- Strengths & Weaknesses
- Alternatives for Dropbox
- Dropbox Review: Additional Features
- Dropbox Features Overview
When you talk about cloud storage, most people think of one product: Dropbox. It’s the granddaddy of cloud storage providers, having been around since 2007. Although plenty of competitors exist in the market, Dropbox is still hugely popular, remaining a simple and clear product that still appeals to millions of users. This Dropbox review will examine if it still holds up after all these years.
Dropbox continues to introduce new features, which is why it ranks pretty well in our best cloud storage shortlist. It has excellent collaboration tools, offering seamless integration with both Microsoft Office and Google Docs.
However, if you’re looking for a cloud storage service that makes collaborating on shared documents simple and effective, then Dropbox is still a great choice. Read on as we take a closer look at one of the biggest names in cloud storage in this Dropbox review, or take it for a spin yourself using the free plan.
Read our guide if you want a full explanation of what Dropbox is.
Strengths & Weaknesses
- Office & Google Docs integration
- Smart storage usage with “smart sync”
- Block-level transfer
- Lacks zero-knowledge encryption
- More expensive
- Poor privacy
Alternatives for Dropbox
2000 GB - 3 TB
- Sync Folder
- File Link Sharing
- Folder Sharing
5 GB - 10 TB
- Sync Folder
- File Link Sharing
- Folder Sharing
- Sync Folder
- File Link Sharing
- Folder Sharing
Save 20 %
10 GB - 5 TB
- Sync Folder: No
- File Link Sharing
- Folder Sharing
15 GB - 30 TB
- Sync Folder
- File Link Sharing
- Folder Sharing
Save 16 %
Dropbox offers a few additional features that may be of limited use, but we’re going to focus on the biggest and best: collaboration. This is where Dropbox really makes an impact, and precisely why Dropbox for Business is our go-to choice as the best cloud storage for collaboration.
That said, this Dropbox review is focusing on the service’s personal plans and features, and we can’t fault Dropbox’s commitment to collaboration for personal users, either.
Most users will use either Office or Google Docs to create or edit documents, so it’s extremely clever for Dropbox to integrate with both services. This level of integration is something that most rival cloud storage providers just can’t match, although it is only possible due to Dropbox’s less favorable security standards — we’ll pick this up later.
This feature allows you to open Office or Google Docs files in the Dropbox web application itself. If you share your files, other people can collaborate on these documents in real time, and any changes you make as a team will save directly to your Dropbox account, making team collaboration a breeze.
If you want to create a new document, you can do that, too. You can use any browser to create Office files, but for Google documents, you’ll need to use Chrome or Safari, neither of which offer the fastest browsing experience. If you’re using the desktop application, the opposite is the case; you can create only Google documents, with Office files left out of reach.
To use the Google integration, you’ll need your Dropbox account and Google account to have the same email address. If they’re not the same, Dropbox will allow you to change your account email, or you can set up a new Google account with the same email you use for Dropbox, even if this isn’t a Gmail address. It’s a bit of a fuss, with no similar issues for Office documents.
If you do go for Google Docs integration, you can even use Google’s own apps to edit and save Office files, so if you don’t have an Office subscription, this is for you. However, you might need to make a few changes to your file if you do. Opening an Excel file in Google Sheets did mess up the formatting, although the data was intact.
Dropbox Review: Additional Features
Dropbox is great for integration, but it also has a few tricks of its own. One of those is Dropbox Paper, a note-taking and collaboration app. It acts as one single, endless document that you can fill with text, images, video and more.
There are better note-taking tools out there (take a look at our list of the best note-taking apps), and if you’re looking to collaborate, you might as well do it with Google Docs or Office instead. If you want to learn more about it, though, then check out our Dropbox Paper review.
Another Dropbox service out there is Showcase, which is available with a Dropbox Professional subscription. It’s a portfolio tool that lets you create a personalized area for your work files, with a custom header and the ability to add images, playable videos and more. It’s fine, but as usefulness goes, it probably won’t be a must-have tool for many Dropbox users.
If you’re worried about file changes, you might find the ”rewind” tool useful. This file versioning feature allows you to roll back file changes. If you decide to roll back a document edit, restore a deleted file or get your files back after a ransomware attack, this is the feature you’d need.
You can roll back to any time in the past 30 days on the Dropbox Plus account, or as far as 180 days with Dropbox Professional. The process is simple; simply choose a date to go back to, then select a time on that date. You see a list of all your changes so you can make an informed decision, and Dropbox will send you an email to let you know when the files are restored.
