Dropbox or WeTransfer: Which Service Is Best for Sharing Your Files?

obr2By Joseph Gildred — Last Updated: 24 Feb'17 2017-02-15T05:11:30+00:00
Like most cloud storage services, Dropbox lets users not only store content, but share and collaborate on that content with others. File-transfer specialist WeTransfer.com has something else in mind, however. Does this rogue player’s attempt to compartmentalize online file sharing trump the Dropbox approach? Cloudwards.net decided to find out.

During this deep-dive review, we’ll weigh the pros and cons of using both Dropbox and WeTransfer to share files with others. We’ll touch base on user experience, security and value to see which service does file transfer the best.

In the end, you’ll see why Dropbox comes out on top, even though WeTransfer adds some nice personalization touches to the process.

Dropbox and File Sharing

Once upon a time, users were restricted to sending files via email attachment. This process had several major drawbacks. For example, most email clients several limit the size of files you can attach to an email, with the max usually being 25MB per file.

The other problem is that because email inboxes have size limitations, if you try to send file attachment that exceeds the recipient’s remaining inbox space, they won’t receive it; the email just disappears into the ether.

Founded in 2007, Dropbox basically rewrote the playbook on how users share content with others. By allowing users to upload content to the cloud and invite others to access and download it, they eliminated the need to send massive files by email.

Admittedly, that’s a bit an oversimplification — other services like Microsoft Sharepoint helped circumnavigate the issue, too. It was Dropbox, though, who really brought cloud-based content sharing fully into the consumer market.

Since then, many other cloud storage services have followed the path Dropbox forged, including giants like Google Drive, OneDrive and Box.

In addition to allowing users to share stored content quickly and easily, these cloud storage services all feature device syncing and collaboration capabilities, plus powerful integrated applications like Google Docs and Office Online.

Some cloud storage services trim the user experience some in order to focus on providing enhanced user security. This includes Sync.com, pCloud and SpiderOak. In general, however, they all follow basic consumer expectations.

Expectations that WeTransfer.com almost completely ignores.

About WeTransfer.com

To be clear, WeTransfer.com isn’t really what I’d call a cloud storage service. It’s a file transfer service that stores files in the cloud to facilitate its purpose. It isn’t designed for long-term storage, it isn’t built for collaboration and it certainly isn’t designed for device syncing.

That makes it an interesting venture in my mind. Founded in 2009, before the competition between cloud storage vendors really heated up, I have to wonder if such a service would even be able to get off the ground today.

In any case, WeTransfer continues attract users, having totaled an impressive 10 billion file transfers in 2015 by their own count. They don’t, unfortunately, reveal how many of those transfers were executed by free users versus subscribers. Still, its impressive.

During this review, I’ll be mostly introducing you to WeTransfer Plus, which is the paid version. The free version, while utilizing the cloud to facilitate transfers, doesn’t let you access your cloud storage.

The Battle: Dropbox vs. WeTransfer

In order to see how WeTransfer stacks up to Dropbox, I’m going to evaluate the basics of each service based on the following categories:

  • General user experience
  • Upload & download speed
  • Security & privacy policy
  • Price plans

Because this article is focused on file sharing, I’ll overlook Dropbox’s device syncing capabilities, even though that’s a pretty big reason to choose it over WeTransfer.com. If you’re looking for services like Dropbox, but WeTransfer isn’t for you, check out this list of alternative cloud storage providers.

Round One: General User Experience

Let’s firs take a look at how easy both programs are to use on a daily basis.

Dropbox

The Dropbox experience is intuitive and takes little getting used to you if you’re familiar with cloud storage platforms like Google Drive or OneDrive. In fact, as mentioned, Dropbox pretty much invented the experience.

Prior to sharing files with Dropbox, they’ll need to be uploaded. You can do this by clicking the “upload” icon near the top of the web interface and selecting the file or files you want. Or, if you’ve downloaded the Dropbox app, you can move content into the Dropbox folder on your hard drive.

Files uploaded from the web interface are restricted to 20GB in size, while those uploaded through your desktop or mobile app are uncapped — so long as you have enough cloud-storage space available.

Either way you choose to upload content, upon doing so they’ll now be available and shareable from the web interface.

You can share multiple items but only if you add them to folder and share the folder instead.

Once you’ve selected content to share, Dropbox lets you either send access via email or generate a link. Either way, you can attach permissions to the share that grant either edit or view-only access.

These permissions are integral to the biggest advantage Dropbox has over WeTransfer when it comes to sharing content: collaboration.

Working together is done using integrated applications like Microsoft Office thanks to Dropbox’s strategic technology partnerships.

