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January 22, 2014
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Google Drive vs. Dropbox: Ranking the Top Six File Sync Services

Update: Looking for a Google Drive vs Box comparison? Check out our in-depth report that will help you pick the best solution for your organization.

Our comparison article covers the following products:

Our goal with this article is to compare cloud storage services; they can be used for but are not explicitly designed as backup services, for which more specialized software exists.

Comparison Method

The services will be ranked in each of the following sections on a six point scale; more points are better and the product with the most points by the end of the article will win the comparison. Objectivity is a priority though some factors go beyond paper specifications.

Free Storage Space

As with most online services, the first question we’ll answer is: what’s free?

Only two of these services have increased the amount of cloud storage space for free since we last wrote: Google Drive (from 5GB to 15GB) and Box (doubled to 10GB). This is unsurprising since these companies operate for a profit after all; they would lose money if enough storage was provided free of charge. The maximum file size on the other hand has increased significantly; Box and Hightail went up to 250MB from 25MB and 50MB, respectively and Google Drive generally has no limit (certain file type exceptions apply though).

The bottom line is that you the consumer get treated pretty well; all of these services will give you something for nothing.

Paid Storage Space and Sharing

Consider that most consumer-grade computers come with 500-1000GB of storage or more; if you’re using just 3% of that for personal storage then you’ve exceeded what these vendors are offering for free. So how much will it cost you to store stuff? We’ll break it down by tier; points are awarded for value (GB/dollar) and plan variety.

Saying online storage is a cutthroat business is the understatement of the year. The amount of storage available for purchase has increased drastically since our first look; 100GB was the limit a few years ago and now it’s unlimited (or close to it).

All of these services allow you to share your stored files and folders; you can generate links so others have access (and of course you can control who has access). Several of the business versions of these services offer online collaboration as well; Box is particularly strong in this area.

There are more considerations than just the amount of storage space and sharing though; we’ll look at this by usage (up to two points will be awarded for each of the following three sections):

I just want to upload files from my devices.

In this case we’re looking at the most storage space offered for the least amount of money; the nod goes to Microsoft and its SkyDrive service because not even Google beats 200GB for $100/year. Hightail would be the go-to for more than that; $192/year for unlimited storage is an impressive value. Box is also a contender with 1TB (1000GB) for just $180/year.

I want to upload, share and view my files online.

Now we’re getting into cloud storage with benefits; this is going to be more expensive since the service has to provide the functionality to do more than just store the files. Microsoft SkyDrive remains a strong competitor – it has apps on all the major mobile devices plus online viewers for photos and supports editing of Office documents online. Google Drive offers comparable functionality with Google+ photos and Google Docs. The other services offer sharing functionality but not the editing functionality like Google and Microsoft.

I want to synchronize files to my cloud storage.

Traditional cloud storage provides a place for you to keep files; synchronization is a separate technology and provided (at least out of the box) by only a few of the products in this comparison. SugarSync has ‘sync’ in its name for good reason; it offers the most robust functionality in this area including continuous automatic backup, file restoration, versioning and the ability to sync between multiple devices including Macs. Box is another strong contender; download its Sync 4 utility to get the ability to synchronize any folder; it’s more economical than SugarSync but the seamless sharing across devices isn’t there; it really depends on what you’re willing to pay for. Remember that all of these services offer free trials; try before you buy.

Security

It’s one thing to store personal information on a device within your control (such as your personal computer or cell phone); it’s another to upload it to a place outside of your control such as a remote server in the Cloud. This section will rank services based primarily on whether they support secure connections (SSL) for uploads and downloads; additional points will be rewarded if the files are stored in an encrypted format on the company’s servers.

All these solutions utilize secure connections when transferring data which is above and beyond the most important security feature these services can provide; this means the data you’re sending back and forth between your data and the company’s servers is encrypted and unreadable should the packets get intercepted. Taking the additional step and having the files encrypted while resting on the company’s servers is more for peace of mind; they’re still behind many layers of security. Even if someone were able to get into the servers, the odds that your files would be targeted are too remote to consider a reality. We awarded one courtesy point to the services that stored the files in an encrypted format.

Terms of Service

We’re including this section in the comparison to illustrate some of the terms you’re subjecting yourself to by using a cloud storage service.

Commercial vs. non-commercial. All of the services we’re looking at offer business accounts which offer numerous advantages over personal accounts including admin control, team management and more.

Terms of service. You signed a contract; the terms of service agreement lists which is and isn’t acceptable usage; adhere to this or your contract can be terminated.

Inactivity policy. This typically applies to non-paid versions; it makes little sense from a business perspective for a company to keep your data stored forever without being paid to do so. Also note that some of the services in this comparison only offer the free service for a limited period of time; SygarSync for example is 90 days.

Mobile Device Support

Perhaps even more important than storing your data in the cloud is being able to access it. All of the services in this comparison work from a PC but mobile device support varies. Apple iOS device support is the only commonality.

We awarded six points by default and took away one for each unsupported platform. SugarSync and Dropbox have full support across the board; Dropbox even offers support for Amazon’s Kindle Fire. Microsoft and Hightail are the only two that lack an Android app; and Google and Hightail are the only two that lack a Windows Phone app.

Independent Backup

Our final category is also concerned with the security of your data; taking your personal or business data and putting it on a foreign server (the Cloud) isn’t a decision to take lightly. We’ll award points in this section based on whether the service offers independent backup outside of the company’s own (or outsourced) data centers.

Google Drive is currently the only solution that offers independent backup as described above; all of your data in Google Drive (including Gmail and any other Google Apps) can be backed up via Backupify and their Backup for Google Apps service. You can also view our blog post on how to secure Google Apps for more information.

Conclusion

Let’s add up the numbers:

Our clearly defined winner is Google Drive; this service provides the most free storage, a generally unlimited amount of paid storage; online editing and viewing of stored files; reasonably diverse mobile device support; security on par or better than all competing services; and finally independent backup. Another unspoken advantage is that Google Drive storage space can also be used for Google Apps such as Gmail and Google+ photos. The only area where it falls short is in file synchronization; for that you’ll want to look at one of the more specialized solutions such as SugarSync, which supports that functionality out of the box.

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