Software & Apps

Cloud Storage Comparison: iCloud Drive vs. Dropbox vs. Google Drive vs. OneDrive

Posted on July 21st, 2016 by

Cloud Storage Comparison

Just about everyone who uses a computer or mobile device has some of their data in the cloud. Whether you simply sync your contacts, calendar, and reminders via iCloud, use Google Docs for productivity, or store all your files in Dropbox, you have entered the age of decentralized data.

It's possible to work with all your files and data in the cloud these days. If you use Microsoft Office 365, you could store all your spreadsheets and presentations on OneDrive. If you use Google Docs, all your text files can be on Google Drive. If you use Apple's iWork apps—Pages, Numbers, and Keynote—you could store all these apps' documents on iCloud Drive. And if you still work on a computer, you could have all your files in Dropbox. (Well, not all; not your music files, videos, or apps.)

These various cloud storage providers make it possible to store lots of files in the cloud, ensuring they are accessible on all your devices, at any time. (Well, almost; you need internet access, and being out of range for cellular access often could be a reason to not store files in the cloud.)

In this article, I'm going to help you discover which cloud storage service is right for you, and compare the four major cloud services for file storage and access. Bear in mind that the providers in my cloud storage comparison are not your only options, but they are the four main players, and they all offer easy access across platforms.

iCloud Drive

Photo of iCloud Drive next to Mac and iOS devices.

If you use a Mac or iOS device, then iCloud Drive is at your fingertips. It is part of the OS X Finder, and an iOS app gives you quick access to files you've stored there on your iPhone or iPad. You can even install iCloud on Windows, which offers similar integration with the Windows Explorer (as well as syncing of data, such as contacts, calendars, bookmarks, and more). And if you're using a public computer, you can access your files via a web browser at icloud.com.

If you own a Mac or iOS device, you get a free 5 GB on iCloud Drive. If you need more storage, you can purchase it for the following cost (US prices):

Storage Price
5 GB Free
50 GB $0.99/mo
200 GB $2.99/mo
1 TB $9.99/mo

Note that you share this storage with any other iCloud-compatible apps and services. So your iOS device backups count against these amounts, as do your iCloud Photo Library, and your iCloud email. And with macOS Sierra, you may need more storage, if you want to take advantage of some of its new features, such as storing your Desktop and Documents folders on iCloud Drive, or using Optimized Storage, which offloads infrequently used files to the cloud.

Dropbox

Dropbox Cloud Storage

Dropbox is one of the easiest to use cloud storage providers. Unlike iCloud, it only stores files; it doesn't sync data (though some apps do sync data to Dropbox). Dropbox is available for just about every platform, be it iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Mac, Windows, and even Linux.

On a computer, Dropbox creates a folder and keeps it in sync with all your devices. It's one of the simplest services to use, and also offers advanced features such as shared folders, and the ability to copy a Dropbox link to allow someone to download a file you've stored in your folder. Many desktop and mobile apps feature tight integration with Dropbox, and you can access files from the Dropbox website, making it one of the best choices for cloud file storage.

A free Dropbox account gives you 2 GB, and you can purchase more storage: You can get a Dropbox Pro plan, offering 1 TB, for $9.99 a month. Unfortunately, there's nothing in-between the paltry 2 GB and the comfortable 1 TB. There is also a Business plan, with unlimited storage, for companies with large teams sharing files.

Storage Price
2 GB Free
1 TB $9.99/mo

Unlike the other cloud services in this article, Dropbox only offers file storage. iCloud Drive, Google Drive, and OneDrive are each part of a broader system offering email, photo storage, data syncing, and more (each service has different features).

Google Drive

google-drive

Google Drive is a lot like Dropbox. It creates a folder on your computer, where you can store files, and apps on mobile devices let you access the contents of this folder. Individual Google apps, such as Docs, Sheets, and Slides, store there files on Google Drive as well. You can use Google Drive on Mac and Windows, and on Android or iOS devices. You can also use Google Drive with a Chromebook, or through a web browser.

With 15 GB free, Google lets you feel comfortable right away. Note that this storage applies to files, your Gmail account, and Google Photos (if you use those services), but not Google Docs. You can create and store as many as you want, and if you need more storage, Google lets you go large. Here's how much it costs:

Storage Price
15 GB Free
100 GB $1.99/mo
1 TB $9.99/mo
10 TB $99.99/mo
20 TB $199.99/mo
30 TB $299.99/mo

Google Drive is practical and easy to use, and offers the largest amounts of storage for those who need it.