This feature isn’t common across all cloud storage providers, with Dropbox competing with Sync.com and Icedrive for the title of best cloud storage for versioning. In fact, providers like Sync.com take things further, allowing you to rewind your files and folders by as much as a year. You can learn more about this in our Sync.com review.
If you need a shared space for your files, you could make use of Dropbox Spaces. This feature is relatively new and pretty simple. It turns a regular Dropbox folder into a shared folder, with the ability to add notes or an integrated calendar to turn it into a space for teams to work from. Freelancers on a standard Dropbox plan might find this useful, but others may not.
Like it or not, Dropbox’s newer features are mostly niche in nature. The service is still resting on its laurels with its core service. However, in a world where providers have an angle — Sync.com has great security, MEGA focuses on privacy — then it’s really hard to see what Dropbox is offering to stand out in an increasingly crowded market.
Dropbox Features Overview
- Sync Folder
- Block-Level Sync
- Selective Sync
- Bandwidth management
- Sync Any Folder: No
- File Link Sharing
- Link Passwords
- Link Expiry Dates
- Folder Sharing
- Folder Permissions
- Link Download Limits: No
- Upload Links
- File Previews
- Edit Files
- In-App Collaboration
- Office Online
- Google Docs: No
- Notes App
- Media Playback: No
- Mobile Apps
- Deleted File Retention
- WebDAV: No
- At-Rest Encryption
- In-Transit Encryption
- Encryption Protocol: AES 256-bit
- Zero Knowledge: No
- Two-Factor Authentication
- Server Location: US
- 24/7 Support
- Live Chat Support
- Telephone Support: No
- Email Support
- User Forum
- Free Plan
Dropbox certainly isn’t the most expensive cloud storage provider out there, but it’s not the cheapest, either (see our Dropbox pricing guide).
- Storage: 2000 GB
- Storage: 2000 GB
- Storage: 3000 GB
If you want a Dropbox free trial, you can open a free Dropbox account with 2GB of storage space, allowing you to sync your files across three devices. You can still revert to previous versions of files from the past 30 days and send files up to 100GB.
There are better free storage plans out there, though. Check out our best free cloud storage article, where we look at how big brands like Google and Microsoft dominate the free cloud storage market.
For priced plans, there aren’t a whole lot of options to choose from. Dropbox only offers two paid plans for personal users, Plus and Family, both of which offer the same amount of storage space, namely 2TB.
In addition to offering 30-day versioning, Dropbox Plus and Family lets you rewind your entire account by up to 30 days and transfer files up to 2GB in size. The only real difference between the two plans is that Plus is intended for a single user while the Family plans lets you add up to six people to the plan.
To put these prices into context, both pCloud and Sync.com offer 2TB packages for around $8 per month, annually. Sync.com’s 3TB plan is currently just $10 per month, the same price as Dropbox’s 2TB Plus plan. Sync.com also offers a 4TB plan for $15 per month, which gives you 1TB more storage than Dropbox Professional for less money.
Unfortunately, that’s one of the reasons why pCloud and Sync.com make it to our list of the best deals in cloud storage and Dropbox doesn’t. The prices aren’t bad, but they’re nothing to write home about, either.
Ease of Use
If you take almost any other cloud storage provider and look at the apps, interface and product itself, they’ll all look a little like Dropbox. It’s the OG, the first to make personal cloud storage a possibility.
The basic Dropbox format — with sync folders, a system tray icon for settings and more — is a common format replicated more than a decade later by other storage providers. It’s a popular model for a reason — it’s simple to use.
Unfortunately, Dropbox has tinkered with this simple system in its most recent major update, and we’re not sure the change is for the better. That said, the product still remains pretty easy to get started with.
Signing up is simple; enter your name and email address, choose a password, then you’ll have the option to try Dropbox Plus for free for 14 days or continue with the Basic plan. You’ll then be prompted to download Dropbox and launch it to get started.
Dropbox will create a sync folder for your PC files; you’ll need to select “advanced options” to change this folder’s location. This is where you’ll find the option to tweak the “selective sync” and “smart sync” settings, which we’ll look at in more detail in our next section.
