Cloud storage providers: the best Dropbox alternatives

Whether it’s for private use or work purposes: online file-sharing spaces, known as cloud storage, offer a way of securely saving, synchronising, and sharing data practically and easily. Dropbox was the first provider to make the usage of online data storage popular for private users and companies. Since then, a number of alternatives to Dropbox have emerged – because rival companies quickly discovered the potential of cloud solutions. But what are the best Dropbox alternatives? And how do they differ from one another? Along with the obvious big names like Amazon, Apple, Google, and Microsoft, there are also a number of smaller providers on the market.

Cloud storage: an overview

The term file hosting refers to the provision of files on the internet. Since this normally involves the use of cloud computing, file hosting is often referred to as cloud storage or cloud hosting.

But what exactly is cloud computing? The term basically just indicates that programs are run on computers connected to a network. This means that the files don’t actually have to be stored on the computer that’s being used – they can instead be stored in the “‘cloud”’ network that the computer is part of. There are special interfaces used to enable the coordination between the user’s computer and the cloud server (this could also be several servers) which form the computer cloud network.

Functions of cloud storage

Cloud storage makes it possible to save, organise, and access files from any device using the internet. All that you need is a computer and a decent internet connection. Most providers allow you to manage, upload, and download documents, music, photos, videos, and more on your computer, smartphone, or tablet. File hosting platforms are most often used to access data from anywhere, share it with other users, and create backups for files.

Cloud storage is particularly popular and helpful for teamwork and collaborations. Files can be shared and edited easily by multiple users. The data is automatically synchronised as soon as changes are made, meaning the file is always up to date.

Data protection and the cloud

A number of cloud storage providers have received negative headlines in the past when it comes to data protection. It wasn’t just hackers who were able to gain access to a variety of accounts on these different storage providers: the NSA also broke into many Dropbox user accounts. The problem with using online storage services is it can be difficult to know exactly who has access to your files besides you yourself. For this reason, experts advise users to encrypt all files that have been uploaded to a cloud storage service. And particularly sensitive data simply shouldn’t be uploaded to the computer cloud in the first place.

The server location can also be important to know, particularly for businesses. The location of the computer on which these user files are stored determines the data protection regulations that are applicable for the files. Most file hosting servers are located partly or entirely in the USA, where data protection laws are notably more relaxed than in most countries in the EU.

Generally, it’s advisable never to upload personal customer data to a cloud storage facility, although the EU-US Privacy Shield, the follow-up to the Safe Harbour Agreement between the EU and the United States recently came into effect in the summer of 2016, meaning more protection for data sent from Europe but stored and shared in the USA. But many critics of the new EU-US data protection agreement say that it doesn’t adequately protect the data of European users and still makes it too easy for US authorities to gain insight into personal data. So it’s still recommended to refrain from storing customer data in a cloud store, whether you’re based in the US, the UK, or elsewhere.

Dropbox: pros and cons

So why are good Dropbox alternatives even necessary? This US-based online storage provider remains one of the most popular platforms available today, but for all its advantages, there are some downsides to this market leader.

Dropbox has various different versions available for use. In the free version, the user receives 2 GB of storage space, but this can be extended through certain activities, like recommending Dropbox to friends. But for users who are certain they’ll require a lot more storage capacity, there’s various payment models on offer. There are also models designed for businesses, some of which offer unlimited storage space as part of a subscription package.

Dropbox is in many aspects the best file hosting provider on the market today. The app is technically very advanced. But, despite all its advantages, Dropbox has weak points as well. We’ve summarised its pros and cons in the following overview below:

Advantages

  • Tidy and intuitive user interface: using Dropbox is easy, plain and simple. The clear folder structure and drag-and-drop function for moving files and folders make it easy for anyone to use.
  • Supports many operating systems: there’s barely another cloud storage facility available that offers such a wide range of apps for different operating systems. Whether it’s Windows, Linux, macOS, Android, or iOS, Dropbox is a solution for almost every device imaginable.
  • Big range of functions and extensions: the popularity of the program has led to the development of a wide range of functions, including the creation of work groups, the option to drop office documents directly into Dropbox, and the sharing of files with users who don’t have a Dropbox account themselves. There’s also an extensive list of Dropbox tools available.
  • Powerful encryption technology: the files are protection with an AES 256-bit encryption (the strongest of all AES encryptions) before being saved. The transmission of files is also coded with a TLS/SSL.

