With former MobileMe customers losing their additional 20GB of free storage a couple of days ago, there are probably a bunch of new people eyeing the paid iCloud upgrade options and wondering whether or not to hand over their cash. So we thought it would be a useful to take a look at the other major cloud storage services out there, to see how they compare.

As none of them are trying to hide the filesystem in the way Apple does, they all essentially work in the same way: providing you with a virtual online drive that you treat just like a local folder. There are also OS X and iOS apps for each.

icloud

Let’s start with the obvious: if you want something that is totally integrated into both OS X and iOS, and which Just Works, then iCloud is king.

Although the 5GB you get free doesn’t sound like a lot, you actually get more than this in practice – because Apple doesn’t count the space used by any of your iTunes purchases (apps, music, movies/TV shows or books), nor does it count the 1000 most recent photos you get to store in Photostream. If most of the content you want to store came from Apple, and all you want to do additionally is sync your contacts, calendar, notes and so on, the free storage is probably all you need.

iCloud is also a seamless way to store documents if you use Apple’s own iWork software: Pages, Numbers and Keynote. By opting to save documents on iCloud, they are automatically available to you from your Mac(s), iPad and iPhone – as well as on the web.

But if you have a lot of documents, you can pretty soon start bumping up against that 5GB limit. Which is where iCloud’s costs and limitations start to show up … 

First, costs. After that first free 5GB, here’s what Apple charges for upgrades:

  • 10 additional GB (15 GB total): $20/year
  • 20 additional GB (25 GB total): $40/year
  • 50 additional GB (55 GB total): $100/year

Those prices are pretty high compared to competitor services. But even if you’re happy to pay a premium for the convenience of a one-stop solution, there’s a second problem: iCloud only allows you to store certain types of document. Microsoft Office documents are supported, but you have to convert them to Pages/Numbers/Keynote to edit them, and if you use non-standard software like me (I love Scrivener for writing, for example), you’re out of luck.

The good news is that there are now a whole host of cloud-based storage services, most all of them based on the freemium model, which means – just like iCloud – your initial allocation of space is free.

I’ve taken a look here at the four biggest competitors to iCloud. All prices are shown per year, with any $99-style pricing rounded up by a dollar for ease of comparison.

Dropbox-Logo

Dropbox was the first cloud storage service to achieve mass-market adoption. It’s tried-and-tested, and offers some very convenient touches – like a Public folder that allows you to share a file with anyone you choose by right-clicking to copy a link. It does, however, have the most miserly amount of free space – just 2GB.

There are no limits on individual file-sizes, and a great many apps have built-in Dropbox support – so half the time you don’t even need to manually access your Dropbox folder. We also recently did a how-to on using Dropbox to store your photos. It’s not the cheapest service out there, but it is the ‘nobody ever got fired for buying IBM’ safe option.

Free space: 2GB (but up to 16GB available via referrals)
50GB: N/a
100GB: $100
200GB: $200
Larger options available

Compared to iCloud: $100/year buys you 100GB instead of 55GB

google

Google has a finger in pretty much every pie, so it’s no surprise that it offers its own cloud storage service in the form of Google Drive. If you have a Google account (and, let’s face it, even as an Apple user it’s hard not to have one these days), you already have Google Drive here: https://drive.google.com.

You get a generous 15GB of free space, and as you can upload files of up to 10GB, you’re unlikely to hit any file-size problems. Google Drive also offers as much storage as anyone could ever want, with options of up to a massive 16TB (at an equally massive $9600 a year). But the more modest paid options are very competitively priced.

Free space: 15GB
50GB: N/a
100GB: $60
200GB: $120
Larger options available

Compared to iCloud: $60/year buys you 100GB, instead of $100 buying you 55GB

07-12-12 New SkyDrive Logo

SkyDrive is Microsoft’s offering. As the Windows equivalent of iCloud, this would be the no-brainer option for Windows users, but it’s equally suitable for Mac users. Again, if you have a Microsoft account (including the confusing number of legacy accounts, like Hotmail), you will already have a Skydrive account at https://skydrive.live.com.

