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How to pick the best cloud service for your needs and devices

Storing and protecting your essential documents and data has never been easier.

Cloud storage is one of the most convenient and secure ways to back up your critical files and data. Cloud storage also clears up tons of internal storage space on your devices. However, there is one downside: paying the fees associated with most cloud storage options. Although these seem like a small sacrifice to make to keep your data protected, cloud storage fees can add up over time. What many people don’t realize is that you can buy personal cloud storage devices that you pay for once and can use in perpetuity. Not only will you save money, but it also means you don’t have to rely on someone else’s server to keep your data safe.

What to Consider

So, you’ve decided to get your own personal cloud storage device, but don’t know which option to choose. To find the right cloud storage device for your needs, there are some factors you’ll want to consider.

Capacity: Make sure that you choose an option that has enough storage for your individual needs. Things like photos and HD videos are going to take up more space, so if you want to store those types of files, you should opt for a device with a larger capacity. Most cloud storage solutions will have at least a one-terabyte capacity. You can also purchase a cloud storage device that allows you to easily upgrade your storage, which brings us to our next factor.

Drive Bays: If your device has multiple drive bays, you have room to expand your storage capacity. The drive bays will hold hard drives or solid-state drives. Having multiple bays means you can also back up one of your drives to the other, giving you more peace of mind.

Interface: Interface refers to the ports that allow an Ethernet connection from your device or enable you to connect your cloud storage system to other external devices. Most personal cloud devices will have at least an Ethernet port.

RAM: The more RAM your device has, the better its performance. If you want to up the processing speed of your device, you’ll want more RAM.

How We Evaluated

Choosing a personal cloud storage device isn’t easy, so we made the process simpler for you. We chose an eclectic mix of devices to fit a variety of use cases. This makes it easy for you to scroll to the right category and pick the device that fits your needs best. We also read cloud storage recommendations from other reputable publications, like TechRadar and PCMag. All of our choices are easy to purchase from Amazon and have earned average ratings of four stars or higher from users. If you’re ready to leave those pesky subscription fees behind, scroll down to find a great personal cloud storage device for your home.

Storing and syncing documents and media in the cloud is a huge convenience. It lets you easily share and access files from anywhere and restore them if something goes wrong.

Prior to my current role, I covered software and apps for ExtremeTech, and before that I headed up PCMag\u2019s enterprise software team, but I\u2019m happy to be back in the more accessible realm of consumer software. I\u2019ve attended trade shows of Microsoft, Google, and Apple and written about all of them and their products.

I\u2019m an avid bird photographer and traveler\u2014I\u2019ve been to 40 countries, many with great birds! Because I\u2019m also a classical fan and former performer, I\u2019ve reviewed streaming services that emphasize classical music. “>” @mouseover=”showAuthor = true” @mouseout=”showAuthor = false” @click=”showAuthor = !showAuthor”> By Michael Muchmore

I specialize in apps for productivity and collaboration, including project management software. I also test and analyze online learning services, particularly for learning languages.

While I only dabble in technology for health and fitness these days, I had the pleasure of writing a review of the original Fitbit Ultra and similar products that came after it.

Prior to working for PCMag, I was the managing editor of Game Developer magazine. I’ve also worked at the Association for Computing Machinery, The Examiner newspaper in San Francisco, and several other publications. My first job in publishing was copy editing peer-reviewed papers on chemical physics.

  • Related File Sync & Backup Picks:

Our 7 Top Picks

Best for Windows Users

Microsoft OneDrive

Best for Low-Cost Backup and Syncing

IDrive

Best for Google Workspace Users

Google Drive

Best for Integration With Third-Party Services

Dropbox

Best for Secure Backups

SpiderOak One Backup

Best for Business Integrations

Box (Personal)

Best for Mac and iPhone users

Apple iCloud Drive

It wasn’t all that long ago that collaborating with people on documents was a huge hassle. You’d make multiple copies of a file and have to add a stupid filename appendix to each one, like “-edited-JD-final-final,” in hopes of keeping track of everyone’s changes. Equally painful was managing versions of your own documents, as you emailed them to yourself from your personal computer to your work computer. Who misses that? No one has to mess with those problems anymore largely thanks to online file storage and syncing services.

File syncing and storage services provide seamless access to all your data—Word docs, PDFs, spreadsheets, photos, and any other digital assets—wherever you are. You no longer need to be sitting at your work PC to see your work files. With cloud syncing you can get to them from your laptop at home, your smartphone on the go, or from your tablet on your couch. Syncing and storage services also add safety and security to your online life because when you sync your files via the cloud, you by default create a backup of them as well. If you lose your laptop, all your files are still accessible to you if you log into your syncing service from any computer.

If you don’t yet have a service for storing and syncing your data in the cloud, you should seriously consider getting one. Which one you choose depends on the kinds of files you store, how much security you need, whether you plan to collaborate with other people, and which devices you use to edit and access your files. It may also depend on your comfort level with computers in general. Most of these services are extremely user-friendly, while others offer advanced customization for more experienced techies.