Disadvantages

  • Problems continue to occur with data protection: Dropbox is continuously criticised for the security of its stored files and user data – partly because of its cooperation with the NSA, and partly because hackers have managed to steal e-mail addresses and passwords of users.
  • Limited free storage space: the free version of Dropbox only offers users 2 GB of storage space. While you can earn more free cloud space by inviting your friends to join and other similar actions, other cloud file hosting service offer a lot more free storage space as standard.
  • No in-browser editing feature: documents like text files or presentations have to be opened with a suitable program already installed on the corresponding computer or mobile device. But in some cases, users may not have the right program installed on their device to allow them to edit. Some other cloud storage providers (including Microsoft OneDrive with Microsoft Office Online) have solved this problem by enabling users to edit documents directly in the browser. Dropbox is yet to provide a function like this.

Alternatives to Dropbox

Dropbox is one of the longest standing file hosting services, but many other companies have since entered the cloud storage market. In this next section, we’ll introduce some of the best-known Dropbox alternatives.

1&1 HiDrive

1&1 IONOS has launched an interesting alternative to Dropbox with HiDrive. This cloud service is aimed at private and business customers and offers maximum flexibility and freedom when accessing and storing your files on all devices. For this purpose, HiDrive provides desktop clients for Windows and macOS as well as mobile apps for iOS and Android in addition to the cross-platform web applications, which enable intuitive and effective database synchronisation.

HiDrive Cloud Storage with 1&1 IONOS!

Based in Germany, HiDrive secures your data in the cloud so you can easily access it from any device. Packages starting from only £1/month excl. VAT!

Highly secure
Shared access
Available anywhere

All files are encrypted (AES 256) and stored in certified data centers in Germany (ISO 27001). TLS transmission and full automatic backups also provide additional protection.

Advantages

Disadvantages

Data is available from anywhere and with any device (online and offline)

Performance depends on network connection.

Very user-friendly (even when sharing storage space)

VPN is required to secure some network connections.

First-class security package (server, encryption, backup system, etc.)

 

Amazon Drive

Amazon Drive (previously Amazon Cloud Drive) lets users choose between a free basic model and various fee-based storage plans. If you choose the free option, you’ll get a total of 5GB of storage space to use for photos, videos, and all other files. Amazon Prime customers can take advantage of unlimited photo storage space (from less than £8 per month) as well as all other Prime advantages such as better shipping conditions for Amazon orders and the use of video and music features. Contracts are valid for one year and start at approx. £15 for 100 GB. The highest-volume storage plan, which grants access to 30 TB of available storage, costs around £2,600.

Advantages Disadvantages
Unlimited photo uploading for Amazon Prime customers No features for collaborating with multiple users and no automatic file synchronisation
Seamless integration with other Amazon Prime services  
Very flexible storage plans  
   

Box

The Californian company Box has been in existence since 2005 – a full two years longer than Dropbox. In many aspects, the two providers are quite similar: Box also offers the strongest AES encryption with 256 Bit key length and a wide range of functions. And you could argue that operation and intuition on Box are even easier than on Dropbox.

Private users can have up to 10 GB of Box cloud storage space. But despite this generous offer, uploaded files can’t be larger than 250 MB – meaning that big files can’t be uploaded (or not in one piece at least). But for £8 a month, the upload limit rises to 5 GB and at the same time you get 100 GB storage space, which is relatively small compared to what other providers offer for this price. There are other packages on offer for business customers, starting from just £4  for 100 GB of storage and a 2 GB file upload.

Advantages Disadvantages
Very easy to use and a large amount of free storage space (10 GB). File upload limited to 250 MB per file for the free package
Desktop clients and apps for most major platforms (Windows, OS X, Android, Blackberry 10, iOS, WebOS, Windows Phone The payment model for private users isn’t the best option – there are several other cloud storage providers who offer better value for money
Many functions to help collaborations on documents and projects International server locations mean there’s no clarity over where your data is stored
Good value for money for business customers  

Google Drive

Google Drive is one of the world’s most used cloud storage services. All you have to do is create a Google account to receive 15 GB of storage space free of charge, although this 15 GB storage limit does include all files that are stored on the Google servers, including e-mails on Gmail, images on Google Photos, and more). Users who require more online storage than this can receive a further 100 GB for just £1.50 a month, and 1 TB for £8 a month. And whether you choose the free version or a monthly subscription to Google Drive, your data is still encrypted with AES 128 Bit protection – even when you’re transferring files.

