Over this comparison review, Cloudwards.net will analyze each service’s approach to cloud storage to determine consumers are better off going with the market leader or opting for the road less traveled.
A Quick History of Dropbox and MEGA
Launched in 2007, Dropbox has had a six year head start on MEGA, which started in 2013; when it comes to software, that might as well be twenty. MEGA, however, was built on the shoulders of a service called Megaupload, founded by Hong Kong entrepreneur Kim Dotcom in 2005.
Dropbox’s rise can be tied to a user experience that simplified from the start, led by their approach to sync. They’ve also done a great job building technology partnerships to enhance their basic service.
Megaupload meanwhile, was shut down by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2012 for online privacy and indictment. While MEGA was launched a year later, it’s had its share of problems. Paypal, interestingly, severed its relationship with MEGA in 2015. Kim Dotcom, who continues to fight extradition to the U.S., was apparently pushed out during a hostile takeover. He’s now warning users against MEGA and has plans to relaunch Megaupload.
What’s interesting though is that much of MEGA’s troubles has been tied to how well they shield user content from prying eyes. Ironically, the end-to-end encryption architecture that lets them accomplish that goal happens to be one of their biggest advantages over Dropbox.
How to Choose a Cloud Storage Provider
When I pick which cloud-storage solutions I want to use, I find it best to divide the available choices into two broad subgroups, namely:
- Work-productivity solutions
- User-privacy solutions
Dropbox, Google Drive and OneBox all belong in the first category. They each offer strong suites of productivity apps that integrate directly with your cloud storage. This in turn helps enhance collaboration.
The Battle: Dropbox vs. MEGA
MEGA, along with Cloudwards.net favorites Sync.com, pCloud and SpiderOak, all belong to the second category. While they don’t have the application integrations of the major competitors, they offer a better approach to protecting user content.
This is where end-to-end encryption comes in. Also known as zero-knowledge encryption, this is a method of encryption in which only you, the content owner, have the keys to decrypt any content stored on the cloud. Doing so prevents the cloud provider or any third parties from being able read your data.
Beyond application integrations and encryption method, there are few basic elements that any worthwhile cloud-based storage solution should offer. The two biggest I’ll touch on below are file sharing and file syncing.
File sharing is lets you invite others to access content stored on the cloud. This is typically done generating a URL-shortened link that points to a stored folder or file. As we’ll see with examples of Dropbox and MEGA, here are different features cloud storage solutions can implement to enhance file sharing. These include email distribution, edit permissions and password protection.
File syncing lets you access the same content from different device hard drives. When you make a change to a file on one device, it’s automatically reflected on other devices connected to the cloud. The biggest things to be aware of in evaluating sync capabilities are platform support and sync speed.
Of course, when choosing a cloud-storage provider, there’s the element of cost, too. Price plans, in fact, is where we’re going to get things started in our head-to-head evaluation of Dropbox and MEGA.
Dropbox gives users 2GB of cloud storage for free with their basic plan. This is enough to get a good feel for the service and get some utility out of it, although there are several features only available to paying subscribers.
For individual consumers looking to make Dropbox their primary cloud storage provider, they only offer one plan, which is called Dropbox Pro and gives you 1TB of cloud storage.
Dropbox Pro offers both monthly and annual billing options:
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 %
Signing up annually basically nets you two free months of service.
Both Basic and Pro users can also take advantage of a referral program. Basic accounts will receive 500MB per referral, up to 16GB. Pro accounts get 1GB, up to 32GB.
For users looking to enhance their team collaborations with Dropbox, there is a business plan available. Business plan users each get unlimited cloud storage space, so you don’t have to worry about limits getting in the way of your productivity. However, you need to sign up for at least five licenses.
As with Dropbox Pro, you can choose to be billed either monthly or annually, with a slight discount for the latter option.
There’s also Dropbox Enterprise for large businesses, but Dropbox doesn’t list pricing for it on their website. Enterprise plans give users additional admin controls, training and support services that Business users don’t have access to.
One of the best things about MEGA is that they give you an impressive 50GB of free cloud storage for free. That’s much more than most cloud-storage services, which is why they made our list of the top 5 cloud storage providers that offer plenty of free space. If you want more than 50GB, however, MEGA isn’t exactly budget friendly.
