Cloud storage simply means a hard drive on the internet, a place to store your files and easily access them from any device, anywhere in the world. You can also use cloud storage as a backup, but you must be careful as many services will delete files in the cloud when they're deleted from your computer to keep everything in sync.
There's a huge choice for cloud storage services, with big names and some unfamiliar ones. Fortunately for you, we've rounded up the best cloud storage to help you pick the one that's right for you.
- 15GB free storage
- Ideal for Google users
Google Drive offers 15GB of free space to everyone with a Google account. That means you'll already have free cloud storage if you use Gmail, Google Calendar, or even YouTube.
The space is shared across all these services, so if you have large attachments on emails then they will count against that 15GB. A new 'Google One' plan lets you upgrade your storage to 200GB for US$2.99 per month, or 2TB for US$9.99 per month. This still isn't available in the UK.
If you use Google Photos to back up your phone's photos and videos, there are two options. "High quality" is free and doesn't count against your storage but the unmolested "Original" quality versions do. Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Presentations, Drawings and files that others have shared with you don't count against your allocation either.
The old Google Drive app has been replaced by Backup & Sync for Windows and macOS (though you'll need Drive File Stream if you use Google Apps through a business account).
Mobile versions of Google Drive are still available for Android and iOS. There's selective sync, so you can choose which folders sync on each PC or laptop. Versioning is supported, as is real-time collaboration on documents via the Google Docs app.
On the whole, the interface across the apps is intuitive. You can choose specific files to be available offline on the mobile versions, and these can be edited - if they were created in Google Docs - then synced when you connect to the internet again. For other formats (such as Word) you’ll need to open them in another app - thus creating a duplicate copy.
Data is encrypted in 128-bit AES rather than the 256-bit employed by Box, OneDrive, and Dropbox. Google asserts that it won’t pry into the content of your Drive folder unless compelled by law enforcement agencies, and you can set up two-step verification on your account to add another layer of security.
If you live in the Google universe then Drive really is an excellent storage option.
- Supported on almost every device
- Only 2GB free storage
Dropbox is one of the only services to offer clients for Linux and Blackberry, alongside the usual Windows, macOS, Android and iOS standards. There's an official Windows Phone app too.
The free Basic account comes with a paltry 2GB of storage. For documents this is huge, but if you want to store any kind of media – photos, music, or video - it will disappear very fast.
You can upgrade to the 1TB plan for £7.99/US$9.99 per month, but Dropbox also offers 500MB of additional free storage for each friend you get to sign up to the service - with a limit of 16GB.
Dropbox works by creating a local folder on your device or PC that then syncs with an online version. This means you have all your data available whether you are on or offline. This doesn't apply to mobile devices, though: you can make select files available offline on your tablet or smartphone, and offline editing is among the best we’ve seen.
Folders and files can also be shared with others but you can’t set permissions on the Basic account, so files can be edited (and even deleted) by other users. The Basic account isn't a total disaster, though, as Dropbox backs up any changes to files for 30 days. So if you need an older version or want to undelete a file, it’s still there.
If you pay £7.99 per month to get the Dropbox Plus account, you will be able to enable read-only permissions as well as setting passwords and expirations for shared links.
Security features include two-step authentication (always worth turning on) and all files held on the Dropbox servers are encrypted by AES 256-bit encryption, albeit employed from Dropbox’s side rather than the user, with SSL for the data being uploaded and downloaded.
Dropbox remains a solid choice for cloud storage. It may lack a few of the whistles and bells of its rivals, but it’s easy to use and compatible with so many applications.
- 10GB free account
- Optional Crypto folder
- Lifetime plan available (one-time payment)
Opening a new account with pCloud will give you a respectable 10GB of free storage (twice that of OneDrive, and five times Dropbox’s basic offering).
This can be quickly upgraded to 20GB through the regular incentives such as recommending friends (1GB per person) completing a tutorial (3GB) and various social media links, but the real temptation is the very reasonable prices for the larger storage options.
500GB will set you back around £3.90/US$4.99 per month, while 2TB (the Premium Plus plan) is available for around £7.80/US$9.99 per month.
