OneDrive is Microsoft's entry into the big, bad world of cloud storage, and the behemoth from Redmond has gone in with guns blazing. Offering integration with Office as well as many other apps, plus a decent pricing plan, it seems very little stands in OneDrive's way. Or does it? Check out our review for the answer.
Microsoft OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) has been a big name in cloud storage for years. In fact, its 2007 launch makes it as old as Dropbox, a chief rival. The question is just how much refinement comes with age. Where technology is concerned, years don’t always translate to success. In this OneDrive review, we’ll answer that question for one service, at least.
The good news is that OneDrive is no hubiC, the recently defunct cloud storage service that left users in a lurch with its sudden folding. Realistically, OneDrive probably isn’t going anywhere soon, even without the subscriber numbers of Google Drive (read our Google Drive review).
While Microsoft haters abound, there’s much to love about OneDrive. It has nice file sharing features, syncs files quickly and comes at a reasonable price. Not only does $6.99 a month get you 1TB of storage, it gets you access to Office 365, Microsoft’s legendary office suite.
In short, OneDrive is one of the better choices for students, office workers and anybody else looking to boost their productivity. It even has some nice options for playing media when you need a break from the grind.
The downside is security. Data stored on OneDrive servers is only encrypted for OneDrive Business users. Home consumer files are left in plain text, which could spell disaster in the event of a breach like Dropbox’s 2012 debacle.
Vulnerability is one of the biggest reasons we don’t rank OneDrive among the best cloud storage providers. We recommend super-secure providers, such as Sync.com and Tresorit, instead.
Keep reading for the details. If you decide to go with OneDrive, we recommend pairing it with a private encryption service such as Boxcryptor. There’ll be more on that later.
- Google Docs integration
- Many third-party apps
- In-app collaborations
- Strong customer support
- Weak file-sharing security
- No private encryption option
- No block-level sync
- Cheaper options
- Great family plan
- Office 365
- Good for collaboration
- Fast sync
- Link passwords
- Video streaming
- Live chat support
- No server-side encryption
- Only 30 days of versioning
- 10GB file size limit
- No Linux client
The goal of OneDrive is the same as any cloud storage: to reduce the clutter on your hard drive. Instead of storing documents, photos, music tracks and movies locally, store them in the cloud and save your hard drive space for more important things, such as growing your video game library (though there are cloud gaming services, as well).
OneDrive provides 5GB, 50GB or 1TB of storage space, depending on your subscription. All three let you upload files using a sync folder or an online console.
While remote file hosting is the hallmark of cloud storage, sharing the spotlight are file sharing and device synchronization. File sharing lets you grant permission to others to view, download and even edit files. Sync makes sure the same files are available on multiple devices, with file changes made on one device viewable on others in near-real-time.
We’ll cover storage, sync and sharing in more detail later in this review. For now, let’s take a look at the other features that have made OneDrive so popular.
Microsoft Office 365 and Office Online
Aside from Windows, Microsoft’s biggest claim to fame over the past 30 years has been Microsoft Office. That includes software such as Word, Excel, Outlook and PowerPoint.
Longer in the tooth is Microsoft Project, a project management tool that dates back to 1984, but it has seen some revitalization with a move to the cloud. Read our best project management software review to see how it compares to the likes of Wrike and Asana.
No matter the subscription, you can use Office Online for free. In that way, it’s like Google Docs (read our Google Drive review). For desktop versions of Microsoft Office, you’ll need to subscribe to Office 365 or OneDrive Business.
OneDrive Photos and Object Recognition
Photos stored to OneDrive can not only be previewed, but the software will help you locate them later with search, tags and albums. Search locates file names and metadata, as well as text within images using optical character recognition.
In 2017, OneDrive extended that capability to objects. That means it can recognize things such as receipts, dogs and boats. Location data is added to photos as well, and you can add your own tags or remove those you don’t want.
OneDrive and Music
You can store music files of any type on OneDrive, though be careful sharing them if you’re dealing with pirated content since Microsoft may detect it. That’s not to say we condone stealing music; Taylor Swift needs to eat, too. Storing files isn’t an issue if you own the content. Even ripping it from a CD is allowable under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
The bigger issue is finding a decent music player that works with OneDrive now that Groove has been taken out back and shot.
There are a handful of music players in the Microsoft Store that can stream music from OneDrive, but none we’ve played with rocked our socks. For Android users, Cloudbeats and CloudPlayer are two of the better options for OneDrive integration.
OneDrive and Movies
You can play most movie formats from the OneDrive website, including .mp4, Apple and QuickTime videos. It doesn’t support .mkv, so you’ll need to convert them first. The free and open source VLC Media player can do that. Another option is the OneDrive add-on for Kodi.