Dropbox Review: Desktop App
Once Dropbox is set up, you’ll see a pop-up message about the new desktop app, which arrived toward the end of 2019. Previously, the only way to make changes to your settings outside of the web interface was to use the system tray icon, but Dropbox has thrown this model out. Instead, it wants you to use the desktop application to view and control your storage.
This new app looks a lot like the web interface, where you can pin files and folders, turn shared folders into Dropbox Spaces, join video meetings and access integrations with other services, such as Slack. Most of these features are also available via the web interface, but there are some things you can only do via the desktop app, such as starting a new Zoom meeting.
This is where we come full circle, though. Most users expect the common, Dropbox-like experience: hit the system tray icon, access your settings, view or edit your files in File Explorer and move on. However, with the tray icon opening the desktop application, users now have a few more stages to get through before they can use Dropbox properly.
If this bothers you, you can change this under the “general” tab of the “preferences” menu. For instance, you can set folders to open in Windows File Explorer, rather than opening the desktop app. Once you’ve changed this, though, there’s no way to open the desktop application without changing this setting in the “preferences” menu again.
Dropbox Review: Web App
If you’re using Dropbox on the web, there are some notable differences. The web interface has a simple menu down the left-hand side, with links for various sections like “files” or apps like Showcase prominent. This menu is missing in the desktop app, which shows your most recent or starred folders, so the web interface is a little easier to navigate.
In the web interface, the “home” section is where you’ll find recent files and folders, as well as suggestions based on past usage, while “files” lists your (you guessed it) files. One big frustration for Mac users is that this will list your files alphabetically, rather than with your folders first, and there’s no way to change this in the web interface.
The good news is that you can fix this issue in the desktop application, but it still means that Dropbox isn’t our first choice for Mac cloud storage, as our best cloud storage for Mac shortlist shows (also, read our guide on how to remove Dropbox from Mac).
However, moving files and folders in Dropbox is still as easy as you’d hope; it’s a simple case of dragging and dropping.
You can move files out of Dropbox to your desktop, which will remove them from your Dropbox account. Meanwhile, dropping files from your desktop to Dropbox will upload them into your account. This works equally well in both the web interface and desktop application, making moving your files around a breeze.
Dropbox Review: Mobile Apps
The mobile apps are pretty good, too. If you long-press on a file in the mobile app, you can drag it around the screen and drop it into a folder. You can also create Microsoft Office files directly within the mobile app, as well as setting your photos and videos to automatically backup from your phone to your Dropbox account.
If you’re keen to store your mobile photos, then take a look at our list of the best online storage for photos, where Amazon Photos and Google Drive are good alternatives.
The mobile app also makes use of your phone camera as a document scanner. It’ll process the image to flatten it and remove any perspective, acting like a flatbed scanner in the process, which is perfect for receipts, business cards or important letters.
This feature — as well as all of the typical Dropbox features — is as easy to use on Android as it is on an iPhone or other iOS devices. Dropbox is one of the best cloud storage for Android, after all.
Overall, Dropbox is still pretty easy to use in all its forms, but the new desktop application is a solution without a purpose, and it’ll need more refinement before the change is something worth praising.
File Syncing & Sharing
There’s no quibbles here because Dropbox is still one of the best cloud storage providers for file sharing and syncing. Dropbox solves one of the biggest problems with cloud storage: disk usage.
Thanks to its “selective sync” feature, you can decide which folders sync to your desktop and which ones stay in the cloud (read our guide if Dropbox is not syncing). Although this helps to free up disk space, any folders you don’t sync aren’t visible in your Dropbox folder, so it doesn’t give a true representation of what you have stored in your account.
To solve this problem, Dropbox has another solution in mind: “smart sync.” This allows you to see all your Dropbox files and folders on your PC, but you can choose which ones are stored locally or are otherwise kept in the cloud. You can view all of your Dropbox files in Windows File Explorer (or Finder on macOS) without using disk space.
That doesn’t mean your online-only files are inaccessible. Just double-click these, and your files will download and open as normal. However, you’ll need to set it as online-only again afterward if you don’t want it taking up space.
This is a useful feature, especially on devices with low storage space, and it isn’t a feature that many providers replicate. However, those that do, in some cases, do it better. For example, pCloud sets up your sync folder as a virtual drive that takes up no space at all, even when you open and work on files. Check out our comparison of pCloud vs Dropbox to learn more.
Dropbox Review: File Sharing
If you want to share files from your Dropbox, you can; it’s even one of the best cloud storage for sharing. You can share a file or folder from the desktop application, web interface, mobile app or from your desktop folder.