The lack of a 1TB option is surprising, since almost every other cloud storage service offers one. Then again, many cloud storage services, Dropbox included, only offer 1TB subscriptions. It’s hard to give MEGA any credit for that flexibility, however, in light of the fact that their expensive pricing structure renders it mostly moot.
MEGA also notably regulates how much data you can upload or download in a given period. They call this a “transfer quota.” This is a little unusual, as it’s not something most cloud storage providers do. If you’re in the middle of a download when that quota is exceeded, your upload won’t complete.
For free users, this cap resets based on a dynamic time limit designed to accommodate data center bottlenecks. Usually, it’s under 24 hours and is around 1GB, but they there’s no way to reliably know this without hitting the cap.
Paying subscribers get a hard cap that resets every billing period. If you sign up for an annual plan, you get the entire 12 months of transfer allocation at once.
Of interest is that according to MEGA these transfer quotas are metered by IP address rather than account. Presumably, that means if you really wanted to get around it, you could always use a DNS proxy or VPN service to spoof your IP address.
Round One Thoughts
There’s no question MEGA’s free plan reels in a lot of users. If you’re looking for free cloud storage, MEGA’s your winner, even if you max out your Dropbox referrals.
Beyond that, though, even though Dropbox only has one individual plan, I have to give the nod in this round to them. $9.99 for 1TB of storage space is a better deal for $6.20 for 200GB or $12.41 or 500GB.
That said, I’m always a little surprised and disappointed that Dropbox doesn’t give individual users a broader selection of plans to pick from like two of its biggest competitors, as Google Drive and OneDrive, do.
Sharing and Collaboration
Dropbox lets you easily share content with others from its intuitive web interface: Just click the share button associated with each object. Do so with a folder and you can invite others to access all of the contents in that folder; share a file, and you restrict access to just that file.
When you elect to share content, you’re given several options to control access to it. These options include view-only and edit permissions.
You can also choose whether you send access to invitees via email or distribute a link.
Dropbox has link settings that many other services overlook, including ability to password protect links and set them to expire on a certain date. Those features aren’t available to Dropbox Basic users, though.
So that you don’t lose sight of what content you’ve invited others to access, Dropbox lets you perform quick audits with three different interface pages:
- Sharing: which folders and files have been shared
- Links: which links have been created
- Events: overview of account activity, including actions taken by others
One of the advantages Dropbox has over many other cloud-storage services is that it has negotiated many strategic partnerships with other software companies to integrate with their productivity solutions. This includes Microsoft Office.
As such, Word, Excel and Powerpoint files stored to Dropbox can be opened with an integrated version of Office Online. This allows you to work in near real time on content with those you’ve shared that content with. Users with edit permissions will be able to make alterations, while those with view-only permissions will still be able to comment from within the Office application.
To help users further retain control of their content, Dropbox also supports deleted file recovery and file versioning. Typically, this is capped at 30 days. However, Dropbox Pro users can purchase extended version history (EVH) to bump that up to one year.
Files and folders stored to MEGA can also be shared with others. Sharing is accomplished through the generation of links. There’s no option to email access with MEGA, so you’re left to handle the distribution process on your own.
MEGA does have some nice options to bolster the security of your link sharing, though. For example, rather than limit you to creating a basic link that anybody can use to access, MEGA gives you two options:
- Link without key: generate a URL link and decryption key that can be shared separately
- Link with key: generate a URL link with the decryption key embedded in it
The first option offers better control. However, with MEGA Pro, the benefits of that control become somewhat moot since users are able to protect their link shares with password protection and expiry dates.
Beyond those protections, content control with MEGA is a bit dicey. There’s no way to change user permissions (view, edit). Also, the MEGA interface doesn’t let you audit shared content. With no way to broadly view what links you’ve created, it’s easy to lose sight of them.
Unlike Dropbox, MEGA also doesn’t have the technology partnerships to really streamline your collaborations. It also doesn’t support file versioning. The service does offer deleted file recovery, of a sort. Deleted files are moved to a trash folder, where you can recover them indefinitely. Delete them from there, however, and they’re gone for good.
