Dropbox vs. Google Drive: comparing cloud storage services

We are putting more and more data into the cloud, including personal photos, important documents and videos from recent vacations. This takes place for a variety of reasons. Mobility and data security play an important role:

  • Accessing files from any device
  • Accessing files from anywhere in the world
  • Storing all data safely in one place
  • Managing and editing files in collaboration with others

There are as many types of providers as there are user interests. Users can choose from a wide range of offers from small web services to all-in-one solutions. This has led to the emergence of clear competition. In one of our other articles, we explained the differences between ownCloud and Nextcloud. In this one, we will cover the battle for dominance between the two major services: Dropbox vs. Google Drive.

Google Drive vs. Dropbox: which can do what?

Google Drive and Dropbox are considered pioneers in cloud technology. They have both been on the market for over ten years now and introduced many users to the concept of the cloud.

Google Drive

Google’s storage service has been around since 2006. However, it was only for text documents and spreadsheets back then rather than an independent cloud storage. Google Docs and all the other Office applications still exist and are an integral part of Google Drive. Although it was initially limited to documents, the service has since evolved into a flexible cloud storage service which can handle any type of file. In addition, Google Drive has been integrated with Gmail (Google’s email service) making it even easier to manage and send files over the internet.

Using Google’s Office applications makes it easy to collaborate with other users on documents, presentations and spreadsheets. Anything you create in one of these applications is automatically saved to Google Drive. You can also easily share data with others by assigning them different roles like who is allowed to view, comment on or edit the content.

Google Drive is fully operable through a web interface. Users can access a file management system via the website. You can create new folders, upload files or even entire folders and move them. There is also a software application called Backup and Sync which makes it even easier to work with the cloud storage service. It works on Mac and PC as well as on iOS and Android devices.

This software allows you to synchronise selected folders from your hard drive with the cloud storage. In other words, if you make any changes to these folders on your hard drive, the changes will simultaneously appear in Google Drive. Users who opt for the premium service G Suite will be able to use Drive File Stream. This allows users to directly access the cloud storage from the file management system on their PC or Mac without using any space on their hard drive.

Fact

Google provides interfaces to other developers. This is why many third-party applications provide the option to save files directly from the application to Google Drive.

The standard version of Google Drive is available free of charge. In this case, users have 15 GB available to them. However, you need to keep in mind that your Gmail account’s storage is also a part ofGoogle Drive. If you have large email attachments saved in your email account, this can take up a large portion of your cloud storage. If you need more storage space, you will have to upgrade to Google One. For just under £1.99 per month, this premium service will provide you with 100 GB which is its smallest amount of storage. For around £300 per month, you can receive 30 TB.

Google’s data centres are located all over the world with most of its servers in the USA. Since Google is an American company, the US government can request access to data on its servers under certain circumstances in accordance with the Patriot Act. Google itself can only take limited action against these requests.

All data is encrypted using 256-bit AES while being transmitted, such as from one server to another. Idle data is encrypted using 128-bit AES. Users generally access this service using an HTTPS channel. You can secure your account using two-factor authentication.

Special Google Drive features:

  • Integrates with other Google applications
  • Encrypts files
  • Accessible via a browser or with special software
  • 15 GB of free storage space
  • Synchronisation software

Dropbox

Dropbox has been on the market since 2007 and was most likely many PC users’ first experience with cloud storage. The required software was right there from the start. After installing it, there is a folder on your PC orMac which is constantly being synchronised with an identical folder on the company’s server as long as there is an internet connection, the idea being that two or more people could access this folder and use the files in it. It is not possible to regularly exchange files.

However, you do not have to limit yourself to one folder. Different folders can also be shared with different people. This is what made Dropbox so appealing for professional collaboration back then and now. This service is also useful for personal needs. It is often impossible to send large files, such as holiday photos, by email due to size limitations. Dropbox's cloud storage service dispenses with such concerns.

Generally, users need an account with Dropbox to be able to collaborate. However, you can make data available to people who do not have an account with the service by creating individual download links for specific files and folders.

