The numbers say they rank as the two most popular personal cloud storage services today, but when it comes to choosing between Dropbox or Google Drive, how do you decide which is the better file hosting option for your documents, videos and photos?
You could spend hours trying them out, comparing respective costs and features, whipping out the old stopwatch to test sync speeds and experimenting with integrated applications like Office Online and Google Docs, but there’s really no need.
We’ve already done the legwork for you, and coming up, we’ll present the results in our updated Dropbox vs Google Drive matchup. Think of it as sumo wrestling for cloud storage.
For those looking for the short answer about which service lands on top, here it is: it depends. While it may surprise you that we don’t rank either Dropbox or Google Drive at the top of our best cloud storage charts due to a combination of weak security and limited value, both services perform well overall against most of the competition included in our cloud storage reviews library.
Which works best for you will depend on your precise needs, as both Dropbox and Google Drive do different things very well. Keep reading to find out precisely what those things are, or jump to our Dropbox review or Google Drive review for more detailed information on either.
The Battle: Dropbox vs Google Drive
Back in 2016, Dropbox celebrated breaking half-a-billion registered users with a self-congratulatory blog post. According to its more recent, March 2018 IPO filing with the SEC, that number remains kind of the same, suggesting overall user growth has plateaued.
Business for Google Drive, meanwhile, is booming. The most recent count available, which came via an onstage announcement by Google CEO Sundar Pichai, is 800 million active users, and several billion accounts overall. Just three years prior, in 2014, Google Drive had only 240 million active users.
Dropbox, once the undisputed king of the cloud storage mountain, hasn’t exactly been kicked off a cliff. The IPO filing also shows an increase in paying personal subscribers, from 6.5 million to 11 million. The company does well with business accounts, ranking among the best enterprise file sync and share services.
However, it’s also clear that Google Drive, more than any other cloud storage provider, is challenging Dropbox for supremacy. How it’s doing that is part of the question we’ll answer coming up, as we match Dropbox against Google Drive over the course of five rounds: cost of storage, file sync, file sharing, productivity tools and security and privacy.
Cost of Storage
Value is key in choosing a cloud storage provider, which is what we’ll be checking out in round one. When we evaluate value, we look at cost per gigabyte but also plan flexibility. After all, there isn’t much value in a cheap 1TB plan when you only need 500GB. We’ll also take a look at free plans, the best value of all, to determine which of our two competitors presents the more tantalizing offer.
Sign up for a Dropbox account and you’ll get 2GB for free. Thing is, that isn’t very much, and doesn’t come close to sniffing some of the entries in our best free cloud storage article. Most users who are serious about Dropbox as a cloud storage solution will need to upgrade to a paid subscription.
For personal cloud storage, you’re forced to go straight to 1TB. There’s no middleground with Dropbox, like a 100GB of 500GB plan. Additionally, you can’t get more than 1TB as a home user. There’s a more expensive Dropbox Professional plan, but it doesn’t land you more storage, just better features.
1-year plan $ 8.25 / month
$99.00 billed every year
Save 17 %
1-year plan $ 16.58 / month
$198.96 billed every year
Save 17 %
1-year plan $ 12.50 / month
$150.00 billed every year
Save 17 %
1-year plan $ 20.00 / month
$240.00 billed every year
Save 20 %
There is one option to increase your storage capacity with Dropbox, however, that won’t cost any money. Dropbox has a decent referral program that will get you 500MB per referral if you’re a non-paying user, up a cap of 16GB, or 1GB per referral if you’re on a subscription, up a cap of 32GB.
With Google Drive, you get 15GB just for signing up. That’s a great deal, even if storage space is shared with Gmail and Google Calendar.
Should you need more gigabytes, Google also has a 100GB plan for just $2 per month. More than that, and you need to jump to 1TB, which like Dropbox Plus, will cost your around $10 per month.
Google Drive has several more storage tiers beyond that, but we’re always miffed to remember that bumping up your storage doesn’t result in a discount, even if you sign up 20TB ($200). Google Drive doesn’t have a referral program, but that’s no surprise. The company doesn’t need them when it has Android smartphone sales driving registrations.
