iCloud Drive Review

Apple's built-in cloud storage solution offers ease of use and great pricing, but there are severe privacy and security concerns. Find out more in our iCloud Drive review.

Aleksander Hougen
By Aleksander Hougen (Editor)
— Last Updated: 2021-01-31T23:54:45+00:00
(Editor)
Starts from $ 099 per month for 50 GB
Free plan available (All Plans)

If you use any Apple devices, chances are you already have and use an iCloud account. The fact that it’s already integrated into your device’s operating system makes it a popular choice for backing up your data, but those concerned with security or privacy might want to look elsewhere. Keep reading this iCloud Drive review to find out why.

Key Takeaways:

  • iCloud Drive is a convenient option for cloud storage on Apple products, but there are serious privacy concerns.
  • Apple iCloud security has greatly improved since the days of the infamous photo leak, but there is still room for improvement.
  • iCloud Drive offers 5GB of free storage and reasonably priced paid plans with 50GB, 200GB or 2TB of storage.
  • Although iCloud Drive offers decent sync functionality, the sharing options leave a lot to be desired compared to other cloud services. 

Although iCloud Drive is certainly a convenient cloud storage option for Apple users, there are still some potentially serious privacy and security concerns inherent to using Apple iCloud. If these problems are something you’re worried about, you can head over to our list of the best cloud storage to find a more secure option. Exclusive Apple users might also be interested in our best cloud storage for iPhone and best cloud storage for Mac roundups.

Overall, Sync.com (read our Sync.com review) and pCloud (read our pCloud review) are our clear favorite iCloud alternatives. For now, though, let’s get into the nitty-gritty of iCloud Drive and explore its strengths and weaknesses.

  • Colloquially these two terms talk about the same thing, namely Apple’s cloud storage solution. The term “iCloud” does incorporate a few other elements though, such as the company’s email service.

  • The most likely reason for this is that the automatic photo upload to iCloud Drive has been disabled on your iOS device. Simply go to the settings, tap your Apple ID, then tap on “iCloud” followed by “photos” and enable the Apple iCloud photo library and the photo stream.

  • The two most likely reasons for slow uploads are either the iCloud servers being under heavy load or your internet connection being slow in general. If you’re uploading many files simultaneously, iCloud Drive also takes a lot of time to index each piece of data before uploading.

  • If you’re worried about cybercriminals accessing your data, then you can rest relatively easy while using iCloud Drive. Since the infamous Apple iCloud photo leak back in 2014, Apple has taken steps to make it harder to access iCloud accounts and files without proper authorization.

  1. 1
    • Sync Folder
    • File Link Sharing
    • Folder Sharing
    • Versioning: No
    5-2000 GB
    $ 099
  2. 2
    • Sync Folder
    • File Link Sharing
    • Folder Sharing
    • Versioning
    5-Unlimited GB
    $ 500
  3. 3
    • Sync Folder
    • File Link Sharing
    • Folder Sharing
    • Versioning
    10-2000 GB
    $ 399
    Save 20 %
  4. 4
    • Sync Folder: No
    • File Link Sharing
    • Folder Sharing
    • Versioning
    10 GB - 5 TB
    $ 164
  5. 5
    • Sync Folder
    • File Link Sharing
    • Folder Sharing
    • Versioning
    2 GB - 3 TB
    $ 999
    Save 17 %
  6. 6
    • Sync Folder
    • File Link Sharing
    • Folder Sharing
    • Versioning
    15 GB - 30 TB
    $ 167
    Save 16 %

Strengths & Weaknesses

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Deep integration with Apple devices
  • Affordable

Cons:

  • Major privacy concerns
  • Security problems in the past
  • Not suitable for non-Apple devices

Features

60 % – Fair

We’re gonna get our iCloud Drive review started by taking a look at its feature set. Overall it’s a fairly sparse offering, with lots of common cloud storage features missing completely.

When syncing files to Apple iCloud, there’s a file-size limit of 15GB, which means it’s a poor storage option for large files such as raw video footage. If this is the kind of data you want to store online, check out our list of the best cloud storage for large files instead. On the bright side, there’s no bandwidth limit, meaning you can sync as much data as you want.

Selective Sync

If you want more control over which files or folders are kept on your device locally or uploaded to the cloud, you can use iCloud Drive’s selective sync to accomplish this. Simply open the context menu for any file located in your iCloud Drive folder and select either “free up space” to stop syncing a file to that specific device or “always keep on this device” to make sure you have offline access at all times.

iCloud review selective sync
Selective sync allows you to exclude or manually include files or folders.

