Thanks to cloud storage and file syncing apps, you can create a file on your computer at work, edit it on your phone on the subway home, and then finish working on that same up-to-date file from your laptop in your living room. Or, in minutes, you can share a 20 GB folder of photos and videos with colleagues who are halfway around the world. This is the virtual hard drive on the internet that ensures the latest version of your files are at the ready on all your devices.
You're probably already using one, if not more, of these services, such as Dropbox or Google Drive. But there are dozens of cloud storage and file syncing apps available today, and each has its own special features. If you're looking for additional free space or wondering what's the best place online to stash your files without having to buy a plan, here are your top options today.
What Makes a Great Cloud Storage and File Syncing App?
At their core, cloud storage and file syncing apps all do the same thing: copy files in your selected folder or folders to an online server—and then to any other device where you've installed the apps. Any new files you add or changes you make are instantly replicated across your computers, phone, and tablet. While these apps all act similarly, however, some are more generous with the amount of free storage space they provide and are easier to use than others.
We researched over 30 cloud storage and file syncing services, looking for the most important features for most people:
Free plan: We're sticking with services that offer free plans, in the interest of showcasing options that will benefit the most people. (A guide for cloud storage for small businesses/teams is in the works.)
Fast syncing: For these apps to be truly useful, any changes you make in the files or folders on one device should be immediately available on your other devices. We tested syncing performance across these services and different devices with a 1 Gigabyte (GB) folder containing 95 files of various types and sizes.
Easy to use: If the app is hard to use or the interface clunky, you're less likely to use it. The point of apps like these is they should just work in the background without you having to fuss with them.
Generous file size and transfer size limits: The last thing you want to see is a notification that a file you tried to save and sync with your other devices is too large or exceeds your bandwidth limits. The apps we've chosen here should give you confidence that all your files will be synced.
Security and file access control: The best cloud storage apps let you share files but also control exactly how others can access them, such as whether others need to enter a password to see the file.
We also took into consideration how much free storage space each service provides and how much it would cost per GB to upgrade to their lowest-cost free plan.
The Best Free Cloud Storage and File Syncing Apps
Google Drive for unlimited storage for photos, videos, and Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides
Sync for advanced security features and unlimited file sizes
OneDrive for Microsoft Office and Windows users
Dropbox for fast syncing over your local network
Box for teams who need more access control options
Cozy.io for automatically importing bank statements and bills from service providers in Europe
iCloud Drive for keeping your iOS and Mac apps up to date
Best for unlimited storage of photos, videos, and Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides
If you want to use just one cloud storage and file syncing app, we recommend Google Drive, for several reasons. If you have a Google Account, you've got Google Drive already. It offers the most amount of free storage space of the apps on this list—15 GB, shared with your Gmail and Google Photos. Photos and videos stored using the "high quality" setting—up to 16 megapixels for photos and 1080p for video, rather than the original resolution—don't count towards your storage quota, nor do any of your Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, or Sites files.
Beyond the generous amount of storage space, though, Google Drive had the fastest syncing speed from desktop to web in our tests. And once in the web app, you can work with your files and folders much like you can on your desktop computer: search within folders, share multiple files at once, right-click for contextual menus, and add a description or notes. You can even color-code folders and disable downloading, printing, or copying of files you share with others. Many of these features are unique to Google Drive. And the new storage plans, which you can share with your family, are competitive, particularly when you need a large amount of space (e.g., $9.99/month for 2 TB compared to Dropbox's same price for 1 TB).
Google Drive Protip: Install Google's Save to Google Drive Chrome extension and then you can right-click on images, links, and more to save them directly to Google Drive.
Google Drive Pricing: Free for 15 GB; from $1.99/month for 100 GB
For a deeper look at features and pricing, see our Google Drive overview.
See Google Drive integrations on Zapier
Best for advanced security features and unlimited file sizes
If security is your top concern for files you store in the cloud, give open-source Sync a look. The Canadian-based company offers end-to-end encryption, which means that all your data is encrypted at all times: on your computer, while in transit, and on their servers. Sync's "zero knowledge" privacy means that your password is never stored by the company and it can't access your encryption keys.
You get 5 GB of storage for free, plus the ability to gain more space via referrals (1 GB per referral). The web app and other apps are basic (no starring folders or sharing files directly from your computer's file menus), but on the plus side there's no individual file size or bandwidth limits.
Note that you'll need a Pro plan to get Sync's more robust security options—setting expiration dates on links, limiting downloads, getting link activity via email, HIPPA compliance, and more.
Sync Protip: After setting up your account, head straight to Sync's security settings where you can enable password reset; due to Sync's zero knowledge privacy, if you forget your password, your account will be inaccessible forever—unless you set this up. Note that password reset does give Sync temporary access to your encryption keys when you attempt to reset your password.