That’s all handy in a pinch, but we wouldn’t rely on OneDrive to build your home media center. For uninterrupted, HD streaming, nothing beats a personal cloud storage system.
OneDrive Miscellaneous Features
We’re calling these miscellaneous features, even if that undercuts their importance. At the top of the list is file versioning, a feature no cloud storage — or online backup — provider should be without. Versioning rolls back file changes in case of accidental edits, file corruptions or even malicious encryption caused by ransomware attacks.
Until 2017, OneDrive versioning was restricted to Microsoft files. Now, all files are reversible. Previous file versions are kept for 30 days, which isn’t very long. Sync.com Pro subscribers, by comparison, get unlimited versioning. Microsoft promised over a year ago to extend that 30-day mark, but that hasn’t happened.
We’re also concerned that OneDrive limits file uploads to 10GB. That might seem reasonable, but Google Drive allows uploads of up to 5TB, over 500 times the size.
Sync.com doesn’t have file size limits at all.
OneDrive has separate pricing for home and business consumers. Our OneDrive Business review covers the suit-and-tie prices. In this section, we’re focusing on families.
Even understanding the split between home and business pricing, Microsoft doesn’t make subscription costs easy to grasp. Basically, there are only two OneDrive plans: OneDrive Basic and OneDrive 50GB.
OneDrive Basic gives you 5GB of free cloud storage. That’s not as stingy as the 2GB of free storage you get from Dropbox, but it’s a far cry from the 15GB Google gives you. It doesn’t come close to making our list of best free cloud storage plans.
If you need more storage from Microsoft, you’ll have to sign up for an Office 365 plan. Again, there are two plans: Office 365 Personal and Office 365 Home. Both give you much more than remote file-hosting space. In fact, Office 365 ranks among the best deals in cloud storage.
|Plan||Free||50GB||1TB||5TB||OneDrive Business||OneDrive Business Advanced||OneDrive Business All-In-One|
$ 1 99monthly
$ 23 88yearly
$ 6 99monthly
$ 69 99yearly
$ 9 99monthly
$ 99 99yearly
$ 60 00yearly
$ 120 00yearly
$ 15 00monthly
$ 150 00yearly
|Storage||5 GB||50 GB||1000 GB||5000 GB||1000 GB||Unlimited GB||1000 GB|
Comes with Office 365 Personal.
Comes with Office 365 Home.
Microsoft phone & email support .
Unlimited OneDrive storage.
Comes with full Office 365 suite.
Office 365 Personal costs $6.99 a month if you go month-to-month or pay $69.99 for a year in advance, which works out to around $5 a month.
For the sake of comparison, Dropbox costs around $10 a month for 1TB of storage. One of the better deals, pCloud, gives you 2TB of storage for $8 a month. Office 365 has a secret weapon, though, and that’s Microsoft Office.
Not only do you get 1TB of storage, you can download licensed versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and OneNote. While anybody can use Office Online for free, the desktop versions have more features.
Office 365 is a great deal. Office 365 Home is even better. For just $9.99 a month or $99.99 a year, you get 5TB of storage for five family members, in addition to Office 365. That makes Office 365 Home the best cloud storage deal for families.
OneDrive has its problems, but value isn’t one of them. We suggest trying the 5GB plan to see if you like the user experience, as well as playing around with Office Online and OneNote.
Attraction is subjective, and the same holds true when sizing up cloud storage user interfaces. For this writer, though, UIs don’t get much sexier than Microsoft’s entry.
There’s nothing unique about how the OneDrive interface works. Navigation links are down the left, where’d you expect, while content takes up the center space. You can sort content by name, modified date and size and switch between ascending or descending order. You can rearrange folders and files manually, too.
You can also view objects in list form or as tiles.
What makes OneDrive stand out is its use of clear lines, plenty of white space and contrasting colors (black, blue and white) to help your eyes focus quickly on what you’re looking for.
Links along the top let you pull up contacts to initiate Skype sessions, review notifications, tweak settings, such as upgrading storage, and get support. In the top left corner, there’s a button to open applications such as Mail, Calendar, People, Tasks, Skype and all of the Office 365 office tools.
There are also links to upload files and folders from your file system to OneDrive from the interface, rather than using the sync folder, which we’ll cover in the next section.
Besides storage, there are two other cloud storage features that should be standard for any provider: file sharing and device synchronization. Let’s take them one after another.
OneDrive File Sharing
The easiest way to share files or folders is from OneDrive online. Right-click on the object you want to allow access to and select “share.”
That will open a window. When sharing a folder, checkboxes will let you permit editing, as well as set an expiration date and password. Note that expiration dates and passwords require a premium account, which means OneDrive 365 or OneDrive Business.
