Which cloud storage service is best for you?

Note: this is a follow-up to last week’s explanation of cloud storage.

Cloud storage comparison
The logos of Dropbox, iCloud, Google Drive, and OneDrive (clockwise from top left)

There are lots of companies that offer cloud storage, and several of them are quite well known. This post is going to focus on the services that I (subjectively) view as the major players, and which service is best for you.

I feel certain that there is no one cloud storage service that is best for everyone. Instead, I think that each has certain advantages depending on how you use it and which devices you use.

As I mentioned last week, I actually do not pay for storage from any of the companies that I will describe below. I use the free storage amount from several different companies: Dropbox, Google Drive, and iCloud from Apple.

This isn’t a very practical long-term solution, because I’ve got many more files on my computer and other devices than can fit in the free storage allotments. And the more providers I sign up for, the harder it gets to keep track of what files I’ve stored on which service.

So I recommend using the free storage space each provider offers as more of a trial run. You get to see how the service works without plunking down your money first. Once you decide which one works best for you, then decide how much storage you need to pay for.

I’ve only recently begun to feel that paying for a cloud storage subscription might be worth the money for my family. By using those three services, I’ve started to get an idea of which one I’d prefer to pay for.

So without further ado, here’s a comparison of the four main cloud storage providers[1].


Dropbox logoDropbox is the platform that really first made cloud storage usable for the ordinary folks like us. It’s also unique on this list because the company was created around this cloud storage service; the others on the list are branches of much larger tech companies.

Pricing: 2GB free…1TB $10/month

Pros: Available on almost any device, simple pricing plan, very customizable

Cons: Smallest amount of free space, not automatically integrated with Google, Apple, or Microsoft

Best for: People who own a mixture of devices, such as an iPhone, Windows PC, and Kindle Fire.

Google Drive

Google DriveFormerly known as Google Docs, Google Drive is available with any Google or Gmail account. Included with Android phones, whose software is made by Google.

Pricing: 15GB free…100GB $2/mo…1TB $10/mo (Free space is shared with Gmail and Google+ storage)

Pros: Most free storage, familiar design to users of Gmail’s website/apps

Cons: Stores and shares files, but not many other features

Best for: Android phone users or people who use Google products heavily

OneDrive (Microsoft)

OneDriveFormerly SkyDrive, Microsoft has revamped their cloud storage service and OneDrive is a big part of their focus with the newer Windows operating systems.

Pricing: 15GB free…100GB $2/mo…200GB $4/mo

Pros: Works extremely well with Microsoft Office, generous free storage

Cons: File sharing not as simple as others

Best for: Microsoft Office users or those with newer Windows computers/tablets

iCloud Drive (Apple)

iCloud DriveFormerly called just iCloud, Apple’s revamped storage service was updated this fall. iCloud Drive is notable for features tied in with Apple devices, such as backing up the entire device and locating the device if you lose it.

Pricing: 5GB free…20GB $1/mo…200GB $4/mo…500GB $10/mo…1TB $20/mo

Pros: Coordinates data and settings between multiple Apple devices, new family sharing helpful for family accounts

Cons: Less free storage, no Android app

Best for: Those with multiple Apple devices


As you can see, pricing is very competitive between the providers. I expect storage allowances to continue to rise in the coming years, making it even more feasible to store almost everything on your computer in the cloud.

To me, the biggest difference among the services is the integration with other software/hardware made by the companies.

Dropbox only does cloud storage, and is a good option for those with a variety of device types. Outside of those rare cases, I think it’s at a disadvantage because it’s not tied in with one of the other major companies.

For those who use Google or Apple products heavily, I think Google Drive or iCloud Drive will work really well. I use Apple products heavily and love the features of iCloud, and I’m sure the same is true for Google/Android fans.

OneDrive (the only one of these I haven’t personally used) seems like a great fit for those who use Microsoft Office often, or have a newer Windows PC or tablet. If you use the newer versions of Windows or Microsoft Office, I’d recommend giving OneDrive a try. It’s not as well known, but I see it as a great option for many people.


Which of these do you use, and what’s been your experience? Do you have a favorite I haven’t mentioned? Join the conversation below! I’d love to hear from you. 


1 – Amazon also has a cloud storage service. Although I haven’t included it in this comparison, if you use Amazon frequently or own their devices (such as Kindles), consider checking out what they offer here.