Sync Pricing: Free for 5 GB; from $49/year for 500 GB (no monthly plan options)
Best for Microsoft Office and Windows Users
If you buy a Microsoft Office 365 subscription, you get 1 TB of storage space on OneDrive and premium features like password-protected sharing links and expiring links. So it's a no-brainer to use OneDrive if you need to use Microsoft Office software anyway and want seamless syncing and storage with Microsoft products.
For free cloud storage, OneDrive is still a solid option. You get 5 GB of free storage space to start and up to 10 GB additional space for referring others to OneDrive. You can edit and annotate Office files within OneDrive and access some unique nifty features. For example, if you have a Windows PC with the OneDrive desktop app installed, you can remotely access your files and folders on that computer—even if you haven't stored them in the OneDrive folder. This is a setting you'll need to enable in the desktop app, but it makes sure the files you need are always at the ready, no matter where you store them.
OneDrive Protip: Easily embed documents like Word or PDF files into a web page or blog: Just right-click on the file in OneDrive and select the embed option. Then you'll get HTML code you can copy and paste onto your page.
OneDrive Pricing: Free for 5 GB; from $1.99/month for 50 GB storage only or $6.99/month for 1 TB plus Microsoft Office 365
For a deeper look at features and pricing, see our OneDrive overview .
See OneDrive integrations on Zapier
Best for fast syncing over your local network
Founded in 2007, Dropbox was one of the first services to make saving and syncing your files dead simple. Store a file in your Dropbox folder and it's instantly available on all your devices. The app hasn't changed much since then, except for integration with Dropbox Paper, a collaborative word processing tool.
Compared to the other apps on this list, Dropbox offers the least amount of free storage space out of the gate: 2 GB, but you can earn up to 16 GB on the free account by referring new members and completing other tasks. Also, files and folders shared with you count towards your storage space, which is a bummer.
File sharing is easy with Dropbox because it's been around so long that most people already are familiar with it. And perhaps the biggest advantage Dropbox offers is that it shaves time off of syncing over your local network. Transferring a 1 GB file from desktop to web, for example, took about four minutes, but it was about a quarter of that time faster when syncing between two computers on the same Wi-Fi network, thanks to Dropbox's syncing technology.
Dropbox Protip: Dropbox has a SmartSync feature that lets you see all the files and folders, including ones shared with you, in your Dropbox account—without them taking up space on your hard drive. To access a file, click on the cloud icon on the file and it will then be synced to your computer. This feature, however, requires a paid plan.
Dropbox Pricing: Free for 2 GB; from $9.99/month for 1 TB
For a deeper look at features and pricing, see our Dropbox overview .
See Dropbox integrations on Zapier
Google Drive, Sync, OneDrive, and Dropbox are our picks for cloud storage and file syncing for most people, but there are a few others that you might want to consider if you need more space or are looking for other features:
Box: You get 10 GB of free storage space with Box and the service offers more access control for files and folders than most cloud storage services. For example, you can specify if people you share a file link with can download the file and can even set a custom URL for your shared files. Box is also well integrated with other apps (for example, you can create a Word Doc or Google Doc straight from Box.com), and you can embed Box files on a web page using its widget. However, with a 250 MB file size limit on the free plan, Box is more ideal for teams on a paid plan, where that file size limit is raised to 5 GB.
Cozy: Cozy is a unique cloud-storage-meets-personal-finance app. You get 5 GB of free storage, plus it can automatically import your bank statements and bills from service providers in Europe. This open source app also offers end-to-end encryption. Sharing, however, is more limited—links only and no access controls, so this is best for personal versus collaborative file access.
iCloud Drive: If you have a Mac, iPad, or iPhone, you've got 5 GB of free storage space on iCloud Drive. That's great for backing up your iOS device and sharing your iTunes purchases with your family with the app's file sharing feature. It also can keep your apps (such as Mail, Calendar, Contacts, and Safari, along with many third-party apps that store files in iCloud Drive) up to date across your Apple devices. It's a bit more limited when it comes to sharing features, however, and not as user friendly compared to other cloud storage apps.
When it comes to cloud storage and file syncing apps, there's no right or wrong answer. Often, the choice you make boils down to what ecosystem you're invested in: Google (Google Drive), Microsoft (OneDrive), Apple (iCloud). Or if you're looking for additional storage with an app dedicated to cloud storage, Dropbox, Box, and Sync are solid options.
Each app has its unique strengths and weaknesses, and hopefully the above will help you decide where to stash your files in the cloud.
But is there such a thing as having too much free storage space? We don't think so. You can sign up for all the free space available from these providers and others. Managing where to put your files might be cumbersome, though. That's where Otixo comes in. Connect your cloud storage apps into one workspace—and connect Otixo to Zapier to automate your file management.
Title image by Freepik.