Dropbox vs iCloud 2021: Best Cloud Storage for Mac Users

Mac users aren't always happy with Apple's integrated iCloud storage. In this Dropbox vs iCloud matchup, Cloudwards.net compares these two cloud storage services to decide which is better for Apple aficionados.

Ben Stockton
By Ben Stockton
— Last Updated: 2020-10-23T19:45:48+00:00

Picking the right cloud storage solution for your Mac can be a challenge. Do you go with Apple’s built-in service, iCloud, or do you spend your money on a third-party option? There are plenty of variables to consider, so this Dropbox vs iCloud matchup will give you a stronger understanding of how both services measure up against each other.

We’re looking at the high-level similarities and differences between these two popular cloud storage solutions. If you’d like a deeper dive into the features each provides, check out our earlier iCloud Drive review and Dropbox review for a breakdown of both services.

Until recently, this battle wouldn’t have been much of a competition, because Dropbox (and other Dropbox alternatives) would easily beat out Apple’s built-in solution. However, Apple iCloud has been on the up-and-up over the last few years, with new useful features.

Dropbox vs iCloud Matchup

For this battle between Dropbox and Apple iCloud, we’ll put each competitor through six rounds of tests. The winner of each round receives a point toward their total, and the provider with more points at the end is declared the winner. The rounds focus on features, pricing, usability, syncing and sharing, speed, security and privacy.

If both providers have matching scores by the end, then we’ll declare a winner based on how strongly each competitor won those rounds. Let’s get started.

  1. 1
    • Sync Folder
    • File Link Sharing
    • Folder Sharing
    • Versioning
    2000 GB - 3 TB
    $ 999
    Save 16 %
  2. 2
    • Sync Folder
    • File Link Sharing
    • Folder Sharing
    • Versioning
    5-2000 GB
    $ 099

1. Features

You don’t buy cloud storage just for the storage. After all, it’s important that the storage plan you subscribe to has the features you need, whether it’s for work or play. That’s why we’re taking a look at the features both iCloud and Dropbox offer to users, other than syncing and sharing, which we’ll cover in its own section later in this comparison.

Productivity Tools

iCloud has been designed with personal and business use in mind as a storage solution for documents, photos and more on Apple devices. Unfortunately, there are features supported in Dropbox that Apple iCloud doesn’t offer, like password file sharing.

However, Apple’s service still has several tools that users will find appealing. Among its most compelling is its native integration with the iWork suite of apps.

iCloud Drive Web Interface
The iCloud web interface, showing a list of other available Apple services.

iWork is free for Apple device owners, so iCloud users have instant access to productivity tools that they’d have to otherwise pay for (unless you’re using Google Drive, as our Google Drive review explains). These documents are stored in iCloud and can be accessed (and edited) through the iCloud website.

Being able to complete all of your text, spreadsheet and presentation-based projects without having multiple subscriptions or purchasing a separate collection of programs can’t be understated. In addition to the iWork integration, there are several third-party apps that integrate well, including GoodReader and iA Writer.

Unfortunately, Dropbox does beat Apple iCloud’s productivity tools, thanks to its focus on business and team collaboration. The Dropbox Paper tool offers quick note-taking facilities but, if you need something more, you can integrate Dropbox with Microsoft Office 365, allowing you to edit Office documents in Office 365 online.

Sharing & Versioning 

If you’re thinking about cloud storage for the family, then you may not care too much about Word or Pages than about where (and how) you can store your family videos and photos. Thankfully, iCloud has a great set of family sharing options you can take advantage of, making it one of the best cloud storage options for families.

Of course, file storage isn’t just about a place to store one copy of your files. As one of the best cloud storage options for versioning, Dropbox lets you rewind your file edits, quite literally, thanks to Dropbox Rewind. This feature lets you restore earlier copies of files, with copies saved between 30 days (for Dropbox Plus users) and 180 days (for Dropbox Professional users).

Dropbox Web Interface
The Dropbox web interface shows a list of uploaded files.