Cloud storage explained

10 years ago, if you mentioned “the cloud” to me I would have looked up at the sky. If that’s your first reaction to the phrase, don’t worry! “The cloud” is one of the most-used and least-explained tech terms right now. Let’s put it in plain English.

What is cloud storage?

Since computers were invented, data has been stored on physical media (punch cards, floppy disks, thumb drives, etc.). When you want to transfer data from one computer to another, you physically carry your storage media from one computer to the other.

For example, I start writing a report on my work computer, save it to a thumb drive, and then plug the thumb drive into my computer at home to finish editing the report. That’s how most of us are used to doing things.

Cloud storage
This is what “the cloud” might look like — if it were an actual cloud. (But really, this is a pretty good illustration of how data is stored in a remote location and can be accessed by multiple devices.)

When people refer to “the cloud,” what they generally are talking about is data being stored in a server (i.e. a specialized computer) that’s connected to the Internet. This means any computer connected to the Internet can have access to that data, even at the same time.

So in practice, I would start my report at work, save it to the cloud, then log in and edit it from my home computer. When I’m finished, I can download a copy to store it on my computer if I want. Notice that in this situation I don’t have to physically carry anything home with me. The document is stored on a hard drive that’s connected to the Internet, and the hard drive is owned and maintained by the company providing the service (such as Dropbox).

Benefits of cloud storage

Cloud storage has been exploding in popularity. The services that are most well-known include Google Drive, Dropbox, Microsoft’s OneDrive, and Apple’s iCloud Drive. (I’ll compare these in detail next week to help you figure out which might work best for you.)

Google, in fact, makes a line of inexpensive computers (Chromebooks) with relatively tiny hard drives, specifically because they expect that users will store almost all their data on Google Drive.

As I mentioned, I can download or edit my document in the cloud from any computer with Internet access. I can give other people permission to access it, also from any computer with Internet access.

Google Drive collaboration
Joe, Min Lee, and Mario editing a document at the same time, from different locations (in Google Drive)

This allows for another major benefit of cloud storage: multiple people can edit a document at the same time, collaborating in real time and seeing each other’s changes as they happen.

Until now, I’ve been discussing cloud storage in relation to computers. Perhaps you’re thinking, Why shouldn’t I just use a thumb drive? Every computer has a USB port.

That’s true, but more and more people are creating and using data on devices like smartphones (taking photos, for example). Many of these portable devices don’t have USB ports, so cloud storage allows people to access and share data much more easily than they would otherwise.

For example, if I kept all my photos on my phone, it would quickly run out of storage space. But if I upload the photos to a cloud storage service, I can access all of them anytime my phone has Internet access. Plus, I can also view them from any other device I use.

Are you starting to see the benefits?

Disadvantages of cloud storage

Of course, there are downsides to cloud storage compared to saving your stuff on your hard drive. Let’s touch on the main ones.

First, and this is the one that keeps me from using cloud storage more, most companies that offer cloud storage charge a monthly or yearly subscription. The cost depends on how much storage space you choose. Typically a small amount of storage is free, such as 5GB on iCloud Drive. This is enough space for a lot of text documents. But if you add in music or photos, that space will be eaten up quickly. And then you’ll pay for the higher storage amounts. (Again, I’ll give more details next week.)

Thumb drives and external hard drives aren’t free either, and you’ll have to weigh the upfront cost of buying that type of storage compared to the subscription cost of cloud storage. I’ve become very used to having my files stored in a drive I physically own, and it’s hard to get used to the idea of paying regularly for the storage.

Second, data you store in the cloud is physically stored in some remote location, not on your desk. This means you’re trusting that your data will be available when you want and won’t just disappear. Also, it means that someone can potentially hack into your account and steal your files.

For the record, I bet every cloud storage company backs up their customers’ data better than you back up your own computer. As for hackers, it seems that hacking situations are caused more often by people using easy-to-guess passwords or reusing passwords from other accounts, than by companies using poor security on their end.

Either way, I wouldn’t  keep personal/confidential files in cloud storage, and I would make sure that my most important files are also stored on a hard drive I own.

Third, data stored in the cloud is only accessible to you when you have Internet access. Internet access is growing, and some devices like smartphones are connected even when you travel. But keep in mind that what you put in the cloud can only be accessed when your device is Internet-connected.

You should use cloud storage, but which provider?

I think cloud storage will continue to be used even more often in the future. It will be especially helpful for those who own multiple devices and want to share files between them.