Round One Thoughts
Google Drive might not give free space for referrals like Dropbox, but it doesn’t matter. 15GB of free cloud storage is almost as much as you’d earn by referring 32 friends to Dropbox, and who has that many friends?
We also like the fact that Google Drive has a 100GB plan, and while it’s disappointing that a 2TB plan doesn’t get you a discount over a 1TB plan, at least more storage is an option. With Dropbox, it isn’t, unless you’re a business user (read our Dropbox Business review).
Neither Dropbox or Google Drive top the list of best deals in cloud storage. However, in a head-to-head matchup, we think Google Drive delivers far more value thanks to free storage and price plan flexibility.
File synchronization lets you automatically copy files to your different devices, saving you from having to fiddle with thumb drives. That includes both new files and edited files, with transfers occurring, ideally, in near real-time.
Most cloud storage providers today follow the sync-folder model developed by Dropbox in 2008, including Google. However, as we’re about to see, the old dog is still plenty capable of learning new tricks.
As we said, Dropbox — Dropbox founder Drew Houston, in particular — invented the approach to file sync that’s commonly used today. Key to that approach is a special folder that gets added to your file system when you install the Dropbox desktop client.
This folder is called a sync folder, and any folder you drop in it gets sent off to the cloud, then onto other devices. The disadvantage of sync is that it requires that files be stored both on your hard drive and in the cloud to work, which doesn’t do you any good if you’re trying to free up disk space.
Dropbox addresses that issue with a feature called selective sync. You can manage selective sync from the “preferences” tool accessible via the Dropbox taskbar icon (on PC).
Using selective sync, you can turn sync off or on for specific folders contained within your Dropbox sync folder. If you turn it off, that folder and its contents will be removed from your hard drive and only stored in the cloud.
For Dropbox Plus users and most other cloud storage services, turning sync off means that you can no longer see that folder in your file system. However, Dropbox Professional subscribers gain access to a newer feature called “smart sync,” which lets folders remain visible in the sync folder even if sync is turned off.
Smart Sync works a bit like a network drive, and we like it. While that alone doesn’t justify spending $10 more for a Dropbox Professional account, the feature is one way that Dropbox has stayed ahead of the curve when it comes to file sync.
Another way Dropbox shines with sync is its use of block-level file copying, which greatly improves sync speeds for file edits. Very few competitors use this method, choosing instead to upload and download the entire file all over again when a change is made.
Some of the few competitors to also use block-level transfers for sync include Amazon Drive and Egnyte Connect (read our Egnyte Connect review). Does Google Drive? Let’s find out.
Nope, it doesn’t. (We didn’t want to keep you in too much suspense.)
Google Drive takes the long approach when syncing files. That said, it still moves content pretty quickly thanks to multiple data centers around the world, which decreases both your computer’s distance to the cloud and server congestion at the same time.
No surprise, Google goes with the sync folder approach, adding a “Google Drive” folder to your file system when you install the desktop client (the client is called “Backup & Sync”).
Google Drive also provides a selective sync feature to help you free up hard drive space, which is accessible via the taskbar icon. As with Dropbox, you need to click on “preferences” to open tool that will let you turn sync off for specific folders.
While not actually a sync feature, we should also point out there’s another tab in this tool called “my laptop” that lets you pick folders anywhere in your hard drive to backup. Backup is different than sync in that its designed to protect files in case of a hard drive crash, and doesn’t distribute those files automatically to other devices.
Round Two Thoughts
While useful, the backup feature available through the Backup & Sync client is no substitute for a full-featured backup solution, like those in our best online backup guide.
Because of that, we’re not giving Google too much credit for including the option, and certainly not enough to counterbalance the kudos Dropbox earns for using block-level sync. Besides speed, Dropbox also provides some of the most reliable sync results of any cloud storage tool we’ve tested, including Google Drive.
That, along with lots of reader feedback on the subject of sync, is why we named Dropbox the best cloud storage for sync. It’s also why it takes round two with almost as much ease as Google Drive took round one.
With our contest knotted at two wins each, egg-shaped heads in Dropbox and Google headquarters are no doubt starting to sweat. Things are only bound to get more heated as we take on another vital cloud storage feature in file sharing.
