It has become increasingly convenient to save or back up files to the Internet thanks to the growing number of cloud storage providers, many of which offer free plans in addition to their paid plans for additional storage. However, they don't all operate the same way nor do they all provide the same amount of free online storage. It is important to weigh the pros and cons of each provider before choosing a cloud storage service.
Popular Cloud Storage Service Providers
In addition to web-based email and web-based productivity software, cloud storage is one of the most common types of cloud computing. Free cloud storage is available from many services, some of which offer additional features like mobile apps, easy file sharing and collaboration, automatic data backups and synchronization.
- Free Storage: 2 GB
One of the most popular and common cloud storage services on the Internet, Dropbox can be accessed through a browser-based interface, but it also has software for automatic file and folder synchronization on your computer, as well as mobile apps for remote access to files on the go.
Features: The basic free account includes 2GB of storage with the opportunity to complete tasks, like referring friends, for additional capacity. Folders can be freely shared with other Dropbox users, similarly synchronizing content across multiple computers. There is also an option to have back up every photo saved on a smartphone or tablet to your cloud storage account.
Review information: PCMag really likes Dropbox, applauding the "effortless file synchronization" and "dependable servers" with "no downtime."
- Free Storage: 7 GB
The service was previously known as Skydrive before being rebranded as Microsoft OneDrive in 2014. It ties in with existing Microsoft accounts and provides easy online storage.
Features: OneDrive allows for online storage of photos, videos, documents and other files. As with Dropbox, OneDrive can also be configured to save all camera and smartphone photos to your cloud storage account, accessible through an online photo gallery. This is a free service that you can easily configure from your smart device. If you activate this feature, you will receive an additional 3GB of free storage.
Review information: As Time Magazine points out, OneDrive is a Microsoft product, so it works best within a Windows environment, with Windows Phone mobile devices and with Office - the last of which makes it easy to edit and share documents online.
- Free Storage: 15 GB
Offering one of the most generous amounts of free cloud storage, Google Drive is linked to your existing Google account and evolved from Google Documents to provide online file storage too. Much of its core functionality is still tied to this legacy, allowing for the creation and editing of documents, spreadsheets and presentations.
Features: The online interface for Google Drive will feel familiar to Google users, as it looks very similar to Gmail. Files can be shared through this interface, as well as through the desktop synchronization app and the accompanying mobile apps. The paid plans are also among the most affordable in the business, offering 100GB for $1.99 or 1TB for $9.99, as well as larger plans.
Review information: Expert Reviews UK is disappointed with the "slightly limited synchronization" options, but still gives Google Drive an overall 5/5 rating for its automatic connection with existing Google accounts and the ease of sharing content with "almost anyone."
- Free Storage: 5 GB
SugarSync operates as a cloud storage provider, but its core functionality is related to online backup and automatic file synchronization.
Features: Unlike Dropbox, which creates a dedicated Dropbox folder on your computer, SugarSync allows you to choose which files and folders you would like to synchronize to your online account. The corresponding mobile apps for Android, iOS, BlackBerry, Windows and Symbian provide file access on the go.
Review information: Backup Review is impressed with the backup and sharing features of SugarSync, as well as the built-in file search capability. Despite the inability to sync external drives, editors give SugarSync an overall rating of 4 out of 5.
- Free Storage: 10 GB
Box focuses on providing a simple solution to storage that can be accessed from anywhere.. The free personal plan with Box provides 10GB of secure online storage for free, but individual file uploads are limited to 250MB in size.
Features: Features of the free account include mobile apps and desktop synchronization, as well as two-factor authentication for added security. Box integrates with Office to allow for document editing. Rich file previews are also supported.
Review information: Box can be used for personal purposes, but Infoworld says that Box "beats Dropbox and all the rest for business" with its "rich mix of file sync, file sharing, user management, deep reporting, and enterprise integration," though businesses will need to invest in the paid corporate plans to unlock all of the features and functions.
Amazon Cloud Drive
- Free Storage: 5 GB
Fans of the incredibly popular online retailer will find a lot to like with Amazon Cloud Drive. It functions as a basic cloud storage service, but it also ties into your existing Amazon account.
Features: Any music files purchased from Amazon will be stored in the Cloud Drive for free, above and beyond the 5GB of included capacity. Similarly, Kindle-branded tablets can also be backed up to the service. Mobile apps are available via the Amazon Appstore, Google Play Store and Apple App Store.
Review information: The review by CNET says the service is excellent, highlighting the "dead simple interface" on the Android app, as well as the reliable performance. However, automatic upload of smartphone photos is notably lacking.
- Free Storage: 5 GB
Features: You sign in using the same Apple ID that you use on your iPhone or iTunes, using iCloud to save contacts, calendars, photos, music, books, apps and all your other content from all of your Apple devices, as well as Windows PCs in a more limited capacity. iCloud can also be used to back up any movies or TV shows that you've purchased through the iTunes Store.
Review information: As popular as iCloud may be, Cloud Pro says the service "falls short on the kind of file and folder-sharing features" that make other cloud storage services "such effective business tools." There are also "questions about reliability" and there is "no way to share a document via a link with anyone else."
- Free Storage: 50 GB
As its name indicates, MediaFire is a cloud storage service that is geared heavily toward multimedia files. This includes a web-based interface, a desktop program and mobile apps, all of which are designed to let you share your media as media.
Features: There is integrated support to view and listen to over 200 different file formats within your web browser, including photos, videos and audio, as well as documents. MediaFire also supports collaboration with the sharing of files and folders, though there is no batch upload option through the mobile app, nor is there any automatic file backup or synchronization.
Review information: The service is sometimes associated with "illegally-hosted songs, books or movies," as Blinklist points out, but the free cloud storage can just as easily be used with files that "have little to do with media at all." The huge 50GB of free storage is among the highest in the industry, but individual uploads are limited to 200MB with the free account. You also have to pay for one-time links, which are links that can only be used one time to download a specific file. The link 'self destructs' after one use, no longer connecting to the previously linked document or file.
- Free Storage: 2 GB
Formerly called YouSendIt, Hightail is a service that was previously focused on the sending of large files over the Internet from one individual to another. The company has since expanded to be a true cloud storage service.
Features: Hightail makes it easy to send, receive, sync and even digitally sign files. This last feature sets Hightail apart from many of the competing services on this list. The forever free "Lite" account supports sharing files of up to 250MB and includes 5 e-signatures.
Review information: Hightail is called "a robust alternative to Dropbox" by TechRepublic, highlighting how the "share-centric" cloud storage service has a "time bomb" feature on the sharing links so that they automatically invalidate after a defined period of time. The associated Outlook plugin can generate these file sharing links directly too.
Using Multiple Service Providers
It may be most convenient to use just one primary cloud storage service, but there is value in using multiple service providers. This can help to provide a failsafe, for instance, in case one of the service providers becomes unavailable for whatever reason. It also allows for the greatest amount of free online storage; if you sign up for a free account with all of the companies listed here, you will have a total of over 100GB of cloud storage. To best manage your online storage, use a solution like Otixo that can connect to all the cloud storage providers at once.