I’ll help break down the differences between the major cloud storage providers in next week’s post, so stay tuned! Until then, I hope this overview helped you understand what exactly cloud storage is. If you have any questions about it, please ask them below. I’d love to hear from you!

Should you update your iPhone to iOS 8?

iOS 8
iPhones running iOS 8

Just this week Apple released the latest version of their operating system for iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touches. It’s called iOS 8, and it’s a free upgrade for Apple users. Last year’s iOS 7 included visual changes to almost everything; it took a while to get used to. This year’s update looks very similar to iOS 7 and is more of a refinement, adding various features that most people will find useful.

If you’re an avid iPhone user, you’ve probably already upgraded. If you have an iDevice and aren’t sure if or how to upgrade to the newest operating system, I’ll help you out.

CAN you upgrade?

Apple’s official iOS 8 website says eligible devices are the following: iPhone 4S and later, iPad 2 and later, and iPod Touch 5th gen. and later. The biggest missing name from their last update is the iPhone 4, so if that’s your phone you won’t be able to get the newest update[1].

SHOULD you upgrade?

Every time Apple (or similar companies) update their operating systems, the new versions are typically designed to work best on the newest, most powerful hardware available (in this case, the newly announced iPhone 6). So this means that older phones, computers, etc. will run a little more slowly when upgraded to the latest system[2]. This is probably the main reason iPhone 4 and the original iPad aren’t included in this update.

If you have an iPhone 5, 5C, or 5S, any possible slowdown will be tiny, if not imperceptible. I’d say definitely upgrade. If you have the iPhone 5S, you’ll have the option to use the Touch ID fingerprint sensor to log in to all kinds of apps — one of my favorite new features.

Any of the iPads after iPad 2 (such as Air or Mini) should also handle the upgrade without a problem. Definitely upgrade. If your device is one of these, feel free to skip to the next section.

But the iPhone 4S and iPad 2 will run more slowly on iOS 8, and probably noticeably so. Ars Technica has written a couple of good articles detailing what to expect if you upgrade your iPhone 4S or iPad 2.

I happen to use both these devices. I’ve already upgraded my iPhone 4S, and I think I notice various animations being a bit slower (so I actually turned some of them off to help a bit). However, to me the additional features and functions that were added made the upgrade worth the (at times) slower operation.

Another consideration: this is the smallest screen size Apple still sells, and some new features mean you’ll see even less on the screen than before when the keyboard is up.

I’m doubtful I’ll upgrade our iPad 2 to iOS 8. We most often use it for reading books or checking email. I rarely use it for messaging or other uses where new features seem really promising. I’m happy with the way iOS7 works with the ways we use it, and it seems a safe bet that it will also be noticeably slower with iOS 8. Based the Ars Technica article I mentioned earlier, I don’t recommend iPad 2 owners upgrade.

HOW do you upgrade?

Chris Breen of MacWorld wrote a step-by-step guide I highly recommend. I’ll give you the summary version.

First, back up your device. You can either do it on your computer with iTunes or back up to iCloud through Wi-Fi. The iOS 8 install shouldn’t erase anything, but things go wrong now and then. It’s always a good idea to back up your data.

To download the update and install it, you have two options. Download it wirelessly via the Settings app on your device, or plug the device into your computer with the USB cable and upgrade in iTunes.

The simpler way is probably from the Settings app, but if you have limited space on your device, you’ll want to do the install via iTunes. The installation file that’s temporarily downloaded can be several gigabytes in size.

I recommend starting this before you go to bed, because the installation file can take a long time to download depending on your Internet speed. Once it’s downloaded, it may take up to another hour to actually complete the installation.

Once complete, you’ll have to go answer a couple setup questions. For reasons explained here, if you also use a Mac and store files in iCloud, I’d choose “Not Now” when you’re asked if you want to upgrade to iCloud Drive. Do that once the new Mac operating system comes out in a month or two.

And that’s it! If you’re upgrading to iOS 8, enjoy the new features. Again, you can learn more about what’s new here and here.

Have you updated to iOS 8? What do you like or dislike so far?

I’d love to hear from you! Leave me a question or comment about anything below.

1 – Frankly, iOS 8 would probably run so slowly on the iPhone 4 that you wouldn’t want to upgrade anyway.

2 – For the same reason, certain new features in any new operating system won’t work on older devices, even if they’re fast enough to run it without any problem.

%d bloggers like this: