Best Free Cloud Storage
Online storage isn't just for backups anymore. Mobile technology and online collaboration have grown dramatically in recent years, and thus the need for access to data with just about any device anywhere that online connections are possible. Cloud storage services are a convenient means of keeping important files in one place and also serve as a reliable backup option. Fortunately, there's no reason to pay for this service: Some of the best cloud storage options are free and others cost no more than 50 cents a gigabyte annually.
Our Top Pick
Microsoft SkyDrive Review
Microsoft is making a strong case for its online services with SkyDrive, a cloud storage service that offers lots of flexibility and storage for little, if any, cost. A Microsoft SkyDrive review by PC Mag confers the Editor's Choice award on this cloud. The reviewer cited several things to like about SkyDrive. It has a clean, simple interface, for example, and users can share files with others and even let them edit those files in Microsoft's web-based office applications. A review by PC World is likewise laudatory, praising the service for its simplicity, sharing options, speed, and syncing. Still, the review suggests that a visual cue indicating when a sync is complete, with a checkmark or other icon, say, as other services provide, would be welcome. An added bonus with Microsoft SkyDrive: The generous amount of free storage and the cheap cost of extra storage.
SkyDrive offers 7GB of free storage to each user, although you must first create a Microsoft account. (If you have an account for other Microsoft online services, such as MSN, you can sign in to SkyDrive using that information.) SkyDrive works with several platforms and devices, including PCs, Macs, iPhones, Android phones, and Windows phones, like the HTC Windows Phone 8X. The service uses Microsoft's online Office programs for viewing and editing documents and files, which can be shared with others. Additional storage costs $10 a year for 20GB, $25 a year for 50GB, and $50 a year for 100GB -- a bargain when stacked against competing cloud services.
SkyDrive is a simple, straightforward cloud service that offers more free storage and cheaper upgrades than others. It's fast and syncs easily, and lets you share with colleagues. The fact that SkyDrive uses Microsoft's very popular Office software doesn't hurt, either.
Dropbox is one of the oldest and most popular cloud storage services, and based on Dropbox reviews, it's clear this service has the cloud thing down pat. Top Ten Reviews says it's very reliable and lets you access your data from virtually anywhere on virtually any web-enabled device. A review by Macworld notes that the desktop application is relatively simple, with few features or options, while the web-based interface is very robust. The reviewer especially likes how easy it is to sync files across all of a user's devices that have Dropbox installed; folders shared with others sync across their devices as well. It saves deleted or older versions of your files for 30 days, so you can return to previous versions if need be -- and these files don't count against your storage limit. Like Microsoft SkyDrive, Dropbox garners an Editor's Choice award from PC Mag, which commends the "effortless" file syncing and points out it's one of the few services that work with Linux and Blackberry operating systems. On the downside, this cloud costs more than other services.
Dropbox supports a wide variety of devices and platforms, including Windows, Mac, Android, iPhone, Linux, Blackberry, and the Kindle Fire. It offers 2GB of free storage, which isn't much compared to competing clouds, but users can earn additional free storage by referring other customers; storage-earning promotions also pop up occasionally. Additional storage is pricey -- $9.99 a month for 100GB, $19.99 a month for 200GB, and $49.99 a month for 500GB -- but signing up for a year yields savings at all three levels.
Given its compatibility with way more operating systems and devices than the competition, Dropbox is currently the closest thing to a "universal" cloud storage service there is. Its reliability and strong sharing features should draw in power users or small businesses with lots of files to store and share. Excellent, yes, but costly storage options could deter some potential users.
Amazon Cloud Drive Review
All you need do to use Amazon Cloud Drive is sign up for a free Amazon account. The simplicity of the service appeals, according to Amazon Cloud Drive reviews, but the lack of features is a downer. Notebook Review talks up the cheap price for extra storage, the ability to store music files bought from Amazon without any impact on your storage limit, and the speed at which files move along to storage. On the other hand, notes the review, there are no file-sharing options and files on your desktop and in the cloud don't sync automatically. A reviewer from Pocket-lint also laments the lack of file syncing and, as a result, the need for more hands-on management. The review by Macworld dittos that assessment but concludes this is a decent service for users seeking a quick and easy way to store some files online.
Amazon Cloud Drive offers 5GB of free storage with a free Amazon account. As noted above, music files bought through Amazon can be stored in the cloud without any charge against the free storage limit, one of the few frills this service offers. (You can listen to the files online through Cloud Drive's music player.) Additional storage is cheap -- only 50 cents a gigabyte for a year -- so $10 will get you 20GB of storage. Both PCs and Macs mesh with Cloud Drive, as does Amazon's Kindle Fire tablet; mobile devices such as iPhones and Android phones do not.
Cloud Drive might suffice if your priorities include buying a lot of music files from Amazon and/or "filing isn't forgetting" some documents or photos. It's a simple service that uploads data quickly but is light on features. The lack of syncing and sharing options is definitely a drawback. There are other cloud services that offer free storage while still including plenty of sharing and syncing features and apps for mobile devices.
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