This post is part of TechAirlines' biweekly PrizeFly series. Every other Monday, we compare key features of 2-4 similar products and crown one as the "prized flyer".
Do you store your files online? Online file storage and synchronization services are becoming increasingly popular these days as replacements for flash drives, emailing yourself files, etc…
There is a long list of available file storage and synchronization services, with more being introduced all the time, so it is impossible to review them all.
We’ve done a comparison like this over 2 years ago, where Dropbox was selected as the winner and SugarSync and Live Mesh (now SkyDrive) were selected as the runner-ups. All three of these apps have changed dramatically since April 2010, so it’s time to compare them again. Also in this comparison is the new Google Drive (formerly Google Docs).
Table of Contents
Disclosure: The logo/image links for Dropbox and SugarSync are referral links. Signing up through these links will earn both of us extra space. If you prefer not to sign up through a referral link, use the text links instead.
Dropbox was founded in September 2008 by two MIT students and has since grown into an independent company estimated to be valued at over a billion. The service offers 2 GB of free storage to all users with more storage being available by referring new users and through paid upgrades.
SugarSync comes from a company that launched a photo synchronization service in 2006, although wasn’t named SugarSync until November 2009. The service offers 5 GB of free storage to all users with more storage being available by referring new users and through paid upgrades.
Google Drive, launched in April 2012, is the new version of Google Docs, the document collaboration tool from Google. It offers a collaborative editing space for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and drawings as well as 5 GB of free online storage for all users. Additional storage is available through paid upgrades.
Microsoft SkyDrive, launched in August 2007, offers 7 GB of free storage to all users with additional storage being available through paid upgrades. Microsoft did not introduce a desktop synchronization client until April 2012. Users of the SkyDrive service prior to the release of desktop/mobile apps were able to upgrade to the original 25 GB of free storage.
1 – Free Storage Space
How much free file storage does each service provide?
Dropbox provides all free accounts with 2 GB of storage. Signing up through someone’s referral link starts you off with 2.5 GB instead. Users receive 0.5 GB of extra space for every new user they refer for a maximum of 16 GB of extra space (32 referrals). Combined with the initial storage, it is possible to get up to 18 GB of storage for free. In addition, Dropbox occasionally has special events that allow users to earn even more space.
SugarSync stars users off with 5 GB of free storage. Signing up through someone’s referral link starts you off with 5.5 GB instead. Users receive 0.5 GB of extra space for every new user they refer for a maximum of 32 GB of extra space (64 referrals). Combined with the initial storage, it is possible to get up to 34 GB of storage.
Google Drive provides all users with 5 GB of free storage. Documents that are converted to Google Docs’ format (editable in the browser) do not take up storage space and are not included. There is an individual file size limit of 10 GB.
SkyDrive provides all users with 7 GB of free storage. There is an individual file size limit of 2 GB.
Round 1 Results
Dropbox provides the least amount of initial storage, but allows users to earn quite a lot through referrals.
SugarSync not only provides more initial storage than Dropbox, but allows users to earn even more through referrals.
Google Drive provides the same amount of initial storage as SugarSync, but there are no opportunities to earn more for free. Documents can be converted into a Google Docs format to save storage. The file size limit of 10 GB shouldn’t be a problem for anyone.
SkyDrive provides the most amount of initial storage, but there are no opportunities to earn more for free. The file size limit of 2 GB could be a problem for a few but overall, but for most people it should be fine.
2 – Paid Upgrades
Eventually, you might grow out of your free account and need to upgrade. Since this post is focused on free services, this section is only counted for 5%, but its still something you might want to consider, especially if you intend on storing huge files.
With the exception of Google Drive, all upgrades are in-addition to the space provided by the free account and its bonuses. Upgrading Google Drive also upgrades Gmail’s storage to 25 GB (regardless of plan). Google Drive’s storage space is then shared with Picasa Web Albums.
Dropbox offers 1 GB for paid referrals (up to 32 GB). SugarSync offers 10 GB for paid referrals (no limit).
