Google Drive HeroSource: Android Central

Best Cloud Storage Service Android Central 2021

Choosing the best cloud storage service isn't a simple decision. Are you backing up a specific batch of files or your entire computer? Do you need to share your files with others for work, or would you prefer total encryption? Your choice will depend greatly on your budget, whether you need gigabytes or terabytes of storage and your favorite productivity apps. If you're looking for the best option for general use, particularly but not exclusively for Android users, choose Google Drive for its free storage and popular productivity apps.

Best Overall: Google Drive

pricingSource: Nicole Johnston/Android Central

Google Drive may have particular perks for Android power users, but we believe it's the best cloud storage solution for anyone regardless of which device you use. The most obvious perk is its 15GB of free storage, while most competitors offer 10GB or 5GB free. If that isn't enough, you can pay $20/year for 100GB, $30/year for 200GB, or $100/year for 2TB. The 100GB price is a few dollars cheaper than OneDrive's, while the 2TB annual price slightly undercuts Dropbox's. So while Google Drive just wins the pricing battle against its main competitors, the differences are small enough that you should judge them solely on their features.

Google seamlessly links up to Google Drive with its Google Workspace apps, so you can easily attach your Docs and Sheets to your Gmail drafts, or share them quickly in a Google Meet work call. Even if you don't primarily use Google apps, you can use the Google Drive desktop app and its Backup and Sync function to store changes automatically to any file type on your PC, Mac or Chromebook. Simply select the folders you want backed up and Google will resave them to the Cloud after every change; simultaneously, Backup & Sync creates a "My Drive" folder on your desktop that lets you view your Google Cloud files on your desktop.

We truly could go on and on about Google Drive's features. You can view your documents while offline, and on any mobile device. Now that Google Photos will no longer have unlimited storage in mid-2021, you'll need Google Drive storage to keep your years of photos saved. You can convert any paid storage plan into a shared family plan, while OneDrive and Dropbox make you pay for their most expensive plans to unlock multiple accounts. Any paid plan gets you Google One member pricing at certain hotels, while the 2TB plan unlocks 10% off at the Google Store and a free VPN for any Android phone.

What is Google Drive missing compared to its main competitors? You won't find a lifetime payment option, for starters. Syncing can be slow since Google Drive completely redownloads and reuploads a file after just a single change, whereas services like Dropbox use block-syncing and simply edit the saved file instead of replacing it, saving time. Drive also doesn't directly integrate with Zoom, which many people prefer over Hangouts for both business and personal calls. It does have direct integrations with Slack, Adobe, and other popular apps, however.

Pros:

  • 15GB of free storage
  • Good pricing for paid plans
  • Wide range of apps and integrations
  • Any paid plan can be family/shared
  • Only real option for Chromebook users

Cons:

  • Replaces entire file instead of targeted edits
  • No complete PC backup option

Best Overall

Google Drive logo

Google Drive

Google One + Google Workspace

With one of the best free storage plans, the best productivity apps, and the best storage prices, Google Drive is a no-brainer.

Best for Office Users and Working from Home: Microsoft OneDrive

A phone held in front of a PC monitor, both showing the Microsoft OneDrive appSource: Android Central

OneDrive is built for users that frequently use Microsoft Office apps, and bundles storage and access to its apps with a Microsoft 365 plan. Personal users can get 5GB of storage for free, pay $1.99/month for 100GB, or purchase 1TB for $70/year. You can also expand your storage past 1TB in 200GB increments up to 2TB — letting you pay for what you actually need — or pay for a family plan for up to 6TB at $100/year (though each family member is maxed out at 1TB unless you pay extra).

With a Microsoft 365 plan, you'll have access to a heap of useful features. To name just a few, it can automatically upload any mobile photos you take to the cloud; syncs your desktop files to the cloud and pushes any changes you make instantly, then lets you download those files on other devices or edit them in the web-based OneDrive apps; protects your files using BitLocker encryption and 2FA; pairs with Windows 10 so your Windows desktop searches include OneDrive results; and auto-tags stored photos using AI, including using OCR to pull text from them, making them searchable.

We appreciate how well OneDrive works on Windows, Macs, iOS, and Android, despite being a Microsoft product. That being said, it's particularly optimized for Windows 10 users and Microsoft Office users. Unlike Drive, which lets you use its software for free, OneDrive's major benefits really only kicks in at the 1TB tier for personal users.