OneDrive

Microsoft OneDrive Cloud Storage

Microsoft OneDrive is an adjunct to the company's Office 365 productivity suite, available on subscription. Offering a service similar to that of Dropbox and Google Drive, OneDrive lets you store and access files and photos on Mac, Windows, iOS, Windows Phone, and Android. If you have a Windows PC, then OneDrive is already installed. If you have a Mac, you can download an app from the Mac App Store; unfortunately, this app has a slew of bad reviews at the time of this writing.

OneDrive offers 5 GB free, and 50 GB for $1.99 per month:

Storage Price
5 GB Free
50 GB $1.99/mo

If you use Office 365, you can get a subscription to these apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote) with 1 TB OneDrive storage for $6.99 a month, and $9.99 a month for five users, each of whom gets 1 TB. Business plans are also available.

OneDrive's limited storage—at least if you don't want to shell out for Office 365—makes it less interesting than other services. However, if you do need Office 365, and 1 TB storage, the $6.99 plan is a bargain, compared to the prices for 1 TB with iCloud Drive, Dropbox, or Google Drive.

Bottom Line

Some cloud storage services tie you into an ecosystem. If you use a Mac and/or an iPhone or iPad, you'll need iCloud storage for your data, your photos, and to back up your iOS devices. But what if you need more, or something different? Is iCloud Drive the best option? How about Dropbox or OneDrive?

Given Dropbox's flexibility and ubiquity, I use that for my cloud storage. I'm not a big user of Apple's iWork apps, and, even when I do make Pages and Numbers documents, I generally store them in Dropbox, if I want cloud access.

If you're a Google Docs user, and if you use an Android phone and/or a Chromebook, then Google Drive is a natural fit. And if you're an Office 365 user, Microsoft's OneDrive is probably ideal for you. But with either of these services, you may still want more iCloud storage, if you back up iOS devices, or if you use iCloud Photo Library.

For many people, there is no One Cloud Storage Service to Rule Them All; it's a combination of different services that, together, meet your needs. Fortunately, all these services offer free tiers, so you can try them out and see which works best for you. For most users, the free storage offered by Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive will be sufficient. The exception is iCloud, whose 5 GB gets cramped if you have a lot of photos, or more than one iOS device to back up.


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About Kirk McElhearn

Kirk McElhearn writes about Macs, iPods, iTunes, books, music and more on his blog Kirkville. He is co-host of The Committed: A Weekly Tech Podcast, and a regular contributor to The Mac Security Blog, TidBITS, and several other websites and publications. Kirk has written more than twenty books, including Take Control books about iTunes, LaunchBar, and Scrivener. Follow him on Twitter at @mcelhearn. View all posts by Kirk McElhearn →
  • Phillip Shepard

    Microsoft OneDrive is reducing the free space to 5 GB just like Apple iCloud

    • Steven de Mena

      I think MS is reverting back to 15gb free space.

      • Jesse_Bruce_Pinkman

        As of this writing, 01-Nov-2016, free onedrive storage is still at 5GB.

  • Steven de Mena

    Am I missing something? Let’s say I have a MacBook with a 128gb or 256gb SSD drive. I want to keep everything in the cloud with one of these services?

    But to work seamlessly and integrate them into the Finder don’t they sync the files onto my local drive? If I have 1tb of cloud storage I can’t effectively use it all as my local drive doesn’t have enough space.

    I understand Windows OneDrive used to only put placeholders on your local drive until you accessed a file(s) but that got lost as they’ve gone through various client revisions and trying to unify the OneDrive and OneDrive business clients.

    • cvbruce

      Some (or All) of the cloud storage products allow selective sync’ing, so not everything in cloud storage needs to be on your local disk. This would be particularly handy if you have more than one device, or more than one user sharing an account.

    • Jesse_Bruce_Pinkman

      use pcloud. It extends your computer’s storage and does not store your files unless you choose “sync to local”

  • Jesse_Bruce_Pinkman

    Why some of the best cloud services are not included here?

    pcloud and box are certainly better than any of the ones mentioned here.

    • ef

      pcloud is to small. only 2tb max

      • Jesse_Bruce_Pinkman

        I don’t know what files you have but 1 TB is more than enough for syncing.

        If you want to store unlimited amount of files that do not need syncing, then get Amazon cloud. But good luck with 1TB of upload. You’d be lucky if you can upload that much in a month.

        As for pcloud’s speed, it has definitely, if not, one of the fastest upload speeds out there.

        There is also another one that is fast, the iDrive.