What Can Cloud Storage Do for You?

The very best cloud storage solutions play nicely with other apps and services, making the experience of viewing and editing your files feel natural. Especially in business, you want your other software and apps to be able to retrieve or access your files, so making sure you use a service that easily authenticates with the other tools you use is a big deal. Box and Dropbox are particularly strong in this regard.

The range of capabilities of cloud-based storage services is incredible. Many of them specialize in a specific area. For example, Dropbox focuses on keeping a synced folder accessible everywhere. SpiderOak One Backup emphasizes security. Some cloud storage services, such as Apple iCloud, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive, are generalists, offering not only folder and file syncing, but also media-playing and device syncing. These products even double as collaboration software, offering real-time document co-editing.

Distinct from but overlapping in some cases with cloud storage are backup services, particularly ones that offer online backups. Some of them, such as Carbonite, specialize in data protection and recovery, while others like IDrive, combine data protection with syncing and sharing capabilities.

Most cloud services do offer some level of backup, almost as a consequence of their intended function. It follows logically that any files uploaded to a cloud service are also protected from disk failures, since there are copies of them in the cloud. But dedicated backup services sometimes also create a disk image of your machine so that you can restore not just your files, but everything, including system settings and programs. Syncing, by contrast, is about backing up and managing selected files only.

What’s the Deal With the Cloud?

Just to clear up any confusion, the cloud part of cloud-based storage refers to putting your files somewhere other than your computer’s hard drive. Usually, it means the provider’s servers. There’s a half-joke saying in the tech world, “There is no cloud. It’s just someone else’s computer.”

Having data in the cloud gives you the ability to access your files through the internet. Your data is usually encrypted before making the journey over the internet to the provider’s servers, and it remains encrypted while it lives on those servers.

Well-designed services don’t upload a brand-new copy of your files every time you change one little thing. Instead, the file syncing service looks for changes to your files and uploads only them, saving your connection bandwidth.

You can access your cloud files through an app or utility software installed on your computer. Once it’s installed, it usually shows a small notification icon and creates your synced folder structure that fits into Windows Explorer or the macOS Finder. You can also get to the files via your web browser. Of course, you need an internet connection for it to work, but if you temporarily are without a connection, that’s okay. The service waits until the next time you do have a connection and takes care of business then.

Matt Klein has nearly two decades of technical writing experience. He’s covered Windows, Android, macOS, Microsoft Office, and everything in between. He’s even written a book, The How-To Geek Guide to Windows 8. Read more.

The Cloud is ubiquitous, and with it, a myriad of service and products, many of which the average user doesn’t even comprehend. Cloud storage, however, is definitely something that nearly everyone uses, so which one do we think is best for you?

For all intents and purposes, there are really just four cloud storage services we seriously consider: Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, and Apple iCloud.

We can talk at length about the other cloud storage services out there, of which there are many, but at the end of the day, these four are the ones we’re most likely to deal with. Each one has its merits and drawbacks, so many people might not realize which one will do the best job for their particular setup.

Whether you use PCs, Macs, Android, iPads and iPhones, or even Linux, there’s got to be a cloud service that will best fit your devices and cloud storage needs.

Dropbox

Dropbox is the most well-known of the cloud services, and it’s been around the longest, but Dropbox hasn’t aged well and other cloud storage options have become more attractive.

Perhaps Dropbox’s largest draw is that it is probably the best option for hybrid households. Dropbox’s application is mature and works well across all platforms including Android, Windows, Apple products, and even Linux.

Dropbox is still the stingiest with free accounts. It’s kind of ridiculous the company still only doles out 2 GB for basic accounts, so if you want a bit more cloud storage, then even iCloud (5 GB) is more generous. Upgrading to Dropbox Pro costs $99 and nets you 1 TB of space, which don’t get us wrong is quite a bit, but as we’ve discussed previously, will take seemingly forever to actually fill it up.

Google Drive

Google Drive is the natural choice for Android-heavy households. If you use Android-powered phones and tablets then Google Drive is already available to you due to your Google account.

Unlike Dropbox, with Google Drive you start off with 15 GB of space so that might be good enough for the vast majority of users, or you can upgrade to 100 GB for $1.99/month or 1 TB for $9.99/month.

Google Drive works across all devices, including Windows, Mac, and iOS, but for the most part, if Android doesn’t come into play, such as if you only use an iPhone and a PC or Mac, then Google Drive is kind of unnecessary.

For PCs and Macs, things are a bit more clear-cut.

OneDrive

If you use a Windows PC, then it’s OneDrive all the way. OneDrive is the natural choice since it’s already installed on Windows 8 and Windows 10 machines.

Seriously, this is a no-brainer because you can get 1 TB of storage and Office 365 for $6.99/month. This is even a good deal if you own Apple products, and even with a free plan, Microsoft lavishes users with 15 GB.

That said, while OneDrive is a great deal, it’s desktop application is still kind of clunky, and if you use OneDrive on anything other than Windows, it’s still another application you have to download and install. Then again, so is Dropbox, Google Drive, or Apple iCloud, which don’t forget, is available for Windows machines.