One of the biggest plus points for Google Drive is its integrated Office Suite. This allows you to work on text documents (Google Docs), tables (Google Sheets), and presentations (Google Slides) directly in your browser. Documents can also be worked on easily as part of a team – changes are automatically saved and a complete version history of every document is provided (for up to 30 days). With the various commentary and chat functions, individual users can communicate quickly and easily with one another to resolve issues.

Advantages Disadvantages
Very high level of free storage space (15 GB), and very good value for money for additional storage space International server locations so no clarity as to where data is stored
Very good functionality with the inclusive Google Office Suite (Google Docs, Google Sheets, and Google Slides); easy for multiple editors to work on a document simultaneously No information on the level of encryption
Good user interface  

iCloud Drive

iCloud Drive is a component of the overall iCloud package and offers users 5 GB of free storage that can be expanded at any time. With a monthly subscription costing less than one pound, you can receive 50 GB of storage. There are other price plans too: 200 GB will cost you £2.20 a month, and 1 TB is £7.50 a month. This cloud storage from Apple isn’t reserved exclusively for Apple users either: iCloud Drive works on Windows computers as well. But iCloud Drive does represent a good option for Apple users, as you’ll already have an iCloud account on your Mac, iPhone, or iPad and so can use this to get started with your online storage right away. Lastly, iCloud Drive features iWork, the Apple version of an office application, which allows you to work directly within the browser.

Advantages Disadvantages
Files are optimised for all devices connected to the iCloud Drive and are synchronised in real time Other than Windows, Apple’s iCloud Drive doesn’t support other non-Apple platforms (including Android or Windows Phone)
Apple offers its own office package, allowing several users to work on the same document at the same time No information is given on server location, so you can’t be sure where your data is being stored.
   

Microsoft OneDrive

 

Users of Microsoft’s cloud storage get access to 5 GB of free storage space and can expand that to 50 GB for just £1.50 a month. Documents can be edited in the browser with Microsoft Office Online too. Group work is also possible using this alternative to Dropbox and is supported by a wide variety of functions.

For a monthly subscription of £5.00, you can enjoy not only 1 TB of storage space, but also access to Office 365, giving you access to all of the most famous Microsoft Office applications, like Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and more. The special feature here is that (unlike the office programs on Google Drive) you can use theseOffice applications offline as well. For £7.50 a month, up to 5 users can access the same Microsoft OneDrive account (with 1 TB of storage space per person) and all 5 get the Office 365 package too. There are other price models for businesses to explore too – please refer to our article for a complete overview of the different license models of the OneDrive Office 365 combination.

Advantages Disadvantages
In combination with the Office 365 package, you can have a fully functioning Office Suite for no extra cost Only 5 GB of storage capacity for free; other cloud storage providers offer more space for free
Many different offers for private and business customers, all of which offer good value for money International server location – so you can’t be sure where your data is being stored
User-friendly service  

SecureSafe

The cloud solution from SecureSafe is especially designed for businesses who want the highest level of protection for their data. All files are stored on a server in Switzerland and strongly encrypted. A triple redundancy backup and a user authentication feature via Secure Remote Password Protocol (SRP) ensures that data is very secure. The Dropbox alternative functions not only as online storage for your files, but also as a manager for your personal passwords, including practical import and export functions.

For private users, there’s a free package – but it only allows you to store 100 MB of data and 50 passwords. You can acquire more storage space of course, but it comes at a price: 100 GB for around £10 a month. For companies, the offer is particularly interesting since from three colleagues onwards, it’s only £8 per head and you receive 100 GB of team storage for up to ten separate working areas.

Advantages Disadvantages
Server location in Switzerland (offers high data protection regulations) Very little storage space in the free version (just 100 MB)
Very high security in all features (logins, passwords, encryption of data and data transmission, etc.) Quite expensive; only really suitable for saving small files and passwords

SpiderOak

SpiderOak is considered the safest of all the US providers when it comes to encryption of files – which is part of the reason that the former CIA employee and famous whistleblower Edward Snowden has endorsed SpiderOak as a cloud solution. The encryption here doesn’t just start with the first data transfer: it’s already in action the moment your computer connects to the cloud. This is the only way for the account owners to access the files – SpiderOak has ensured that even they can’t see the files on the cloud. But this high security comes at a price: SpiderOak can only be used for free during a set trial period. After this, you’ll have to decide on one of their price packages, which are mainly aimed at business customers and are considerably more expensive than other online cloud storage providers listed in this article.

