Cloud Storage on iOS: iCloud, OneDrive, and Dropbox

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Cloud storage services have been an incredibly useful way of working around 128 and 266 GB storage limits on modern iPads, but I’m still feeling torn about which solution is best for me. I know of Google Drive, but I’ve spent most of my testing period jumping between iCloud, Dropbox, and OneDrive. I haven’t come to a solid conclusion about which solution is perfect for me, but I now have enough to talk about the pros and cons of each service.

OneDrive

Microsoft’s OneDrive is a solution that’s basically free for me to try, because I already pay for a $99 Office 365 Home subscription that comes with 1 TB of space. However, if I wasn’t on this plan, I could use a 2 GB Free account, or one of these paid OneDrive tiers.

One whole terabyte of online storage is more than I need, and it’s perfect for storing an off-site backup of my photos and videos. I won’t really access this backup very often, I just want to know it’s there. However, I’m hesitant to use OneDrive for this because I don’t really enjoy using Microsoft’s services.

The Word, Excel, and Powerpoint apps on iOS have logged me out of my account more times than I can say. I’ll log back in and they’ll remember me for a few weeks, and then another day will come when I’ll be asked to log back in. I’m also a bit nervous about using the OneDrive Mac app, as I’ve read a lot of other reviews about inconsistent syncing.

So while OneDrive is essentially free for me to use, I’m hesitant to take the time to use it for important files because I just haven’t had a very good experience thus far. As such, I think I’ll just be using OneDrive almost like a Time Machine backup for my media — something to keep up to date, but not often accessed.

iCloud Drive

There are a number of apps I rely on that use iCloud Drive by default. Ulysses, the very app I’m using to write this post, is one of them. iCloud Drive has decent pricing tiers:

50GB: $0.99

200GB: $2.99

1TB: $9.99

2TB: $19.99

This is pretty competitive, and iCloud sync works quite well in most of my apps. It’s a great way to keep my app data in place, and it also works well for iCloud Photo Library. However, it just isn’t a very good solution for general file storage that’s outside of an app container. In other words, if the document isn’t specific to Ulysses or Pixelmator or the Photos app, then iCloud Drive doesn’t feel like a very useful solution for file management.

The primary way of accessing iCloud on iOS is through the native iCloud Drive app, which has some of the most spartan user interfaces of any modern iPad app. There’s no starring files, bookmarking folders, or tagging a file for offline access. You load up the app, tap on a file, decide where to open it, and then it downloads from iCloud into that app. This is fine for occasional access, but it really slows me down when I have tried to use it on a daily basis.

Dropbox

The cloud storage solution to beat on iOS is definitely Dropbox. I can quickly search for folders, manage work and personal Dropbox accounts, download files for offline access, and even browse photos with a special view. The Mac and Windows apps work very well, and I’ve only ever had minor issues with files being out of sync. Most of the time it really does just work, and it feels like a service I can trust.

Sharing from Dropbox is also ridiculously easy, and this is one of the biggest selling points of the service. I can quickly generate a Dropbox link for a particular file or folder and paste that into a chat or e-mail. OneDrive can do this, but I don’t keep any files in there. iCloud Drive doesn’t have the option at all.

The biggest downside of Dropbox is its lack of any sort of pricing tiers; there’s just one paid plan for consumers and it’s called Dropbox Pro, which comes with 1 TB of storage for $9.99 per month. If Dropbox were to offer a 500 GB plan for $4.99, I’d be all over it. That’s more than enough for all of my photos and videos, and it’s a price I’m willing to pay each month.

Having just one plan available feels Apple-like in its forced simplicity, but that actually wouldn’t be correct because Apple does have pricing tiers for their storage plans (as noted above).

What Do I Use Now?

The choice I’ve made is to use iCloud Drive’s $2.99 plan for 200 GB of space for my apps and backups. I may downgrade this to the $0.99 plan now that I’m using Lightroom on a daily basis (and it uses its own cloud for storage).

The rest of my files live in a free Dropbox account that has been bolstered to 10.5 GB over a few years of sharing and earning more space. It’s enough for my documents, but not nearly enough for my pictures and videos. Those are just on my personal computer, two sets of backup hard drives, and Adobe’s cloud for now. I’ll think about it and may downgrade to the $0.99 iCloud plan (just enough for iOS backups and app data) and subscribe to Dropbox Pro in the new year.

I’d be curious to see how some of our readers handle cloud storage. Are you all in one paid solution, or are you mixing and matching based on apps and pricing?


Thomas

My name is probably Thomas (yes, it is). I'll be able to help you figure out why Evernote isn't syncing, or recommend your favourite new RSS reader to you. That's partly because I am enamoured with the iOS ecosystem and hardware, but mostly because I'm Canadian.

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5 thoughts on “Cloud Storage on iOS: iCloud, OneDrive, and Dropbox”

  1. One very important and flexible cloud drive is BOX.com
    It doesn’t have many pricing tiers, and there is a free option. I’ve been using it for years and have shared many many large files using it.
    It’s simpler to read than Dropbox and definitely more straightforward than OneDrive.
    It’ syncs with iOS beautifully and It was the first free cloud drive to offer OFFLINE files capabilities.
    Very easy to use, I’m surprised that not more reviews are written on this platform.

    1. I have seen Box around on social media and I think iOS supports it as well. I’m just hesitant to try yet another third party service that focuses on storage. I already knew Dropbox from before, but I’m nervous about investing a lot time and data in third party platforms that are smaller. But I should probably look into Box at some point, so thanks for bringing it up.

  2. You say you are having to make do with a mish mash of different services

    Google Drive on the other hand seems to do all the stuff you claim the others fail at yet you admit to not having tried it!

    Like you I have tried all of these services and amazingly Google Drive seems to be the best all round cross platform solution that nobody uses

    Considering its free to use, for a review like this to be credible (and indeed your own reputation as an “expert”), you need to include the Google offering

    1. You’re definitely right that Google Drive is a contender in this space, but it isn’t part of what I looked in this post. But the feedback on it is welcome, and I may give it a shot for more mobile use in the future.

  3. I tried using Google Drive for a while, but never really trusted it. I woudl synchronise work files with home using an external USB drive as well as GDrive, but found that the GDrive syncing was dodgy. On camping my external drive to what got copied to home, some files would have a duplicate created, e.g. Instead of having the latest version of inbox.mbx, the original was untouched an instead I had a new “inbox (1).mbx”. Imagine syncing a few thousand files at the end of your work day, and havign anywhere for a few to a few hundred files duplicated like this! Stopped trusting GDrive before it did too much damage.

    Oh, and some folders would never even appear at my destination. Google advice: uninstall and reinstall the windows synced – but it still didn’t help.

    So yeah, have a think about Google, but be anal like me (an accountant) and check that it is doing what it actually claims to be doing. And you’ll probably be disappointed.

    So even thoug I get 1TB of GD through work, I think I’ll pay for Dropbox. Can anyone confirm that it doesn’t have similar problems, or will I have to monitor for a while?

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