Cloud storage is becoming an ever more important part of life for PC and smartphone users, from business collaboration through to backing-up smartphone photos and files, it is an essential tool and something which most of us now rely on. With this in mind it is important to choose the right cloud provider to meet your needs, a task becoming ever more difficult as more providers are entering the market with many offering at least some free storage as a part of their offering.
This guide aims to highlight the main things to be aware of whilst evaluating this free cloud storage, this includes what to look for regarding privacy, security, smartphone support and the costs of upgrading the service should you need more from your chosen provider in the future (an often overlooked consideration when choosing free cloud storage).
What to Look for in Free Cloud Storage
There are a lot of cloud storage providers to choose from these days, many of which have some kind of free account offering their users a certain amount of free cloud storage! With some providers this free allocation is heavily restricted and intended to function more as a trial of their premium account, many others offer a genuinely useful free account often featuring many of the premium account features and limited only by the storage quota itself.
In the points highlighted below I will be addressing some of the main things to think about whilst evaluating any free cloud storage provider, these are:
Amount of Free Storage
Starting with a fairly obvious point, the amount of free storage on offer from any provider is a very important consideration, one that many will often make a decision based wholly upon without asking any other questions of the service itself.
This is a good time to be honest with yourself about how much cloud storage you will actually require, it might be tempting to go for the provider with the headline grabbing free storage numbers even though these providers might not meet your needs elsewhere. As such, if you go into this process of evaluating providers knowing (roughly) how much storage you actually need you will be less likely to make an emotional decision based upon any attention grabbing marketing tricks.
Bandwidth Quota (Transfer Quota)
An often overlooked (and often obscured) metric to look at is the amount of bandwidth free accounts have on offer to their customers, this is the amount of data you can transfer to or from the cloud service within a given time frame. Some providers don’t place any limits on this whilst others are very strict and make use of artificially low transfer limits to persuade free account users to upgrade to “unlimited” premium accounts.
Whilst bandwidth quotas are generally not an issue for the majority of cloud storage users it is something to consider if you are regularly uploading or downloading large files. In such circumstances certain providers might limit the speed at which you can transfer files after a certain limit is hit, others might (temporarily) suspend your account for a set amount of time to help manage bandwidth for their other free users.
The Upgrade Path
Something which is often overlooked by many people is what happens should their requirements for cloud storage change at some point in the future. It might be that a small allocation of free cloud storage meets your needs today, however, changes in your job, business, family life, hobbies etc. might see you needing more space or additional cloud features in the near future (this could include needing desktop synchronisation software, PC backup, password protected file sharing etc.).
With the above in mind you should at the very least look at the costs of upgrading from any given providers free plan to (at the very least) their most basic premium offering. Whilst doing this take note not only of the cost of this package but the additional features it has to offer. This is really important as the provider might be offering a premium service (e.g. file backup) for which you are currently paying for another piece of software to do, as such upgrading might actually save you some money in the long run!
Desktop Sync & Backup Software
Whilst many cloud storage providers are web-based (meaning you use them mainly from within your web browser) there are now plenty of providers offering PC software to work alongside and enhance their cloud offerings. This desktop software often helps PC users set-up a virtual disk drive or folder linking directly to their cloud storage account (often referred to as a “cloud drive” or “sync folder”).
At a basic level this synchronised folder will allow you to work with any files which are stored on your local PC whilst automatically synchronising any changes made to the file with the cloud account in the background. This has the benefit of keeping you important files available from anywhere providing you have access to a PC and an internet connection.
This synchronisation can also be used as a form of basic backup, for example, if you were working on a laptop and then lost the laptop, any files which have already been synchronised will still be accessible from within your cloud drive. Some providers take this concept even further and allow historic file versioning on any synchronised files thus turning the software into a fully blown PC backup service.
If you want more information on dedicated backup software, including backup software designed to work with 3rd party cloud providers please check out our guide to choosing the best backup software.
Many cloud storage providers now offer smartphone apps for iOS and Android devices, use of such apps allows access to the files stored within the cloud account alongside many other useful features.
One of the other, commonly available, smartphone features is the functionality to automatically backup any photos taken on the smartphone to the users cloud storage account. Others features include the ability to share large files thanks to built-in link sharing tools and the ability to backup all photos, contacts, files etc. found on your smartphone.
Privacy and Security
User privacy and account security are two important considerations when choosing any form of cloud storage (free or otherwise). Be sure to try and choose providers who offer additional security features (such as multi-factor authentication) whenever possible and (if applicable to your needs) choose providers within certain jurisdictions such as the EU or Switzerland where data privacy laws can be more stringent.
Most providers will offer free and premium account holders the same levels of account security and privacy, some do, however, allow premium users more freedoms such as the ability to use additional multi-factor authentication methods including, in some cases, Yubikeys.