Dropbox’s desktop application is available for Windows, macOS and Linux. There are also mobile apps for Android and iOS. In addition, you can access files using the web application. On Dropbox’s website, you can upload files, manage them and collaborate with other users, such as by leaving comments on files.

Fact

Dropbox also provides other developers with interfaces. As a result, this service can also be used in conjunction with other software.

Dropbox Paper is still relatively new. It is a document editing service which allows multiple users to collaborate on a single document. Dropbox aims to go even further with Paper and presents it as a digital workplace. Using Paper, employees can exchange information, share media files and prepare meetings.

Those who wish to use the free version of Dropbox will start out with2 GB of storage space. By recommending the service to a friend, you can receive another 500 MB for each new user registered, up to 16 GB. You can get even more storage space through one of the various subscriptions. While users (currently) receive 1 TB of storage space for around £10, they can receive twice that amount for around £20. You will also have access to many additional features such as a full text search function and a file version history going back 120 days.

Note

Dropbox also offers a special subscription for companies. In this version, you pay per user and can use as much storage space as you need depending on which rate you selected.

Dropbox’s servers are located in the US. Since Dropbox is also an American company, user data may be requested by US government officials under the Patriot Act. However, Dropbox publishes a transparency report in which every request from the government is documented. Both idle files and files in transmission are encrypted. The company uses 256-bit encryption for idle files and 128-bit encryption for files in transmission. With Dropbox, files are transmitted via an SSL channel.

Special Dropbox features:

  • Synchronisation software
  • 2 GB of free storage space
  • Encryption
  • Dropbox Paper
  • Additional collaboration features for premium users

How are they different?

In the early days, Google and Dropbox took very different directions. Even though the two services are becoming increasingly similar, you can still see the difference in their approaches today. Dropbox’s focus was and still is on synchronising files between different users. The software provided for this makes collaborating in specific folders extraordinarily easy.

Initially, Google only intended Drive to be storage space for Gmail accounts and the cloud computing services associated with Google Docs. It was not until 2012 that users could manage their cloud storage as a single system. This service also provides its users with an enormous amount of storage space free of charge for this purpose. This strategy was also successful when Gmail was introduced and has attracted many people to Google's email service.

Trends show that the two cloud storage services are becoming increasingly similar. Google also provides software which synchronises folders on your PC with cloud storage, while Dropbox is currently targeting functions with Paper which were previously only found on Google Docs.

Meanwhile, many users are only concerned with the amount of storage space provided, and Google clearly provides more in both its free and paid versions. In this regard, Google provides better value for your money. However, Dropbox differentiates itself with a unique idea which leads to higher speeds. Instead of replacing the entire file when a change is made, Dropbox only copies and replaces the edited parts. This significantly increases the transfer speed.

In terms of data security, there is little difference between the two companies. Nowadays, both Google and Dropbox have adopted standards which are widely accepted as secure. This was not always the case. In the past, both companies have found themselves embroiled in data breach scandals. In 2013 it was discovered that the NSA, an American governmental agency, was monitoring Google’s servers, and in 2016 unidentified parties published the login information for several million Dropbox accounts on the internet.

Summary

Aside from the amount of storage space provided, your choice will depend on what you want to use cloud storage for. Dropbox’s ability to exchange files in a shared folder provides unique collaboration opportunities, while Google ensures that Drive is integrated with its other cloud services for word processing and email if you want to use them.

Overview: Dropbox vs. Google Drive

We have compiled these services’ most important features in a table so that you can decide which option is best for you as easily as possible.

  Dropbox Google Drive
Free storage 2 GB (up to 16 GB via recommendations) 15 GB
Premium storage 1 – 2 TB (unlimited amount for business subscriptions) 100 GB – 30 TB
Premium rates starting at £9.99 per month starting at £1.99 per month
Encryption AES (256 bit for idle files/128 bit for files in transmission) AES (128 bit for idle files/256 bit for files in transmission)
Two-factor authentication    
Direct collaboration Dropbox Paper Google Docs, etc.
API for external software applications    
Desktop software application Windows, macOS, Linux Windows, macOS
Mobile app Android, iOS Android, iOS
Languages available 17 48
User count over 500 million approx. one billion

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