Deleted files are kept for 30 days, but if you want to restore anything older than that you’re out of luck. There’s also no proper file versioning, meaning that once you make a change to a file or folder, there’s no way to revert back to its previous state. If this kind of functionality is important, consider one of the best cloud storage services for versioning instead.

iCloud review deleted files
iCloud Drive keeps a record of your deleted files for 30 days.

Features iCloud Drive Is Missing

You can preview certain files directly from storage without downloading a local copy, but unfortunately this only applies to images and text documents — not larger items such as video files. There’s also no way to edit files directly in the cloud, so if you want to make any changes to a document you’ll have to download it locally first.

iCloud review file previews
You can preview text files and photos, but you can’t edit them.

Block-level file copying is also missing, which is unfortunate for users with limited bandwidth or connection speed. This is because any change you make to a file will necessitate a full reupload of said file, rather than just the specific parts you changed. This is a feature that can save you a lot of time and bandwidth, so a service like Dropbox is a better choice for people with a limited connection.

The last category of features that cloud storage often offers are collaboration tools and integration with various productivity suites such as Google Workspace and Microsoft Office. It’s not surprising that Apple iCloud lacks integration with these suites, but also disappointing that Apple doesn’t offer much in the way of its own alternative for productivity.

This means that there’s really no way to collaborate on files with other users, as each person has to download the files locally, make changes, then upload them again. If collaboration among multiple users is a crucial feature for you, make sure to check our list of the best cloud storage for collaboration to find a service that meets your needs.

iCloud Features Overview

  • Sync

    • Sync Folder
    • Block-Level Sync: No
    • Selective Sync
    • Bandwidth management
    • Sync Any Folder: No
  • File Sharing

    • File Link Sharing
    • Link Passwords: No
    • Link Expiry Dates: No
    • Folder Sharing
    • Folder Permissions
    • Link Download Limits: No
    • Upload Links: No
  • Productivity

    • File Previews
    • Edit Files: No
    • In-App Collaboration: No
    • Office Online: No
    • Google Docs: No
    • Notes App: No
    • Media Playback: No
    • Mobile Apps
    • Deleted File Retention
    • Versioning: No
    • WebDAV: No
  • Security

    • At-Rest Encryption
    • In-Transit Encryption
    • Encryption Protocol: AES 128-bit
    • Zero Knowledge: No
    • Two-Factor Authentication
    • Server Location: US
  • Support

    • 24/7 Support
    • Live Chat Support
    • Telephone Support
    • Email Support: No
    • User Forum
    • Knowledgebase
  • Misc

    • Free Plan

Pricing

90 % – Excellent

Although there are many serious concerns with iCloud Drive, pricing is not one of them. There are three plans available which offer 50GB, 200GB and 2TB of iCloud storage for $0.99, $2.99 and $9.99 per month, respectively.

There are no discounts for annual payments, but there is a basic plan that provides you with 5GB of free storage. Although getting any storage for free is nice, this is significantly less than a lot of other providers such as Google Drive (read our Google Drive review), pCloud or MEGA (read our MEGA review).

iCloud Drive offers a different pricing structure depending on your country of residence, so the table below only represents U.S. pricing. If you’re residing anywhere else, you can check out Apple’s own pricing breakdown, which lists the price by country.

5GB Plan
  • Storage: 5 GB
50GB Plan
  • Storage: 50 GB
200GB Plan
  • Storage: 200 GB
2TB Plan
  • Storage: 2000 GB

If you sign up for the 200GB or 2TB plans, you can also enable family sharing. This feature lets you share your storage with up to five other people (whether they’re actually family members or not), and also applies to numerous other Apple services such as AppleTV, Apple Music and Apple News.

Ease of Use

95 % – Excellent

As we briefly mentioned in the introduction, iCloud’s biggest advantage is its ease of use. If you’re using Apple products — whether it’s an iPhone, iPad or Mac — the built-in integration with iCloud Drive makes using the service incredibly low effort.

On desktop — regardless of operating system — iCloud Drive simply takes the form of another folder where you can drag and drop files and folders to sync them with the cloud. The settings panel is fairly bare-bones, allowing you to set up automatic synchronization of photos, bookmarks and the content of your iCloud Drive.

iCloud review desktop settings
The iCloud settings panel on desktop is bare-bones but easy to use.

There’s also a sleek web interface where you can manage your cloud data and download files directly onto any device.

