Storing files in the cloud and syncing them across devices has changed the way we use computers and data.
Thanks to the cloud you can breathe easier knowing your files are safe, even if something terrible happens to your computer, phone or tablet.
Moreover, you can have near-instant access to any of your files from almost everywhere.
There’s a good chance you already have cloud storage. Limited free services are part of the deal when you buy an Apple computer or Microsoft Office 365 subscription. You also get free cloud storage if you use Gmail or Google Docs.
Free storage is good, yet most of the time it’s worth paying. That way you can get the cloud storage plan that best suits your needs. When you pay, you get more storage. You may also get more features and tools or extra security. In some cases paying means you can not just store more data, but can store larger files and share them with friends or colleagues.
Most, but not all, cloud storage services double as syncing services.
The market has changed since we last looked at personal cloud storage plans a year ago.
Perhaps the biggest change is at Microsoft. Since last year’s round-up Microsoft has increased prices and dropped the amount of free cloud storage from 15GB to 5GB. The 50GB Basic plan now costs US$24 a year. Last year the same money would buy twice as much storage. Microsoft’s other paid plans are no longer listed on the company’s website.
If you’re a Microsoft 365 customer you still get 1TB of OneDrive storage with your account. This is now listed separately in the comparison table as it sits apart from the non-365 OneDrive plans.
For many users Microsoft’s changes cast a shadow over dealing with the company’s low-end cloud services. If you go to the trouble of uploading a lot of important data to OneDrive, you may not feel certain the service you choose will even be there a year from now. That’s, in effect, what happened over the last 12 months.
On the plus side, Microsoft offers the most comprehensive set of tools and apps for cloud storage from any brand name. And OneDrive is the default cloud services for Microsoft Windows 10.
In contrast to Microsoft Apple dropped its iCloud prices not long after last year’s survey. Mind you, iCloud was expensive compared to OneDrive and some plans still are. Yet, Apple customers use iCloud in quite a different way to how Microsoft customers use OneDrive: iCloud is more about syncing between devices.
If you own Apple hardware and use Microsoft software you’ll probably end up using both services.
The 5GB free tier remains as before. The 20GB for US$12-a-year plan now gives you 50GB. The price of the 200GB plan is now US$36 a year while a terabyte of cloud storage will now cost you US$120.
If you’re an Apple user, iCloud is a must. When you buy any Apple device, the 5GB iCloud plan is included as standard. But you only get one 5GB plan even if you have multiple devices. If you have a Mac, iPhone and iPad you may find it isn’t enough. Windows users can sign for any iCloud plan.
iCloud can be confusing at times. Apple designed it to work with Apple apps and that is still where it shines the most. However, it is easy to install on Windows computers and there is a great web interface.
There’s more to Google Drive than just cloud storage and sync. While you could say the same about OneDrive and iCloud, those services complement Microsoft software and Apple hardware offerings.
Drive is a key part of Google’s collaborative online office suite. The emphasis is less on backing up your phone or PC docs than replacing them in the cloud.
Google Drive’s 15GB is generous compared to the other cloud storage services, but it is not as generous as it first looks. The allowance includes mail messages and images stored with Google Photos.
Some find Google Drive harder to navigate than OneDrive. Of the three big services, it is the least geared towards conventional backing up, although you can do it easily enough.
Dropbox and Box have not changed much since the earlier round-up of cloud storage plans. Mega has introduced a new low-end paid-for service.
|Personal cloud storage services compared|
|Service||What you get for free||Storage||Price|
|Office 365 Home subscription||1TB is included||–||$80|
|Google Drive||15GB Storage shared between Drive, Gmail, Google+ and Google Photos||100GB||$24|
|All prices in US dollars, annualised and .99 prices rounded up|