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.
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 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 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
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
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.