By Kara Reinhardt, Cheapism.com
Many consumers flirt with cloud storage services — a few files here, a few files there. They take advantage of limited free storage space to back up important documents, access files from multiple devices, share files with others, and collaborate on projects. The number of subscriptions was expected to reach half a billion by the end of last year, according to market researcher IHS iSuppli.
Whether you’re playing the field to avoid paying for an upgrade or seeking a provider worthy of a long-term commitment, here are Cheapism’s top free services for cloud storage.
- Microsoft SkyDrive (starting at 7GB for free) offers the most complimentary storage and charges just 50 cents per gigabyte annually if you need more space: 20GB for $10 a year, 50GB for $25, 100GB for $50. This may be a Microsoft service, but it’s compatible with Apple products and Android phones in addition to Windows devices. Reviews highlight some unique capabilities: Users can not only share Microsoft Office files but edit them online through Office Web Apps and see the changes others make in real time. Users can also retrieve files remotely from an internet-connected PC with SkyDrive installed, even if the files haven’t been uploaded to the cloud.
- Dropbox (starting at 2GB for free) awards users an extra 500MB for each referral and offers other ways to earn more space, up to 18MB of free storage. The cheapest upgrade is 100GB for $99 a year and storage can exceed 1TB with a plan designed for multiple business users. Reviewers laud the system’s elegance and ease of use. Dropbox is also accessible on a wide array of devices, including Macs and PCs, iPhones and iPads, Android and BlackBerry phones, and Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablet.
In addition to providing online cloud storage, both of these services let users access stored files offline, through desktop and mobile apps, and sync files across devices. This is where Dropbox really excels, according to reviews. It boasts broad compatibility and any change you make to a document in one place automatically shows up everywhere else.
Google Drive is another good free option, especially for consumers already steeped in Google’s online offerings. The web giant provides 5GB of free storage. Upgrades are a bit pricier than Microsoft SkyDrive but cheaper than Dropbox: 25GB for $2.49 a month and 100GB for $4.99 a month. Users can view more than 30 types of files through the online interface. The service is also set up for collaboration, letting users synchronously edit the same file online. However, more than one reviewer points out that Microsoft Office files must be converted to a Google format for editing.
The term “cloud storage” may make it sound like your files could disappear into thin air, but providers store them on secure servers in multiple locations. Even if one goes down, your stuff should be sitting safely elsewhere. Cloud services encrypt file transfers and require at least a password for access. They sometimes also offer two-step verification.
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