This is a great way to protect against ransomware that could impact your files or, if you’ve made a massive mistake editing an important document, could just give you a chance to hit the reset button and switch things back to an older file. You don’t get unlimited backups, a feature you’ll find with Icedrive (see our Icedrive review), but it’s still a significant advantage over iCloud.

Finally, Dropbox has a robust web preview feature for files, where users can leave comments on specific sections of a previewed file. It’s great for quick collaborations that don’t need a user to completely open a large document or other supported file types, making it a great option for project workers.

Dropbox has been built with productivity in mind, while iCloud is very much geared around basic features for personal and family use. As features go, it’s a slam dunk; Dropbox simply offers more for consumers.

Round: Features
Point for Dropbox
Visit Dropbox1
Visit iCloud0

2. Pricing

Features are great, but if the cost is extortionate, you won’t be getting value for money. Before you rush to subscribe to either Dropbox or iCloud, we’ll take a look at the pricing plans from both providers.

When it comes down to pricing, Apple iCloud offers far simpler plans than its competitor. No team or enterprise plans are available (iCloud is geared toward home consumers, after all), but you can increase your storage.

Free Storage

Like many of the cloud storage plans we review at Cloudwards.net, iCloud offers a free plan with 5GB of storage, and it also happens to be one of the best free cloud storage plans. Although 5GB is enough for documents and a decent number of photos, you’ll probably need to upgrade if you need video storage.

iCloud UK Pricing
A list of available iCloud price plans, showing UK pricing.

Dropbox, in comparison, comes with 2GB of free storage, which is poor and pretty much at the bottom of the pile, especially compared to other providers like Google Drive and Sync.com. However, this can be increased through referrals, especially if you take out a paid plan, with between 500MB and 1GB additional storage (up to 16GB for free users or 32GB for paid users).

If you want to start paying, you can upgrade your iCloud storage to 50GB for $0.99 a month, 200GB for $2.99 a month and 2TB for $9.99 a month; cheap, cheerful and not likely to break the bank. You also gain the benefit of integration, as iCloud automatically backs up documents, photos and more from your Apple devices.

In contrast, Dropbox’s pricing plans are a little harder to understand, with a focus on individual, team and business users. We’re looking at Dropbox’s individual consumer plans here, but you can check out our Dropbox Business review for a closer look at what it offers for business users.

The first paid plan Dropbox offers to consumers is Dropbox Plus, with 2TB of data for $11.99 per month. This (out of the box) matches the top end of iCloud’s storage, costing $2 more per month, but with added features to boot, such as 30-day file versioning and 2GB file transfers.

Dropbox US Pricing
A list of available Dropbox price plans, showing U.S. pricing.

You can also save money by paying annually, which will cost (on average) the same as iCloud’s 2TB offering.

The second plan is Dropbox Professional, which gives users 3TB of data storage — 1TB more than Apple iCloud’s top end. The costs are higher, setting you back $19.99 per month (or approximately $16.58 per month if you pay annually).

Along with extra storage, you can also transfer files up to 100GB in size and increase file versioning to 120 days. This isn’t hugely competitive pricing, as Sync.com offers similar storage for around $10 a month, but you’ll have to pay annually, as our Sync.com review explains.

Cheap Plans

Dropbox and iCloud offer good plans at the lower levels. iCloud, in particular, offers storage for less than a dollar a month; you’ll rarely find storage at such good value, with Mac and iPhone users benefiting the most from it.

Dropbox’s pricing isn’t bad, but it isn’t the best, either. You’ll find a better value in a provider like Sync.com or pCloud. However, if you like the Office integration that Dropbox provides, it makes sense to stick with Dropbox Plus or Professional, even if Professional will cost much more than equivalent storage from other providers.

It’s not a decisive victory, but Apple iCloud wins this round. It’s all about the dollar, and for a single dollar bill, you can grab 50GB of storage — enough for storing a healthy photo collection and your most essential documents and files.

Round: Pricing
Point for iCloud Drive
Visit Dropbox1
Visit iCloud1

3. Usability

Before you subscribe to a cloud storage service, you may want to consider how well it actually works. Usability is an essential part of any service, so if you can’t navigate around or find the files you want once they’ve synced, then you’ve probably wasted your cash.