Since collaborations often go awry, Dropbox also lets you recover accidental deletions and revert to previous versions of files. Deleted files and previous file versions can be recovered for up to 30 days. Dropbox’s Extended Version History feature pushes that to one year.

For added control over your content, Dropbox also lets you attach expiry dates and passwords to linked content.

Finally, the web interface has three different tabs to monitor activity:

  • Sharing: audit shared folders/files
  • Links: audit links to shared folders/files
  • Events: audit actions taken on shared folders/files

WeTransfer Plus

If you’re used to sharing files through a cloud storage service, WeTransfer might take some getting used to. However, once you figure out the basic mechanics it’s all pretty smooth.

There are basically two ways to upload content to your WeTransfer storage space:

  • You can select content and email it to up to 100 recipients
  • You can select content and create a link

There’s no “upload” button, which threw me for a bit of a loop. However, whether your elect to share your content via email or link, both methods upload the shared content to your WeTransfer space.

Begin the process on the left side of the screen, using the file upload window.

Select the files you want to add by clicking the plus-sign beside the words, “add your files.” You can add up to 20GB of content.

The screen defaults to send the content via email. If you’d rather generate a link, click the “…” button near the bottom of the window to bring up some options. Click the appropriate switch to create a link.

Now, when you upload your files, rather than sending an email, you get this window:

You can copy the link and share it however you want — Slack, Facebook, Twitter. Some automated options to handle this for you would be nice, but that’s not a crucial miss.

Prior to uploading content, there are two additional file-control options that can be toggled in the options window: content deletion and content password protection.

File deletion can be set to take place automatically after one week, two weeks or one month. You can also set it so your files are never deleted; such options are great for exercising a little added control over who can access your content.

Users who access your shared content — whether by email or link — do so by downloading it from your cloud storage space.

After distributing your content, if you realize you need to send it to someone else, you don’t have to upload it again. Rather, the files you now have stored in the cloud can be used instead. This saves you time and space, since you won’t be uploading duplicate files.

Click on the transfer item you want to redistribute to resend it via email or copy its associated link.

From the same screen, you can also check to see if your content has been downloaded by the intended recipients and how many times it’s been downloaded.

One of the things that sets WeTransfer apart from distributing content through traditional cloud storage providers like Dropbox is that WeTransfer has added several personalization options to the process.

You can:

  • Customize your WeTransfer URL
  • Add a custom avatar
  • Add custom wallpaper for your download page
  • Add a background image for emails

These are nice ways to streamline the entire file transfer process around your business and make a memorable impression.

Round One Thoughts

I like that WeTransfer lets you personalize the experience. This is a really great way to impress recipients by tying the share process more closely to your given enterprise. Beyond that though, I don’t find the the user experience presents any major advantages over Dropbox.

The fact that Dropbox lets you collaborate with whom you’ve shared content is a considerable advantage. Version control, deleted file recovery, integrated apps and multiple ways to audit activity don’t hurt either.

Round One Winner: Dropbox

Round Two: Upload & Download Speed

File upload speed can turn a smooth-operating service into one not worth your time. In order to see how Dropbox and WeTransfer compare, I ran a few basic tests.

I performed uploads from each service’s website using a 258MB test file. The file I used is actually a compressed folder made up of various file types. These tests were executed on my home wifi network. At the time the tests were conducted, I clocked my upload speeds on speedtest.net at 12Mbps.

 UploadDownload
Dropbox4:320:20
WeTransfer3:460:03

WeTransfer had a slight edge, but both services performed pretty decently for a file of that size. Keep in mind that the encryption process slows things down some.

Download speeds were also great, but the difference was again negligible. I was, however, impressed that it only took me three seconds to download from WeTransfer.

Round Two Thoughts

Both Dropbox and WeTransfer handle the upload and download process as smoothly as can be expected but WeTransfer has a slight edge.

Winner: WeTransfer

Round Three: Security & Privacy Policy

One of the main reasons to opt for any cloud storage is the added security these solutions offer. How do our two contenders stack up here?

Dropbox

Dropbox encrypts all user content, whether in transfer or at rest. TLS encryption is used to shield content between device and data center, during which its further protected with 128-bit encryption.

Upon arrival at the Dropbox datacenter, files are decrypted prior to storage. File content is then re-encrypted with 256-bit AES, while metadata is left unencrypted to speed up the indexing process.

All Dropbox users have the option of enabling two-step verification to further protect their content. Enabled, account access will require both the account password and a six-digit code. This code can either be sent in a text message or retrieved through the Dropbox mobile app.

