Cloud Storage Showdown: OneDrive vs. Google Drive

Dane O'Leary
Dane O'Leary / Published July 22, 2019

It used to be that the cloud storage app you used would depend on your operating system of choice, but cloud storage providers have since become platform-agnostic. This means you can use virtually any cloud storage service with just about any platform and device.

Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive have emerged as two of the leading cloud storage options. Here we'll compare the two—Google Drive vs. OneDrive—to help you decide which is right for you and your business.

Common Features and What We Looked For

Google Drive and OneDrive provide a space to store your files. They can both be used with most operating systems and platforms, and they give you access to important files on any device. They also let you easily share files with other people and make file backup a breeze by automating the process.

Here, we'll compare OneDrive and Google Drive across a number of categories. Click on the one that's most important to you, or go straight to our complete comparison table at the end.

Price

Google Drive gives you more storage with its free and budget plans, but Microsoft OneDrive offers more bang for your buck with its paid plans

Like most cloud storage providers, both Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive offer free plans with a limited amount of storage. If you'll be using cloud storage primarily for backing up the occasional document or family photo, then either provider offers plenty of room.

Google Drive's free plan offers three times the amount of storage you get with the free Microsoft OneDrive plan: 15GB and 5GB, respectively. However, your Google Drive storage space is tied to Google's other services, including Gmail, so that 15GB can go pretty quickly.

If either provider's free storage isn't enough for you, both offer subscriptions to increase your virtual storage. Google Drive's subscriptions are $1.99/month for 100GB, $9.99/month for 1TB, $19.99/month for 2TB, and $99.99/month for 10TB of cloud storage. While the entry-level OneDrive subscription, $1.99/month for 50GB, offers less value than Google Drive's subscription at the same price, the remainder of OneDrive's plans are a better value ($6.99/month for 1TB and $9.99 per month for 5TB). So if you need a lot of storage space, Microsoft OneDrive is your best bet.

Speed

OneDrive is faster with larger, Microsoft-native files due to block-level copying

Microsoft OneDrive supports a specific file-syncing technology called block-level copying, where files are broken into smaller packages. When you make a change to a file, only the packages that house those changes are re-uploaded to the cloud—instead of the entire file. The result is data transfers that take far less time. Granted, this will only really be noticeable with larger files—plus, OneDrive only supports block-level copying for Microsoft-native files. But if you're relying on a mobile data connection, the difference might be important for you.

Bottom line: On a day-to-day basis, OneDrive and Google Drive perform similarly when it comes to speed. Where you'll start to see a difference is with Microsoft-native files, in which case block-level copying results in substantially shorter upload times. But if you primarily use Google's apps for productivity, then OneDrive's block-level copying offers no real advantage.

File Management and Search

The platforms have similar user interfaces and file management protocols, but Google Drive's advanced search functionality is worlds ahead of OneDrive's search

Users have full access to each provider's file management capabilities via a web browser, and their interfaces are very similar, taking many cues from desktop file browsers. In practice, this means organization in both Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive revolve around file and folder hierarchies. They both offer quick access to recent files and different options for viewing (e.g., list, thumbnails, etc.) and have standard drag-and-drop and right-click functionality.

Google Drive web browser view
Google Drive's web browser view
OneDrive web browser view
Microsoft OneDrive's web browser view

The main difference comes down to search.

In Google Drive, as you type your query, Google populates the results live, updating and refining those results with each letter you type. There are also advanced search options available from the dropdown menu, which you can toggle by clicking the arrow icon on the right side of the search bar. With those advanced search options, you can filter a search by file type, by the date of last activity, by a keyword or phrase, and so on. Google Drive's advanced search functionality also uses machine learning, and when you conduct a search in Google Drive, it searches not just through text, but also through images and media.

In OneDrive, when you type a search query, you don't see results until you hit Enter on your keyboard—and the advanced search options are slim.

Mobile Backup and File Sync

Google Drive lets you back up more file types, but OneDrive offers more customization options for mobile photo and video backup

Google Drive lets you back up not only your phone's media (i.e., photos and videos) but also your contacts and calendar events. Each option is a toggle that can be turned on or off, and the photo and video backup lets you choose the image quality, which is useful for managing your cloud storage space.