Those are invaluable features and $6.99 for a OneDrive 365 Home plan isn’t too much to pay for them. OneDrive didn’t make the most recent iteration of our best cloud storage for sharing article, but that may have been an oversight on our part since Dropbox, which made the list, requires a $20 Dropbox Professional subscription for the same features.
The only sharing features we’d like to see added are download limits for links and upload links to collect documents from coworkers, clients and the like. Check out our pCloud review if those are features you want.
Whether sharing folders or files, you can generate a link that can be posted in Slack channels, social media, spreadsheets or anywhere else. There are even options to automatically post links to Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin.
For more control, you can allow individual access based on email address.
Regardless of editing permission, anyone you’ve shared files with can leave comments in the margins. That is a nice way to solicit feedback from peers, clients, editors and others.
Weirdly, you can’t see tracked changes for shared files in Word Online. The tracked changes are kept, but they can only be viewed using the desktop version of Microsoft Word. Unlike Google Docs, there’s no option to suggest edits. That is one of the many reasons we prefer Google Docs to Microsoft Word for producing published content at Cloudwards.net.
Despite a few quibbles, OneDrive receives positive marks for file sharing. The same is true for device synchronization.
The approach used by Microsoft is the tried-and-true sync folder model, first developed by Dropbox in 2007. It’s a simple idea, but simple ideas are generally the best ideas (Earl of Sandwich, anyone?).
The OneDrive sync folder is visually identical to any other folder in your operating system’s file tree. The difference is that it’s connected to the cloud. Any folder or file dropped in the sync folder is stored on both your hard drive and in the OneDrive cloud.
Content placed in this folder gets distributed to other devices synced to your OneDrive account. It’s a quick way to distribute files between devices without having to use a thumb drive.
For those most part, sync with OneDrive is smooth, thanks to better data center infrastructure than you’d get with, say, MEGA. OneDrive performs best when it’s syncing Microsoft files. That’s because for Word, Excel and PowerPoint, it uses block-level copying to speed things along.
Block-level file copying means that when a file is edited, the whole file doesn’t get recopied. Instead, only the changed part of the file — the block — is transmitted. This may seem minor, but when you’re working with many files and collaborating in real-time with multiple people, it will keep you from overwriting each other’s work and otherwise causing confusion.
Before we move on, a brief word on selective sync is on order. Because sync requires that files be stored both on your computer and the cloud, it doesn’t do much for clearing hard drive space. To address that, OneDrive has a selective sync feature.
The feature lets you turn sync off for folders, so that they’ll only be stored in the cloud and no longer take hard drive space.
If you want to go nuts, you can access your OneDrive cloud storage using a network drive. That’s more involved since you’ll need third-party software, such as Mountain Duck, to make it work. Read our how to create a network drive primer for help on that front.
File upload and download speeds for cloud storage providers tend not to vary much, but differences are there. One major factor is infrastructure and server distribution. The more data centers a cloud storage provider has, and the more those data centers are spread around the world, the better the sync speeds are.
You’d be right to guess that Microsoft does well here. New subscribers are assigned to a data center that’s geographically close to where they’re signed up. Note that you must turn off your ExpressVPN service before registering if you don’t want your data stored halfway across the world.
To gauge speeds with OneDrive, we performed a series of upload and download tests using a 1GB folder filled with files of various types. These tests were performed over a WiFi network with 30 megabits per second upload and 160 Mbps download speeds. The results are in the table below.
|Test One:||Test Two:||Average:|
These outcomes are better than acceptable. To put them in perspective, the absolute fastest a gigabyte of data could be uploaded at 30 Mbps is 4 minutes and 46 seconds. Our average was just over six minutes. A few things could account for the difference, including server congestion, encryption and the fact that we were uploading multiple files.
Our download average of 1 minute and 10 seconds was even more on point. The fastest we could have expected a download at 160 Mbps is 53 seconds, so nothing to worry about there.
In both cases, we were happy with the results, especially since most people will usually be working with much smaller files. Remember, too, that you can expect faster uploads and downloads for edited Microsoft Office documents, thanks to OneDrive’s use of block-level file copying.
While we wouldn’t suggest that OneDrive sync outpaces Dropbox (read our best cloud storage for sync), it’s close enough that it should not sway you one way or the other.
Scrolling through comments we’ve received on previous OneDrive reviews, there have been some complaints about failures to upload. We haven’t experienced them, and many of the comments are older, but it’s something to be aware of. If reliable sync is a priority for you, we recommend holding off on getting a one-year subscription until you’ve tested OneDrive for a month or so.
Finally, if OneDrive’s sync speed seems to be affecting system resources, you can manually adjust upload and download speeds. By default, both are unlimited. You can set upload speeds to automatically slow down when there’s an issues, though, or set speed caps for uploads and downloads.