More people, however, will use OneDrive and 365 as part of their businesses, and it is an excellent solution for most work environments, including for people working from home. The 365 Business Standard plan gets you a TB of storage and Office apps, plus access to productivity apps like Sharepoint and Teams. We rated Microsoft Teams favorably compared to Zoom thanks to its better security and integration with Microsoft Office.

Pros:

  • Integrates fully with Windows 10
  • Syncs with Office and Business apps
  • Backs up and categorizes your camera roll
  • Compatible with Microsoft Teams and Slack

Cons:

  • Only 5GB of free storage
  • Expensive for plans above 1TB

Best for Office Users and Working from Home

Microsoft OneDrive App Icon

Microsoft OneDrive

Optimized for Windows 10

Microsoft 365 is a great all-around solution for productivity, with Office apps and storage thrown into the bargain.

Best for Data Privacy and Total Machine Backups: IDrive

IDrive Cloud StorageSource: Android Central

Something most people don't consider when using cloud storage to back up terabytes of data (or redownload data to a new PC) is how slow your network's upload speeds are, or how this will wreck your bandwidth for the month. IDrive solves this by mailing a physical external hard drive to you. You'll either receive a blank HDD that you can copy your data to and mail back to iDrive, or a HDD with your data that lets you import your data much faster. Depending on your network speeds, this could save you days at least.

IDrive likes to offer promotional pricing and storage upgrades for your first year, but we'll stick with the standard fees you'll be paying later: $70/year for 2TB or $100/year for 5TB with a personal account. We found it somewhat disingenuous that IDrive implies you'll get 5TB and 10TB with these plans and only notes that this is a "limited time" promotion in an unlinked footnote, but the actual storage sizes are great for the cost. You just won't find cheaper plans with smaller storage limits — IDrive is really designed for people backing up all of your data on multiple devices, not just particular files. Most cloud competitors make you choose individual folders to back up, but IDrive can actually clone your entire computer or device including the OS, applications, system files, and boot files. It can also back up your server data.

While IDrive does have business accounts and a file-sharing system with standard encryption, many IDrive users will elect to use end-to-end encryption with their personal accounts, sacrificing sharing options for greater data privacy. You receive a private key that locks all of your files so no one else can access them, and even IDrive doesn't have it, so you'll lose access to your files if you lose the key.

Otherwise, IDrive has the same features that we appreciate in our other top picks: support for Apple and Microsoft devices, automatic file syncing between desktop and cloud files, storage of previous versions of files, and the option to manage your local files using a web-based interface.

Pros:

  • Total PC and server backups
  • End-to-end encryption with private key
  • Back up or recover data with mailed HDD
  • Affordable 5TB storage option

Cons:

  • Some misleading advertising
  • Only 5GB free

Best for Data Privacy and Total Machine Backups

IDrive Cloud Storage Logo

IDrive

Keep your storage secure

Excellent cloud features, plus a physical HDD for backing up or recovering data, make IDrive one of the smartest storage options.

Best for Lifetime Cloud Storage: pCloud

pCloud Cloud StorageSource: Android Central

Many people choose external hard drives over cloud storage because you pay once instead of getting charged monthly, even though most people consider physical backups a hassle and don't do it as often as they should. pCloud is an attractive cloud storage option for this demographic because you can purchase a lifetime storage pass at a reasonable price: $175 for 500GB or $350 for 2TB. That latter price would cover just a couple of years of OneDrive, 3.5 years of Google Drive, and 5 years of iDrive at 2TB. Forward-thinking shoppers that know they want long-term, secure cloud storage can save big over time. Or, it's $60/year 500GB or $120/year 2TB plans are comparable to its cloud storage rivals.

Before you commit, you'll want to test pCloud out and make sure it's right for you. You get 10GB of free storage, and it works with Linux as well as the usual MacOS, Windows, iOS, and Android. pCloud's features will mostly sound familiar by now, starting with its automatic camera roll updates, file versioning, online previews of your backed-up files, 256-bit AES encryption, and so on. A more unique feature is that pCloud has its own built-in video and music player, so you can listen to or watch your backed up files or even create playlists. It also allows you to share files with anyone, either unrestricted or with a password or automated expiration date to access it. While pCloud has no document or media editor of its own for collaboration, you can back up your Google Drive or OneDrive accounts on pCloud.

pCloud offers two add-ons that you must pay for monthly, even if you buy a lifetime subscription: Extended File History and pCloud Crypto. The first feature extends the amount of time that pCloud saves your edits and trashed files from 30 days to a year. The second offers client-side encryption with a private key for total data protection — which iDrive offers as a regular perk of all its plans, even the free one.