Thre's also a Lifetime plan available for £300/US$350, which gets you 2TB of storage and is a one-off payment. It sounds like a lot of money, but could save you a lot of money in the long-run, so if you want a long-term solution it's a good option. There's also a 500GB version of this for £150/US$175.
There are clients available for Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS (including iPad) and Android, plus you can also access your account via the website.
pCloud imposes no file size restrictions, so you can upload anything that your storage space allows. This is done in impressively quick fashion, with syncing proving fast and efficient. All data transfers between the pCloud servers and your machine are handled with TLS/SSL encryption, so they should be safe on their travels.
There are import options which can automatically transfer files from other cloud services including Dropbox and Google Drive, which is convenient if you're switching from one, or simply want an extra backup of important files.
As with pretty much all online storage services you can share your content with friends or associates by either sending links or allowing access to folders and documents. These also feature permissions, so you can determine whether someone is capable of editing or merely viewing the file.
One nice sharing option is the Upload Link. This is a unique link that you can generate and send to a friend who wants to share a file with you. By using the link your colleague’s file will then be directly added onto your pCloud drive, avoiding hunting around for emails or the contents of your Downloads folder.
pCloud supports file versioning for an infinite amount of changes over a specified time period. Free customers can access any previous version of a document for 30 days, while paid ones have the luxury of 180 days.
One of the more specialist features on pCloud is that of a Crypto Folder, into which you can place files that you want to keep away from prying eyes, be they hackers or certain government agencies.
The contents of this folder are encrypted locally on your device, and not even pCloud employees can read it without your key. pCloud uses 256-bit AES encryption for the files and folders, while the encryption key uses 4096-bit RSA, meaning that both are very secure.
Not all of the files and folders are encrypted automatically, but instead you drag the contents you want to remain private into a dedicated Crypto folder. This means you can have a mixture of encrypted and non-encrypted files on your drive at the same time, handy for sharing non-confidential documents with friends while also having and added level of security for others.
The Crypto folder doesn’t come as a standard feature with the storage plans, instead it’s an additional £2.65 ($3.99) p/m, but if you have need of a high security feature then it’s not a big price to pay, plus you can try it out for free thanks to the 14-day trial.
pCloud is an excellent service that's easy to use and offers a good amount of storage for free as well as very competitive rates for larger capacities. The option of Crypto folders for the security conscious is also a nice feature, especially as it doesn’t require the whole drive to be encrypted.
- Convenient for Windows / Office users
- 5GB free storage
Microsoft's OneDrive is the obvious cloud storage service for Windows users because it's built into Windows 10. However, the basic account offers only 5GB of free storage. That's enough for some people, but it used to be 15GB and you still get that with Google Drive.
There are paid-for plans, of course, and you'll get 50GB of storage for only £1.99/US$1.99 per month. And if you sign up for Office 365 Personal for £59.99/US$59.99 per year, you get 1TB of space (as well as all of the other Office 365 features. Find out more here).
Folders and files can be created on the web, including Office and OneNote formats thanks to tight Office Online integration. Selective sync was introduced with Windows 10, meaning you don't have to have all of your OneDrive files taking up space on every laptop and PC.
There’s also a social element to the web version, as various popular social networks are available to be linked to your OneDrive account. This might not improve productivity, but it will make it easy to share files with colleagues.
In doing this you can set permissions for each user ranging from read-only to complete editing ability, even if you're using the free version (unlike Dropbox which requires Dropbox Pro).
There is also a feature that allows you to remotely access files on another PC via the OneDrive website. If privacy is a major concern then it should be noted that Microsoft reserve the right to scan your files to look for what it would deem objectionable content. This could be copyrighted material or things of an explicit nature. Apple has a similar policy, making the two potentially more intrusive than their competitors.
If you're a Windows user, it makes sense to sign up for the free 5GB account, and if you're willing to spend a little, £1.99/US$1.99 per month for 50GB doesn't sound too bad. But pCloud gives you ten times this amount for little more per month.
