iCloud Drive Review
Apple's built-in cloud storage solution offers ease of use and great pricing, but advanced users may find themselves frustrated due to its limited functionality.
iCloud Drive is one of the most used cloud storage services on the market, in no small part since it comes prepackaged with any and all Apple products. Despite this almost monopolistic position, the service offers speed and reliability at a decent price, though switching to another one of our best cloud storage providers can be a real pain.
However, iCloud Drive isn’t without its problems: its PC client is poorly conceived, it doesn’t offer file versioning and file sharing with iCloud Drive is still a work in progress. For a look at how it stacks up to an industry stalwart, check out our Dropbox vs iCloud comparison article.
Apple does offer 5GB of iCloud Drive storage space for free, so you can try it for yourself with no risks at www.apple.com. Keep reading this iCloud Drive review to see where it excels and where it falls short. Note that if you’re looking for a backup solution for Macs, you may want to check out IDrive instead. To find out why, have a look at our iCloud vs IDrive article.
- iCloud Drive
- Sync Folder
- File Link Sharing
- Folder Sharing
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- Sync Folder
- File Link Sharing
- Folder Sharing
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- Apple integration
- 5GB free plan
- Competitive pricing
- Storage optimization
- Slow speeds
- Poor Windows client
- No email support
- Sharing is still in beta
- No file versioning
iCloud Drive’s main draw is its integration with Apple devices, services and other third-party apps that Apple has let into its tightly controlled ecosystem. It’s not as great on other fronts, though.
File sharing is still in beta, it doesn’t support versioning and the Windows application feels like a clumsy afterthought.
What you do get is a single place that most of your apps will be able to store information to and automatic storage optimization. Those together work very smoothly for saving space on your hard drive
Anyone dealing with the small hard drives common with many Mac devices will be relieved by the easy storage management. Those who like to manually control which content syncs and which is kept in the cloud will be disappointed. Selective sync is not an option with iCloud Drive.
Most Apple products don’t come cheap, but iCloud Drive pricing is surprisingly competitive. This is despite not offering discounts for annual subscriptions, like many of the other services in our best cloud storage comparison chart do.
Anybody can get 5GB of iCloud storage for free. That’s three more gigabytes than you get for free with Dropbox, but it doesn’t come close to ranking in our top five picks for free cloud storage.
The value with iCloud Drive comes when you start paying for storage.
Many cloud storage services give you a 1TB option. iCloud doesn’t, but it does give you 2TB for $9.99. That’s the same price as 1TB with both Google Drive and Dropbox. It is, however, two dollars more than Sync.com’s 2TB plan (check out our Sync.com review and Dropbox review for our breakdown of their pricing schemes).
For users who need less space, iCloud has 50GB and 200GB storage plans so you don’t have to pay for storage you don’t need.
iCloud is extremely easy to use, but only if you use Apple devices. Settings for iCloud are built directly into system preferences on macOS and you can quickly check your usage from “about this Mac.”
Integration with the Mac desktop is also convenient, making desktop items available on any other device synced to your iCloud account.
Unfortunately, though, besides this iCloud’s user friendliness is questionable. The browser interface is extremely limited and the iCloud client for Windows is abysmal.
While iCloud does a great job synchronizing Apple products, the Windows app feels disconnected. Instead of just syncing your photo library, iCloud uses three separate folders on Windows: downloads, uploads and shared.
The downloads folder also doesn’t automatically add previously downloaded photos. This helps limit storage use, but also makes your photo library on Windows incomplete.
App folders are also unavailable on Windows. In many cases, you won’t need them anyway since the apps they store files for may only run on macOS or iOS. However, if you do need them, you’ll need to transfer them manually or consider another cloud storage solution if you’re using a PC.
The macOS client isn’t perfect, either. For example, when displaying the sync status of files, iCloud exhibits some bugs. Normally, unsynced files have special indicators overlaying them.
Often folders won’t have a status icon, which would normally indicate that they’re synced. However, in testing I found that often wasn’t the case. Other folders showed they hadn’t synced until I clicked on them, after which they would immediately change their status.
iCloud works really smoothly most of the time, but there are certainly frustrations. Anyone who uses a Windows PC more than just occasionally should consider other options, like any of our best cloud storage for Windows picks.
File syncing is straightforward with iCloud. If you’re using macOS, both your documents folder and desktop are synced by default.
iCloud will also sync pictures stored in Apple Photos.
Other Apple services sync through iCloud, too. This includes Reminders, Notes, Siri and Calendars. Even your system settings can be synced between devices.
Sync also extends to the many third-party apps that integrate with iCloud. On occasion there are issues with synced folders belonging to third-party apps not showing up in iCloud Drive and deleted app folders not going away.
Overall, synchronization is actually one of iCloud Drive’s strongest features, so long as you’re sticking to Apple products.
iCloud’s sharing capabilities are not so strong. In fact, historically, iCloud has had no overarching support for sharing, unlike most other major cloud storage services. Apple has added sharing capabilities on an individual basis for native apps like Notes, Keynote, Numbers and Pages.