The one drawback to iCloud’s desktop experience is the fact that you can’t shut down the app completely without killing the process manually in task manager. We appreciate that it’s a relatively lightweight application intended to run in the background, but we’d still like to be able to close it if we choose.

iCloud review web interface
iCloud Drive’s web interface is sleek and well-designed.

iOS Integration

On iOS devices, meaning an iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch, the deep integration with the operating system makes iCloud Drive barely noticeable. There’s a dedicated options menu within the settings where you can manage your storage and enable uploads for various apps, and that’s pretty much it.

iCloud review iOS settings
The settings panel on iOS lets you toggle backups for each app.

Because of this deep integration, there’s not much in the way of interface design to judge. What is there is easy to navigate and well-designed, with the web interface in particular looking very sleek and orderly, which makes for a pleasant user experience.

File Sharing & Syncing

75 % – Good

Few things are more important for a cloud service than its ability to sync and share files. There are many approaches to take for this core functionality, and not all of them are as efficient and easy to use as others.

For Apple iCloud, the way that you sync and share content depends entirely on what type of device you’re using. On desktops — whether it’s a Mac or a Windows computer — iCloud takes the form of a regular folder. In order to upload files to your iCloud Drive, you simply drag and drop files and folders in this location and wait for it to sync with the cloud.

iCloud review desktop sync folder
The sync folder is where you’ll find everything you have stored with iCloud Drive.

How to Download Files

If you then want to download your cloud files on a different device, you need to either install iCloud Drive, at which point the data will automatically sync to the dedicated folder, or download them manually through the web interface. Unfortunately there’s no way to download entire folders at once through the web interface, which means you need to download all the files individually instead.

Another weakness of iCloud Drive on desktop is that you can’t sync your existing folder structure, which means that you have to manually move everything into the dedicated sync folder to upload it to the cloud. If keeping your existing file organization is important to you, you can check out Icedrive (read our Icedrive review) instead.

This is a pretty standard setup for cloud storage providers on desktop devices, but the real utility of iCloud Drive is on mobile devices, specifically iPhones and iPads. Unlike most other cloud storage services, there is no dedicated app for iCloud Drive. Instead, it occupies a section of the standard “files” app, and storage management is done directly in the device settings.

iCloud review files app
On iOS, you can access your cloud data through the files app.

How to Sync Data

To choose what data you want to sync from your iOS device, simply enter the settings menu, tap on your Apple ID at the top, and then on “iCloud.” Here you’ll see a breakdown of your current storage usage, a “manage storage” menu that lets you delete existing data, and a list of all your apps that allows you to backup each application’s data to the cloud.

iCloud review iOS manage storage
The “manage storage” menu gives you a detailed breakdown of what is taking up space.

To sync these apps with other devices, all you need to do is log in to your Apple iCloud account on said device — the rest is handled automatically. This makes iCloud a breeze to use — so long as you’re using Apple devices — as the user barely has to lift a finger to set it up and use it on any device.

File and Folder Sharing

When it comes to file and folder sharing, Apple iCloud is definitely a bit lacking in comparison to other cloud storage providers. In order to share folders or files, simply open the context menu for the item you want to share and select “iCloud sharing.” From here you can enter an email address or phone number and choose whether the person can only view the file or also make edits.

iCloud review sharing
You can share files through iCloud Drive, but the process is lacking in options.

You can also change the default access to your iCloud Drive, allowing either anyone with the link to access it or just people you explicitly invite. We would’ve liked to see a lot more options here, including password protection, expiration dates for shared links and more fine-grained access controls. There’s also no way to send download requests to other users, but luckily there are no bandwidth limits on the sharing links you create.

If the lack of sharing features is a deal-breaker for you, we have a guide to the best cloud storage for sharing, which will give you plenty of other options with better sharing controls.

Speed

70 % – Decent

Speed is another crucial factor of any cloud storage service, and it’s an area where Apple iCloud performs well enough. There’s certainly a lot of room for improvement, though, especially when it comes to upload speeds. In order to figure this out, we performed two speed tests for both uploads and downloads and averaged out the results.

iCloud review tray menu
The system tray menu shows you how many files are in the upload queue.

Our tests were performed from Mexico using a connection with an upload speed of 125 Mbps and a download speed of 115 Mbps. Since we’re uploading a 1GB folder, that means we’d expect both the upload and download to finish in about a minute. However, once you count overhead and connection instability, you can add a couple of minutes to that prediction.

First attempt:Second attempt:Average:
Upload0:18:000:12:000:15:00
Download0:02:000:02:000:02:00

As you can see from these results, the download speed is more than adequate, clocking in at just two minutes. iCloud Drive’s upload speed leaves a lot to be desired however, with an average of 15 minutes — a lot longer than we would expect. This seems to be due mostly to the indexing process, as it takes several minutes for the upload to even start.