Our Favourite Free Cloud Storage
Below is a list of our favourite free cloud storage providers as per the review process followed at Best Backup Reviews. This review process evaluates each provider on certain qualities with an emphasis on the free space on offer alongside other metrics including privacy and security plus any other features associated with the service.
It is important to be aware that the service with the highest score might not be the most suited to your individual needs when assessing free cloud storage, as such please feel free to click through and read any associated reviews we have made on each provider.
1. Google Drive (15GB Free)
As a free service it is really difficult to fault Google Drive, 15GB of free cloud storage is backed up by a great piece of desktop synchronisation software, integration with the Google Docs Suite of web-apps, link sharing and collaboration tools and finally, some very useful smartphone apps for iOS and Android.
Whilst the 15GB of free space on offer is not massive, it is “hassle free”, this means (unlike with some providers) you don’t have perform any tasks (e.g. downloading the app, turning on automatic photo uploads etc.) in order to be given the full allocation of free space. Upgrades, should you need them, are available from as little as $1.99 / month (or $19.99 / year) for a generous 100GB of space and membership to the Google One service.
The Google Drive desktop software really is excellent and allows for easily creating one or multiple synchronisation folders and backup plans across multiple PCs. The smartphone apps are also equally as good allowing files to be downloaded and shared from anywhere as well as worked on directly if you choose to install the (also free) Google Suite of productivity apps.
2. MEGA.nz (15GB+ Free)
Despite being a relative newcomer to the cloud storage world (founded in 2013) MEGA offer an excellent cloud storage service with many additional features thrown-in across both the free and premium accounts. These features include well designed and easy to use desktop synchronisation software, smartphone apps for iOS and Android and a fantastic web browser based file explorer which makes uploading and downloading files easy.
One of the big features of MEGA.nz is that all files are fully, end-to-end, encrypted with a user defined password at all times. The MEGA software (including the web browser explorer) all decrypt files only as they are needed by the user, this means MEGA provide a true zero knowledge encryption service to both free and premium account holders.
With encryption aside, the synchronisation software works very well and the smartphone apps make accessing and sharing files on the go both quick and easy. The ability to turn on automatic photo uploads in the smartphone app is also a great addition.
In terms of free storage, MEGA.nz actually advertise their free account as having 50GB, this is true to begin with but this will revert to 15GB after the first 30 days (still a healthy amount for a free account). Additional free storage is available for performing certain tasks (e.g. downloading and using the smartphone app) although this is also time-limited and, in most cases, will last a maximum of 180 days.
3. pCloud (10GB Free)
In recent years pCloud has grown to become one of the best cloud storage providers on the market, this is thanks to the many features they offer alongside some very generous storage quotas and the option for full (end-to-end) encryption within their premium products.
The pCloud free account currently offers 10GB of storage, this is, however, dependent upon some basic functions being completed (e.g. verifying email address, downloading and using smartphone app etc.). One of the functions that must be completed to receive the full allocation of storage involves recommending friends to sign up for the service (with up to 3 friends each providing a 1GB boost up to 3GB max). This means if you complete all tasks but don’t successfully recommend any friends you will finally have 7GB of free storage with pCloud.
Whilst the encryption and advanced link sharing functionality is sadly reserved only for the premium accounts, pCloud do offer all users access to their excellent virtual drive mounting software. This software allows a drive to be mounted on Windows, MacOS or Linux and the storage used being on you pCloud account and not the local PC itself.
Premium upgrades with pCloud are usually very good value with 2TB of storage available for just $95.88 / year (or a one-off lifetime payment of $350). Unfortunately the encryption component is charged separately to the storage meaning an additional $47.88 / year (or $125 for lifetime) is payable for this feature.
4. IceDrive (10GB Free)
IceDrive is a new provider in the cloud storage world, despite this they have managed to make a big splash by delivering a well designed and very easy to use product with a very generous 10GB of free storage (and this is a free 10GB from day one, no hoops to jump through for the full allocation!).
With the generous free storage allocation aside, one of the main selling points of the free IceDrive account is the excellent virtual drive mounting software. This drive mounting tool allows Windows, MacOS and Linux uses to mount a virtual disk drive on their PC which is actually attached to their cloud account and as such takes up no disk space on the local PC.
Whilst IceDrive do have a very impressive, zero knowledge, encryption service this is currently only available on the premium plans. File sharing is also available but limited in the free account to the sharing of links without any expiry dates or password protection (both of which can be set in the premium plans).
Finally, should you need to upgrade past the free 10GB of storage, IceDrive offer some very competitive pricing options featuring 1TB plans for as little as $49.99 / year or $149 under their lifetime payment scheme.
5. Microsoft OneDrive (5GB Free)
Microsoft OneDrive is an excellent cloud storage service and matches exactly the high standards you would expect from one of the biggest names in the computing world. Sadly, however, it has not performed as well as it might have on this list of free cloud storage providers due to the (at best) average free storage allocation of just 5GB.
