The Best Cloud Storage Services

Cloud services are more than just a spot for storing a few files

If you're hoping to find a new computer, tablet, or even smartphone in your pile of holiday gifts, now's a good time to take a look at setting up a cloud storage service for those gadgets (and for your old ones too). Cloud storage goes beyond a way to just automatically save your photos from your iPhone—it can help you with a variety of tasks, often for free.

Cloud storage services can store files, let you work on projects over the Internet without ever downloading them, share documents with friends, and collaborate with coworkers. Most services provide a certain amount of space where you can store and sync your files for free. If you go over that amount, you can pay for more storage. And that means that if you're willing to pay, cloud storage can be an easy way to back up your most important documents, or even your entire hard drive.

Here’s a look at what five popular services have to offer.

Apple iCloud. When you use iCloud, you can automatically back up your Apple photo library, app data, and other items you specify. You can also share photos, calendars, and more over iCloud. And of course you can access the files from any of your Apple devices. If you want to use Apple’s Find My Phone app, you’ll need an iCloud account to do so. You get 5GB of space free, but purchases like movies, music, and books don’t count against that total. You can get 50GB of storage for 99 cents a month, 200GB for $2.99, and 1TB for $9.99. iCloud is geared toward Apple devices, but non-Apple users can also set up an iCloud account from which they can create and share documents using Pages, Numbers, and Apple’s other productivity programs. You get 1GB of free storage with that type of account. Apple has had its share of security hacks, including the infamous celebrity photo hack that relied on phishing and guessed login credentials. So the company advises that you use a strong password and two-factor authentication, and provides instructions on how to do so here. Apple also uses various levels of encryption depending on whether an item is being transmitted or stored, as well as on what type of file it is.

DropBox. What started as a popular way to share music files has grown into a more complex cloud service. As with other services, you can sync and store across devices and platforms. But you can also share files with people who aren’t DropBox members by sending a link that they can use to download the file. There’s a 30-day version history, so if you want to go back to an older file you no longer have anywhere else, you’ll be able to retrieve it on DropBox. There’s a presentation program for collaborating with other users on slides. The Basic plan starts you with 2GB of storage; with the $9.99 a month Pro, you get 1TB of space and the ability to remotely wipe files from lost or stolen devices. The Business version gives you unlimited storage for $15 a month. Data stored in DropBox is protected with 256-bit encryption, and transported through a 128-bit SSL tunnel. You’ll find more security settings here.

Google Drive. When you sign up for Google Drive, you get a generous 15GB of storage free to get you started. A variety of plans let you add more, from $1.99 a month for 100GB to $299.99 a month for 30TB. Google Drive is one of the services that lets you work collaboratively by sharing documents and giving different users various levels of access, such as edit and comment. You can work on documents wherever you are using the Google Docs and the other office tools. It also works well with Gmail accounts, letting you easily save attachments by hovering over them until you see the Drive logo, or searching for terms in documents or even objects in photos (such as “Empire State Building” in pictures of New York City). Google encrypts your data while it's in transit using SSL, the same level of encryption it uses in Gmail. It also offers these tips to help you keep your data secure.

Microsoft OneDrive. Even if you don’t have Microsoft Office, you can access, share, and collaborate on documents using a pared-down version of the suite when you’re online with OneDrive. You can use OneDrive from any platform, be it Windows, iOS, or Android. If you’re looking for lots of storage space, you might consider adding Windows 365 to your account. It’s a version of Office that you can share with up to five users (“Home” version, $99.99 a year) or use just for yourself (“Personal” version, $69.99 a year), but either provides you with 1TB of storage instead of the default free 15GB. If you’re a single user who’s not looking for mega-amounts of cloud storage, however, it’s much less costly to stick with the $150 version of Office Home & Student, which is not subscription-based. Here’s how Microsoft says it protects your files in OneDrive, along with some hints on what you can do to keep your data safe.

SugarSync. Unlike most other cloud services, SugarSync lets you back up and sync entire file folders. But also unlike others, there’s no free option. You can elect the 100GB plan for $7.49 a month or 1TB for $9.98 a month. You can generate private or public links to share your files, and remotely wipe items if one of your devices is lost or stolen. Data is stored using 256-bit encryption.