Trying to Find the Best File Sync Service

When Google threw its hat into the cloud storage ring a few weeks ago with Google Drive, it added another good service to a quickly growing niche. With Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud, Skydrive, Amazon Could Drive, and more, it’s tough to choose which is the best. Dropbox is the long-time favorite, and many of us already use it. Then, the tech heavyweights – Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon – have all jumped in as well.

File sync isn’t anything new in 2012, but it’s increasingly needed as we’re using more devices and sharing files with others more often than ever. At its core, file sync is file sync, but there’s still a lot of other factors to consider when looking for the best file sync service for your needs. Here, we’ll take a look at these services in detail to see which you should go with.

The Stuff that Really Matters

The most important thing is to know what you’re looking for when trying to find the best tool for your needs. For file sync services, we’re going to look at:

  • Amount of Free Space Offered
  • Pricing
  • Syncing
  • Backups/Repositories
  • Sharing

That basically covers everything there is to think about with file sync, especially when we’re thinking of the web app end. With that in mind, let’s start with my personal favorite, Dropbox.



In my eyes, Dropbox is the service that popularized cloud storage/file sync, and boy did they do it right.

Free Space: Initially, Dropbox offers 2GB of free space, which compared to some of the other services is pretty low. However, they have a nice referral program in which you get 500MB for each person you, and can get up to 16GB for just referring people. You can also get up to 3Gb of free space for using Dropbox’ new picture uploading from memory cards and cameras. That’s quite a hunk of space you can get for free. I’m close to 6GB now from referring friends, family, and students.

Pricing: Dropbox also has some of the highest pricing for these types of services. At $9.99/mo for 50GB or $19.99/mo for 100GB, you’re paying around $0.20/GB/month. I’m much less inclined to upgrade my Dropbox account because of this, and the ability to gain more space through referrals. One nice thing, though, is that Pro accounts keep the free space they already have, and then 1GB of space for referrals, up to a max of 32GB, so your 50GB account could actually be up to 87 GB for that price.

Sync: Where Dropbox is high in pricing, it’s also high in availability: it has native apps for all of the major platforms except for Windows Phone (this includes Linux). It also has a very robust web app that lets you drag-and-drop files to upload them from your computer or move them between folders, and syncing files with Dropbox seems so fast, it’s hardly believable. Dropbox hasn’t said anything about a Windows Phone app on the horizon, though, which could prove to be a problem as Windows Phone is gaining popularity, but then again, hardly any other sync services other than Skydrive support Windows Phone right now.

Backup: This could be my favorite part about Dropbox- the backup/repository. Dropbox keeps several pervious versions of the file for up to thirty days back, which saved me a few times as I accidently deleted or overwrote some very important files. I have also used this as a simple code repository for smaller projects I’m working on. If you’re a Pro subscriber and really want to make sure you never lose old files, you can pay $39 extra per year for their Packrat service, which keeps all versions of all files you’ve added to Dropbox, forever.

Sharing: Another strong point for Dropbox, it is incredibly easy to share with this service. Not only is there a public folder you can put files in, but you can now create a public link for any file, regardless of what folder it’s in.

Read more articles about Dropbox here.

Google Drive

Google Drive

Google Drive is the newest service to join the cloud storage foray, and something I recently reviewed. My overall thought is that it’s a good start but could be better.

Free Space: Google offers 5GB of storage for free, which is quite a step up from Dropbox, but rather average compared to the rest of the services. One nice extra, though, is that Google will bump your Gmail inbox from 7GB to 10GB if you sign up for Google Drive.

Pricing: Drive offers a couple more paid tiers than Dropbox, and each one is considerably cheaper. They offer 25GB for $2.49/mo, 100GB for $4.99/mo, 400GB for $19.99/mo, all the way up to 16TB if needed. This works out to between $0.05-0.10/GB/month, which is almost cheaper than Amazon’s S3 storage.

Sync: Right now, Drive offers apps for Windows, Mac, and Android, with the promise of an iOS app coming very soon. That means no Linux sync, which as far as this review goes is unique to Drobox, and no Windows Phone or Blackberry. Google last said their iOS app was “98% done” which means it’s at least 2 weeks out from hitting the App Store, due to Apple’s rigorous review process.

Backup: Similar to Dropbox, Google Drive will keep revisions for upto 30 days. In addition, they will allow you to choose a revision to save forever, so you’ll be able to access it beyond the 30 days. This is a nice touch!

Sharing: This is something the Google Drive simultaneously excells and fails at. If the people you’re sharing with have a Google Account, sharing couldn’t be easier. You can even allow them to collaborate on the document, depending on the type. This is great. However, if they don’t have a Google Account, sharing is a bit more complicated. You can still find your way to a menu that will allow you to email the document as an attachement, but when you just share a link, it has to be accessed through a Google Account. There is no Public folder like on Dropbox and no public link to send. However, Google does say that in the near future, you’ll be able to add attachments in GMail directly from Google Drive.

Microsoft Skydrive

Microsoft Skydrive

Free Space: This is one of several reasons Skydrive why I feel it’s inexplicable that Skydrive is not more popular. Up until very recently, users got 25GB of space…for free. Microsoft changed this to a still lofty 7GB, grandfathering in users who signed up before the change.

Pricing: Here’s another reason Skydrive should be more popular. They offer 3 plans: +20GB for $10/Year, +50GB for $25/year, and +100GB for $50/year. That $0.50/(additional)GB/Year, or roughly $0.04/GB/month. Remeber, this is also onto of what you already have. If you have a 25GB free account, you could be looking at less than $0.02/GB.

Sync: Skydrive is the only sync/storage service that can tout Windows Phone integration, and from what I’ve read it’s pretty nice. However, there isn’t a lot beyond that. The do offer an iOS app, but no Android or Blackberry, and they offer Windows and Mac Desktop apps, but there are kaviats. For Mac, you need Lion (10.7). For Windows, you need a 64bit machine. You can also mount Skydrive as a drive, but only for Windows 7, not XP (without jumping through a lot of hoops). That means no Skydrive on my work computer, which is a bummer.

Backup: Skydrive also offers version history of documents, but I couldn’t find anything on how long or how many versions are kept. It’s safe to assume they keep it for at least 30 days, similiar to the other services.

Sharing: Skydrive also does sharing pretty well. Users will get a link to a document that they can view (without logging in), and the owner can allow users to edit certain types of documents. The owner can also for users to login, but like I said, it’s not a default. You can also create a link to “View” or “View and Edit” as well as make the file Public. Skydrive even conveniently includes Facebook and Twitter buttons.

Skydrive should really be more popular than it is.

Apple iCloud

Apple's iCloud

Free Space: iCloud offers 5GB of space for you to use between your computers and iOS devices.

Pricing: You can also add storage to iCloud similar to what Skydrive offers: +10GB for $20/year, +20GB for $40/year, and +50GB for $100/year. As you can see, this is kind of the reverse of what Skydrive offers, as you’re looking at $2/additional GB a year. The pricing is still better than Dropbox as far as GB/month goes (around $0.08/GB/month).

Sync: iCloud is a bit different from the other services, as there is a website, but it’s not a file system and you can’t browse individual files. You can view your files from iWork online, but that’s it. It is integrated into iOS, but there is no stand alone app for other platforms. On traditional computers, you either need Mac OSX Lion or Windows Vista or 7, as well as Outlook 2007 or 2010. In order to sync, you need to turn some settings on from your iOS device. It also seems you can’t view photos from your photo stream online, only on your iOS device or with iPhoto.

Backup: As far as I can tell, iCloud does not offer any sort of versioning like the previous three services.

Sharing: It also seems you can’t really share from iCloud, though with the old document sharing being killed this summer, it’d seem that they’d add some sharing options.

It really seems that iCloud is just a backup service for iOS devices and Mac computers. Actually, for the most part, iCloud for now is mainly a cloud service to keep your iOS devices backed up, and offer some basic sync integration with your computer. I’m not so sure I would put it in the same category as Dropbox and the other services listed here, but even with syncing files from individual apps, it’s gunning for the same space. It’ll be interesting to see how it evolves over time and if it takes on more features of other file sync services.

Amazon Cloud Drive

Amazon Cloud Drive

Free Space: Amazon gives you 5GB of free space, as well as unlimited storage for music purchased from Amazon mp3. This is great if you buy music from Amazon (which I do. They have the best prices, after all).

Pricing: You can also upgrade that 5GB to 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, or 1000GB for $1/GB/Year, putting it right in the middle of Skydrive and iCloud. As an added bonus, you get unlimited storage for all music, not just music you purchase from Amazon.

Sync: Unfortunately, this is where Amazon fails. It only has a web-based interface, so while you can access your files anywhere, there is no syncing ability. There is a new Cloud Drive app that lets you easily upload files to the cloud, but it doesn’t let you sync them to your computer. The exception here is music through Cloud Player, which has two-way sync between Mac, PC, and has an Android app.

Backup: There is no versioning with Amazon Cloud Drive.

Sharing: There is also no sharing with Amazon Cloud Drive.



Free Space: Box offers you 5GB of free storage, though you can often get more space if you sign up with a promotion. They have in the past offered free 50Gb accounts for signing in with their mobile apps, among other promotions.

Pricing: Box offers several different types of accounts: Personal, Business, and Enterprise. Focusing squarely on Personal, you can upgrade to 25GB for $9.99/mo, which makes them one of the most expensive options on this list.

Sync: For personal accounts, Box offers an Android and iOS, but no desktop app. You’ll have to upgrade to a paid account to get file syncing on your desktop. One nice thing about Box is that it has an whole set of apps you can install, which integrate with other services you use, such as GMail and Salesforce.

Backup: Versioning/Backups are only available if you have a ‘premium’ account. It’s ambiguous if this means upgraded personal or business.

Sharing: Box makes it incredibly easy to share files; just click on “share” and it will give you a public link. You can also share folders and collaborate with others, depending on the plan you have.

Final Thoughts

This list is obviously not conclusive. There are tons of other file sync and storage webapps out there, including more popular ones like SugarSync and SpiderOak. I’m inclined to both continue with and recommend others use Dropbox, despite its lower initial storage and higher pricing. I’ve used it for a long time, sharing is easy, and you have the opportunity to get more space through referrals. Its syncing is still faster than almost anything else, and it really does work great. Plus, it runs on every platform, has a very robust web app, and simply seems the most focused file sync app out there. If you’re looking for something different, Microsoft’s Skydrive is also a great service that just needs to get its sync apps in order, and it’s actually surprising it doesn’t get more press. Google Drive also offers an interesting alternative, one we’ll have to keep more of an eye on going forward.