Beyond Dropbox: Shopping the cloud

Beyond Dropbox: Shopping the cloud

Summary: Is it time to drop Dropbox? My subscription is nearly up, so I'm re-evaluating four major alternatives -, Google Drive, Microsoft Skydrive, and SugarSync - for price and features. Which is the best, and which is the best for me?

TOPICS: Cloud, Storage

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  • Dropbox

    Dropbox is the gold standard in consumer cloud storage and priced accordingly. Only SugarSync matches it in price (and is, in fact, more expensive per GB in the less expensive plans).

    Dropbox has "Packrat" which allows you to undelete files, but it costs another $39 per year. Only Dropbox dares to charge extra for this. Oddly, the Packrat cost is fixed no matter how much storage you buy, so the penalty diminishes relatively the more storage you buy..

    But Dropbox works really well and there are clients for a wide variety of platforms. The software on Mac and Windows is about as straightforward as can be. There is no official client for Windows Phone, but there are several free third party apps. It's a safe choice.

    Storage (GB) $ monthly $/GB monthly $ annual $/GB annual
    2GB (up to 18GB with 500MB referrals) $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
    100GB $9.99 $0.10 $99 $0.99
    100GB + Packrat $48.99 $0.49 $138 $1.38
    200GB $19.99 $0.10 $199 $1.00
    200GB + Packrat $58.99 $0.29 $238 $1.19
    500GB $49.99 $0.10 $499 $1.00
    500GB + Packrat $88.99 $0.18 $538 $1.08
  • Google Drive

    In terms of pricing and range of plans, Google Drive is hard to beat. Nobody comes close to their range, nor does anyone offer anything like a 16 TB plan. They also offer monthly billing at the same flat rate as annual (making annual pointless if you ask me). It's not the cheapest, but it's not off by much.

    If you're plugged into the Google ecosystem, then Drive is a natural solution. Obviously Google Apps works with it directly. Google Drive really could be a good solution for me. There's no official Windows Phone client, but there are several unofficial ones (such as  this one) that seem to do what needs to be done.

    Storage (GB) $ monthly $/GB monthly $ annual $/GB annual
    15 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00 $0.00
    100 $4.99 0.05 $59.88 0.60
    200 $9.99 0.05 $119.88 0.60
    400 $19.99 0.05 $239.88 0.60
    1000 $49.99 0.05 $599.88 0.60
    2000 $99.99 0.05 $1,199.88 0.60
    4000 $199.99 0.05 $2,399.88 0.60
    8000 $399.99 0.05 $4,799.88 0.60
    16000 $799.99 0.05 $9,599.88 0.60
  • Microsoft SkyDrive

    [Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that SkyDrive did not provide access to deleted files. It does, in fact, have a Recycle Bin available through the web interface. I apologize for the error.]

    SkyDrive was a real me-too service until the latest generations of Microsoft software came along. Office and Windows 8.1 make SkyDrive first-class peers. Both work easily with files on SkyDrive. I'm a big OneNote user, and it's far easier to work on SkyDrive with the mobile versions of OneNote than with other services.

    With Windows 8.1 Microsoft adds support for "smart files" on SkyDrive. These are smaller, locally stored thumbnail versions of files stored on SkyDrive that behave like the full-size versions. They cut the amount of storage and bandwidth necessary on the local device. This can be a major benefit on mobile devices which often have limited storage.

    SkyDrive is also the second-least expensive product per GB, behind SkyDrive does not offer monthly billing, and only recently added a 200GB plan. (Note in the chart that the numbers are 107, 207, etc. because they add the 7GB you get for free.) The low upper limit may be a problem for some, but not for me.

    Storage (GB) $ monthly $/GB monthly $ annual $/GB annual
    7 N/A N/A $0.00 $0.00
    27 N/A N/A $10.00 $0.37
    57 N/A N/A $25.00 $0.44
    107 N/A N/A $50.00 $0.47
    207 N/A N/A $100.00 $0.48

    Another problem element for SkyDrive is Microsoft's confused strategy relative to SkyDrive Pro, their business-oriented cloud storage service. Pro is, behind the product name and logos, an entirely different service from the consumer SkyDrive. It is, in fact, largely a renaming of SharePoint Workspace. If you have accounts on both SkyDrive and SkyDrive Pro (as I do) you need to use different client access software and different accounts for both. The storage is completely separate and even the user accounts are unrelated. SkyDrive Pro is integral to the more expensive plans for Office 365. You can work with SkyDrive Pro from the mobile OneNote apps, but it's a pain in the butt.

    It may be that Microsoft limits the storage capacity of SkyDrive in order to push users into SkyDrive Pro. If that's right, it's a really bad decision. It's much easier for a consumer who needs more storage to change services than to add on SkyDrive Pro.

    Microsoft lost a trademark battle over the name SkyDrive and it's possible, maybe even likely, that the name will change soon. I'm rather surprised that it didn't change before the release of Windows 8.1.

    Microsoft makes SkyDrive clients for Windows, Mac, iOS, Android and Windows Phone.

