If you’re looking for a versatile storage option for your documents, media and other assorted data, it could be time to take it to the cloud. Cloud storage platforms store your data online (in the cloud) as opposed to on your device. This means, you can access your data, from any device.
Working across your desktop to your smartphone, cloud storage can be harnessed to not only back up your data, but also to share data across your various devices and with other people. And while there are free options, to help you get a feel for cloud storage, paid services offer extra benefits and features, which we’ll look at below.
So, what is cloud storage is, what features are on offer, and what should you consider when weighing up different providers?
What is cloud storage?
Cloud storage providers offer a service that, in its most basic form, allows you to store data online. This data can then be accessed and modified as required. In this sense, cloud storage essentially functions as a remote hard drive. This means your work, photos, documents, and any other data, are all at your disposal anywhere via an internet connection.
Beyond storage functions, providers are increasingly focusing on intuitive device and software integration. This means users have flexibility when it comes to managing their documents and media, while also paving the way for enhanced sharing and collaboration.
Many providers begin with a free service, and also offer a selection of paid tiered plans. These sport expanded storage and a range of additional features. These plans are typically available as either a monthly or yearly subscription service.
→Related article: Rating the Best External Storage Options
Cloud storage features to focus on
There is a range of features you should consider when comparing cloud storage services. And, it may well be a matter of trialling a few services before making a decision. As mentioned above, cloud storage providers tend to have a free subscription option, allowing you to try its service without financial commitment.
Cloud storage features to consider include:
- Storage – how much space do you need? It may be a matter of starting out small and expanding as you go
- Device compatibility – along with using a web browser to access a platform, is dedicated app support provided for your different devices?
- Data management – do you want to manually select what you upload, or are you looking to automatically sync your data across different devices?
- Security – from data encryption to two-factor authentication, what types of security controls are on offer?
- App integration – what range of apps are integrated with a service (for instance, apps that allow you to view and edit photos, documents and other types of media)?
- Collaboration – can you share documents and other types of media with other users and collaborate in real time?
If you’re simply looking to back up and share a few files, a free service might be enough to meet your needs. Meanwhile, when it comes to expanded storage and more advanced features, it will be worthwhile shopping around for a paid plan that provides a good fit.
Microsoft vs Google vs Apple: Which cloud storage provider is right for you?
Tech heavyweights Microsoft, Google and Apple each respectively offer cloud storage services. These are all packed to the brim with features. And the platform that is right for you will come down to a combination of factors.
Beyond the storage capacities on offer, you’ll ultimately want straightforward and seamless access to your data. And for this reason, compatibility with your various devices, along with the software and services you use, is a good starting point.
For instance, if you’re an iPhone user, Apple’s iCloud/iCloud+ service will be a natural option to look at. While if you regularly use Microsoft Office apps, it will be worthwhile checking out Microsoft’s Microsoft 365 plans. Including its OneDrive service.
Of course, most cloud services are designed to be integrated across a range of devices. So it is important to weigh up the full scope of features on offer from a variety of providers when determining what service will be the best fit for you. Simply choosing the cloud storage provided by your phone manufacturer may be not be the best option for you.
Read on for an overview of what’s on offer from Microsoft, Google and Apple.
Microsoft’s OneDrive cloud storage service is built into its Windows 10 operating system. It is available for anyone with a Microsoft account. If you don’t have a Microsoft account, you can create one and sign up for free. You get 5GB of storage at OneDrive’s starter level.
Microsoft also includes OneDrive with its Microsoft 365 plans, bundling together a range of services and providing expanded storage.
OneDrive features include:
- Collaboration – you can share your documents and photos, and collaborate in real-time via Office apps
- Office apps – the Microsoft 365 plans come with the latest versions of the Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint apps (available free on the web for all plans)
- PC folder backup – automatically back up and sync all the files in your Desktop, Documents and Pictures folders on your Windows PC
- Personal vault – is protected by identity verification, allowing for storage of sensitive files (unlimited up to your storage limit for Microsoft 365 plans; three files for other plans)
- File restore – restore your entire OneDrive to a previous time within the last 30 days (for Microsoft 365 plans)
- Family plans – for up to six people (6TB total: 1TB per person)
You can access OneDrive via compatible web browsers. If you’re using a version of Windows other than Windows 10, you can still install OneDrive. With apps also available for compatible macOS, Android and iOS devices.