Advantages Disadvantages
Highest possible security of data: files are permanently encrypted; the ‘zero knowledge principle’ ensures that even SpiderOak employees have no access to files stored on its servers Server location is the USA, meaning that files are still only subjected to US data protection regulations and not the stricter policies operated in other countries abroad
Supports a variety of operating systems, including Linux No long-term version available for free

Your Secure Cloud

Your Secure Cloudn also attaches a great deal of importance to security. Here, the data is encrypted on the user’s computer. The Dropbox alternative’s chat functions, group managements, and the possibility of creating a Wiki page, all make project work with several employees easier. In the activity overview, you can also see changes to the individual libraries in which Your Secure Cloud stores your files.

Access to your personal “Your Secure Cloud” online storage is possible either via the web application or via the clients allocated by the provider for macOS, Linux, Windows, iOS, and Android. After a 14-day trial period, you need a paid subscription in order to continue using the service. Private customers therefore get 10 GB of personal storage space for approx. £2 a month (or they can increase to 100 GB for approx. £8 per month). For teams of 2 to 10 people, you pay from £4 per user per month for 50 GB of storage in the business model.

Advantages Disadvantages
Server location is in Germany – your files are safe under German data protection regulations No storage space offered for free
Very high data security through encryption before, during, and after transmission; additional password protection for folders is also possible Storage space is comparatively expensive
Also supports Linux operating systems  

Cloud storage services in direct comparison

Provider Platforms supported Security Group work with multiple users possible? Sever location Free version available?
1&1 IONOS HiDrive Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS AES 256 bit encryption, TLS/SSL Europe No
Dropbox Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS AES 256 Bit encryption, TLS/SSL Almost entirely in the USA (companies larger than a certain no. of users can choose a different server location) Yes (2 GB) – this can be extended through inviting friends to join, linking your account with Facebook and Twitter accounts, and other bonus actions
Amazon Drive Windows, macOS, Android, iOS No information given - Worldwide Yes (5 GB)
Box Windows, macOS, Android, iOS AES 256 Bit encryption, TLS/SSL Worldwide Yes (10 GB)
Google Drive Windows, macOS, Android, iOS AES 128 Bit encryption, TLS/SSL Europe, USA, Asia Yes (15 GB)
iCloud Drive macOS X, iOS, Windows Minimum of AES 128 Bit encryption, TLS/SSL No information given Yes (5 GB)
Microsoft OneDrive Windows, macOS, Android, iOS AES 256 Bit encryption, TLS/SSL Europe, USA, Asia, Australia Yes (5 GB)
SecureSafe Windows, macOS, Android, iOS AES 256 Bit encryption, TLS/SSL Switzerland Yes (100 MB)
SpiderOak Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS AES 256 Bit encryption, TLS/SSL USA No (only in trial version)
Your Secure Cloud Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, iOS AES 256 Bit encryption, TLS/SSL Germany No

The private file hosting alternative: manage your own online storage with ownCloud

For people who like a DIY challenge, there’s another option available: running your own, private file server. For those who want to maintain complete control of their data but still store it in the cloud, a file hosting software like ownCloud and your own private server might be the answer. But the setup is associated with a fair amount of effort and running costs for hosting the data.

ownCloud can be downloaded for free. To host your own personal, independent cloud, you have to connect this software to a server. For this, you can either rent a server, use NAS (Network Attached Storage), or use yourown computer as the host for the ownCloud software. Creating your own, private server guarantees that only you have access to your data. The best way to implement this is using Raspberry Pi – in our tutorial for setting up your own ownCloud on Raspberry, we’ll explain how you can achieve the results you want.

Summary: there are plenty of good alternatives to Dropbox out there

When it comes to functionality, Dropbox – its lack of suitable office software aside – is as versatile as it gets. But as this list has demonstrated, there are plenty of other cloud storage providers besides Dropbox that can do a great job as well – and some exceed the market leader in certain regards.

For users who just want as much free storage space as possible, Google Drive (15 GB) and Box (10 GB) are both great options. If having the server location in Europe is a top priority for you, look no further than 1&1 IONOS HiDrive or YourSecureCloud. For excellent Office solutions, Microsoft OneDrive holds the answer, as it comes with the integrated Office 365 software, which is available for offline use too. If, on the other hand, you’re looking for the best data protection available, then the cloud storage from SpiderOak represents a good choice – or you could have a go at running your own file server in combination with the software from ownCloud.


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