You get 7GB free, with paid options of up to 200GB. Perhaps surprisingly, SkyDrive is the cheapest of all the major cloud storage services. Microsoft also gives you your free 7GB on top of the paid space, hence the odd numbers below.

Free space: 7GB
57GB: $25
107GB: $50
207GB: $100

Compared to iCloud: $100/year buys you 207GB instead of 55GB

SugarSync-logo

Finally, SugarSync, though less well-known, is one of the oldest services around, having launched in 2008 (and with a photo-only service dating back to 2006). It’s a little different to most cloud storage services in that it is, as the name suggests, designed to synchronise files between devices. It can do this in a more flexible and powerful way than a simple online drive shared between devices, and this fact is reflected in its pricing.

The bad news is that there’s no free storage option with SugarSync. You can, however, get a 30-day free trial of its 60GB service. Pricing is very similar to Dropbox but with the more powerful device synchronisation options.

Free space: None (30-day free trial with 60GB)
60GB: $75
100GB: $100
250GB: $250
Larger options available

Compared to iCloud: $100/year buys you 100GB instead of 55GB

Which service offers the best deal? If you can manage with 15GB, then Google Drive gets you that for free. You can also get up to 16GB by referring friends to Dropbox: you get 500MB extra for each friend you refer, even if they only take the free option.

If you need more space, then SkyDrive offers the most competitive pricing, while SugarSync offers the most features.

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58 Responses to “Is paid iCloud storage a good deal, or can you do better? Cloud storage roundup”

  1. I definitely recommend looking at Bitcasa as well. Unlimited storage for a pretty reasonable price. They also have really great iOS apps too.

  2. Paul Threatt says:

    Another vote for Bitcasa. MaximumPC just compared TONS of services in their latest issue, and Bitcasa came in as a strong leader. Their $99/year unlimited space service seems like a great deal, and their upload download speeds were good.

  3. Paul Threatt says:

    Oh yea, and Bitcasa uses AES-256 to encrypt your files.

  4. Ben Lovejoy says:

    You guys are ahead of me: I’m going to be writing a feature on online backup services, which will feature Bicasa :-) You can, of course, use it as a dumb cloud storage service too.

  5. lycius84 says:

    I use SkyDrive simply because I got the 25GB free as an early adopter. If I ever run out of room I’ll use Google Drive, as you said, who doesn’t have a Google account. I use iCloud for basic iPhone/iPad needs. Great article by the way.

    • I also have 25GB and use Skydrive most of the time. I just wish the iOS app had a way to automatically upload all photos like Dropbox does. I hate having to go through and check every single photo to upload it.

      • lycius84 says:

        What I did on my PC is: Installed iCloud Control Panel, made the Photo Stream folder be inside the SkyDrive folder on the PC as I use the SkyDrive on my PCs. Then when the photos on the phone get uploaded to Photo Stream and my PC gets turned on, the photos go to SkyDrive.

        I know is not an instant thing, but I don’t have a need to back up as soon as I take a picture.

      • you can use ifttt ( https://ifttt.com ) so you can upload each new photo (or front camera or rear camera or screenshot or new photo in album) automatically for one or more cloud service. There are some options, including skydrive.
        It is a automatically option directly from iphone without user interaction.

      • and I have a google legacy plan + 20gb $5/yr and I use picasa in my pc, so there’s a option, when iphone is connected to my pc, picasa automatically upload to a folder and cloud photo service (g+ photos).

        Even the G+ ios app in iPhone can automatically upload every photo to G+ Photos like backup (in options you can choose if only wifi or 3g/wifi for photos and for videos) and it being in privately mode, so if you like you can share after, already on the internet…

  6. I recommend to have a look at Wuala. 5Gb free, up to 15 by referals.

  7. tpetaccia says:

    Another SkyDrive tidbit .. if you are an Office 365 subscriber .. that includes 20 Gb of additional SkyDrive space.