- Unlimited photo storage for Prime members
- Unlimited storage for £55/US$59.99 per year
You probably didn't realise it, but a big part of Amazon's business is cloud storage. So Amazon Drive isn't merely a 'me too' service. Drive used to be much more basic than its counterparts and was only for backing up your photos and videos. But now that has changed and - if you're an Amazon Prime member - you get unlimited storage for photos and 5GB for videos, music and other files.
Amazon is retiring its Cloud Player (Your Music) and pointing people to its Amazon Music Unlimited subscription, so this is no longer a side benefit of Amazon Drive.
If you need more than 5GB storage, then for £55/US$59.99 per year you can have unlimited storage.
Apps are available for iOS and Android, plus for Windows and Mac. There's also the Prime Photos app which is - as the name suggests - dedicated to photos and backing up your phone's camera roll.
In Prime Photos, faces are recognised automatically, so you can quickly search for photos of someone in particular, or even objects. It's similar to the way in which Google Photos works.
The main Amazon Drive app has a simple, easy to use interface so you can find the files you need. Like other services, files saved to the Amazon Drive folder are backed up to the cloud automatically.
Amazon Drive used to be a confusing beast. But now that it's a full and proper backup service for all your files, and offers unlimited storage for a sensible annual price, we're happy to recommend it.
- 50GB free storage
- End-to-end encryption
Mega is a New Zealand-based company set up by the German-born entrepreneur Kim Dotcom in 2013, who now has no involvement with it.
Mega puts its security credentials front and centre. Unlike some of its rivals, this service provides encryption in every part of the process. Anything you send to the cloud is encrypted locally, on-route, and on the destination server.
Mega itself doesn’t have any way of accessing your information, as you hold the encryption key. The upshot of all this is that anything you store on Mega is only able to be opened by you.
To achieve this there are local clients for Windows, mac OS, and Linux, plus there are also secure browser plugins for Chrome and Firefox. Apps are available for iOS, Android and even Blackberry.
The standard free package affords a whopping 50GB of space. If this isn't enough you can have 200GB (€49 per year), 1TB (€99 per year), 4TB (€199 per year), or 8TB (€299 per year) and increased bandwidth with each package so you can share files back and forth with friends.
Sharing is easy with other members of Mega, behaving in much the same way as Google Drive and OneDrive, by allowing you to send an invitation to a friend and set the level of actions they can complete (view, edit, etc.) You can also send links to non-Mega users, but this involves also privately sending them an encryption key so they can access the files.
There are also a few secure communications features: video chat, voice calling, email and IM. These are encrypted end-to-end as well.
With its generous free account, fast service, cross platform appeal, and highly secure nature, Mega is a very good choice for most people looking for an online storage solution with masses of space.
- Good choice for security
- Free 3GB storage (but limited security features)
There are several services that offer secure storage in the cloud, but Tresorit is definitely one of the best.
Annoyingly, to get your 3GB of free storage space you have to try out a free trial of the 'Premium' package which costs £8/US$10.42 per month. This doesn't mean you have to pay, as you can choose to revert to the Basic account, but we don't like this mechanism and it stands out when compared to almost every other cloud storage service we've tested.
The Premium account itself offers 200GB of storage, versioning support for previous instances of a document, and granular controls over user permissions on the files and folders you share. There's a Solo account which costs £16/US$224 per month and gives you 2TB of storage.
One of the reasons that Tresorit is so secure comes down to the way files are encrypted. With a local client installed on either your Windows or mac OS machine your data is encrypted locally, then sent to the Tresorit servers where it remains encrypted. You retain the decryption keys (not that you’ll ever see them) and not even the staff at Tresorit can access your files, thanks to their Zero-Knowledge policy.
To add a further level of security you can enable two-step verification, so even if someone steals your laptop or ID, they’ll need your phone to access the data. The servers are also based in the EU and governed by Swiss privacy laws which should keep it out of the hands of any invasive national agencies that feel it is their right to purloin your personal information.
Business package customers, who pay £16/US$20 per month for 1TB of storage, also have the ability to destroy documents remotely, ban the ability to print, copy, or email documents, and set restrictions on how much a recipient can edit a file.
