the market. Its cheapest plan, Pro Personal 500GB, is only $49 per year. The best deal, though, is its 2TB plan at $96 a year. Read our Sync.com review for more pricing details.
Right on the heels of Sync.com, comes pCloud. It’s not number one because it requires you to pay extra for private encryption, but it still has many redeeming qualities.
First, it’s our top choice for playing music, videos and previewing photos. Plus, it’s the best cloud storage service for Kodi. pCloud is WebDAV compatible, too. pCloud has another trick up its sleeve and that’s cloud to cloud backup. You can use it to backup content from Facebook, Instagram, Google Drive, Dropbox and OneDrive to pCloud.
Sharing and content control features work well, too. You can share folders and specific files via links. pCloud lets you share folders by inviting others and granting “can edit” or “can view” permissions. Alternatively, you can generate an upload link which others can use to upload directly to your folder or a download link that enables them to download your files.
pCloud has great value, as well. It even undercuts Sync.com by a slight margin. Its Premium 500GB plan is only $47.88 per year while its best-valued plan, Premium 2TB, is $95.88 per year. To find out more about pCloud’s offers read our pCloud review.
MEGA advertises as the privacy company and that’s justified considering it extends the GDPR’s rules to all of its users, not just those based in the EU. Its zero-knowledge encryption helps protect your privacy, too.
It has one of the best user experiences on the market. The desktop app works on Windows, macOS and Linux while the web client is intuitive and attractive. You can easily upload your files by dragging and dropping them anywhere in the client window. To edit content you can right-click or use the “three dots.” You can move files simply by dragging them to a new location.
MEGA’s web app lets you share your files by generating a link that you can protect with a key. That makes them zero-knowledge, so only people you give the key to can read them. You can attach the key with your link, which means anyone with the link can access it, or send the key separately.
You can share a folder by creating a link or inviting others via their email address. If you do that, you can set one of several permissions. To invite others to upload to your folder, including non-MEGA users, you can turn it into a “MEGAdrop” folder.
Tresorit is one of the most secure cloud storage services and one that has great privacy, too. Unlike Sync.com, that comes at a steep price, though.
Its sharing capabilities don’t lack, either. You can share content with specific individuals via email or by generating a link and copying and pasting it. You can share a folder by generating a link or inviting users via email. If you use an email to share a folder, the recipients will need to register for a Tresorit account. Files can only be shared with a link and don’t have that requirement.
You can protect links using a password, expiry date or download limit. Folders have three levels of permissions. They are “manager,” which can share, edit and view; “editor,” which can read and modify; and “view,” which can only read. You can find more about Tresorit’s sharing capabilities in our Tresorit review.
OneDrive is Microsoft’s entry in the cloud storage market. It has a sketchy past regarding privacy, including being connected to the PRISM project. OneDrive has updated its security since, but it can’t match the most secure cloud storage services.
Its user experience is among the best, though. The web client is attractive and intuitive to use. You can easily upload files by dragging and dropping. You can perform actions using right-click or by selecting content and then choosing the action from the menu.
Microsoft OneDrive integrates with Office Online which you can use to collaborate with others no matter the plan you subscribe to. If you want to take notes and share them you can use OneNote. To communicate with others, there’s Skype which is integrated with the web client. Productivity apps include Forms for workflow management and Sway for content publishing.
You can find out more about Microsoft OneDrive’s features and it’s pricing plans in our OneDrive review.
Cloud Storage Frequently Asked Questions
Below we’ve put some of the most often asked questions by our readers, plus the answers.
What Is the Cloud?
It’s not the fluffy, white things in the sky. Instead, the term refers to software and services that run on the internet instead of locally on your computer. That software is stored in data centers which hold many servers. You can access it using a web browser or a dedicated desktop or mobile app.
Services such as Microsoft Azure, Amazon S3 and Wasabi are examples of the server infrastructure that acts as a service and helps you create your own cloud. You can find more options in our best cloud IaaS article.
How Much Cloud Storage Do I Need?
The shorts answer is: it depends. It depends on what you’re going to be using it for. If you’re going to collaborate on Office documents, presentations and share notes you don’t need much. 100GB should be more than enough.
You should focus on services that have great collaboration capabilities. Dropbox for Business is a great choice and you can find out more about it in our Dropbox for Business review. If it’s not your cup of tea Google Drive or Box are good alternatives. Read more about Box’s collaboration capabilities in our Box review.
If you plan to store photos you need more storage. pCloud is at the top of our providers for photos and it has a cheap 2TB plan, too. It can hold around 600,000 photos averaging 3MB in size. If you’re a professional photographer you might prefer one of the services from our best cloud storage for photographers article.
Video requires even more storage, but, once again, pCloud comes to the rescue. Its web player works without a hitch and the 2TB plan will be able to accommodate your HD collection. For other options consult our guide for storing videos in the cloud.
If you don’t know how much storage you need, and chances are high you’re going to be needing more and more you should try one of the services which offer unlimited storage. You can find more about them on our best unlimited cloud storage providers list. Make sure to check our feature lists so you’re aware of any file size restrictions or limitations.
How Does Cloud Storage Work?
Like with the internet in general, there’s a client and a server. In this case, a client is a computer user subscribing to a cloud storage service, while the server is a machine in a data center.
A client syncs (sends) copies of files over the Internet to the data server, which then saves the information. When the client wishes to retrieve the information, he or she accesses the data server through a web, desktop or mobile client. The server then either sends the files back to the client or allows the client to access and manipulate the files on the server itself.
Cloud storage systems generally rely on hundreds of data servers (especially for unlimited storage providers). Computers can be unavailable at times because of crashes or maintenance so data is usually stored on multiple machines. This is called redundancy. Without redundancy, a cloud storage system couldn’t ensure clients that they could access their information at any given time.
What Is the Definition of Cloud Storage?
Cloud storage is a cloud computing model in which data is stored and maintained on remote servers accessed from the internet, or “cloud.”
Which Cloud Storage Is the Most Secure?
According to our most secure cloud storage article, Sync.com is the most secure cloud storage provider. Egnyte Connect, one of the best EFSS solutions, is hot on its heels, though. It’s expensive for solo consumers, but it’s a great choice for businesses that want strong security.
No matter what you need to use cloud storage services for, our ranking will help you choose the best one. We made it considering a number of factors including security, privacy, speed and more. Sync.com is our top choice because of its approach to security, privacy and its great value deals.
pCloud isn’t far behind but it’s not committed to privacy as much as Sync.com and it requires you to pay extra for private encryption. MEGA is great for privacy but it can’t quite match pCloud’s value nor its features. It has great ease of use, though. Tresorit is a security and privacy fortress but its expensive because of that.
Our last pick is OneDrive which can’t quite match the security or privacy of others, but it does have strong collaboration features along with straightforward ease of use.
This article is an overview of the best providers so when you think you’ve found a service that works for you, we recommend that you consult its review to find out more it. Thank you for reading.