Dropbox lets you share any file or folder directly from the sync folder by right-clicking on it and selecting “share.” You’ll be given the option to grant access to that file to specific people based on their email address, or you can create a link that can be copied and pasted in to Slack message boxes, social media platforms or wherever else you want.
The exact same sharing options are available through the Dropbox web GUI by clicking the “share” button associated with the object you want to allow access to.
Generating file-sharing links will let others preview your files via browser and download them. The method is pretty standard among cloud storage services, but Dropbox does have some nice extra features, so long as you’re willing to pay for them.
With a Dropbox Professional subscription, you can add link passwords, expiry dates and download limits.
We consider these generally essential features for content control, and, just like with Smart Sync, it’s a shame that they’re not included on the base subscription plan, Dropbox Plus. If these are features you don’t want to pay for, read our Sync.com review to learn about a cloud storage service that has the most secure approach to file sharing of any cloud storage service we’ve reviewed.
A limitation of file sharing with Dropbox is that when sharing just files, there’s no option to grant edit access, only view. To allow others to make file changes, you have to share a folder, in which case edit permissions can be enabled.
To ensure you don’t lose sight of what content is being shared, there’s a “sharing” tab in the web GUI that will help you conduct fast audits and delete links no longer needed. The same tab has sub-tabs to view folders and files shared with you.
Overall, sharing with Dropbox is pretty good, but incomplete unless you’re paying for Dropbox Professional. Let’s see if “pretty good” is enough to beat Google Drive.
Google Drive generally makes folder and file sharing easy, too, though we were unable to share directly from the desktop sync folder. In theory, Google launched that feature back in 2013, but the inability to actually use it has been a common bug issue ever since with no documented resolution we can find.
For those unable to share from their sync folders, you’ll need to login into the Google Drive GUI to grant others access to your content. From there, just right-click on a folder or file and click “share” in the menu that opens.
You can permit file access to individuals based on email address, and grant them view, comment and edit access, which is an advantage over individual file sharing with Dropbox.
When sharing folders, you can also grant edit access, which lets others add files to a folder as well. The permissions levels could probably be a little more customizable, however.
Like Dropbox, if you prefer to share content less discriminately, you can generate folder and file links, instead. You can distribute the links manually or automatically upload them to Gmail, Google+, Facebook and Twitter.
Rather unsurprisingly, Google also has a “public” sharing option for links, which lets anybody on the internet find your documents and other files via Google search. Somewhat surprisingly, it’s off by default.
Google doesn’t have password protection for links, or let you set expiry dates or download limits. That’s a problem, especially since Google Drive also doesn’t have an easy way to audit shared content. There’s a “shared with me” view to see content you’ve been granted access to, but no corresponding way to check which files you’re sharing.
Round Three Thoughts
Both Dropbox and Google Drive make file sharing simple enough, both have some big issues, too, especially for two market leaders. For Dropbox, the biggest problem we have is that you have to pay $20 a month to gain access to link passwords and expiry dates. For Google Drive, it’s that those features aren’t offered at all.
For those that need secure file sharing and don’t want to pay through the nose for it, Sync.com and pCloud are both better choices. However, since this isn’t a tag-team match, we’re going with Dropbox, even though the edge is slight and requires more money from you.
Productivity tools that integrate with cloud storage enable businesses, freelancers, students and the like to create and edit content directly from the browser, often at no cost. These tools, combined with the file-sharing features we just mentioned, also facilitate collaborations.
Such tools are one of the biggest separators between more basic services like MEGA (read our MEGA review) and the big names in cloud storage, including Dropbox and Google Drive. However, when it comes to pure productivity power, one of the two greatly outshines the other.
Dropbox doesn’t have much in the way of native productivity apps, but in 2017 the company did launch a document editor called Paper. At first glance, Paper seems pretty basic, with little value beyond taking meeting or class notes (and our best note-taking apps do a better job, it has to be said). However, it actually has some nice collaboration features.