Mobile back up options

Microsoft OneDrive's backup options are more limited, only allowing for photo and video backup. But on the plus side, you get more control over your photo backup settings, including organization options for new photo uploads and the ability to select a file type for HEIC photos.

OneDrive mobile backup options

So that's mobile. But if you want to sync files across all your devices—including your computer—you need to download another app, just like you would for Dropbox, Box, or any other cloud storage provider. For Google Drive, the app is called Backup and Sync; for Microsoft OneDrive, it's just the OneDrive desktop app.

During installation for these apps, you'll set up a folder on your computer, and that folder will be tied to your Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive cloud storage account. Then, any file copied to that folder will be immediately accessible from any device connected to your cloud storage account.

Note: If you want to back up your files to another app, Zapier can take care of that for you. Connect Google Drive or OneDrive to Zapier, and you can send files from your cloud storage to another app.

Or you can save files from another app directly to your cloud storage, like automatically saving all email attachments.

File Sharing

File sharing is comparable across the two apps

For the most part, there aren't many differences between Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive when it comes to file sharing and permissions. To share a file, Google Drive and OneDrive both offer two methods: Share a direct link to the file or use someone's email address to give them access.

The direct link method involves getting a shareable link via right-click on the file or folder. For Google Drive, Get shareable link brings up an overlay with the link you need to share the file or folder. On OneDrive, click Share > Copy link. Keep in mind that for both platforms, the permissions you set for the link apply to anyone who clicks it. Alternatively, on both platforms, you can share a file or folder using an email address—they'll get an email letting them know it's been shared.

Google Drive sharing via right-click
Google Drive sharing via right-click
OneDrive sharing via right-click
OneDrive sharing via right-click

Both Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive let you choose permissions that apply to anyone accessing your files or folders, whether through a direct link or by email. With a free Google Drive plan, there are three tiers of permissions: view, comment, and edit. Although this keeps things simple, some might prefer more advanced permissions settings, which only become available with a paid G Suite account. (Alternatively, third-party add-ons like Sookasa can bring stronger and more granular access controls to Google Drive.) But when it comes to keeping track of files and folders you've shared, you're on your own: Google Drive doesn't offer a way for you to see all the files and folders you've shared with others, like Microsoft OneDrive does with its Shared tab.

With premium Google or Microsoft accounts, you'll get added sharing options, like the ability to set an expiration date or protect the file with a password.

File Recovery and History

File histories are kept for 30 days, but Google Drive keeps complete file histories for Google-native files

Google keeps a complete history for all files created in G Suite apps (e.g., Google Docs and Google Sheets). So if you need to revert changes made to a file or restore to a previous version, you can easily do so—down to the minute. Non-native files have a maximum of either 30 days or 100 iterations kept in history, depending on which limit you hit first.

You'll access this file history by right-clicking on the file and selecting View details. This will open a panel on the right side of the window, showing the file's history with the most recent versions at the top. To recover a previous version, just click on the file name from within the history. This will open that version of the file and allow you to revert the file.

File history on Google Drive

Microsoft OneDrive also offers 30-day file history for all file types, both native and non-native. Right-click on the file to open an advanced options menu, and then select Version history. To restore to a prior version, click on the date of the iteration, and from there, you'll have the option to restore.

OneDrive file recovery

Which Cloud Storage App Should I Use?

Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive are pretty similar, when it comes down to it. Ultimately, your best bet may be to choose based on which office productivity suite you prefer. If you're a Google Docs or Google Sheets user, Google Drive is your best bet. If you prefer Word and Excel, then go with OneDrive. But since both apps offer free plans, we'd suggest trying both out and seeing what works best for you.

Finally, here's our at-a-glance feature comparison:

Google DriveMicrosoft OneDrive
PriceOffers free plan with paid plans starting at $1.99/month for 100GBOffers free plan with paid plans starting at $1.99/month for 50GB
SpeedDoesn't support block-level copyingSupports block-level copying for Microsoft-native files
File management and searchStandard file management with advanced search functionalityStandard file management and basic search functionality
Mobile backup and file syncEasy mobile backup for various file typesLots of customization options for photo and video backup
File sharingBasic sharing functionality with extras for paid accountsBasic sharing functionality with extras for paid accounts; ability to see all files you've shared
File recovery and historyKeeps complete history of Google-native files and either a 30-day or 100-iteration history for non-native filesKeeps 30-day history for all files

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