Thankfully, this isn’t something you’ll struggle with if you subscribe to Dropbox or iCloud Drive, as we’ll explain. iCloud, in particular, has a great advantage in this regard, being the native cloud storage solution for Apple products. Baked into iPhones and Macbooks globally, you don’t need to install anything to start using iCloud — it’s ready to go, right away.

iCloud macOS Settings
The settings area for iCloud on macOS.

Like other Apple products, that means that everything about iCloud is built into the usual Apple design. iCloud is easy to use and navigate, both online and on iPhones and Macs. File organization is clear, icons are clean and colorful, and you can see your files and backups across all of the devices you use (as long as they’re linked to the same account).

You can even tag and color-code individual files or folders, making it easier to organize your files the way you want. iCloud Drive is Apple to its core, so if you like this, then you won’t struggle to get to grips with how iCloud handles files and backups.

Likewise, it’s been a pretty decent story for Dropbox when it comes to usability. It hasn’t rested on its laurels, undergoing several refinements over the years. As the MVP for cloud storage, Dropbox has improved itself as its technology and user demands have changed.

Dropbox’s Interface

The Dropbox interface — whether you’re using the web interface, desktop app or mobile apps — is simple and easy to use. Mac and Windows users will see Dropbox in Finder or Windows File Explorer, making it easy to drop or remove files from their cloud storage.

More recent updates to Dropbox have taken this further, offering a clean interface that you’ll recognize on any platform or mobile device. You can manage syncing, sharing, notifications and more from your web panel or the Dropbox settings area in the desktop app.

Dropbox macOS Settings
The settings area for Dropbox on macOS.

Despite how great Dropbox is, it still can’t overcome one thing that iCloud does better than almost any other provider (other than Microsoft OneDrive), and that’s integration. Using a native service like iCloud, you don’t need to worry about installing iCloud Drive or setting it up — that’s all done for you.

Dropbox, on the other hand, requires signups, app installations and more to get your file syncing the way you want. The exception to the rule is if you’re using Windows, where the situation is reversed: you’ll need to install the iCloud app from the Microsoft Store to access your files.

The app isn’t the best, but it does work, offering access to your files in Windows File Explorer (just like Dropbox). If you own an Apple device, this should let you access your files on Windows and sync them across platforms.

However, Dropbox works great on Mac and Windows devices as well as on mobile devices (including iOS and Android devices). It may take setting up, but you won’t find it hard to sync a file from a Windows 10 PC to a Macbook.

There’s a lot to love about iCloud, and if you’re an Apple owner, it’s probably the easiest service to use as it offers the best usability for Mac users. For all other users, though, Dropbox wins the day — and this round, too.

Round: Usability
Point for Dropbox
Visit Dropbox2
Visit iCloud1

4. File Syncing & Sharing

The ability to sync and share files between devices and to a cloud provider’s online servers is one of the most essential parts of the service. If you can’t upload and can’t back up properly, then the service isn’t fit for its purpose, failing to offer the most basic features.

That’s why it’s essential to consider how well services like Dropbox and iCloud Drive sync and share files. If you only care about backups and aren’t too worried about sharing files or syncing them regularly, then a service like IDrive or Backblaze is probably better suited for you, so take a look at our IDrive review or Backblaze review for more details.

iCloud is integrated, so certain folders (such as the Desktop and Documents folders on macOS) automatically sync online. Likewise, videos and photos on iPhone and iPad devices (as well as device backups) sync automatically. You can customize this to suit your own needs.

iCloud Drive Finder Folder macOS
The iCloud Drive folder in the Finder app on macOS.

If you’re a Windows user, you can install the iCloud app from the Microsoft Store to gain similar features. It isn’t a service that is built with Windows in mind, but this app will work to give you a Dropbox-style storage folder in Windows File Explorer for you to view, edit and modify your files with ease.

Syncing

Syncing your files is easy — any file added to iCloud on any platform automatically uploads to Apple’s servers. However, it doesn’t support incremental file syncing, so if you’re uploading large files, make sure your connection is stable before you begin.