- OneDrive Basic (5GB) – free
- OneDrive Standalone (100GB) – $3 per month
- Microsoft 365 Personal (1TB) – $119 per year, or $10 per month
- Microsoft 365 Family (6TB total: 1TB per person) – $165 per year, or $16 per month (up to six people).
Google: Google Drive/Google One
Google’s cloud storage service Google Drive provides 15GB of free storage for users with a Google account. If you don’t have an account, it is simply a matter of creating one when you sign up for the service.
Meanwhile, the Google One paid subscription service builds upon Google Drive. Upping the storage offerings and incorporating a range of other features.
Google Drive/Google One features include:
- Collaboration – integrated Google Docs, Sheets and Slides apps allow users to collaborate in real-time. In addition to this, integration with existing tools and apps (such as Microsoft Office files) means there is no need to convert file formats
- Security – provides encrypted access to your files, with shared files proactively scanned and removed when malware, spam, ransomware or phishing is detected
- Shared storage – across Google Drive, Gmail, and Google Photos, with additional room to keep your photos and videos in full resolution (Google One).
- Phone backup – back up of photos, videos, contacts and other data (Google One)
- Family plans – you can add up to five additional family members to your plan, with each family member receiving their own space (Google One)
Google Drive be accessed via compatible web browsers, with apps available for compatible Windows, macOS, Android and iOS devices. Google One be accessed via compatible web browsers, with apps available for compatible Android and iOS devices.
- Google Drive (15GB) – free
- Google One Basic (100GB) – $29.99 per year, or $2.99 per month
- Standard (200GB) – $49.99 per year, or $4.49 per month
- Premium (2TB) – $149.99 per year, or $14.99 per month
Apple’s iCloud cloud storage service is built into every Apple device. A free Apple ID is required to sign in. The process for creating an Apple ID will vary depending on the device you are using. With iCloud, you will automatically receive 5GB of free storage to start with.
If you’re keen to upgrade, Apple’s iCloud+ premium plans offer expanded storage and incorporate a range of additional features.
iCloud/iCloud+ features include:
- iCloud Photos – allowing you to browse, search and share photos and videos, with Shared Albums allowing you to choose who can see, comment, add their own photos and videos
- iCloud Drive – providing for storage and organisation of your files. You can share folders and files, controlling whether other users can view, share or edit each file
- App integration – apps – including Mail, Calendar, Contacts, Reminders and Safari – are automatically updated across all of your devices, while you can collaborate with other users via the Pages, Numbers, Keynote and Notes apps
- iCloud Backup and Restore – automatically backs up your iOS and iPadOS devices when connected to power and wi-fi, assisting when setting up a new device
- Security – two-factor authentication provides an added layer of security
- HomeKit Secure Video – connect your cameras, with footage stored in an end-to-end encrypted format that only you and the people you choose can monitor. None of the recorded video counts towards your iCloud storage (iCloud+: camera number varies by plan)
- Family plans – all iCloud+ plans can be shared with people in a Family Sharing group
Web-only access to iCloud/iCloud+ is available via compatible web browsers, with apps available for compatible iOS, macOS and Windows devices.
- iCloud (5GB) – free.
- iCloud+ (50GB) – $1.69 per month, (200GB) – $4.99 per month, (2TB) – $16.99 per month.
Compare broadband providers with Canstar Blue
If you are looking at moving your data to the cloud, and storing it all online, then you’ll want reliable internet service. Slow speeds and intermittent connections could make your cloud storage more hassle than it’s worth. And even if your internet speeds are sky-high, is your internet price sky-high too?
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About the author of this page
This report was written by Canstar author Martin Kovacs. Martin is a freelance writer with experience covering the business, consumer technology and utilities sectors. Martin has written about a wide range of topics across both print and digital publications, including the manner in which industry continues to adapt and evolve amid the rollout of new technologies