Apple iCloud

If you are an Apple-only household, then there’s no reason to consider anything else, (unless you use Office 365). iCloud is specifically designed to work with Macs, iPhones, and iPads to share photos, videos, documents, and its Family Sharing plan lets you share with anyone else in your family with an Apple device of their own.

Additionally, iCloud will seamlessly sync Mail, Calendar, Reminders, Safari data, backups, and much more. You won’t be able to do this across all your Apple devices with any of the other cloud services. Pricing is comparable to Dropbox and Google Drive with 1 TB costing $9.99/month.

That said, if you use Android, iCloud isn’t an option, and while you can use it on Windows machine, it’s real power is only accessible behind Apple’s walled garden.

So, to sum up, if you primarily use Android, go with Google Drive. If you’re a Windows household, OneDrive is for you. Apple households should defer to iCloud, and if you use a combination of all these devices, then Dropbox is still a sound, logical choice.

We hope that you found this article helpful. If you have anything you would like to add to the discussion, such as a comment or question, we urge you to leave your feedback in our discussion forum.

What exactly is the cloud? It is basically the collection of computers on the internet that companies are using to offer their services. One cloud service that is being offered is a revolutionary storage method for your data. From music files to pictures to sensitive documents, the cloud invisibly backs up your files and folders and alleviates the potentially endless and costly search for extra storage space. An alternative to buying an external hard drive or deleting old files to make room for new ones, cloud storage is convenient and cost-effective. It works by storing your files on a server out in the internet somewhere rather than on your local hard drive. (For a more technical discussion of cloud computing basics, read more here.) This allows you to back up, sync, and access your data across multiple devices as long as they have internet capability.

However, if you wish to store information virtually, you must consider the added risk that your information may be accessible to other—potentially people who you do not wish to have access. Below, we outline a few security risks to take into account and how to protect yourself and your data.

Cloud computing is a relatively new tool for the average consumer. It is important to explore the service that most fits your needs. Here are a few popular options when deciding which company to use:

  • Dropbox (review)
  • SugarSync (review)
  • Amazon Cloud Drive (review)
  • Box.net(review)
  • SpiderOak(review)

The first step in using the cloud service is to choose a provider that fits your needs. Some points to take into consideration on your search are:

  1. Are their security standards appropriate? Do some research. Make sure that the company has a good reputation and solid security policies. Remember, you are trusting this company to store your personal information.
  2. How much data will you be storing? Search with a realistic expectation of the size you need to store all your files. Many companies charge by the amount of storage you are requesting
  3. Is your data encrypted when being uploaded to or downloaded from the cloud? Make sure that your browser or app requires an encrypted connection before you upload or download your data. Look for the “https://” or the padlock beside the URL in your browser.
  4. Is your data encrypted when stored in the cloud? You will have to read the terms of service to find this out, but often your data will be stored on the cloud server with no encryption, this means that anyone that has (or can get) high level access to that server will be able to read your files. This may not be an issue for many files, but you should carefully consider what kind of information you are storing in the cloud and whether you are comfortable with some other person you don’t know accessing it. At a minimum, no data that is protected by law (medical information, personal identifiers, financial data) should be stored in the cloud unless the storage solution is encrypted and you know who can decrypt it (it should only be you or your organization) and for what reason.
  5. Understand how access is shared with your cloud folder. Several cloud storage providers allow you to share access to your online folders with other people. Be sure you know in details how this works. Can they read only or can they change the file? Will you know who changed a file last? If you share the file with a group, do you know who all is in the group? Are you notified if the group changes? Does the service allow you to make files public? If you do are your personal details (name, account, email, etc.) attached to that file if a stranger looks at it?
  6. Understand your options if the cloud provider should be hacked or should lose your data. Services like this require that you sign their terms and conditions before they allow you to use the service. In the vast majority of cases, these conditions state that you have very little, if any, remedy if anything bad should happen. Be aware of what you are signing away.

Once you have found the service that best fits your needs, it is important to make your data as safe as possible. Here are some general rules that you should follow for all your internet habits, but particularly for your data storage:

  • Pick a good password. All Cloud services require a master password to get into your files, so make it a good one, something that is pretty long. When it comes to passwords, longer is better. True, it can be a hassle to remember a strong password but it’s an even bigger hassle to have your information stolen. For tips on creating passwords, read more here
  • Don’t reuse your passwords. The password you choose to access the Cloud should be unlike any other password you use. If a hacker gets access to your Facebook password which also happens to be your email password, they will not only have a clear view of where you hold financial accounts, but they will be able to reset all of your passwords without your knowledge. Voila! Easy access!
  • Don’t share your passwords. Even with a trusted friend, sharing your password is never a good idea. The more people who know your password, the more likely it is to be spread around. Your password is the lock to your information, don’t let more people in than need be there.
  • Back up your data. The same way you back up your computer’s hard drive, back up your Cloud data. There are some companies that offer a small amount of storage free of cost. Take advantage of this and make sure you have your most important data backed up in case of an unexpected loss.