You’re given the option to email the invitation directly or to generate a link that you can share yourself. Files can be set as read-only, or others can be allowed to edit them.
Dropbox Plus users can also set a password and an expiration date for the link. If you upgrade to Dropbox Professional, you gain additional controls, including the ability to disable downloads, which will stop any recipients from saving what you’ve shared with them.
The desktop application includes the option to share files via Slack, Trello and Zoom. Additionally, if you connect with other services, you can also share from the web interface via Gmail, Outlook, Microsoft Teams, WhatsApp and more.
If you want to send a file rather than sharing it, you can use Dropbox Transfer. This sends a read-only copy of your file with a typical seven-day expiry date, although you can change this to up to a year. You can send files up to 2GB with a Dropbox Plus account or 100GB with Dropbox Professional.
This is pretty big, putting it alongside other file transfer services like WeTransfer, which we compared with Dropbox in our Dropbox vs WeTransfer comparison review.
As a top-shelf cloud storage provider, Dropbox has pretty good upload and download speeds. It’s not the fastest provider we’ve ever tested, but it holds up well against many of its rivals.
To test this, we used the same 1GB file to upload and download it from our Dropbox storage. We tested this from a location in the UK, with connection speeds averaging around 80 Mbps for downloads and 6 Mbps for uploads.
The times varied a little, but on the whole, the speeds were pretty consistent and in line with what we’d expect — if a little slower — given the connection.
|First attempt:||Second attempt:||Average:|
Dropbox rivals its competitors on speeds in how it actually syncs your files. If you’re making a minor change to a file, you’ll actually see much faster speeds with Dropbox than you would with other providers, thanks to its block-level transfer.
Imagine your files are broken down into small chunks. When you edit a file, only the chunks that have changed need to be synced. If you’re editing large files, this can make a significant difference to your upload time. That’s because many other providers would need to sync the entire file, even if you made only small changes.
Surprisingly, many cloud storage providers still don’t use this simple but effective way to speed up syncing your files. If you’re looking for an alternative provider that uses block-level sync, then take a look at pCloud or OneDrive (check out our OneDrive review for more).
Unfortunately, Dropbox isn’t the most secure cloud storage you’ll find, and it isn’t a recommendation we’ve listed in our most secure cloud storage shortlist. If security is your priority, there are much better options out there, like pCloud or Icedrive (check out our Icedrive review and Icedrive vs pCloud comparison for more information).
This is down to encryption. The gold standard in security for cloud storage services is zero-knowledge encryption. This means that your provider doesn’t hold a copy of your encryption key, so it can’t decrypt your files, even if it wanted to.
With zero-knowledge encryption, your files are kept safe from the provider, from the law and from nosy hackers, too. Only you have the key, meaning only you have access to your files.
Unfortunately, Dropbox doesn’t offer zero-knowledge encryption at all, unlike some of the other big names and best zero-knowledge cloud services out there, such as MEGA, Sync.com and pCloud.
Trade Off Between Security and Integration
This lack of security is a trade off to allow for Dropbox’s integration with other major services; with encryption, Office and Google integration wouldn’t be possible. As a service that’s looking a little stale in some areas, this would leave Dropbox with few killer features left in its arsenal.
If you want to use Dropbox, but you still want zero-knowledge encryption, then you’ll need to use it with third-party software like Boxcryptor (you can check out our Boxcryptor review to learn more).
Otherwise, Dropbox uses AES 256-bit encryption to protect your data at rest, and AES 128-bit encryption for data in transit. It also uses the TLS protocol to protect against man-in-the-middle attacks. This is all pretty much the industry standard, so it is the least you should expect from a cloud storage provider.
Dropbox Review: Security Shortcomings
However, there are a few security features that Dropbox does offer, such as two-factor authentication. This requires you to use a second form of authentication — aside from just your password — to access your accounts. This is usually in the form of a code sent to your cell phone or in an authentication app. No code, no access, even if your password is compromised.
We’d be remiss without mentioning Dropbox’s unfortunate checkered history when it comes to security. Although it has been almost a decade since it happened, a massive data breach back in 2012 led to 68 million Dropbox user passwords being leaked.
There hasn’t been any sign of breaches since, and Dropbox security has since improved. That said, it’s not the best history for a cloud storage provider, especially when the service — not you — holds the keys to your files
That’s a big no-no, as it gives Dropbox the power to access your data whenever it feels it needs to. This gives Dropbox the power to decide when that’s appropriate, and not you. It also states that it will share your data with trusted third parties, such as Google, Amazon and Oracle.