The table below shows each service’s upgrade options. All prices are rounded to the nearest dollar and are per year.
Google Drive offers additional upgrade options up to 16 TB and payment is made in monthly cycles. Dropbox and SugarSync offer a discount for paying annually as opposed to monthly. Dropbox upgrades for 1 TB and greater are shared between at least 5 users.
Round 2 Results
Dropbox’s prices are comparable to that of SugarSync, at roughly $1 per gigabyte. Dropbox, however, does not offer any cheaper plans with less than 100 GB.
SugarSync’s prices are comparable to that of Dropbox, at roughly $1 per gigabyte for higher plans. However, $100 gets you a 100 GB plan with Dropbox but only a 60 GB plan with SugarSync. SugarSync does have a smaller 30 GB plan though.
Google Drive are significantly cheaper than both Dropbox and SugarSync. Do note that unlike the latter two, Google Drive’s upgrades do not include the free account’s storage space or any referral bonuses. Its upgrades also include a 25 GB inbox for Gmail.
SkyDrive’s prices are the cheapest of them all, however it lacks upgrades beyond 100 GB.
3 – Desktop Apps
How well does each service synchronize with your desktop?
Dropbox supports Windows, Mac, and Linux. It runs silently in the system tray monitoring changes to your Dropbox folder. Only one folder (and its sub-folders) can be synced. One of the top requested features is the ability to sync folders outside of the Dropbox folder.
Selective sync lets you sync only certain sub-folders on Dropbox. This can be helpful if you have a large folder of backups and don’t need it to be downloaded to all your computers.
Bandwidth can also be manually throttled.
SugarSync supports Windows and Mac. It is the most unique one in the way that it provides its own file manager. It lets you manage all your synchronized devices and the files that are synced with each. It does not automatically sync folders from other devices unless you want it to.
Unlike the other three, SugarSync lets you sync any folders on your computer. Files in these folders are automatically uploaded.
Google supports Windows and Mac. Like Dropbox, it runs silently in the system tray monitoring changes to your Google Drive folder. Only one folder (and its sub-folders) can be synced.
It also includes selective sync to sync only certain sub-folders on Google Drive.
Google Docs files appear as browser links but can be synced for offline viewing through a Chrome Web App.
SkyDrive supports Windows and Mac. Like Dropbox and Google Drive, it runs silently in the system tray monitoring changes to your SkyDrive folder. Only one folder (and its sub-folders) can be synced.
Unlike Dropbox and Google Drive, SkyDrive does not include selective sync.
Round 3 Results
Dropbox’s desktop client is just like that of Google Drive and SkyDrive. Selective syncing is great, but it needs the ability to sync multiple folders (besides just the Dropbox folder). Dropbox also is the only one that officially supports Linux.
SugarSync is the only one that allows you to sync multiple folders on your hard drive. In addition, it provides a dedicated file manager that allows you to manage files synced from other devices, while still providing all the features of the other services in terms of running quietly and syncing file changes.
Google Drive’s desktop client is just like that of Dropbox and SkyDrive. It also needs the ability to sync multiple folders (besides just the Google Drive folder).
SkyDrive’s desktop client is just like that of Dropbox and Google Drive. It also needs the ability to sync multiple folders (besides just the SkyDrive folder). Unlike the other two, SkyDrive does not feature selective sync, so all folders on SkyDrive will be synced.
4 – Mobile Apps
Many of us want to access our files from mobile devices. How does each service compare when it comes to mobile platforms?
Dropbox has official apps for iOS, Android, and BlackBerry. The apps allow you to manage (view/delete) your Dropbox account files, preview some files (such as PDF and images), and save files as favorites. Files marked as favorites are saved for offline viewing.
SugarSync has official apps for iOS, Android, BlackBerry, Symbian, and Windows Mobile (not Windows Phone). It allows you to manage your devices individually as well as all the special SugarSync folders (Magic Briefcase, Web Archive, etc…). Files can be synced to the device for offline use.