  8. As much as I like Apple’s online services when it comes to backing up my iPhone stuff (contacts and the contents of a few odd apps), I dread the thought of using iCloud to store + organise my files.

    iCloud’s idea of storing files per file type is in stark contrast with my (and I believe many will agree) habit to store files per topic / project. So I have one folder with all the files related to task A, then another for task B. iWork stuff, images, PDFs, scripts etc.

    iCloud takes all that and breaks things up per application. ARGH!!! You have a few Pages files from task A and a few from task B under Pages (potentially grouped together per task), all visible only through THAT app. Likewise for numbers and so on.

    Now, if I have a few images I want to store in either task, bam. I have to attach them to some Pages document or something. Or what if one time I want to open the file with one app, then next time with another one? Store copies in each app? No Apple, thanks.

    That’s NOT my idea of organising stuff, and for that reason I’ll stick to pretty much any other service (I use Google Drive a lot, but I’ve used most of them).

    So, iCloud: good for backing up your phone, terrible for anything that needs even BASIC organisation

  9. Ryan Gibson says:

    I’m looking forward to a time when photos stored in iCloud don’t have to be physically stored on my devices (like Facebook). This is one reason while I still pay for Dropbox and wouldn’t consider a larger iCloud plan.

  10. For longtime MobileMe users like my mother it is the email that really eats into your 5gb. I feel lucky I went the gmail route for email, using icloud only for syncing contacts/calendars and backups.

  11. I use both box.com (10GB free) and copy.com (15GB free).

  12. Carter M says:

    What about Cubby? I have have an account but still use DropBox mostly since I have 26GB of free space. Cubby I’m actually looking at for a paid service. 100GB for $48 for a year.

  13. This is a great article, but the Google Drive info, I believe, is incorrect. If you have a Google account in general you get 25 GB free. This is because they removed the “walls” of storage between your gmail, google drive, and other google services so all “platforms” now share 25GB of storage.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Google says you get 15GB, but many of these services have offered higher amounts at different stages, so earlier adopters tend to have more

      • I use a Google legacy plan, +20gb $5/yr.

        Google Storage shows:
        36 GB total storage
        Your plan 20 GB
        Early adopter bonus 1 GB
        Paid user bonus 15 GB

        After they changed plans, free storage had incresead.
        but it is still a good deal for me…

  14. The day after I put my Priority list on iCloud, it was dinged and would not open. There is no back up, no way to find the older version. I was totally out of luck. Fortunately I had not turned on my Macbook so I was able to find it on that time machine. I would never use iCloud for anything I needed to keep.

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      There are literally scores of these services, and it would be impossible to cover them all. This piece is aimed more at those who know there are other options out there but haven’t had a chance to look at any of them.

  15. Does the Google service just sit on NSA servers? :P

  16. danbridgland says:

    I’d happily part my camera roll backup from iCloud but is there a seamless cloud backup solution out for the iOS camera roll that doesn’t involve regular manual interaction?

    I have 12GB of free Dropbox storage, Sadly I currently have 19GB in iOS photos and video

    I’d quite like to keep the last 6 months with iCloud backup (not photo stream) and store the remainder in the cloud… Again without having to manually interact with the process. Is that currently available anywhere?

  17. Copy.com seems like a pretty solid offering too, though I haven’t used it enough to know if it has any issues. You get 15gb free to start, and can get 5gb for each referral – not sure how much of a limit there is on that.
    You also get another 5gb for signing up via someone else’s referral link, but I won’t post mine because I know that’s probably taboo :)

  18. How can you leave out PogoPlug Cloud?
    It is $49.99 a year and give you UNLIMITED storage!
    This is the best deal out there.

  19. Barry Dudley says:

    Completely recommend Cubby, the offering from LogMeIn, It works well in the background, iPad and iphone apps work well and there are options to lock specified folders for added security. You can get it here: https://cub.by/i/01_6uN-4r0VInj

  20. Jael X Baez says:

    I understand that Apple wants Cloud to be more about syncing and not so much about the storing. And in my opinion, no other service syncs everything as seamlessly as iCloud. But I’m sure many iCloud users, such as myself, are very dissatisfied with their storage features. It’s all separated by file type, and you can only upload files to the iCloud that are supported by Apple apps. Lame.