In contrast, Dropbox supports block-level file syncing. Rather than copying the whole file each time, only the parts that have changed will be uploaded, making it much easier (and faster) to modify larger files.

Users with limited bandwidth or data caps may struggle with iCloud. You can’t limit the bandwidth it uses, so if you’re uploading or downloading data, iCloud will guzzle it all up, and potentially slow your connection in the process.

This isn’t the case with Dropbox, though. You can control the bandwidth usage in the Dropbox desktop and mobile apps, but even the default settings work to your advantage, with upload speeds capped at 75 percent automatically to limit the impact on your connection. If Dropbox isn’t syncing, you may need to tweak these settings to suit your connection.

Sharing Files

File sharing hasn’t always been something that iCloud has excelled at, and it still isn’t a contender as the best cloud storage for file sharing, but it is definitely something that has improved in recent years.

You can quickly share files between other family members on your iCloud account, which can be a great way for families to share photos, videos and important files with each other. Recent updates have added the ability to share files and folders online with other iCloud users.

For shared files and folders, you can set permissions to allow users to view, share or edit the shared content. Although this is better suited for Apple device owners, you could, for instance, access shared files from the iCloud website from your Android smartphone’s browser.

Dropbox Web File Sharing Options
File sharing options for Dropbox and its web interface.

Unfortunately for iCloud Drive, file sharing is where Dropbox truly stands out. You can share files and folders from your file manager, the Dropbox desktop app via the website or by using the mobile app.

You can generate a link to share, or you can send it by email. It also offers support for other third-party services, letting you share files in Slack or Trello. If you’re a paid Dropbox customer, you can also password protect your shared files as well as set an expiry date for shared links.

Dropbox Transfer & Smart Sync

Dropbox also offers “Dropbox transfer,” a service to send read-only versions of files up to 2GB in size for free users or up to 100GB for paid users. All of these file-sharing features are limited to Dropbox, as iCloud offers only a more basic file-sharing service.

If you’re worried about file storage usage, then you can take advantage of Dropbox’s “smart sync” feature. This lets you switch some files to online-only mode, making sure they stay saved while keeping them off your hard drive. If you don’t need offline access to these files, then this could be a good way to save important disk space for other things.

You can also control and see who has viewed your shared Dropbox files, but you’ll need a paid plan to do this. While iCloud does offer some file-sharing features (especially for family members), it’s simply outmatched by Dropbox, which offers a number of advanced file-sharing features, as well as bandwidth controls for file syncing.

Round: File Syncing & Sharing
Point for Dropbox
Visit Dropbox3
Visit iCloud1

5. Speed

The faster you can upload and download your data, the happier you’ll be — after all, who wants to wait around for a file transfer bar? Service speeds can have a huge impact, so that’s why it’s important to look at how Dropbox and iCloud Drive handle file transfers.

Dropbox servers are typically U.S.-based, with additional servers in Europe, Australia and Japan for Dropbox Business customers. As we’re looking at typical paid plans for individuals, we’ll assume that the servers we’re accessing are based in the United States.

We know a little bit less about Apple’s own servers, but the company has previously admitted it stores its iCloud storage on Amazon Web Services. AWS has servers across the globe, but as an American company, we’ll assume that iCloud files are being stored in the U.S. too.

To test how both providers work, we uploaded (then downloaded) a 1GB file from a Macbook based in the United Kingdom. Both services performed fairly equally, as you’d expect from two of the best cloud storage providers.

First Attempt:Second Attempt:
Dropbox upload24:4426:40
Dropbox download4:185:01
iCloud upload18:1120:21
iCloud download3:103:34

With slightly better times, though, iCloud wins this round, but some caution is advised. As we’ve previously mentioned, iCloud Drive handles bandwidth and file uploads differently than Dropbox.

If a large file is edited, Dropbox will use block-level sync to upload only the parts of the file that have changed, rather than the entire file. This will result in faster uploads and could save you a lot of time in the process. Dropbox also limits upload speeds by default, while iCloud Drive will use the maximum amount of bandwidth available to handle file uploads.

