I’ve been an Apple guy since forever. I bought the very first Macintosh back in 1984. My current mobile technology line-up is a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, 11-inch MacBook Air (now just a backup Mac), 9.7-inch iPad Pro and an iPhone SE. I’m all-in on Apple, and the ecosystem is a large part of that. Things may not always Just Work, but the Apple ecosystem gets closer to that than anyone else.

However, while I do make some use of iCloud, I’m not all-in on Apple’s cloud storage. In this piece, I compare the main cloud services out there, and finally describe the mix-and-match approach I use to get what I consider to be the best of all worlds …

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There are, of course, an almost infinite number of players out there. Some of the smaller services have their benefits and their fans, but I’m focusing here on the major players for one crucial reason: you don’t want to entrust your data to a company that may be here today, gone tomorrow. Cloud storage is one area where I only trust the big boys because they aren’t going to disappear overnight.

You could argue that Google Drive might be an exception. The company is notorious for launching services with much fanfare and then quietly shuttering them some way down the line. But Google isn’t going to risk its reputation by closing a core service, and one for which migrating services would be a major hassle.

Another reason to stick to major services is we can be confident in their fallback plans. Smaller services may have super-robust backup regimes, but I wouldn’t rely on this. The big companies have extensive mirroring systems.

That doesn’t mean any of them are infallible. You should never depend on any cloud service as your sole backup. But the big four will be a safer bet than a smaller company.

I’m also excluding Amazon Drive, because it forces you to use its own top-level directory structure (Documents, Pictures, Videos) rather than allowing you to mirror or choose your own, and because its Mac and iOS apps suck.

Let’s start with Apple’s own offering, iCloud.

iCloud

Monthly pricing

  • 5GB: Free
  • 50GB: $0.99
  • 200GB: $2.99
  • 1TB: $9.99
  • 2TB: $19.99
  • No annual plans available.

Pros

iCloud is the obvious solution to anyone who exclusively uses Apple kit. In principle, it meets the Just Works criteria: activate it on all your devices, and you get easy access to all your data – from calendar, notes and photos through to iWork documents. Your iOS devices also get automatically backed-up to iCloud at the flick of a virtual switch. It requires no setup, no effort. You also a bigger range of storage tier options than other services, from 50GB at the lower end to 2TB at the top end.

Cons

If you need the 1TB option, which is the most likely tier for those making substantial use of cloud storage, iCloud is a little more expensive than most competitors given that Apple offers no discounted annual subscription. iCloud seems to suffer more outages than competing services, and can be glitchy. For example, it can take several minutes for a new file or edit on one device to show up on others. Finally, iCloud is clunky to use from non-Apple devices.

Dropbox

In my view, the service against which all others must be compared.

Monthly pricing

  • 2GB: Free
  • 1TB: $9.99
  • 2TB: $12.50
  • Unlimited: $20/user on business plans
  • Discounts available for annual subscriptions.

Pros

For me, the crucial benefit of Dropbox is speed and reliability. I’ve tried all the main services over the years, and Dropbox has always been 100% reliable and has consistently synced within seconds. That’s a killer feature right there, in my view. It’s also really easy to use – just create a Dropbox folder and drag-and-drop things into it. If you want your entire Mac online, just put all your document folders inside your Dropbox folder, and they will then be available locally and in the cloud. Dropbox also provides a really easy way to share both files and folders with people: simply copy them into your public folder and right-click to get a link you can share via email or IM.

Cons

There are no storage tiers between the free 2GB and the $9.99/month 1TB level – though you can earn extra storage through referrals. There are no real-time collaboration tools.

Google Drive

A no-brainer place to store your iPhone photo backups.

Monthly pricing

  • 15GB: Free, plus unlimited free storage for up to 16MP photos
  • 100GB: $1.99
  • 1TB: $9.99
  • 10TB: $99.99
  • Discounts available for annual subscriptions.

Pros

Google Drive gives you a generous 15GB free, and it also adds unlimited free storage for your Google Docs, Sheets and Slides files – and supports real-time collaboration on these. It also offers a maximum storage tier of a massive 10TB – though at a much stiffer price than Dropbox’s $20/user/month for unlimited storage.

But the killer feature of Google Drive is that you get completely free storage of photos up to 16MP. That means that you can store absolutely all of your iPhone and iPad photos in full resolution completely free of charge! Use the Google Photos app to automatically backup photos to Google Drive and you don’t even have to think about it. You also get unlimited free storage of videos, but only at 1080p, not 4K.

Cons

The main drawback of Google Drive – and the reason I rejected it as my own primary cloud storage service – is that uploads are slow. It doesn’t matter how fast your broadband connection, files just drag themselves onto the drive reluctantly. Single files are no problem, but as soon as you find yourself uploading a whole folder of larger files, be prepared to wait a while.

Microsoft OneDrive

As you’d expect, this is primarily aimed at Windows and Office users.

Monthly pricing

  • 5GB: Free
  • 50GB: $1.99
  • 1TB: $6.99
  • Top tier comes with a free Office 365 subscription, and you can earn extra storage through referrals

Pros

If you’re an Office user who likes to have ongoing access to the latest versions, OneDrive is a bargain – offering a free Office 365 subscription for less than competing services charge for their 1TB tier without freebies. It also offers real-time collaboration on Office documents.

Cons

Office is only licensed for a single Mac, iPad and iPhone, so you’re out of luck if you use more than one of any of these. Also, although your OneDrive documents are available to multiple devices, if you accidentally delete one, you can only retrieve it from the device on which you deleted it – so not ideal for those who work from one device at home and another while mobile. Neither Mac nor iOS apps are great. Really, this is a service designed for Windows users – and it feels like it.

My mix-and-match approach

I have a 50GB iCloud account, and use iCloud for my core services. My calendar and notes are on iCloud, and I greatly value having (mostly) seamless access to these between devices. I use Messages and FaceTime as my primary chat and audio/video call apps. I also use iCloud as the primary backup for my iPhone and iPad, though I also do occasional encrypted backups to iTunes, especially before upgrading devices.

I use Google Photos to automatically backup my photos. I have the Google Photos app running on all my devices – iPhone, iPad and Mac – and find it fantastic to have unlimited storage free of charge. To me, this is an absolute no-brainer.

But my primary cloud storage service is a 1TB Dropbox account. On my Mac, my Dropbox sits at the top-level in my account folder, and everything else is stored in sub-folders within this. This means that all of my documents and media are available to me on any device, including on the web. I’ve used it for several years now, and as I said earlier, have found it 100% reliable and super-fast to sync.

Finally, I’m a huge believer in belt-and-braces. When I’m working on something important, like a novel, I copy it to multiple places. It already sits on Dropbox automatically, but I also make manual copies to iCloud and to my (free) Google Drive account.

What about you? Do share your own approach to cloud services in the comments.

Top image: Dollarphotoclub

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