Those features include the ability to cocreate documents, add comments, tag individuals, assign tasks and view revisions. It also supports embedded third-party objects like spreadsheets, Spotify playlists and YouTube videos. Paper integrates with Slack, too, which is one of the reasons Dropbox ranks among the best cloud storage for Slack.
The problem with Paper is that it doesn’t have great formatting options, which makes it feel like an ultralight version of Office Online or Google Docs. We’d at least appreciate the ability to add a fixed formatting bar.
For those with bigger needs, Dropbox does integrate with both Office Online and Office 365. Office Online is free and gives you access to Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
For files you’ve shared, you can work remotely and in near real-time with others.
Office 365, meanwhile, costs money. Given that and Office 365 subscription also comes with 1TB of OneDrive storage, you may want to consider switching to that platform over Dropbox if Microsoft Office is your jam. Check out our OneDrive vs Dropbox article for advice there.
The integrated apps experience on the whole is good with Dropbox, with some nice free options for getting things done. Google Drive, however, just has more.
Central to Google Drive’s value as a productivity tool is Google Docs, an office suite with a word processor (also called Google Docs), a spreadsheet application (Google Sheets) and a presentation builder (Google Slides).
If you’ve used Microsoft Office or pretty much any other word processor, the Google Docs suite should feel familiar right away thanks to convenient formatting toolbars along the top.
Shared Google Docs can be commented on, edited or marked up with suggested changes. You can tag others by email address so they’ll receive notifications of comments and tasks aimed at them.
While Google Docs doesn’t have a desktop version, you can edit documents in your browser without an internet connection so long as offline access is turned on. Overall, the entire experience provides clean, relatively distraction-free document creation.
Google has a few other native apps that integrate with its cloud storage platform, including Google Forms, which lets you create surveys and the like, Google Drawings for diagram creation and Google Sites, a website builder. Google Keep, a great cloud notes app, was also integrated with Google Docs in 2017.
The suite of native apps that integrate with Google Drive is more impressive than what you get with Dropbox, even taking into account its Office Online integration.
For one, Google Drive actually has a Microsoft Office plugin, though it only works with Office 365 and not Office Online. There’s also an “Office compatibility mode” that lets you edit Office documents using Google Docs.
On top of that, Google Drive has something Dropbox doesn’t: a massive third-party app library. You can search for third-party apps directly through Google Drive and integrate them with a couple of mouse clicks. Even better, most of those apps are free.
Among the options are .pdf editors like DocHub, photo editors like PicMonkey and video editors like WeVideo. We also like CloudConvert for bulk file-type conversions. Google hasn’t released any information on how many third-party apps are available and there are too many to count, but it’s safe to say the number is in the hundreds.
Round Four Thoughts
Round four lands in Google Drive’s favor with relative ease. That’s not to say that Dropbox is terrible when it comes to productivity tools, since it beats out pCloud, Sync.com, MEGA and just about every other personal cloud storage tool out there. It’s just that Google Drive is so much better, with a broad range of free native and third-party tools.
That’s one of the reasons we still recommend using Google Drive, despite some big privacy concerns we have with the service, which we’ll be addressing in our final round.
Security and Privacy
As mentioned in the introduction, security and privacy aren’t strong areas for either Dropbox or Google Drive. In part, that’s because both are based in the U.S., where privacy laws are a bit looser than in some countries.
That wouldn’t be a problem if either service offered zero-knowledge encryption, which would block both the host and U.S. government from decrypting your files. Instead, both insist on hanging onto your encryption key for you. We’ll offer up a solution to that issue, however, after we take a closer look at the security profiles of both cloud storage services.
Some people still avoid Dropbox due to a 2012 breach that saw some 68 million user passwords stolen following the theft of an employee password. Dropbox has since revamped its password hashing algorithms and supposedly tightened internal security, but the fact that the company didn’t fully report the problem until years later doesn’t engender much trust.
Privacy advocates also weren’t too impressed with Dropbox’s 2014 decision to add Condoleezza Rice to its board of directors, who as Secretary of State under George W. Bush advocated for warrantless wiretapping and oversaw a post-9/11 online surveillance program called Stellar Wind.
