Google Drive adds another player to cloud wars

April 25, 2012

With the announcement of Google Drive on Tuesday, the world of cloud storage got much more crowded. But which cloud service is right for you? Here’s a breakdown of the top features of seven of the leading cloud services.

Google Drive: Google Drive, released Wednesday, is essentially a souped-up Google Docs — it has the same collaboration and sharing features of Google Docs, but also makes it possible to store music, video and other files. Music has to be downloaded first before it can be opened; video does not. Users can also create documents and spreadsheets as well as upload photos. The service is also great for collaborating on work, since collaborators can store living documents on their desktop computers, comment in real time and view past revisions. Google also supports a wide range of file formats, so you can open things in Drive even if you don’t have, say, Adobe Illustrator, on your computer. There’s no one-click way to share files, however — Google doesn’t have public links to Drive files.

Google’s main drawback is this: If you don’t have an Internet connection, you’re out of luck. You can’t create anything while you’re not connected to the network. Google Drive is best for people who have and like their existing Google accounts, as the Web and mobile apps retain much of the same aesthetic as other Google products. If you need to work offline, however, you may want to give it a pass. Google will give you 5GB for free with the option to upgrade. You can get 25GB for $2.49/month, 100GB for $4.99/month or 1TB for $49.99/month, if you feel you need more room.

Dropbox: The leading service for file storage, Dropbox recently spruced up its service and added one great feature for sharing: public links. Anyone can share a Dropbox file with a public link, and the site will display photo galleries or other files in the browser.

The mobile apps are also great for those who like to have their content on the go. While you can’t access documents if you’re not online, Dropbox offers integration with Evernote and Kindle — meaning that you can store stuff there if you know you’ll need it offline later.

The downside of Dropbox? No file creation. This is a pure cloud locker, and whatever you store — a document, a photo, etc. — has to be downloaded to be edited. Dropbox is ideal for people who have a lot of documents to share, but not perfect for collaborators. Users can have up to 2GB of storage for free, 50 GB for $9.99 per month or 100 GB for $19.99 per month. Businesses can also get a terabyte of data, using the company’s enterprise plan, which starts at $795 per year.

iCloud: Apple’s offering for the Cloud is meant for one kind of person: the Apple user. The company’s iCloud browser service syncs a user’s calendar, contacts and mail, as well as any documents made on any of its iWork apps across all their Apple devices.

In some ways, Apple’s approach to content creation in the cloud is the anti-Google — you can do all your work offline, but can’t edit anything online. The apps for iWork will also set you back $9.99 each, which could be a turnoff for many people. The service is also best for solo work, since offline work means no sharing and no real-time collaboration.

The best part about iCloud, though, is in the features you can’t see. The service will sync your music and videos across all your Apple devices, and even match your other songs — for an additional fee. That means that if you download an app or take a picture with your iPhone, you’ll be able to access it on your iPad or Mac later. Apple offers users 5GB of online storage for free, with the option to upgrade to 10 GB for $20 per year, 20 GB for $40 per year or 50 GB for $100 per year.

Amazon Cloud Drive: Amazon’s cloud drive is another pure storage locker — no content creation or collaboration features are built into this service. But Amazon has the unique advantage of letting users store whatever music they purchased through the Web site right on their cloud drive.

If you’re an Amazon user and just want to access your files from any browser, the cloud drive is the simplest option. But if you want any other bells or whistles, such as the ability to share or edit, you’re better off with another service.

Amazon offers users 5GB for free or a variety of other storage options for an annual fee of $1/GB.

SkyDrive: Microsoft’s SkyDrive grants users access to Web versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote, setting it apart from other services. While you can make documents, presentations and spreadsheets in Google Drive, those who are a bit set in their ways could feel a little more comfortable using the familiar menus.

Sharing is easy on SkyDrive — users can e-mail documents from the service or share them on Facebook or Twitter through a single menu. The service also offers collaborative editing, though without a slick commenting system.

The desktop folder for SkyDrive works with PC or Mac, as well as for iPhone and iPad. New users can get 7 GB for free, 20GB for $10 per year, 50 GB for $25 per year or 100 GB for $50 per year.

SugarSync: SugarSync is often overlooked as a service in the shadow of Dropbox, but this cloud locker is a user-friendly, simple service in its own right. It also comes with the added bonus of offering 5GB for free with several other storage options starting at 30 GB for $4.99 per month.

SugarSync is also a little more versatile in that it lets users sync specific folders to specific devices — good if you’re trying to keep some semblance of a work-life separation. It’s easy to start or stop syncing, as well, meaning you won’t have to drag things in and out of a desktop folder to manage what syncs when.

Sadly, you can’t create documents from within SugarSync, so this is yet another service that’s best for readers, not writers.

Users can get up to 500 GB for $39.99 per month — a good option until Google stepped up with its 1TB for $49.99 month offer.

Box: Box is another cloud service that gets a little less play than its competitors, but is a worthy option for anyone looking to move files up to 2GB to the cloud, particularly if you’re working remotely with other people. Users can invite collaborators to work on Web or Google Docs, or even Google Spreadsheets. They can also share files publicly or with other Box users. The service also stands out from the crowd because it allows users to add comments, assign tasks or start discussions on a given document.

Box offers users 2GB of storage for free, 25 GB for $9.99 or 50 GB for $19.99.

Related stories:

Google Drive offers 5GB free, paid upgrades

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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