Comparing the Top Cloud Storage Services

In a perfect world, there would be one cloud storage service that worked equally well for Apple, Android and Windows devices. It would have the capacity to save all of your photos, videos and documents in the cloud and show up-to-date copies of every cloud-stored item on your computer, smartphone and tablet. A feature commonly called synchronized, or synced.

In addition, this perfect cloud storage service would allow you to easily share photos, videos and documents with friends, family or coworkers. You could even craft and edit documents (collaborate) with others – from mundane guest lists to committee reports.

And of course, all of this would be available for free.

Instead, there are so many cloud storage choices, that it would be impossible to even try to compare them all here. According to a recent Cnet article, the most popular cloud storage plans are Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Google Drive, Box, Amazon Cloud Drive and Copy. I would add Apple iCloud Drive to that list.

To refine my comparison of this group of top cloud storage services, I won’t include Microsoft OneDrive, Box and Copy. They were developed for and are primarily used by businesses for employee file sharing.

Of the four remaining in our original list, Google Drive and Apple iCloud Drive are the most like my hypothetical perfect cloud storage service.

Google Drive is included with every Google account. You are given 15 GB of free storage and more can be purchased. Google Drive works well on Apple, Android and Windows, syncs photos, videos and documents automatically to all your devices and is the easiest cloud service to use for emailing attachments with Gmail. Its real power lies in its ease of file sharing and collaboration.

Apple iCloud Drive is the new file storage product included in the Apple iCloud umbrella of services. Formerly, iCloud could only sync and save Apple documents created with Apple software. Now, you can store any kind of file and access those files from Apple, Android or Windows devices. When you create an Apple account, you are given 5 GB of free iCloud storage to be used for any of the Apple iCloud services: iCloud Drive, iOS backups and the new iCloud Photo Library. It’s inevitable that most photo-heavy Apple users will run out of this free storage and then a decision must be made. Should you purchase more iCloud storage? If you do purchase more storage, Apple iCloud Drive is a good option for all the files you want to store in the cloud. Not just your photos. Unfortunately, file sharing and collaboration are not available yet.

In comparison, DropBox is a simply designed service that also lets you store any kind of file, but it falls short of the feature-rich Google Drive and photo management simplicity of Apple iCloud Drive. Amazon Cloud Drive is basically an off-site storage service without the file syncing capabilities of the other services reviewed here. Its key advantage is inexpensive backup storage for photos and videos.

 FREE STORAGESYNCINGCOLLABORATIONFILE SHARING
Google Drive15 GBYesYesYes
Apple iCloud Drive5 GBYesNoNo
DropBox2 GB up to 16 GBYesPaid plansYes
Amazon Cloud DriveUnlimited Photos & 5 GB for Prime SubscribersNoNoYes

I am often asked which cloud storage service is the best or, is it possible to use just one? The bad news is that there is no simple answer that will fit everyone. It depends on your reasons for using cloud storage and your willingness to sacrifice simplicity for savings.

  • Do you only want to save copies of all your photos and videos in the cloud or do you want your photos saved and synced across all your devices?
  • Do you need accessibility to certain documents from any device or location?
  • Do you need to share large files with others?
  • Do you want to collaborate on a document or spreadsheet with others?
  • Are you an all-Apple user or mixed between Apple and Windows?

I created the table below to help you decide.

 SAVE & SYNC
PHOTOS/VIDEOS
SAVE & SYNC FILESSHARE FILESFILE COLLABORATION
Simplest for Apple UsersApple iCloud DriveApple iCloud DriveGoogle DriveGoogle Drive
Simplest for OthersGoogle DriveGoogle Drive or DropBoxGoogle Drive or DropBoxGoogle Drive
Least Expensive for AnyoneGoogle DriveGoogle DriveGoogle DriveGoogle Drive

If you are an Apple user, you will spend about twice as much for cloud storage with Apple iCloud Drive as with Google Drive, but we’re only talking about a $10/month difference at the 1 TB level.

 STORAGEPRICE
Apple iCloud Drive20 GB/200 GB/500 GB/1 TB$.99/$3.99/$9.99/$19.99 per month
Google Drive100 GB/1 TB$1.99/$10 per month

After a lot of trial and error and analysis, these are my recommendations for cloud storage services:

  • If you use two or more Apple devices and you like to take photos on your iPhone/iPad and keep lots of those photos, then Apple iCloud Drive is the simplest solution for your photo management. If you need to share or collaborate on files, use Google Drive for those.
  • If you only use one Apple device, it’s probably worth the minor inconvenience to set up Google Drive for storing and syncing your photos as well as sharing and syncing all other types of files.
  • If you are all Windows and Android devices, Google Drive is the best.