Every cloud storage service has an Achilles heel, some more than one. For OneDrive, the overarching problem is security. The most glaring issue is that, unlike almost every other cloud storage provider not named Amazon Drive, Microsoft doesn’t encrypt files stored at rest on its servers.
Well, that is unless you’re a OneDrive Business subscriber. Corporate America gets all the perks.
Since your files are not encrypted when stored on OneDrive servers, they are more susceptible to theft in the event of a data breach. Because Microsoft is such a big company and has long been a target for hackers, it’s only a matter of time before this long-standing oversight erupts into a much bigger scandal.
Even if Microsoft’s data centers are strong enough to rebuff cyberattacks, all it takes is one rogue employee with the right credentials to wreak havoc.
If you’re a OneDrive fan who would sign up for service if not for the encryption vulnerability, we recommend pairing it with a private encryption tool such as Boxcryptor. With Boxcryptor, you can encrypt your files before sending them to OneDrive with a password and encryption key that only you know. Files don’t get decrypted until you download them again.
The downside is that you can’t preview or edit files online with private encryption enabled. We recommend creating a private encryption folder for long-term storage and an unencrypted folder for active projects so you can use Office Online without hiccups. If you want to know more about Boxcryptor and how it works, read our Boxcryptor review.
OneDrive does protect files in transit between devices and its server facilities. It does so by using transport layer security, which is standard practice. That will help prevent others from intercepting, altering or otherwise misusing files moving across the internet.
OneDrive provides two-factor authentication to offer a measure of security against stolen or hacked passwords. With 2FA enabled, an additional credential is required when logging in to your OneDrive account from an unfamiliar machine.
You can choose to receive the additional credential via email, phone or an authenticator app. It’s best to never run into the problem in the first place by setting up a strong password or using a cloud password manager such as Dashlane. See our best password manager guide for Dashlane alternatives.
As a U.S.-based company, Microsoft is subject to U.S. privacy laws, which haven’t always had the best reputation. Take, for example, the National Security Agency’s PRISM project, a secret government surveillance that Microsoft was supposedly involved with.
Granted, Microsoft may not have had much choice in the matter, but a company based outside of the U.S. wouldn’t have faced the same dilemma unless it was based in China.
Sync.com in Canada and Tresorit in the Netherlands are two good alternatives for the privacy-conscious. Neither company is beholden to U.S. data laws and both provide private, end-to-end encryption for free. Read our article on top cloud providers based outside the reach of Uncle Sam’s grabby hands for more ideas.
Microsoft maintains an online help center for its software, including OneDrive, Office 365 and Office Online. It isn’t bad, but that should be expected of a company of its size.
You can search for help topics or browse by category. OneDrive categories include “getting started,” “files,” “sharing and collaboration,” “sync,” “mobile and mac,” “accounts and storage” and “troubleshoot.” The website has a number of training pages, many including videos.
If you can’t find what you want on the website, you can either contact Microsoft support or try the community forum. When contacting Microsoft, you start with a chatbot of sorts using what the company calls a “help app.”
Type your question and the tool will try to narrow down the problem. If, at any point, you feel like the approach is going nowhere, you can opt to chat with a living, breathing individual instead.
A live chat window will open and you can try to resolve your issue with a technician. Not only is chat free, it’s available 24/7. That’s a huge advantage over Google, Dropbox, Box and any other cloud storage provider that comes to mind.
If you prefer telephone assistance, you can call support from 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. PST on weekdays and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekends.
You can also email OneDrive support from the user interface. Turnaround times are usually within 24 hours, at least, in our experience.
The user forum is another alternative. While user forums can be a great source of outside-the-box thinking, which trained support personnel aren’t always good at, the official Microsoft forum doesn’t seem to generate many responses, either from fellow users or employees.
Overall, though, we have to give OneDrive high marks for support. It’s made great strides in recent years and, in this capacity, at least, outshines the competition.
OneDrive hasn’t always been a good cloud storage service. It’s had some bumps in the road since the SkyDrive days. We’d be remiss to suggest that it’s anywhere near perfect, though. The biggest issues are the lack of at-rest encryption, a mere 30 days of file versioning and a 10GB file size limit.
Besides those, there’s plenty to like. Highlights include nice sharing features, fast sync (especially for Microsoft files), Office 365, OneNote and affordable pricing. Additionally, students and teachers with a valid school address can get Office 365 for free.
OneDrive is one of the kings of cloud storage, along with Dropbox and Google Drive. We’ve put together comparison piece if you’re having trouble choosing between them. As privacy advocates, we’ll be sticking to our favorite zero-knowledge providers, but, for a mainstream cloud storage provider, OneDrive has improved a lot and is worth trying with a 5GB free account.
As always, we invite you to share your opinions on OneDrive below. Thanks for reading.