Dropbox privacy policy is partly shaped by the fact that they’re headquartered in San Francisco, California. The U.S. has fairly lax privacy policies compared to many countries. In the past that’s included allowing government agencies to request and surveil user data under the auspices of secret court orders (i.e., project PRISM).

Dropbox does try to be upfront about such requests, including putting together a transparency report. However, you never know what they might be prevented from including in such reports.

The other problem with security at Dropbox is that they’re such a popular service, which in turn makes them a big target for hackers. In fact, it recently came to light that a massive 2012 data breach led to theft of over 68 million Dropbox usernames and passwords.

WeTransfer Plus

WeTransfer encrypts user data both while in transit and while at rest.

In-transit encryption uses TLS as expected. While at rest on WeTransfer’s servers, your files are encrypted using 256-bit AES. Stored files can only be accessed with the unique links generated when they are uploaded.

WeTransfer is headquartered in the Netherlands, where they’re able to take advantage of the EU’s strong user privacy policies, which are generally stronger than US regulations. WeTransfer has to abide by the Dutch Personal Protection Act, which is based on the EU Privacy Directive.

Per the WeTransfer privacy policy, they don’t scan or monitor your file content. Also important, they don’t collect and/or distribute either your email address or those with whom you’ve shared content.

WeTransfer Plus users don’t have the option of enabling two-step verification.

Round Three Thoughts

Both services encrypt user data while it’s sitting on their servers, which is the most important thing. However, Dropbox’s history of data breaches and the fact that it’s headquartered in the U.S. give me pause. WeTransfer.com, meanwhile, is safely located in the Netherlands, a privacy haven by comparison.

Winner: WeTransfer Plus

Round Four: Price Plans

Last but not least, how cost-effective are our two competitors?

Dropbox

Dropbox offers a “basic” plan for free that gives users 2GB of free cloud storage. However, many key features of the service — including link passwords and expiry dates — require a paid subscription.

For individual consumers, there’s only one choice: Dropbox Pro. A Pro plan ups your cloud storage allotment to 1TB of space, which should be plenty for most users.

There are two payment options for Dropbox Pro, as well as a business plan.

PlanPrice PlanStorageDetails
Dropbox BasicFree2 GB

Free plan. Can be increased through referrals.

Dropbox Pro
$ 9.99 Monthly
$ 119.88 1 Year
$ 99.00 (-17%)
1000 GB

Pro version with more sharing options (password protected links, expiration dates)

A minimum of five licences is required for a business plan. Users get unlimited storage and all the perks of a Pro account.

We Transfer Plus

Instead of signing up for WeTransfer Plus, users can transfer content for free. However, it limits transfers to 2GB, email recipients to 20 and content is deleted after seven days. Also, there’s no way to resend stored content – you’ll have to upload it again to do so. Finally, there are no personalization options. It’s fine for the occasional one-off transfer but that’s about it.

To get any real value out of WeTransfer, you need to subscribe. There are two subscription options available:

  • Monthly: $12
  • Annual: $120

Both plans let you store up to 100GB of files and transfer files in bundles of up to 20GB.

Payment options include credit card and PayPal.

WeTransfer doesn’t offer a free trial for Plus and doesn’t have any sort of referral program to earn more space or free service.

Round Four Thoughts

Dropbox costs $2 less per month and grants users 1TB of cloud storage space versus WeTransfer’s 100GB. If you’re debating between paying for one service or the other, it should even be close.

Winner: Dropbox

The Verdict

WeTransfer.com is an interesting service that I think has earned its place. I can see business users getting real value out of its personalization aspects, in particular, which offer a nice marketing advantage over Dropbox.

There’s a reason why Dropbox has become an oft-mimicked service by the competition, however, and WeTransfer.com hasn’t. That’s because in most ways the standard cloud storage experience is superior to what you get with the WeTransfer.com model.

Winner: Dropbox

Better collaboration options, better tools and more value are tough to beat. Which of these services do you prefer when it comes to online file sharing? Let us know in the comments below, thank you for reading.

One thought on “Dropbox or WeTransfer: Which Service Is Best for Sharing Your Files?”

  1. The main difference and why I had to pay for wetransfer even though I’m a Dropbox Pro (Plus) user for years is that there’s a limit GB for the recipient. If the recipient doesn’t have a dropbox account or don’t have enough space for files greater then 1GB (only 1GB) it cannot be downloaded and the person can’t do anything.
    In other words, if a file is bigger than 1GB the person can’t just download it, it has to have a dropbox account, with 1GB free space, to sync and then get from the computer.
    So this is why they are completely different services. One can’t do what other can and vice versa.
    I would very much like that dropbox charges more and have the possibility of anyone with link download a file without 1GB limit, not having to require a dropbox account.

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