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Free cloud services compared

Not all cloud services are built alike. We take a look at some of the most popular options — what they're for, how you can use them and, most importantly, what you get.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
8 min read

Not all cloud services are built alike. We take a look at some of the most popular options — what they're for, how you can use them and, most importantly, what you get.

(Credit: CBSi)


(Credit: Apple)

If you have an iDevice with iOS, you already have access to iCloud. It's mainly for backing up your iPhone or iPad, and anything purchased through iTunes — that is, ebooks, music, videos and apps — as well as contacts, calendars and photos synced via Photo Stream, will not be counted towards the free 5GB limit. But you can also back-up things like app data — for example, PDFs that you have in your PDF app, or documents in iWork or all of your text messages. If you do a lot of work on the fly, then this is great, especially given how often mobile devices go missing.

iCloud has a solution for this, too, though: if you enable iCloud location services, you can log in to iCloud on the web and track your missing gadget on a map — and even wipe it of sensitive information remotely.

Free: 5GB
Subscription: +10GB (15GB total): AU$21/year; +20GB (25GB total): AU$42/year; +50GB (55GB total): AU$105/year (Global pricing can be found here)
Maximum file size: 25MB for free; 250MB for paid
Compatibility: iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Mac OSX Lion, browser
Automatic sync: Yes, but you have to enable it


(Credit: Box.net)

Box has slowly been improving its service, doubling the amount of free storage you get (from 5GB to 10GB) and increasing the maximum file size from 25MB to 250MB for free personal accounts. Still, it's on the smaller side compared to others; you can pay to get more storage and a larger file limit, but if your needs are modest, it's acceptable.

If you're a business user, you get a lot for your money, though: 1000GB of space, with a file-size limit of 1GB, as well as automatic syncing.

Free: 10GB
Subscription: personal: 100GB, US$10/month; starter: 100GB, US$5/month; business: 1000GB, US$15/month; enterprise: unlimited storage, US$35/month
Maximum file size: 250MB or 5GB (paid); starter 2GB; business and enterprise 5GB
Compatibility: PC, Mac, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Ovi, Windows Mobile, browser, FTP
Automatic sync: no for personal users; yes for business users


(Credit: Dropbox)

Dropbox has a relatively low amount of space provided with a free account, but there are ways to get more. It also seems to be one of the most versatile services out there, with automatic syncing, wide, multi-platform compatibility and no file-size limits if you're uploading from your desktop application. It's really easy to use, too, and includes SSL encryption to keep your data safe.

Free: 2GB
Subscription: Pro: 100GB, US$9.99/month; Business: US$15 per user (minimum five users), unlimited
Maximum file size: no limit if uploaded via the desktop app; 300MB via web browser.
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, Linux, browser, iOS, Android, BlackBerry
Automatic sync: yes, with selective sync option


(Credit: Microsoft)

OneDrive (formerly SkyDrive) is Microsoft's cloud offering. What you get for free is pretty small: 7GB free, with a maximum file size of 2GB. Users now have a range of subscription options, too, as well as downloadable applications for Mac and PC.

What OneDrive does have is good pricing, so if you're on a budget, it's a great way to store your photos.

Free: 7GB
Subscription: +50GB (57GB total): US$25/year; +100GB (107GB total): US$50/year; +200GB (207GB total): US$100/year
Maximum file size: 2GB
Compatibility: browser, Mac, PC, iOS, Windows Phone
Automatic sync: yes


(Credit: SugarSync)

SugarSync used to be one of the most value-laden options available, but in recent times, the market has become more competitive and SugarSync has fallen down the ladder a little. You only get 5GB with a free account, but its subscription prices are reasonable, and you don't have a file-size limit. It also backs up automatically, and is compatible with one of the widest ranges of desktop and mobile OSs. Plus, all files are encrypted with 128-bit AES.

Free: 5GB
Subscription: 60GB: US7.49/month, US$74.99/year; 100GB: US$9.99/month, US$99.99/year; 1000GB (up to three users): US$55/month, US$550/year; custom plans available for 3+ users
Maximum file size: no maximum file size
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, Windows Mobile, Outlook
Automatic sync: yes

Amazon CloudDrive

(Credit: Amazon)

Do you have an Amazon account? Then you already have access to Cloud Drive, and, while you can store documents, photos, videos and music — whatever you like — in Amazon's browser-based service, its biggest value is clearly in its support for your Amazon music purchases. Any MP3 purchases made through the Amazon store are not counted towards your 5GB free limit.

The best bit of this is also music related: any music stored on your Cloud Drive can then be streamed through the Amazon Cloud Player.

Free: 5GB
Subscription: 20GB: US$10/year; 50GB: US$25/year; 100GB: US$50/year; 200GB: US$100/year; 500GB: US$250/year; 1000GB: US$500/year
Maximum file size: 2GB
Compatibility: browser; music can be streamed via Amazon Cloud Player
Automatic sync: no

Google Drive

(Credit: Google)

Google Drive recently had a pricing overhaul, and its new super-low pricing could really disrupt the cloud storage marketplace. As well as the mobile workplace function of Google Docs, you can use Google Drive to store photos, videos and other media. It's great for always having access to your documents, spreadsheets and PowerPoints, and its Google account sync and competitive pricing make it hard to go past.