Round Two Thoughts
MEGA’s option to separate your URL link from its decryption key is a neat trick. Also, I was pleased to see their Pro version let users password protect links. Many cloud-storage services, including Google Drive and OneDrive, miss that functionality.
Dropbox doesn’t overlook those features either, however, and offers content control and teamwork benefits that MEGA simply does not. For those looking to incorporate cloud storage into their work collaborations, the choice is pretty clear.
Device Syncing and Speed
To sync with Dropbox, the first thing to do is download the appropriate application to your device. Dropbox supports the major device operating systems and a few that aren’t so common, including Mac, Windows (mobile as well as desktop), Android and several Linux distros.
Installation creates a sync folder on your device. Any content stored in that folder gets synced to the cloud and other connected devices.
Since the goal of sync is to create seamless experiences across all of your connected devices, I decided to see how fast Dropbox manages this process.
To test its capabilities, I uploaded and downloaded a 258MB compressed folder made up of various file types. These tests were performed on a Windows laptop over a WiFi network with upload/download speeds clocked at approximately 30/12 Mbps.
Here are the results:
When you factor into account network speed, file size and the fact that content is being encrypted prior to transfer, those times aren’t bad. In most cases, you’re going to be working with much smaller files.
With Dropbox, though, it gets better. That’s because Dropbox incorporates incremental sync architecture, which is one of the elements that sets it apart from its chief competitors, Google Drive and OneDrive.
With incremental sync, only those parts of a file that have been changed are uploaded and downloaded, which in theory should greatly enhance your sync speed. To test that theory, I made a small alteration to the compressed folder on my desktop by deleting one file within it and uploaded it again.
This time, the file uploaded in just eleven seconds — that’s a decrease of over four minutes and thirty seconds.
For users dealing with big files on a regular basis, Dropbox also lets you throttle your sync uploads and downloads so the process doesn’t monopolize your Internet bandwidth.
Overall, Dropbox does a great job with their network architecture to keep the sync process running as smoothly as possible.
MEGA lets users sync devices with different operating systems, too, except that besides the usual offering like that of Dropbox, it also supports Blackberry as well as every single Linux distro known to man. If you’re a Linux user, MEGA might bear looking into as few other cloud storage providers have this many different options.
As with most cloud sync approaches, downloading an app creates a MEGA sync folder on your device. Move content in this folder to sync it with your cloud storage and other devices.
I performed the same speed tests with MEGA as I did with Dropbox, using the same file for 1:1 comparison.
Speeds, as you can see, were significantly slower than my Dropbox results. During the upload, on a couple of occasions the process seemed to hang, too. In both cases, this lasted for well over a minute, contributing to the lengthy upload time.
What makes these results much more troublesome is that MEGA does NOT implement incremental file transfers into its sync architecture. That means any time a file change is made, the entire file has to be uploaded to the cloud again and then downloaded to your connected devices.
Not cool, MEGA.
It gets worse, too. MEGA doesn’t support speed throttling, meaning you can’t mitigate the bandwidth impacts of these large uploads.
Round Three Thoughts
I appreciate MEGA’s broad platform support. While not an avid Linux user myself, I know many open-source fans will appreciate its inclusive approach.
Beyond that, MEGA simply doesn’t handle sync very well. To be fair, some of its sluggishness probably has some to do with the fact that MEGA is an end-to-end encryption service, while I’ll get into in the next round. Other services offering such protections, such as Sync.com and pCloud, run much more smoothly, however.
Dropbox, meanwhile, does pretty much everything right when it comes to syncing, including streamlining content distribution with incremental file transfers and sync throttle controls.
Security and User Privacy
Dropbox was subject to a major hack back in 2012, which only recently came to light. Over 68 million user credentials — including usernames and passwords — were stolen. Worse, it took Dropbox four years to tell users to change their passwords.
Attempted hacks are more common with popular services like Dropbox, which should be a consideration when choosing a cloud service.
They’re also a pretty solid reason to take advantage of Dropbox’s optional two-step verification process. Enable this feature and account access will require both an account password and a six-digit security code. You can elect to have this code can sent in a text message, or you can retrieve it via the Dropbox mobile app.
