The past week was a big one for cloud storage services. Microsoft released a major update to SkyDrive, adding support for desktop sync and premium storage tiers, Dropbox updated its service, and Google finally took the wraps off of Google Drive. The three platforms share many similarities, so which one should you choose?
There are numerous factors that go into choosing a cloud storage service, including compatibility, integration with existing services, pricing (when applicable), maximum available storage, and–most important for smartphone users–platform availability. Plus, each service, particularly SkyDrive and Google Drive, offers additional benefits for its parent company’s platform of choice. Let’s take a closer look.
While storage and platform availability are very important, compatibility is arguably even more so. Of the three service’s we’ve chosen to look at–Apple iCloud only runs on the iPhone, so we won’t be focusing on it–only Dropbox doesn’t include built-in support for document editing. Google Drive relies on Google Docs to read and edit files. Many people, especially students, have begun using Google Docs over the years, but the actual document editing experience is somewhat average. Worse, the service doesn’t preserve document formatting from other platforms like Office, the number one productivity suite. SkyDrive, on the other hand, includes full support for Office documents, preserving formatting and even including free web-based versions of the four most popular apps in the suite: Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Both services allow users to quickly and easily share files for everything from collaboration to simple viewing. Google Docs work with Android, while SkyDrive’s Office documents populate the Office Hub on Windows Phone for even tighter integration.
SkyDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox all allow users to sync their entire cloud storage pool to a folder on a computer. All three work with Windows and Mac, but Dropbox also adds support for Linux as well. On the mobile side, the area of most interest to our readers, the compatibility is slightly slanted toward specific platforms. Google Drive is currently only available on Android, with an iOS app set to debut sometime in the future. Dropbox, meanwhile, supports Android, iOS, and, curiously, BlackBerry. Finally, SkyDrive offers deep integration with Windows Phone right out of the gate, but offers apps for Windows Phone and iOS that provide additional capabilities. The service doesn’t have an Android app yet, but there are multiple third-party apps that take advantage of the SkyDrive API.
Last, but certainly not least, is storage. Dropbox gives users 2GB of free storage, with the potential to earn more through referrals and special offers. Google Drive comes with 5GB of free storage, and SkyDrive is giving new users 7GB of free storage. Current SkyDrive users can keep their old 25GB of free storage by simply opting in. Interestingly, while Google Drive offers the best options for maximizing the amount of premium storage, SkyDrive has the best pricing by far. The three services have slightly different storage tiers, so it makes it somewhat difficult to find an exact one-to-one ratio. 20GB of additional storage a year (on top of whatever space free accounts receive) runs $10 per year on SkyDrive, while Google Drive offers a 25GB upgrade for $30 a year. Dropbox starts at 50GB, but if it were to offer a 20-25GB plan, it would come out to roughly $60 a year. A better comparison might be to look at the 100GB plan, which all three services provide: $199 on Dropbox, $60 on Google Drive, and $50 on SkyDrive. While Google Drive fares better against the competition in the 100GB range, SkyDrive still wins hands down.
But if you’re looking for the absolute maximum storage you can pay for, Google Drive is where it’s at, with a whopping $800 for 16TB. Dropbox offers in excess of 1TB if you switch to a multi-user plan, which also runs $800 a year. SkyDrive, on the other hand, is currently maxed out at 100GB (125GB, when you factor in the free storage). This probably won’t be a big deal for most people, but it would be nice to see additional storage capacities added later on. It should also be noted that SkyDrive, Google Drive, and Dropbox have a maximum file size limit on uploads: 2GB, 10GB, and 300MB (via the browser), respectively.
Each service offers its own benefits and drawbacks. Personally, I’ve chosen SkyDrive has my cloud storage service of choice, thanks to its low-cost pricing, good storage options, document compatibility, and deep integration with everything I use on a regular basis, be it Windows Phone, Office, or even Windows 8 (SkyDrive already has an app available on the Windows Store). SkyDrive now stores all of my documents, photos, music, videos, and miscellaneous files with plenty of room to spare, and I can access files not on the service through the new fetching tool, which lets me browse the entire hard drivers on my computers. Of course, if you’re forced to rely heavily on Google Docs for some reason, or if you need an insanely large amount of storage, Google Drive might be better suited to your needs. And Dropbox? With the recent SkyDrive and Google Drive announcements, there’s really no reason to switch to what was once the king of online storage… unless you use Linux or a BlackBerry on a daily basis.