Free: 15GB
Subscription: 100GB: US$1.99/month; 1TB: US$9.99/month; 10TB: US$99.99/month; 20TB: US$199.99/month; 30TB: US$299.99/month
Maximum file size: 1TB for non-Google Docs files; 10MB for Google Docs
Compatibility: web, Android app; ChromeOS; iOS
Automatic sync: yes


(Credit: SpiderOak)

SpiderOak is similar to Dropbox, in that it allows you to back-up and sync your files, but where Dropbox is a simple, more holistic service, SpiderOak lets you get right into your files and customise down to the last TXT file exactly what you want backed up and synced, and where. You can choose what folders you want to back-up, and even certain file types — or just choose to have them synced between computers.

It is also great for security, using two types of encryption: 2048-bit RSA and 256-bit AES. Additionally, outer-level keys are never stored in plain text.

Free: 2GB
Subscription: 100+GB (personal): US$10/month, US$100/year; business: US$600/TB (max 100 users per TB); US$5/user/month for on-premise data storage (min 300 users)
Maximum file size: no maximum file size
Compatibility: Mac, Windows, Linux
Automatic sync: yes


(Credit: Evernote)

Evernote's a bit different to other services, in that it doesn't base your subscription on a set amount of space, but rather on a monthly upload limit. Its value lies in its versatility; it's available across a wide range of platforms, and it allows you to sync the notes you create within the app between as many different devices as you like — and you can search them, too, so you can find them easily.

You can make text, audio and photo notes, and you can even add your own external documents. That said, the monthly upload limit indicates that it's more for keeping notes and files in order rather than storing, say, your family holiday snaps or collection of blues MP3s.

Free: 60MB monthly upload limit
Subscription: 1GB monthly upload limit: US$5.50/month, US$47/year; 2GB monthly upload limit (business account): US$11/month
Maximum file size: 25MB for free account, with 60MB monthly upload limit; 100MB for premium account, with 1GB monthly upload limit; 100MB for business account
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, Android, BlackBerry, iOS, Palm, web, Windows Phone
Automatic sync: yes, but you have to enable it


(Credit: ADrive)

If you want 50GB, ADrive is a pretty neat way to get it free, and, with a 16GB upload-size limit, it's a good deal. What you pay for when you upgrade to a Premium account isn't just more storage space — it's also FTP, file history, SSL encryption, the ability to hold multiple concurrent sessions (say, if you're sharing files with someone), 24/7 support and an absence of ads — which, for US$2.50 a month, is an attractive package.

Free: 50GB
Subscription: 100GB—20TB: from US$2.50/month, US$25/year; premium 200+GB: from US$7/month, US$70/year
Maximum file size: 2GB
Compatibility: Windows, Linux, Mac
Automatic sync: yes


(Credit: LogMeIn)

Cubby is from LogMeIn, and it's a pretty sweet deal. You get 5GB of free space, and it offers unlimited P2P sync across PC, Mac, iOS and Android devices for Pro users, which means that you can host your folder on your own device and simply use Cubby to share it, bypassing the cloud storage. If you have a free account, you can also refer a friend for a bump in storage: for every friend who you refer to the service, you get an extra 1GB, with up to 25GB free. For security, it uses 256-bit SSL encryption.

You can use it for your own personal use, or to share your Cubby folders with other people.

Free: 5GB
Subscription: 100GB (Pro): US$3.99/month/user (introductory offer; regular price US$6.99/month); 1TB between five users (Enterprise): US$39.99/month paid annually (comprehensive pricing up to 2.5TB or 1000 users can be seen here)
Maximum file size: no file-size limitations
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, Android, iOS
Automatic sync: yes


(Credit: LaCie)

Wuala is a bit pricy, but if security is important to you, then it's worth a look. It encrypts the data on your computer before uploading it to cloud storage, which it does in 128-bit AES; file signatures are then generated as 2048-bit RSA keys, and the files are checked with 256-bit SHA codes. Wuala claims that not even its employees can see what's in your files.

We quite like that files can be shared with others without them having to sign up to the service or download the software, too.

Free: 5GB
Subscription: 20GB: €2.99/month; 50GB: €5.99/month; 100GB: €9.99/month; business 100GB and five users €389/year
Maximum file size: 100GB
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS
Automatic sync: yes


(Credit: Barracuda)

Copy offers a fair bit of bang for your buck. It's the work of network security company Barracuda, and includes AES 256 encryption during storage, transit and online editing. Its subscription pricing is pretty competitive, too; although the file size limitation is relatively low, that shouldn't pose too much of a problem for personal users. You can also choose to share files publicly, or by private invite only.

Free: 15GB +5GB per referee; business five users
Subscription: 250GB: US$9.99/month, US$99/year; 500GB: US$14.99/month, US$149/year; business 10 users: US$79/month, US$899/year (pricing up to 500 users can be seen here)
Maximum file size: 1GB
Compatibility: Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, Windows Phone
Automatic sync: yes

Do you have a favourite cloud service that we missed? Let us know about it in the comments below!