How to choose the best cloud storage service
By Oli McKean
Is it worth paying for cloud storage, or could you get away with paying nothing? Let us lift the fog on what you need
Moving your files, photos and documents online to the cloud is one of the smartest computing decisions you can make.
With your most important files stored safely online, you don't need to panic about your laptop seizing up or your external hard drive breaking down. Even if your computer is lost or stolen, you'll still be able to access your documents or photo collection online through the cloud.
But with all the cloud-storage options out there, how do you pick which one to use? Some make transferring files a seamless task, whereas others are more trying. While moving files is sensible, it probably won't feature on your list of favourite hobbies - so follow our advice to free up more of your precious time.
Below, we cover some key things to think about when choosing your cloud-storage service, such as whether you should pay for it, and features to look out for.
To find out the best, head straight to our cloud-storage service reviews.
Should you bother paying for cloud storage?
This ultimately depends on how much storage space you need. Many of the top-name services offer a small amount of free storage. This is often around 2GB-5GB, which isn't much. But some offer more, including Google Drive, which gives you 15GB free of charge.
If you want more space, you'll need to spend some money. You can usually pay an annual or a monthly fee for this.
Of course, there's nothing stopping you from setting up multiple free accounts and enjoying a sizeable combined amount of storage. But this could become confusing and annoying - and you probably don't want to spend too much time going through all your accounts to find one specific document.
Comparing the different prices for cloud storage can be a baffling business. The main providers tend to present their price plans in different ways, making it hard to know who offers the best value when you want to upgrade to a larger storage allowance.
Fortunately, we've done the hard work so you don't have to. We've compared price plans from all the main cloud-storage services so you know exactly how much each charges, and which is the best value overall. See the table below to discover what you get for your money.
|Cloud-storage prices compared|
|Provider||Free storage||Paid-for storage plans||Annual cost per GB for the cheapest plan||Review score|
|Amazon Cloud Drive||5GB for videos, files and photos to any user. If you have a Prime account, you get 5GB for videos and files and unlimited photos.||
100GB = £16.99 a year.
1TB = £79.99 a year.
2TB = £159.98 a year.
3TB = £239.97 a year.
4TB = £319.96 a year.
5TB = £399.95 a year.
6TB = £479.94 a year.
7TB = £559.93 a year.
8TB = £639.92 a year.
9TB = £719.91 a year.
10TB = £799.90 a year.
20TB = £1,599.80 a year.
30TB = £2,399.70 a year.
50GB = £0.79 a month.
200GB = £2.49 a month.
2TB = £6.99 a month.
|Dropbox||2GB||1TB = £79 a year.||8p|
100GB = £1.59 a month or £15.99 a year.
1TB = £7.99 a month or £80 a year.
2TB = £15.99 a month.
10TB = £79.99 a month.
20TB = £159.99 a month.
30TB = £239.99 a month.
|19p if paying monthly, 16p if annually|
Unlimited backup for your desktop = £5 a month.
2TB cloud storage only = £10 a month.
5TB cloud storage and unlimited backup for your desktop = £15 a month.
Storage only 50GB = £1.99 a month.
1TB = £5.99 a month or £59.99 a year. Includes Office 365 Personal.
Shared 5TB plan (1TB each for five users) = £7.99 a month or £79.99 a year. Includes Office 365 Home.
50GB = £4.99 a month.
125GB = £7.99 a month.
|PC World Knowhow||
200GB = £15 a year.
2TB = £30 a year or £90 for five years.
4TB = £50 a year or £150 for five years.
Which cloud-storage service features should I look out for?
Not all cloud-storage services offer the same functionality, so make sure you pick one with all the features you want. Here's a list of some key ones to think about:
- Multi-device access You can use most cloud-storage services on your smartphone or tablet, as well as on your laptop or desktop. Check that a service has dedicated apps for your brand of tablet or smartphone.
- Editing Perhaps surprisingly, some services don't let you edit documents within cloud storage itself - instead, you open the file outside of the storage service, then it syncs automatically. Many give you the option of both, though, giving you a little more flexibility. Some cloud-storage services, including Livedrive and Knowhow, let you edit pictures, too.
- File sharing Most services let you share your files with other people - for instance, you might like to share some holiday snaps with your family. Some don't, though - so consider whether it's something you'd like to do.
- Real-time syncing This means your edited files will automatically have their changes updated in the cloud-storage service. Most modern services offer this, although you sometimes used to have to upload files manually afterwards, which isn't as smooth a process.
- Rollback This lets you roll back to an earlier version of a document - useful if something goes seriously wrong. A few providers also let you roll back everything on your cloud-storage service to a previous time.
- Video and music playback Videos and music often take up a lot of storage space, so many people stick them on cloud-storage services to make room for other files. Some providers let you watch videos and play music within the service, too.
Cloud storage versus external hard drives
Backing up your data to an external hard drive only defers the worry of losing the files on your PC. Hard drives are every bit as susceptible to damage or loss, or data corruption.
That said, if you're saving a large number of files, it can be more expensive to pay an annual fee for cloud storage than it is to simply buy an external hard drive. But with the financial outlay comes the convenience of being able to access your files anywhere.
For more information on this, head to our guide on external hard drives vs cloud storage.