Best Free Cloud Storage

Price Range

$0.50 - $1

Cheapism

$1 - ...+

Mid-Range

...+

High End

Online storage isn't just for backups anymore. Mobile technology and online collaboration have grown dramatically in recent years, and thus the need for access to data with just about any device anywhere that online connections are possible. Cloud storage services are a convenient means of keeping important files in one place and also serve as a reliable backup option. Fortunately, there's no reason to pay for this service: Some of the best cloud storage options are free and others cost no more than 50 cents a gigabyte annually.

Free Cloud Storage Guide

We looked at a handful of free cloud storage services and settled on Microsoft SkyDrive as our favorite. Microsoft offers a variety of attractive features and more free cloud storage than other services (7GB), with the cost of additional storage as cheap as you'll find. Dropbox, our second choice, boasts a large, loyal customer base and offers lots of features, although free storage is available only up to 2GB. Amazon also maintains a cloud for its users -- Cloud Drive -- but the service lacks the features and flexibility of the top two on our list.

Our preferences aside, all the services we researched provide some amount of free storage, so there's no harm in giving any or all a test drive to determine which works best for you. Of course, there's nothing stopping you from using more than one free cloud storage service if you're so inclined. Indeed, there are plenty of cloud storage services out there. Google runs Google Drive, which anyone can use, although dedicated users of Google products and services will get the most out of it. And Apple offers iCloud, which makes all your documents, music, apps, photos, and more available and up-to-date on every iOS-enabled device you use. SugarSync is yet another free cloud storage option, but the cost of extra GBs is comparatively high.

There are several features to consider when searching for the best cloud. First, decide how much storage you need. Cloud storage sites typically offer between 2GB and 7GB of free storage, with prices for additional space ranging from 50 cents a gigabyte to more than one dollar a gigabyte a year. Then think about how you plan to use the storage. Each free cloud storage provider offers a specific array of services. For example, cloud storage is a great way to share files with others, especially when jointly creating documents or collaborating on a project, but Amazon's Cloud Drive doesn't have any sharing options. Device support is something else to take into account. A good free cloud storage service should be compatible with both PCs and Macs, at the very least, and most services also support mobile devices such as iPhones, Android devices, and others that use the Internet. And of course, you want a cloud service that's fast. You shouldn't have to wait long for files to upload or download.

Finally, the matter of security. All cloud storage services require passwords and protect their servers with encryption technologies that are commonly used for other types of web sites and services. These encryption technologies are quite good, making it unlikely that someone will burst into your private cloud from the outside, although security breaches are always a possibility with any site. As for concern about files disappearing, cloud storage services back up files in multiple locations, so even if something happens to one server where your data is stored, that data will be backed up on another server somewhere in the cloud.</

Cloud Storage Reviews

Cloud Storage Speed.

The performance characteristic to focus on when choosing a cloud storage provider is speed. Naturally, when you upload and download files, you want the process to happen quickly -- especially if you're transferring large amounts of data. Fortunately, cloud storage reviews indicate the free cloud services we looked at pass the speed threshold.

An expert cloud storage review at Macworld, for example, says Microsoft SkyDrive delivers fast uploads and syncs files quickly. And the lean interface runs smooth and fast, adds PC Mag. Dropbox uses a clever trick to keep uploads moving along rapidly, according to another cloud storage review in PC Mag: The program only updates file information that has changed since the last time you synced your files, which saves both bandwidth and time. Amazon Cloud Drive is very simple, says a Macworld cloud storage review, and the process of storing files advances at a good clip. The online giant Google is, of course, known for speedy web searches, so it's not surprising that a cloud storage review by ZDNet says uploads and downloads with Google Drive are "insanely fast."

Cloud Drive Storage Features.

Cloud services offer several features for storing, sharing, and managing data. Generous amounts of cloud drive storage come free, but if you need more, the cost of additional space is quite cheap. Sharing options enable others to access your online files. And the more devices that can access the cloud, the better; you may not want to edit text on your smartphone, for example, but you might want to review it.

Cloud Drive Storage.

All the cloud services we researched offer at least some free storage, but some users need more than a few gigabytes to store their stuff. Both the pricing and the amount of extra storage you can buy vary from one service to another.

Microsoft SkyDrive charges an annual 50 cents a gigabyte for additional cloud drive storage on top of the free 7GB you automatically get; if you buy 20GB for $10 a year, you'll have 27GB total, which is a powerful lot of storage for such a low price. Amazon Cloud Drive also costs 50 cents a gigabyte for extra cloud drive storage beyond the free 5GB, and media files purchased from Amazon, such as MP3s, don't count against your storage total if you keep them in your cloud.

Extra storage with Google Drive is far pricier: 5GB is free and 25GB costs $2.49 a month. (Google has plans for extra cloud drive storage up to 16TB.) Dropbox is more expensive yet, perhaps justified by its richer array of features, including different pricing tiers for home and business users and compatibility with more operating systems and devices. This cloud storage provider offers only 2GB of free storage (although you can earn more by referring friends and family to the service), and the smallest amount of storage in the Dropbox "Pro" tier you can buy is 100GB, which will set you back $9.99 every month.

Cloud Storage Sharing.

Online collaboration is a growing trend, so most cloud drive storage services let you share files with others. What's the big deal? Flexibility and convenience. You may, for example, want to email a link to a specific file to a colleague or share a link with others via Facebook or Twitter. Recipients can then view or edit those files online or download them.

Microsoft SkyDrive offers many ways to share, a feature highlighted in a cloud storage review at Macworld. A cloud storage review by PC Mag likes the many sharing options that come with Dropbox, including a public folder where you can place files, but points out that Dropbox doesn't have any built-in collaboration editing tools. Google Drive lets you share large files, such as videos, notes a cloud storage review from ZDNet. Also, thanks to Google Drive's large file support, you can share Photoshop photos or other file types even if the recipient doesn't have the specific program that supports that file.

Amazon Cloud Drive is the least sharing-friendly service we researched. It has no built-in file sharing options. This means the only way you can share files is to give recipients your Amazon account login information, which we emphatically do not recommend.

Cloud Storage Device Support.

Cloud storage isn't just for computers. There are plenty of devices that can access the web, and providers have done a good job, for the most part, making their cloud drive storage available to a variety of electronic devices. For example, Dropbox is accessible through iPhones and iPads, as well as Android and Blackberry phones. Dropbox even supports the Linux operating system, in addition to Windows and Mac. Both Dropbox and (naturally) Amazon cloud services are compatible with the Amazon Kindle Fire. Amazon Cloud Drive, however, is pretty PC-centric -- it doesn't offer support for iPhones or Android phones, at least not yet. Microsoft SkyDrive works well with Windows phones, not surprisingly, and also lists Android and iPhone devices among its supported products. Google Drive supports the usual gadgets, including Android phones, iPhones, and iPads. Also, Google Chrome users have access to special apps in conjunction with Google Drive, such as a video editing program and a fax program.

Michael Sweet

Michael Sweet writes about consumer electronics. If something runs on electricity or ones and zeroes, he's interested in it. Sweet has written about PC technology and consumer electronics for 14 years.

See full bio