Sharing from within the iCloud Drive application itself is, however, currently available in the beta version of iOS 11 and macOS High Sierra. Official versions are due out this fall.
The implementation so far looks strong. Many cloud storage providers require that you use the web interface to share files. iCloud’s beta sharing feature can be used natively in Finder. Right click the item, go to “share” and click on “add people.”
You can set permissions to let others edit your files and share your content. At any moment, you can also end sharing so that the file becomes exclusively yours again.
The new feature will not, however, support password protection for links or let you set link expiry dates like some cloud storage services do, including Dropbox, Sync.com and pCloud.
The upcoming share feature is also limited to individual files.
You can’t share folders, so iCloud still won’t be the best tool for larger projects requiring access to many files. For collaboration, a cloud storage solution like Google Drive is a better bet (read our Google Drive review for the full picture). Also, keep in mind beta features are subject to change.
One of iCloud’s greatest shortcomings is its speed.
To gauge how quickly iCloud transfers files, I conducted several speed tests using a zipped gigabyte folder that Cloudwards.net uses for testing. The Ethernet connection used to conduct the tests has average speeds of 29.54Mb/s down and 5.88Mb/s up.
Here are the results:
|Test File (846.2 MB)||Upload Time:||Upload Speed:||Download Time:||Download Speed:|
These numbers aren’t good. iCloud takes nearly 20 minutes to upload a 1GB folder, which isn’t terrible, especially with 5.88Mb/s speeds. However, the fact that it took over 20 minutes to download the same folder is a head scratcher. Half that time would have been acceptable.
These results would be frustrating enough in isolation, but iCloud’s buggy status icon makes it hard to know when files are really in sync. With Apple chasing a completely seamless experience where everything just works, syncing problems are even more annoying.
Anyone who remembers the 2014 iCloud photo leak might be surprised to see a high rating for security and privacy. It’s important to address the incident. The hacker responsible actually wasn’t able to use a brute force attack and relied on phishing to gain celebrities’ username and password information.
The episode is more a reminder to use a strong password to protect your account, rather than a security fault on Apple’s end.
Apple has some decent security features to help protect your iCloud Drive content, and an article on taking advantage of them.
One such feature is two-factor authentication, which works by checking for trusted devices before allowing logins. On the devices iCloud Drive doesn’t recognize, you’ll be prompted to enter a six-digit code sent to your mobile device.
On the iCloud Driver servers, your data is encrypted using 128-bit AES, an almost unbreakable protocol. It’s worth noting, though, that mail, also stored on iCloud, is an exception and not encrypted at-rest. iCloud Drive also uses TLS to protect data in transit.
iCloud Drive is not a zero-knowledge provider, though. While some of Apple’s services, like iMessage, are end-to-end encrypted so that Apple can never access your data, iCloud Drive doesn’t get the same treatment. This means that Apple holds the encryption keys to your iCloud Drive files, which could potentially be stolen or used to hand over your files under court order.
However, Apple has been quite secure and isn’t very cooperative with law enforcement. For the average user, iCloud will be plenty secure. However, if complete security is of the utmost importance to you, you would be better served with a zero-knowledge provider like Sync.com.
Privacy is also protected by Apple. Your information will not be sold to advertisers and Apple only logs usage data for development purposes with your consent.
Evaluating customer support for iCloud Drive is interesting. When looking at cloud service customer support, one of the most frequent drawbacks we encounter is a lack of phone support. For iCloud Drive, however, it’s a lack of other options.
If you seek out help for iCloud on Apple’s website, you can get answers one of two ways: over the phone or through the iCloud community page. There is no email or chat support. While the inclusion of phone support is fantastic, the best customer service comes with a choice.
The call system is very good. Apple avoids annoying waits on the phone by giving you the option of a callback.
The support community is less impressive. Members are often helpful and can give you workarounds to problems, but many of the questions people ask fall under the radar. For instance, this question on sharing folders of notes hasn’t ever been answered despite eight other users selecting “I have this question too.”
Unfortunately, it’s not an isolated case. Support through the forum is a roll of the dice. You could find the exact answer you need or be completely out of luck with your question sitting in the void of the support community forever.
Because Apple has brick-and-mortar stores, it’s able to offer help for iCloud Drive in person, too, something few other cloud storage providers can claim. This option is ideal for someone who isn’t very adept with technology and in need of step-by-step guidance.
Although more options would have been a welcome inclusion when seeking help with iCloud Drive, overall support is solid. The Apple “geniuses” in store know what they’re doing and the call operators are helpful.
iCloud Drive isn’t the solution for everyone. There will be plenty of people who see some of the issues discussed in this review as deal breakers. If you need a zero-knowledge storage solution, a powerful collaboration tool or use Windows extensively, consider other options.
For the average Apple user, however, iCloud Drive is a solid service that keeps your devices working together at a competitive rate. It’s already built into the operating system, so you only need to start using it.
What are your thoughts on Apple’s cloud storage solution? Do you recommend it, or would you rather go for another service from our cloud storage reviews? Let us know in the comments below, thank you for reading.