In some respects, that’s probably due to the level of integration it offers with those third-party services. However, the more your data is shared, the less private it becomes. That’s something to bear in mind if you’re thinking about storing sensitive data in Dropbox itself.
Dropbox Review: Data Centers
If that wasn’t bad enough, then from a privacy focus, this probably is: Dropbox’s servers are U.S. based. The U.S. is definitely not on our list of the countries with the best cloud privacy laws. Your data may be subject to strict laws, such as the Patriot Act, meaning that Dropbox can be compelled to hand over your data to U.S. authorities at any point.
Because Dropbox doesn’t use zero-knowledge encryption, every file and folder in your account could be open for scrutiny. In addition, the Edward Snowden leaks mentioned that Dropbox was being considered for inclusion in the controversial PRISM program of internet surveillance.
Dropbox was quick to deny any connection to PRISM, but it can’t deny that it appointed former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to its board in 2014. Ms. Rice’s involvement in the same administration that developed the Patriot Act is something for the history books, but we’d hardly call her an ally in the privacy fight.
Having healthy skepticism isn’t unwise, and for privacy, better options exist than Dropbox. Look at MEGA and pCloud, or use Boxcryptor to keep your files safe.
Although privacy is a downside, customer service is a better area for Dropbox to shout out about. It’s certainly better than the customer service offered by other big-name players, such as OneDrive (you can see this in our head-to-head Dropbox vs Google Drive vs OneDrive comparison).
You can contact Dropbox customer support by email or live chat, with 24-hour support available Monday through Friday. You can also ask a question on the community forum, where advice from other Dropbox users is available.
The community is useful and can answer most questions, although responses can take more than 24 hours. However, chances are that your question has already been answered, so searching the community can be a big help.
When we tried live chat, we got an immediate response, and the customer service agent was able to adequately answer our query. We also received a useful follow-up email, which was a nice touch.
The direct contact by email was less useful, though. We got a response acknowledging our email, but the reply to our query took around 18 hours. This was within the stated 24-hour response time, but it seems a little slow when you can get an immediate answer from live chat.
If you don’t want to speak to someone, you can research your issue with one of the many useful help pages on offer. Some of these pages include helpful video content to walk you through exactly what to do, while others are strictly text-and-image walk-throughs.
On the whole, the customer experience with Dropbox is strong. The direct response times are good, and you can find quick solutions to problems on the forum or in Dropbox’s help guides, should you need to.
As we talked about in the beginning of this Dropbox review, it’s important to recognize Dropbox as the provider that turned cloud storage into a mainstream idea. It’s been in the market since 2007, and its features, its interface and many of its ideas have been replicated elsewhere.
It’s maintained a good market share by being quick and easy to use, and by offering simple features that users understand. Its good collaboration features and strong integration with other services still put it ahead of many of its competitors.
Unfortunately, nearly a decade since a major data breach, Dropbox still remains subpar when it comes to privacy and security. It isn’t terrible, but with a lack of zero-knowledge encryption, it remains a much weaker, less-safe option for most users, compared to pCloud, Icedrive or Sync.com.
To be blunt, Dropbox just looks a little stale. A new desktop app is a step in the right direction, but it’ll need to do more and continue to innovate if it wants to compete with much bigger names, like Amazon, Google and Microsoft.
The Silver Lining
That said, it isn’t all bad for Dropbox, and simplicity and ease of use continue to be one of the best reasons to consider a Dropbox account for your files. If you’re looking for a cloud storage service that lets you work on shared files, then Dropbox is a truly excellent choice.
The integrations with both Google and Microsoft Office documents make real-time co-authoring of documents simple; it’s a feature that’s really unmatched by most of its major rivals, other than perhaps OneDrive or Google Drive. “Smart sync” is also pretty useful, particularly if you want to keep a lot of data in the cloud and don’t have a huge amount of hard drive space.
If you’re not planning to make use of these tools, however, then there are other options you should consider. You can find better cloud storage services that offer zero-knowledge encryption that will keep your data safe and offer more storage at a lower cost.
What do you think about our Dropbox review? We’d love to hear your own thoughts and experiences with the service in the comments below, especially if you feel we’ve missed a flaw or feature that deserved extra attention. As always, thanks for reading.