    My solution: Add one more app to iCloud. It can be called, iDrive, iVault, iLocker, or whatever they want to call it. This app will strictly act as a basic storage service that allows you to store any file you want and organize it in how many folders and sub-folders you want! This would work just like Google Drive and SkyDrive, and the files stored here would be completely detached from the syncing side of iCloud (such as Pages, Numbers, Keynote, etc.) That way, Apple can have their cake and eat it too: they can specialize in seamless syncing between all devices AND provide the open storage features that all other competitors provide. They’ll be even better because they’d be the only one to offer both at such a quality level. Of course, it goes without saying that they would have to offer MUCH BETTER choices for storage plans!!

  21. Bitcasa & Spideroak for Anything private.

    All the others just fall into the NSA or Other can & will & do* scan as needed.

    Different needs for different law-abiding people. I personally, will choose to keep as much control of My Data as possible, and as I choose.

  22. BitTorrent Sync is pretty good too, as well as mega.co.nz another option is Box

  23. What about the service Copy? 15gb for free as well

  24. Brian Victor says:

    Dropbox for on-the-go and certain critical backups that you absolutely cannot afford to lose ever. I really wish Apple offered what Dropbox does: file organization, access to deleted files for a 30 days, easy file sharing, that sort of thing. In fact, I’ve wondered why Apple doesn’t buy Dropbox up.

  25. Did you forget Dolly Drive?

  26. Teatum Jones says:

    Can anyone tell me what is the best option to automatically back up directly from my iPhoto’s and videos all of which are on my iPad and iPhone…and will keep them synced between my devices too? Or is iCloud the only option to do that? Ie. would I have to upload all of my photos/videos from iPhoto into google drive in order to use the google drive as that option? Just stalling at the moment because of icloud’s high costs but I don’t want to risk loosing valuable files whilst I wait! Thanks!

    • Randy Sigler says:

      I believe Dropbox actually syncs your photos from your iOS device if you allow account interaction. I am about to test this feature myself 😉 (https://www.dropbox.com/help/289)

      I have a 16GB iPad that I have loaded several times, and then cannot delete them without losing the photos (30 days) from iCloud if I forget to “manage” them to a real storage cloud.

  27. A little late to the party here, but one very important thing that is always left out of every review I read about iCloud is its organizational inadequacies. I’m a huge Apple fan, and I would “rather” convert all my MS Office for Mac files to iWorks files, except for one problem. I need some organization. If I have a project named “Test” that includes some spreadsheets, documents, PDF files, and text files I’m relegated to adding a “Test” folder (in iCloud) in Pages, Numbers, Preview, and TextEdit. At least in Google Drive (and all the other cloud storage services) I simply have one folder named “Test” and throw all my files into it. Until Apple figures out a way to tie all this together…they won’t have my cloud business…even though I’d like them to.

  28. Randy Sigler says:

    I really like Dropbox features such as sync with my 1Password and Dropbox.

    “Dropbox is the best cross-platform sync solution you can use right now with 1Password. It allows you to sync your 1Password data securely with 1Password for Mac/Windows on computers and on mobile devices; iOS, Android and Windows Phone!

    In addition, Dropbox also lets you use 1PasswordAnywhere on their website, allowing you to use the web interface of 1Password on any computers with a modern web browser.”

  29. I offer you update the post, because is really very complete, but Google Drive cut prices the last month (http://googleblog.blogspot.com/2014/03/save-more-with-google-drive.html) and now you can get 1TB for U$D 9.99 / month, that is 120 USD/year for 1 TB!!
    Also remember that space is shared for Gmail, Drive and Google+ Photos. I use it with my domain, and even if I hate ‘Big Brothers’ like Google, I must say they have a very good service.

  30. Andy Cobb says:

    Hi Ben Lovejoy, Here I will like to introduce you to Oogwave.com, simpler Team collaboration and File sharing solution. Great for SMB and teams within. Free to start. Will be happy to show you or answer question. andy.cobb@oogwave.com (solution specialist, Oogwave)