Dropbox further protects your data by encrypting it while in transit and while at rest in their data centers. TLS/SSL encryption and 128-bit AES are used in transit, while 256-bit AES are used at rest.
The Dropbox setup is problematic from a user privacy standpoint, in that they only encrypt file content on their servers. Metadata, which includes file names, sizes and upload dates, is left readable.
Dropbox also doesn’t give users the option of opting into zero-knowledge encryption. That opens up content to being scanned by Dropbox and shared with government agencies.
With regard to government agencies, Dropbox does keep a transparency report where they provide information on government compliance. There’s actually a few troublesome bits of information in that report, however.
For example, Dropbox notes that 39.9 percent of the search warrants and 28.6 percent of the subpoenas court orders for user data that they received were mandated as “nondisclosure.” In these cases, they are prohibited from reporting the receipt of these warrants to the Dropbox users to which they pertain.
Moreover, 83.3 percent of the court orders for non-content were marked as nondisclosure. This refers to user metadata. While it’s impossible to say for sure what that data is being used for, its hard not to think of the NSA’s PRISM project.
The fact that the U.S. government can so easily obtain user content and hide its acquisition from the public eye is one of the reasons many users look to cloud storage based outside of the United States. This includes MEGA.
MEGA is based in New Zealand, where online privacy is governed by the Privacy Act of 1993. By the language of this act, collection of personal information not publically available must be made directly through the person to whom that data applies. This means no secret surveillance programs.
However, while headquartered in New Zealand, MEGA also has servers in Luxembourg, Germany, France, the Netherlands and Canada. Data centers located in those countries will be subject to the privacy laws of those countries.
The good news is that each of these countries has pretty strong user privacy policies. Better news is that it doesn’t really matter, because MEGA incorporates zero-knowledge encryption. That means that MEGA doesn’t have your encryption keys. Prior to be transferred to MEGA, your data is scrambled using browser-based end-to-end encryption algorithms.
So, even if a government agency was able to requisition your content, they wouldn’t be able to read it.
The downside to zero-knowledge encryption is that because MEGA doesn’t keep your decryption key, if you forget your password they can’t help you out.
To circumnavigate this problem, MEGA does help you export a recovery key and save it to a secure location (maybe not Dropbox). If you forget your password, this key and access to your email account will let you reset it.
Potential buyers will also want to be aware that MEGA encrypts data using 128-bit AES rather than 256-bit. While the latter is more common, neither level of encryption is believed to be currently crackable by even the world’s most advanced supercomputers.
The one glaring weakness in MEGA’s security structure is that they don’t give users the option of two-factor authentication. So, make sure you use a strong password. A secure cloud password service is advisable.
Round Four Thoughts
Dropbox came out ahead in the first three rounds, but it isn’t going to be a clean sweep. While I appreciate that they at least encrypt stored content, there’s four trouble areas that should give consumers some pause:
- They leave metadata in plain text
- They’re subject to U.S. privacy law
- They don’t offer zero-knowledge encryption
- They were subject to a major data-breach and alert users for four years
MEGA, meanwhile, is a company founded with the goal of protecting user data from government surveillance. For the most part, nothing about how they go about their business suggests they’re not serious about that mission.
One of the most common concerns I hear about MEGA is doubt about their long-term survivability. That’s a reasonable worry given Megaupload’s abrupt demise that left millions of users in the lurch. So, buyer beware.
Beyond that, there are two major reasons to like MEGA: 50GB of free storage and zero-knowledge encryption. If you’re looking for a secondary or tertiary cloud-storage solution and 50GB is enough, there’s no reason not to sign up.
For a primary cloud storage solution, if you’re choosing between Dropbox and MEGA, the choice is clear. While they only offer one subscription option for individual consumers, Dropbox Pro is a better deal than MEGA Pro. Add in faster sync speeds, more control over shared content and application integrations, and it’s pretty clear why Dropbox remains the most popular cloud-storage solution on the commercial market today.
Final Winner: Dropbox
Agree or disagree? Let us know your thoughts on Dropbox and MEGA in the comments below. Thank you for reading.