6. Security & Privacy

If you’re looking for the most secure cloud storage available, then you’re probably going to be disappointed if you use Dropbox or iCloud. While both talk a good game, both companies are U.S.-based firms and subject to U.S. security and privacy laws, which aren’t the best.

However, files are encrypted on Apple’s servers with 128-bit AES encryption as standard. While some iCloud-linked services are encrypted with end-to-end encryption, iCloud Drive files aren’t, meaning that they can still be decrypted by anyone with the decryption key. Oh, and Apple holds these keys, so it could technically decrypt your files at will.

Dropbox Web Privacy Policy
The Dropbox Privacy Policy, accessed from the Dropbox website.

Like iCloud, Dropbox offers file encryption at rest but with the higher 256-bit AES encryption, making it less likely that files could be stolen and then decrypted without authorization. However, take that with a grain of salt, as 128-bit AES encryption would still take billions of years to crack.

Unfortunately, also like iCloud, Dropbox has control of your data encryption keys, giving it (and law enforcement) access to your files.

Thankfully, Apple has been known to actively resist requests to hand over data to law enforcement agencies in the past, but that isn’t guaranteed. If you want to keep your data secure, you’ll need to couple iCloud with a service like Boxcryptor to encrypt your files for you (see our Boxcryptor review).

Zero-Knowledge Encryption

However, iCloud does offer zero-knowledge encryption for some data, including through its Keychain password and credit card management service (although it is limited). Both services support two-factor authentication for greater personal security, and paid Dropbox users can monitor who accesses their files (and when), making it easier to track unauthorized access.

There isn’t much between iCloud and Dropbox when it comes down to privacy. Encryption for files is to prevent unauthorized access, but there’s plenty of scope for authorized (meaning government) access to your files that may give you a reason to pause. If that’s a problem, check out a provider like MEGA or Sync.com for total control of your files (see our MEGA review).

Round: Security & Privacy
No clear winner, points for both
Visit Dropbox4
Visit iCloud3

The Verdict

When we’re considering providers like Dropbox and iCloud, we’re talking about billion-dollar — or in Apple’s case, trillion-dollar — enterprises. The features are rich, the prices are reasonable and, overall, there’s plenty to like (and dislike) about both providers.

It’s ultimately a matter of perspective. If you’re a Mac or iPhone user, the choice is simple, as iCloud offers easy-to-use product integration that Dropbox can only dream of. For other users, though, Dropbox offers more, with collaboration features, file sharing and Office 365 integration that can’t easily be matched — even if iCloud Drive is a little bit faster.

Overall Winner: Dropbox

Privacy is an area that both services struggle with. A lack of zero-knowledge encryption means that Apple and Dropbox both have the last word when it comes to your files. This isn’t a disadvantage you’ll see with a service like Sync.com or pCloud, so don’t be afraid to look at our other cloud storage comparisons for alternatives.

Do you think Dropbox is a fair winner, or are you an Apple fan and think iCloud is the superior option? Let us know your thoughts, opinions, questions and criticisms in the comments below. As always, thanks for reading.

FAQ

  • Is Dropbox Better Than iCloud?

    Dropbox offers more features and offers a simple, easy-to-use interface on all platforms, including on Mac and iOS. However, iCloud offers greater integration for Apple device owners, making it easier to share and sync your files. If you’re a Mac user, you’ll probably find that iCloud offers the best user experience -- and it’s cheaper, too. For other device users, Dropbox simply has more to offer, even if you decide to pay a little bit more for the privilege.

  • How Is Dropbox Different From iCloud?

    iCloud is integrated into every Mac, iPhone and iPad, so you don’t need to worry about installing it or setting it up. As a third-party service, Dropbox requires a few more steps to set it up, including creating an account and installing the desktop or mobile app. Both Dropbox and iCloud offer cloud storage, but Dropbox does offer more features, with Office integration, better file sharing and file versioning available.

  • Is Dropbox or iCloud Better for Mac Users?

    Dropbox is a great platform, even on a Mac. Casual users may enjoy the simplicity that iCloud offers, especially as photos, videos and music are all synced automatically. If you need access to collaboration or file-sharing features, then Dropbox will be the better choice.