Topics: Cloud, Storage

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  • Well . . .

    "iCloud is more of a set of synchronization protocols. It's invaluable for users of Apple devices"

    Meh. To be honest, I've mostly avoided iCloud. It's unreliable, and doesn't play well cross-platform.

    "I'm also not considering BitTorrent Sync and a number of other services (some free) which require static synchronization. I only want the ones where the cloud works just like a local drive."

    I'd personally consider them myself if I were to switch away from Dropbox. To be honest, I don't feel like "cloud" is the ultimate answer to everything. If I can sync between all of my devices, I get all the benefits of the "cloud" without connecting to some third party "cloud" service. Who says that the only way to get "cloud" benefits is to connect to some third party mega-server-network on the internet?

    The biggest reason for me staying with Dropbox today is that most third party apps support it, especially YNAB, which I use for budgeting.

    "and performance testing of them would be quite a logistical challenge."

    And probably a bit senseless, as they all update your files in the background. None of them are really intended to be real-time file transfer.
  • SpiderOak

    If you want your data to be handled and stored securely, consider SpiderOak as an alternative. It's cross platform, functional, and has a design that deals with a lot of security issues many of the vendors just hand-wave around.

    The main downside is that the mobile clients aren't very featureful, so it doesn't provide the same kind of universal integration solution some of the others do. It depends on what kind of data you are handling.
  • pogoplug, symform

    Symform is an interesting company I've written about before, but it's a very different service from the other products here.
    I admit I didn't know about Pogoplug. My first impression is that anyone who says "Unlimited" on services like this is lying. It simply can't be true.
  • what about

    Why didn't you put in your comparison?
    Do you consider it to be out of league or is there some other reason?
    Mavko Žmak
    • not consumer-oriented

      I did explain this (page 2). Box is clearly positioning themselves for business, not consumers. From my own personal experience I'd also say that their software is awful (so I'm doing them a favor), but it's been many months, probably a year, since I tried it.
  • Break with tradition please

    "I want to consider all the factors, but the choice I make in the end may not be the right one for you."

    Please break from ZDNET tradition and don't make a single choice: examine typical use cases and produce options for each.

    We'll make the CHOICE!
  • Another suggestion -

    Cubby (by LogMeIn) is not the cheapest at $7/month for 100 GB but has the advantage that multiple folder trees can be turned into separate shared folders. Also included in that price is unlimited direct sync (device to device without a cloud copy).

    The iOS client (I don't know about Android) allows one to specify files and folders that are to be made available offline, something I have not seen with any of the other services.

    As with most of these services (SkyDrive being the exception) the is no Windows phone client.
    • Linux

      No Linux client either, although you can still log in to
    • Cubby price.

      Just a heads up, I just logged into and it displays a banner at the top of the page offering Cubby Pro for $3.99 per month. That includes 100 GB, DirectSync and Cubby Locks.
      • Cubby Ease-of-Use Very High

        Cubby is one of the easiest to use products, particularly when it comes to setting up the synchronization of multiple folders. I can recommend it (although I also have a free 25 GB SkyDrive account.)
      • Re.Cubby price

        Yes, that $3.99/month price is nice BUT it is only a promo. The price will go back up after the first year, AFAIK
  • Security?

    I'm assuming all services encrypt user's data but it would have been nice to have a discussion of how each service handles security.
  • might I suggest...

    "" for access to Sysinternals tools
    I just create a favorite on all my devices.
    That way I am assured of accessing the latest versions.
    • can I put it on the PATH?

      It would be great if I could put that site on the path so that I could just run the current version from the command line
      • I'll find out

        I just asked Mark Russinovich the author of most of the tools. Just having a browser favorite doesn't work for me because most of the tools really need to be run from the command line.

        Maybe from PowerShell?
    • I'll be writing more on this soon

      I found out the right way to do this. I'll write a tip within a couple days
      • Yes, you can do it.


        You can put the live site on the PATH
  • Data Security

    Thanks for this nice and very useful comparison. I am missing a word regarding data security and confidentiality. I have looked at Google Drive in Spring 2012 (or however it was called before) and they mentioned something like "they have all rights on documents you store in the cloud". Upon a request I have sent to Google customer service regarding this I never even received an answer. I believe this is an important aspect.
  • SkyDrive won't show Shared Files

    I actually like SkyDrive but the problem I have with it is that the desktop app only shows your own, personal files. If I share a file or folder with you, that is only accessible via the browser interface. There is no place in the desktop app on Windows (or Mac, as far as I know) to access the shared files. The shared files are only available via the browser.
  • Google Drive vs Google Cloud Storage

    I'm not interested in large access from multiple points, but I'd really like a large (1TB and growing) cloud backup solution. So looking at these, how is it that Google Drive (a syncing solution) is CHEAPER than Google Durable Reduced Availability Storage The first TB of Storage is $.063/GB/month, while The first TB of Drive is $.05/GB/month. I would expect the syncing of Drive would make it more expensive than Storage with its reduced availability.
    big red one