Google Drive has official apps for iOS and Android. On iOS, it is almost identical to Dropbox’s app, allowing you to manage your account files, preview some files, and save files for offline viewing.
On Android however, it has additional features that allow users to edit Google documents with rich text formatting.
SkyDrive has official apps for iOS and Windows Phone. These apps make it easy to view, move, and delete files, but unfortunately, there is currently no feature that allows files to be saved for offline use.
Round 4 Results
Dropbox’s apps are clean, simple, and easy to use. They provide all the basic necessities needed for accessing files while on the go.
SugarSync’s apps do an excellent job with including all the features of the service.
Google Drive’s Android apps allow you to manage and edit your Google documents while on the go. The iOS app, however, is very similar to the Dropbox app and does not have any editing features. The others don’t have editing features either, but Google Drive is focused around Google documents. The Google Drive app doesn’t allow you to convert Google documents to be opened with an editing app other than the Google Docs website with Safari. The iOS app needs an editing feature or at least a method to convert Google documents.
SkyDrive is the only one that officially supports Windows Phone, but lacks Android support. Its apps are sufficient for managing files, but they need an offline feature.
5 – Web Apps
One of the advantages of online storage services is the ability to access your account anywhere, including public computers. Desktop and mobile apps are great, but what about the in-browser web apps?
Dropbox provides a file manager as well as a 30-day revision history. It also saves ghost copies of deleted files for 30 days.
Photos imported from a camera or memory card (Camera Uploads) folder can be viewed in a gallery format.
A public link can be created to any file, even if its not in the Public folder. Links to certain file types like DOC and PDF will open using Dropbox’s own viewer.
SugarSync lets you individually view the files synced to each of your devices.
Revision history is saved for the last 5 revisions of each file.
Like with Dropbox, a public link can be created to any file and photos can be viewed in a gallery format.
Google Drive’s web app is essentially Google Docs. It includes real-time document collaboration tools for documents, spreadsheets, presentations, and drawings. Collaborative editing is in real time. Editors can also add comments and chat with each other on the same page.
It can also open numerous different file types for viewing, including PDFs and even PSDs. It also uses OCR technology to optionally convert PDFs and images into Google documents. Be aware that formatting usually isn’t very consistent between Office documents and Google documents.
It tracks revisions to Google Docs files, so you can easily revert to older versions. There doesn’t seem to be version tracking available for non-Google Docs files though.
Any file can be shared with certain people or with the public. In addition, there are settings to allow viewers to edit, comment, or just view, as well as whether or not they are allowed to download the file.
SkyDrive integrates with Office Web Apps to provide simplified versions of Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote. Unlike the previous version, the latest preview release of these web apps includes collaborative editing although it is not quite real-time like Google Drive.
Version tracking is only available with Office documents.
Photos can be viewed in a gallery or slideshow format.
SkyDrive can also be used to remotely access the files on a computer that’s turned on and connected to SkyDrive. This is not limited to files within the SkyDrive folder. Email verification is used for security when using this feature.
Round 5 Results
Dropbox’s revision history feature is unmatched by the others, providing 30 days of history for all files. Its web file manager is easy to use for managing and sharing files.
Features of SugarSync’s web interface is similar to that of Dropbox, however SugarSync’s revision history is limited to the last 5 edits of each file.
Since its Google Docs, a much larger emphasis is placed on Google documents rather than other files. Its sharing, collaboration, and editing tools are unmatched by the others. However, despite the missing revision history feature for non-Google documents, Google Drive offers a robust way to manage your online files within the browser. In addition, it is able to open a variety of different files.
SkyDrive places a large emphasis on Office documents because of its integration with Office Web Apps. Its collaboration and editing tools still fall short of Google Drive’s, but its improving. Like Google Drive, it lacks revision history for regular files.
So what is the final weighted score of each service?
Therefore, with a score of 4.63, the “prized flyer” for online file storage and synchronization is…
What is your favorite service for online file storage and synchronization? Vote in the poll above and share with us in the comments.