Then there’s PRISM, the NSA program that collected consumer data from multiple cloud services in order to hunt terrorists. While there’s never been hard proof that Dropbox was involved, it appears that the company was on the verge of being roped into the project when Edward Snowden blew the whistle on it all.
Dropbox does at least encrypt files both in transit and at rest on its servers, using the AES protocol. However, a few words of warning: that encryption isn’t end-to-end. Upon arrival at the Dropbox data center, files are decrypted to extract metadata. File content is re-encrypted using 256-bit AES, but your metadata is left in plain text for indexing. That helps with file access speed, but decreases security.
Aside from revamping internal security and password-protection algorithms following the 2012 incident, Dropbox also launched a much-needed two-factor authentication (2FA) feature.
2FA protects you against lost or stolen passwords by requiring entry of a special code when logging into your account from an unfamiliar machine. This code gets sent to your mobile phone, so unless that gets stolen along with your password, your files should be safe.
Unlike Dropbox, Google Drive was unquestionably (allegedly) tied to PRISM. In fact, the history of Google itself is very much intertwined with the NSA.
The upside of PRISM was that Google started encrypting files in 2013 to insure critics of its interest in protecting consumer privacy. However, like Dropbox, Google still insists on managing your file encryption keys.
Not only does doing so allow Google to comply with law enforcement requests, it lets the company decrypt and scan your files to see what kind of content you’re uploading. While this is in part to root out child pornography, it’s also used to detect copyrighted content.
Google scans can also be used to gather data about you, which can later be used to feed targeted-marketing algorithms. While we don’t have any concrete proof of synced files being used to trigger ads, Google gives itself permission to do so in its terms of service:
“Our automated systems analyze your content (including emails) to provide you personally relevant product features, such as customized search results, tailored advertising, and spam and malware detection. This analysis occurs as the content is sent, received, and when it is stored.”
While many of its privacy practices are questionable, Google does have some of the most secure data centers of any cloud provider. Sure, all of those biometric identification and laser-based intrusion detection systems are more about protecting Google’s own valuable stores of digital data than your selfies, but that should only improve confidence.
Google also supports two-factor authentication to guard against misappropriated passwords, which we suggest using. It’ll help keep your Gmail and search history safe, too, at least from most of those outside of Google’s marketing department.
Round Five Thoughts
Neither Dropbox or Google Drive earn high marks when it comes to security, and that’s mostly because both companies retain control of your encryption keys. If that irks you, you could jump ship to one of the recommendations in our best zero-knowledge cloud storage list. However, if you’re committed to sticking with Dropbox or Google Drive, there’s another option: encrypt your files yourself.
One of the easiest ways to do that is with Boxcryptor, an end-to-end encryption tool that’s compatible with both Dropbox and Google Drive, not to mention about twenty other cloud services. While there are a few downsides to using Boxcryptor, which we mention in our Boxcryptor review, overall it’s a great way to make sure your files stay private.
Boxcryptor aside, we need a winner. While Dropbox has its own history of letdowns, unlike Google Drive, its ties to the NSA are a bit more murky. Also, it doesn’t seem Dropbox cares much for using your file content for marketing based on its privacy terms. Round five goes to the lesser of two evils.
Three wins to two, Dropbox comes out on top over Google Drive. Funny, though, that it doesn’t seem like a win.
When it comes down to it, there’s only one thing that Dropbox absolutely does better than any other service, and that’s sync. Google Drive meanwhile, gives you 15GB of free storage along with free use of Google Docs and hundreds of other integratable apps, including email.
On top of that, the features that gave Dropbox the round victory for file sharing require an expensive Dropbox Professional subscription. Plus, as we “kind of” suggested, neither Dropbox or Google Drive will be winning Nobel Prizes for their approach to privacy anytime soon.
What we’re trying to say here, is that the long answer to the question of Google Drive or Dropbox is pretty much the same as the short answer: it depends.
We’re giving Dropbox the win based on round count, but barely. It’s a good service and deserves recognition, but for those less than impressed, our Dropbox alternatives article might be worth a read.
Have your own take on the Dropbox vs Google Drive decision? Of course you do. Let us know your thoughts in the comments section, and thanks for reading.