Tresorit's app feels 'native' on Windows and mac OS but there's also the web portal and mobile apps (Windows Phone, iOS, Android, and Blackberry) that look good, are simple to use, and perform reliably.
On the desktop client you can drag folders from other drives into the Tresorit app and it will encrypt and sync the files up to the cloud but leave them where they are on your machine, so you don’t have to restructure your files to fit in with Tresorit. Alternatively you can save files directly to the My Tresors folder and it will be available through any Tresorit app.
Tresorit still needs to address the cumbersome way new users reach the Basic account, but it isn't really worth it: this is a service you need to pay for.
And if you are looking for a very secure method of storing and sharing sensitive data with colleagues and friends, then it's a very good cloud storage service.
- No free storage
If privacy is a major concern then SpiderOak might be the cloud storage service for you. Most of the mainstream offerings all encrypt your data on their servers, but SpiderOak has a different approach.
Once you’ve set up your account and downloaded the desktop client (Windows, Mac, and Linux are available) you can transfer files to your local folder, which will then encrypt them before syncing them to SpiderOak. This might not sound that different, but it means that your data is readable only by you, as the key is local to your machine.
SpiderOak calls this ‘Zero-knowledge privacy’ as the employees at the company can’t access your data and, by extension, it should also mean any interested government parties would also find it extremely difficult.
Traditionally this would make accessing files from numerous machines more problematic, not to mention sharing with others, but the team has worked around that. SpiderOak Hive is the control centre of your storage. This app, which runs locally, is very similar to the Dropbox folder on your desktop, although the interface has a little more detail.
This includes which of your other devices have the desktop app installed, and gives you access to the file tree within their SpiderOak Hive folders. You can also choose local files to backup via a menu, and there are helpful stats to keep you up to date with the activity on your account.
Where rivals such as Google Drive and OneDrive are tightly integrated into wider productivity suites, SpiderOak is simply there to store your files securely. This means no Office-style apps, or online collaboration with colleagues. You can easily share items and send secure links to files from the SpiderOak Hive, although this involves setting up a Share ID (free and simple) as another way to protect your data.
This obsession with security runs throughout the system, with strong warning messages appearing if you decide to let the app remained logged in all the time. Some may find this annoying, but you can override any of the warnings and it’s never a bad thing to be reminded that convenience isn’t always the bedfellow of safety.
A basic free account comes with 2GB of storage, but the snag is that it's only a 60-day trial.
SpiderOak nails its colours very clearly to the mast with its focus on security and privacy. If these are the most important elements you require then it is clearly the best choice. It may lack the sophistication and integration of some rivals, but what it does it does very well.
- 10GB free storage
- Apps for almost every operating system
Sometimes mistaken for the similarly named Dropbox, Box has been around longer than its more famous counterpart, having started out in 2005. It's primarily a business service, but Box still offers personal storage options.
The free package gives you 10GB of free space. This isn’t quite as rosy as it sounds though, due to the fact that Box limits files to 250MB for free accounts.
This is markedly lower than the 10GB limits of OneDrive and Dropbox, and 5TB for Google Drive. 250MB is more than adequate for most documents and spreadsheets, even hi-res photos, but it's going to be a problem for a lot of videos.
The free account doesn’t support versioning either (being able to restore previous versions of a file).
Upgrading to the Personal Pro plan will cost you £80/US$10 per month, earning you 100GB of storage and a file size limit of 5GB, or you could switch to the Starter business plan for £4/US$5 per month, which also offers 100GB, a slightly lower 2GB file size, but works with teams of 3-10 people, supports document encryption, granular permissions and stores previous versions of any file.
Functionally, Box is very good. The interface in the mobile apps (available on iOS, Android, Windows, & Blackberry) is slick and well designed. There are plenty of options for creating, uploading and sorting files.
The web portal gives you the ability to create new documents in either Microsoft Office, Google Docs, or web-based formats, which you can then edit in Box via a free, downloadable plug-in.