Security

80 % – Good

If you’ve been even vaguely following the news in the last few years, you probably remember the infamous iCloud hack of 2014, where countless celebrities had their accounts compromised and photos and videos leaked online.

Without getting too lost in the reeds, the short explanation for how this event occurred is that hackers managed to exploit a bug in the Apple iCloud API intended for developers, which allowed them to make an unlimited number of login attempts for anyone’s account.

Improved Security

Largely in response to this incident, Apple made a number of improvements to its security. Two-factor authentication was introduced, and the company now notifies you whenever data is restored to a device or if a login is performed from a web browser or a new device.

iCloud review 2FA
Apple encourages its users to enable two-factor authentication.

As for encryption, all your data is protected in transit with TLS or SSL, and your files already on the iCloud servers are encrypted with AES 128-bit encryption. If all this jargon is confusing, you can check out our description of encryption for a full crash course in all the terminology.

All this means that while Apple iCloud Drive’s security has greatly improved since the days of the so-called “fappening,” encryption could still be stronger and it’s hard to be entirely sure that all the vulnerabilities in the developer’s API are entirely patched up.

Privacy

30 % – Terrible

Although Apple made quite a stir when they refused to unlock iPhones seized by the FBI, this policy only extends to data stored on the physical devices themselves, and not for anything you place on iCloud’s servers.

Encryption

Apple briefly flirted with the idea of introducing zero-knowledge encryption to their cloud service, but these plans were dropped when law enforcement agencies complained that it would significantly impede their investigations.

Although most of the data stored with iCloud Drive is technically encrypted, Apple itself keeps the encryption keys, meaning it has the power to decrypt your files and hand them over to law enforcement, should it decide to do so. If you’d prefer a cloud storage service where this isn’t possible, check out our list of the best zero-knowledge cloud storage services.

As such, iCloud Drive is a terrible choice if you’re concerned with the privacy and confidentiality of your data. Anything you upload can in theory be retrieved and looked at by Apple itself or anyone who requests it. Making Apple iCloud zero-knowledge would go a long way toward improving the service for more privacy-minded individuals, but it’s not something the company seems likely to implement.

iCloud review privacy policy
Apple’s privacy policy is a cluttered mess.

Privacy Policy

Beyond this lack of client-side encryption, Apple’s privacy policy is a mess. There’s not much concrete information located on the company’s privacy page, and you really have to go digging if you want clear details about what information is collected and shared with other entities. In general, Apple doesn’t share your data with other companies, but they’re more than happy to do so with the authorities if asked.

There’s also no real way of knowing the physical server location used to store your data. Apple hosts data centers in the U.S., Denmark and Asia, but it doesn’t disclose which of these it’s using to store your data specifically.

Customer Support

75 % – Good

It’s almost unavoidable that something will go wrong with any software solution eventually. When that inevitably occurs, it’s crucial to have access to a solid customer support solution to help you fix the problem.

iCloud Drive does decently in this area, as it provides you with several avenues to get the help you need. First, there’s the support forum, which is filled with experts and enthusiasts who can help solve most basic issues without the need to contact the company directly.

iCloud review chat support
iCloud’s chat support is a great way to get assistance with the software.

If you’re still stuck, you can contact Apple’s support department through either phone or chat. Unfortunately, there’s no email option, but you should be able to get through to Apple using the chat or a phone call within a few minutes, so it’s not a huge loss.

We gave the chat option a try, and received assistance within a few minutes, though it did take a bit longer than the advertised two minutes maximum. Once we were connected, the support agent seemed well versed in the issue at hand and provided solid assistance, even though our problem was a manufactured one.

The Verdict

With that we reach the end of our iCloud Drive review. Although it’s a supremely easy to use service that offers quite a lot of storage at an affordable price, there are several massive problems, mostly related to security and privacy, that make it a less than ideal choice for cloud storage.

If you’re already fully integrated into the Apple ecosystem — meaning you own an iPhone, a Mac and potentially an iPad — then the way iCloud Drive is directly integrated into your devices makes it an attractive choice, especially with its 5GB of free storage. That is, as long as you don’t have anything too sensitive you need to store online.

At the end of the day though, if you don’t care about privacy, then something like Google Drive provides 15GB of storage space for free, which is three times as much as Apple iCloud. Otherwise, if you do care, we suggest services like Sync.com or pCloud.

What did you think of our iCloud Drive review? Do you agree that it’s a decent service for non-confidential data but not somewhere you’d want to place anything sensitive? What are your experiences with the service? Let us know in the comments below. Thank you for reading.