Pros:

  • One flat fee for 99 years of storage
  • Built-in media player
  • Restricted sharing options

Cons:

  • Charges extra for Crypto and Extended History
  • No proprietary document editor

Best for Lifetime Cloud Storage

pCloud Logo

pCloud

Compatible with most devices

Avoid a never-ending subscription and pay one flat fee for indefinite cloud storage, plus pay extra for 365 days of backups.

Best for File Recovery and Zoom Calls: Dropbox

FilesSource: Nicole Johnston/ Android Central

Dropbox remains the go-to cloud storage option that many people prefer, both for their personal or business storage. As a free option, it's very meager, with just 2GB and limited features available, but you can get 2TB of space for $120/year if paid annually. With a paid plan, Dropbox provides a thorough list of cloud benefits that make backing up your data easy and secure: smart syncing between your computers, mobile devices, and the cloud; 30 days of version history; a Vault of secure, password-protected docs; offline access to stored docs on your smartphone; and so on.

As a business solution, Dropbox is especially handy because it offers 180 days of versioning, file recovery, and Rewinds that revert your files following any major issues like ransomware attacks. It gives you peace of mind to know that if a coworker messes up your work somehow, you won't have to start from scratch. The Professional and Business tiers also give you HIPAA compliance, passwords and expiration dates for shared files, a much larger transfer limit, locked (unsavable) files, and a history of who has viewed or edited your files.

Most people weigh Google Drive versus Dropbox when choosing the best cloud storage option, given that both have big brand recognition built off of quality service. The best plus in Dropbox's column is its block syncing. When you edit a file, Dropbox edits the saved cloud version by only changing that specific portion, saving bandwidth, while Google Drive replaces the whole file every time. Moreover, you can integrate and edit Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive files within Dropbox by syncing your accounts, which gives you some flexibility beyond one tech ecosystem. And its Zoom integration makes it simple to share your stored files with other participants during a call.

Dropbox does have some drawbacks that made Google Drive an easier choice, however. You must pay for the $204/year plan to enable family access, where Google lets you split its cheaper accounts among multiple users. More importantly, we strongly prefer Google Workspace apps to Dropbox Paper, a competent but simple document editor.

Pros:

  • Targeted block syncing
  • 6 months of file recovery and version history
  • Zoom integration
  • Great business and professional features

Cons:

  • Only 2GB of free space
  • Family plan is expensive

Best for File Recovery and Zoom Calls

Dropbox icon

Dropbox

Half a year of backups

A wealth of business and professional features make Dropbox a reliable service for anyone with important documents to preserve.

Bottom line

Start your cloud storage shopping by determining what, exactly, you're backing up and how frequently you need it updated. For example, you could easily keep yourself backed up on an external hard drive for static files like music and applications, and choose a free cloud storage plan specifically for your work documents and mobile photos. That way, you have instant backups of the files you frequently update or just created, but don't waste room and money on files that won't ever change. Or, you can check your current storage usage and find the best cloud storage service that can accommodate all of your files without charging too much for the privilege.

Whatever your circumstances, we feel that Google Drive checks the most boxes for most scenarios. Aside from offering the most free storage of our top picks, it also offers the cheapest 100GB option and 2TB prices, which should cover both people with specific files to save and people wanting to back up everything they own. And when it comes to sharing files with others, you'll find that most people are more comfortable using Google Workspace apps like Docs and Sheets than paid Microsoft Office apps or Dropbox Paper.

If you want more options for your cloud backups beyond the choices we've listed, check out our guide for the best cheap cloud storage, or the storage plans that Android Central readers prefer.

Credits — The team that worked on this guide

Author: Michael Hicks Headshot

Michael Hicks got his tech start in 2016, covering emerging tech like VR and self-driving cars before expanding to all things tech. When he's not gaming or reading SFF novels, he writes freelance for Android Central on everything from laptops to soundbars, from home security to fitness watches.

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