      • Jesse_Bruce_Pinkman

        you can store up to 208 TB of data in pcloud for only $10,000 per month.

      • http://davidjulian.com David Julian

        jesse has a point. iDrive also allows a user to obtain a Seed Drive of up to 4TB, so your fist backup of many larger files (or a photo collection) is via hard drive mailed in, not via Internet to cloud.

  • http://davidjulian.com David Julian

    Take a look at iDrive. For a larger first-time backup, iDrive also allows a user to obtain a Seed Drive of up to 4TB, so your first backup of many larger files (or a photo collection as in my case) is via hard drive mailed in and inserted into their server, not via Internet to the cloud which could take over a month even at fast internet speed.

  • dittoheadadt

    “And if you still work on a computer, you could have all your files in Dropbox. (Well, not all; not your music files, videos, or apps.)”

    I’m a longtime Dropbox user and I keep my entire iTunes library – music, apps, videos, etc. – synced among my PCs via Dropbox, without any problems. The only caveat I’m aware of is, don’t have iTunes open on more than one device at a time.

  • Richard Peres

    I have a 90 gig photo library in Photos which I uploaded to iCloud. It put all that redundant data on my iCloud Drive also causing me to run out of space. Ridiculous.

  • Rolston

    I’ve tried 3 of the drive storage methods here (OneDrive, Google Drive, and iCloud Drive) and Google Drive is my preferred method.

    I used OneDrive for a while, until it decided to stop syncing and was stuck in a “processing changes” loop indefinitely, constantly using 25% (one core) of my CPU power. I checked the forums as well as Microsoft support, and this turned out to be a very common problem. None of the suggested fixes worked, so I eventually gave up and started trying other options.

    iCloud Drive offers the cheapest 50 GB option at 99 cents/mo, but you truly get what you pay for with very limited features. For one, the “iCloud Drive” folder used to store your data defaults to your “c:users” folder, and there’s no way to move it. This is very inconvenient if you have your files on a drive outside of C: (which is very common these days given people are moving over to smaller SSDs). If you want to store everything on another drive, then you’ll have to create a symbolic link to the c:users folder. Also, unlike the other options, iCloud doesn’t show green check marks on your folders & files to indicate they’ve been backed up. Lastly, the icloud.com interface is the weakest of the bunch; folders and files are mixed in together, and there’s no way to view your files in a “list” mode (they only come up as large icons). At least you can still select multiple files using the -click method (a feature that was removed in the Photos section of iCloud back in December). I would recommend staying away from this option unless you’re a hardcore Apple user who wants to store everything in one place.

    Google Drive is very similar to OneDrive, although I haven’t had any problems with syncing or processing as of yet. The online interface is pretty good as well.

    I haven’t tried DropBox as their cheapest option is $10 for 1 TB, which is overkill for what I need.

    Hope this helps. 🙂

    • Eduardo Aguilera

      Thanks for your review 🙂

  • Myrna Taylor

    Can’t get Dropbox to install on my Kindle Fire 5h Gen. Can’t get Evernote to install on PC (and no way to contact customer support). Tried BOX, but kept getting Java errors. I have iCloudDrive on PC and iPhone and would love to have something that would sync with it on my Kindle Fire. If I could get that, I would dump Dropbox and buy enough storage on iCloudDrive to meet my needs. Anyone have any suggestions?

  • http://nickniesen.com/ Nick Niesen

    I’m switching from OneDrive to DropBox. I was a long time OneDrive user but stalled and slow sync’s have pushed me to switch to DropBox.

    • Eduardo Aguilera

      I have a Mac, and I am also seriously considering switching from OneDrive to Dropbox (even I have the Office 365) because of that BUGGY OneDrive Mac client. It constantly hangs and is very, very slow in the sync process.

  • TL in Texas

    Is OneDrive the only one that I can use and access my files on my Android as well as my Ipad and Laptop? As others have noted, I am having problems with slow syncing and other erroneous messages. I have less than 3g worth of data! Ugh.

  • Yep. Tam.

    I don’t know what you mean dropbox isn’t photo storage. That’s primarily what I am using it for. I’m organizing all my photos with it.

  • bule

    if you still work on a computer, you could have all your files in Dropbox.

  • https://astrosanhita.com/ Dr. Sankar Bhattacharjee

    In my view google drive is better than any other, it is like everything under one umbrella…

  • janis millett

    I have plenty of storage on Google Drive now, but my MacBook Pro continues to store my photos in the ICloud and then tell me my ICloud is full. How do I change the automatic storage location for my photos?

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