One of the real benefits of its enterprise background is the excellent range of apps that exist to increase Box’s versatility. There are programs that allow you to link Office directly to Box, so all files are saved there, an FTP app so you can migrate older data onto the site, and a whole host of others that are listed on the website.
There’s a lot to like about Box. The service is fast, solid, and offering 10GB of storage space certainly catches the eye. It’s just a shame that many of the best features - such as versioning - are only available to paying customers.
- UK-based cloud storage
- No free storage
Knowhow is a service offered by UK retailer Currys PCWorld.
There are three storage options: 200GB, 2TB, and 4TB. However, there are other variables, such as number of devices allowed, and how many years the packages last. It’s confusing and should be simplified. The most tempting offering we found was for 2TB covering five devices and costing £30 per year.
The second element of the service is the Briefcase, which is a general online storage facility not linked to a specific PC. Here, via the web portal or your computer, you can upload and download files just as you would on Dropbox or OneDrive. These files can be accessed via your PC, phone or tablet, with apps being available for iOS, Android, and Windows Phone.
Design-wise, the interface is clean, simple to understand, and when you finish the initial install the app immediately starts a backup of your system. We’d like to see the options of which folders you want in the cloud appearing first, but it’s an easy thing to quickly rectify. Still, presumptuous software is something that never finds us overjoyed.
Security is obviously an important element in any online service. Knowhow encrypts data in transit using TLS to fend off any interceptions, and the Briefcase files are encrypted on the users machine as well. Files on the Knowhow servers are not stored in an encrypted form, but Knowhow assure us that they remain very secure behind several layers of protection and are unidentifiable to any snoopers.
The servers are all based in the UK, which in some ways is encouraging - as it keeps the NSA at bay - but of course we have our very own GCHQ to worry about. Any problems are handled by a UK-based customer support team - a pleasant surprise.
Knowhow Cloud is cleanly laid out and the backup features are genuinely useful. If you have a lot of data you want to store securely in the cloud, then it could be a good service, but for most people it seems pricey and may offer more storage than you need.
- 10GB free storage (expandable to 50GB)
Mediafire might be a new name to many, but the Texan company has been around for nearly ten years, starting off as a file sharing service. You can still share files in much the way that you can on Google Drive, Onedrive, Dropbox and others, and can post pictures, videos, and other files directly to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Google+, or Blogger, from within the Mediafire portal.
The free account comes with 10GB of space, but this can quickly be expanded by various easy tasks. All in all, you can boost the free account up to a very respectable 50GB of space.
There are a few signs that the basic account is free. Files are limited to 200MB, and you’ll see ads when sharing or downloading any files from friends. There's a Pro account which costs $5 per month for 1TB of space, up to 20GB file sizes, and no ads.
Using MediaFire is pretty much the same as most other online storage offerings. You can create folders, upload and download files, plus (if you want it to) your mobile device will automatically backup any pictures you take.
If you install the desktop client then a new folder is created on your hard drive and you can just drag files to it like any other standard folder, except the MediaFile one will then sync automatically to the cloud drive.
There are a few nice touches in the interface. Any media files (MediaFire supports a wide range of formats) can be played in the MediaFire browser, which means you don’t have to download the file first. In practice this worked well in Chrome and Internet Explorer, but Firefox had issues playing back videos in our test.
Another smart feature in the desktop client is the ability to take a screenshot on your PC, annotate it, and then share it with friends. While this might seem a little random, it could be very useful if you’re collaborating with others on something and want to quickly show them what you’re thinking.
MediaFire is a solid, simple-to-use service that can be built up to a hefty 50GB of free storage if you have a few friends. It’s nothing new, or indeed special, but that’s not always a bad thing.
- Best suited to iPhone and iPad users
- Only 5GB free storage
iCloud Drive allows you to store any document or file, even if it wasn't created in an Apple app, and access them from a PC (via iCloud for Windows or icloud.com) in addition to iOS and mac OS devices.
However, it's still pretty much exclusive to Apple users and doesn't make sense if you don't own one. You can access your stuff via iCloud.com if you have a Windows laptop or PC, though.
You get Keynote, Numbers and Pages folders in iCloud Drive but you can add your own. Lots of third-party apps are iCloud Drive-enabled now, and since iOS 9 there's been an app which actually lets you see your files!
Note that iCloud Photo Library is separate from iCloud Drive but they use the same pool of storage. It's quite confusing. You can find out more about the difference between them here.
The 5GB of free storage is super stingy as it's only a fraction of what you need to use the full range of iCloud services including backing up your iOS device online. You'll have to pay £0.79/US$0.99 per month for 50GB, £2.49/US$3.99 per month for 200GB, and £6.99/US$9.99 per month for 2TB.
A fairly recent addition to iCloud Drive is the ability to share files between apps, so you can make a chart, then put it in a presentation, for example.
iCloud Drive also means you can start work on your iPad then continue where you left off on your PC.
While iCloud is secure, much of the data is encrypted at what Apple calls ‘a minimum of 128-bit AES’, with the more standard 256-bit reserved for Keychain Passwords. Apple also reserves the right to explore the contents of your files if it have cause to believe that it contains illegal or harmful material.
iCloud Drive is starting to get some of the great collaboration features that rivals including Dropbox offer. However, it still lacks selective sync, which is a deal-breaker for some. If you're an Apple user and are willing to pay at least 79p per month for the privilege then it's well worth taking advantage of iCloud Drive, but for those using other operating systems we'd suggest looking elsewhere.
Zoolz is a service built with the business world in mind, but this means that Home users can access some pretty nifty features, even on the free tier.
'BigMind' refers to the various search and storage tools available, all of which are powered by Zoolz’s AI technology.
Facial recognition is a notable example, as it can quickly locate images that include certain people. This is obviously helpful if you want to store lots of family photos, but don’t want to go through the laborious task of labeling every snap.
There are other photography based search features too, such as entering metadata details on which device a picture was taken, the option to find images that contain a dominant colour (making all those sunset shots a doddle to locate), or describing items in the image itself – say a cake or candles for all those birthday memories.
Optical Character Recognition (OCR) also means you can find keywords in documents (including ones you’ve scanned) simply by entering the words into a search.
Pricing is granular, with the free account offering 5GB of storage for one user that can be shared across three computers and two smartphones or tablets. This also gives you the option of backing up an external hard drive if you wish.
There's a £2.49/US2.99 Personal plan which gives you 100GB, and a Family Plus for £9.99/US$12.99 per month which lets up to five people share 1TB of storage.
Everything runs on Amazon’s AWS platform, which is usually rock-solid, and features 256-bit AES end-to-end encryption for high levels of security.
Zoolz has loads of features, and if you’re into photography it should appeal, but Google Photos - which uses Google Drive - is arguably at least as good if not better.
The pricing offers a good range of choice, just be aware that the free tier comes with no support. For that you’ll have to pay, but we don’t think that’s unreasonable, and you get good value for your outlay.
If you were to set up the most basic accounts on each of the services we’ve reviewed you’d have over 100GB of free online storage, and even more if you included camera uploads and friend referrals.
All are not created equal though, and there are some that stand out as the best deals. Google Drive should suit most people, but is particularly good if you use Google Docs and Google Photos. If you want loads of free storage, then Mega is tempting thanks to its 50GB free account.
Dropbox is still a good choice thanks to the sheer number of platforms it supports. Tresorit and pCloud are two services that deserve a lot of attention. Security is a very important consideration these days and both of these manage to provide encryption in a way that doesn’t interrupt a normal workflow and is easy to manage - especially in the paid versions.
Even if encryption isn't your top priority, do check out pCloud as it's really very good and has competitive prices for those needing lots of storage space.
Photographers, or those who just have a lot of image files they want to store and search, should take a look at Zoolz. The facial recognition feature is clever, and the pricing spread makes it easy to find something that fits your needs. But, again, Google Photos is also highly impressive.
Amazon shouldn't be overlooked, and its unlimited storage is good value if you have gigabytes upon gigabytes of files that need backing up.