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10 thoughts on “iCloud Drive”

  1. Very,very bad my hardware is great,but all most useless due to how slow and bad iCloud is. Books take two days to show up if ever,my new iPad has problems get them, Apple gives you no way to talk to them,they are too big to care. Wish I would not bought into Apple product, I going back to M.S asap this iCloud bits,for 20.00 can get better service from anybody.

    Reply
  2. I have read several of your reviews and feel I must stop at this point, due to the gaping holes in them. 1. Never a reference to Android users (which in the case of iCloud is a KILLER. Upon login from a foreign machine where exactly does an Android user get the code from another device?
    2. None of the reviews address file alteration, such as the downsizing of music or photo files to “save space”. Imagine the disservice of your reviews to someone who needs all the pixels of their photo files preserved, only to find their cloud storage down-sampled their tiffs.

    Do I have this wrong?

    Reply
  3. iCloud is a true piece of rubbish. The ppl who coded it should hand back their wages as they have not delivered. Cannot see any of my files on windows 10 even though signed in and everything says its good. Tried all the fixes. Another fine product from Crapple.

    Reply
  4. iCloud is a lie!!! Do not trust they will have your files for safe keeping!!! They lost 9 weeks of Data!!! Lost and can’t retrieve! How is that possible? 3rd party server!

    Reply
    1. Yes, it’s slated to be reviewed in April/May of 2020.

      Reply
  5. It’s true that iPhoto reduces the size of photos. I discovered today that if you store your files on the iCloud Drive, they are not stored on your mac’s hard drive. If you delete files from a different Mac linked to the same iCloud account, they also get deleted from the original Mac that the files were on. This is because once you are using iCloud Drive to “backup” files, they are no longer on your hard drive. Even though you can access those files when you do not have internet, if you delete them from the hard drive of a different Mac and then empty the trash of the other Mac, those files will be gone forever on the original Mac. There is no way to get the files back once deleted from the trash and inadvertently from the iCloud Drive. If you try to use an external drive, your mac’s files will not be backed up on it, because they are being stored on iCloud. Why would a Mac not store all files on the hard drive? When I called Apple, they said that the iCloud Drive is NOT a back up system. They said I should have been using Time Machine to back up everything. I was using an external hard drive to do that scheduled once a week, only to learn that my files were not saved because my files were being stored on iCloud, not on the hard drive. Wow. I thought the iCloud Drive was advertised as a safe back up drive. I never thought my files were not being stored on my hard drive, since I was still able to access everything when I did not have internet. I even paid for extra iCloud storage so all my pictures and files would be saved. Weirdly, many of my picture files were also deleted even though supposedly Photos on the Mac and iCloud Drive are separate. I lost about a year of files since I started using iCloud to back up my files in addition to the Seagate external drive (which was actually only backing up my empty hard drive). I am so disappointed in Apple. I feel like I am somewhat tech savvy but need an IT degree to fully understand how iCloud works unless you experience the loss all of your files! I can redo some of my work, but it will take months and many files are lost forever. Do NOT trust that iCloud Drive is a safe backup drive!

    Reply
    1. I fully agree with your post. iCloud is full of bugs, both internally and linked to the OS’s that use it. Files are not safe, and as you found out tragically, no secure against deletion by accident. There is no way to get them back. I had the same problem back with iOS 8. I reset my iPad only to find that contrary to what Apple might state in the OS, all iWorks directories on the iCloud were wiped clean on all connected devices. Additionally, I had another problem where by I got locked out of all my files because iCloud told me the owner had refused me access. Bit rich seeing as I was the owner, and the only device I had used with iCloud at that time was my iPad. I have long since consigned iCloud to the bin, as untrustworthy. Albeit for me to say it’s crap, but have you tried copying more than 1 file at a time off iCloud. It might have changed since I last used it, but on an iPad trying to group files and move them off the iCloud is nigh on impossible, you have to send them one at a time. I love doing that with hundreds of files. Oh yes, forget the sharing options, they all come with too many caveats to be of any use to anyone but those heavily invested in Apple features. On a final note, Apple state that you should not use iCloud as a secure form of back up, but then contradict themselves and call it a back up source in iOS. They need to give a clear account of what it is, not what they hope you think it is.

      Reply
  6. Apple used to be a computer company. Now it is just a legal version of a crack dealer. tim cook sucks you in, and then you pay and pay and pay and pay, and then have to buy new hardware when they stop support. tim cook took the worst of Bill Gates from the early 1990’s and multiplied that arrogance and superiority sense by exponential factors! “tim cook esse delendam!”; to borrow from Cato the Censor!

    Reply
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