Whilst 5GB is a relatively low amount of free cloud storage, OneDrive does redeem itself with the excellent set of features it has on offer to its free account holders. This includes desktop synchronisation software which integrates into Windows very nicely alongside some excellent smartphone apps with automatic camera upload functionality.
Use of the web-based Microsoft Office apps has to be one of the biggest selling points of OneDrive, not only are these (web-based versions) available for free but directly integrated into the OneDrive account. Direct integration means that sharing files or collaborating with with other OneDrive users can be made very easy mitigating the need to send emails, download files or share links, everything can be done within these web apps, fantastic!
Microsoft also provide some very competitive upgrade options for free users with 1TB of storage and use of the locally installed Microsoft Office apps available for just $69.99 / year. A storage only upgrade is also available taking the account to 100GB for just $1.99 / month.
6. Sync.com (5GB Free)
Sync.com might be lacking some of the high-end features found at some other services, it does, however, feature a very well-built and easy to use interface and some excellent client software for both Windows and MacOS users.
Whilst the 5GB of free storage is (as with OneDrive) only an average allocation, Sync.com does make up for this with the inclusion of zero knowledge, end to end encryption across both free and premium accounts as well as some very easy to use desktop synchronisation software and smartphone apps.
Sync.com also stands out by being one of the few providers to offer password protected link sharing features to both its free and premium users (something many reserve only for premium customers). In addition to this, Sync.com also allow free users to make use of 30 days of file versioning history for free also (this is boosted to 180 days in the premium accounts).
Upgrading a Sync.com account opens up some additional functionality including (as was just mentioned) additional file versioning history and auto-expiring sharing links. Upgraded plans start at just $8 / month for a massive 2TB of storage!
7. iDrive (5GB Free)
iDrive provide all users with 5GB of cloud storage completely free of charge, whilst this is a fairly average amount, it is cloud storage can be used across their cloud drive, mobile apps and PC backup service. iDrive also stand out as one of the few providers allowing both free and premium account holders the option to add as many devices to their account as they like, something which many other providers seem reluctant to offer.
One of the main things which makes iDrive stand out is their integration of many different tools and support for many different platforms. Cloud drive, backup, smartphone backup, archiving etc. are available on Android, iOS, MacOS, Windows and Linux.
Should you ever need more than the 5GB of free storage, iDrive currently provide some of the most price competitive upgrades on the market with 5TB costing only $69.5 /year and a huge 10TB upgrade available for only $99.50 / year!
With a great choice of tools and platforms supported, generous upgrade paths and very few limitations placed on free accounts, iDrive is a great choice for those looking for a great all-rounder in the free cloud storage world.
8. Koofr (2GB Free)
Whilst the Koofr free account starts at 2GB straight away, up to 8GB in total can be gained by referring other people to the service (with each successful referral bringing in 500MB of additional free space).
Should you want to upgrade, premium plans are reasonable (but by no means cheap) with an additional 100GB of storage currently costing €23.6 / year as an example.
Overall, Koofr is a great choice for those seeking free cloud storage which is wholly based within the privacy friendly EU.
9. Dropbox (2GB)
Dropbox is probably one of the most well known names in the cloud storage world, this is thanks to them being one of the earliest cloud storage providers on the market and their commitment to building up and refining their excellent service over the course of many years.
Despite being a reputable, reliable and industry leading provider, their current free account only offers a below average 2GB of free storage. This 2GB of free storage is well below what many competitors including Google Drive, MEGA.nz and IceDrive are currently offering with their free accounts.
Of course, Dropbox still has to be taken seriously as a free cloud storage service given how good, stable and reliable they are as a service provider and how well known and trusted their brand is. If you can live with the 2GB limit then this should definitely be on your free cloud storage short-list!
Upgrades from the 2GB free allocation start at $9.99 / month for 2TB of space with business plans available to those seeking even more cloud storage space and built-in features.
10. Box Cloud Storage (10GB Free)
Box is a business orientated cloud storage provider with a strong emphasis on providing integration with many other business applications, this includes Microsoft Office 365, Google G Suite (Google Docs) and Salesforce amongst many other integrations.
Despite its clear business focus, Box is a still a very capable cloud storage provider and offers all users a very generous 10GB of free storage as a part of their free account. This free account, storage aside, also allows users to make use of the cloud synchronisation tools, the excellent file sharing functionality and the web-based note taking app amongst many other functions.
Upgrades are relatively expensive at first with the first individual-level premium plan providing only 100GB of storage for $10 / month, things do get better for users with high storage demands as accounts featuring unlimited storage are available from $15 / month onwards!
NB – Box apply a 25% discount across all plans when pre-paid annually!
11. MediaFire (10GB Free)
MediaFire is a solid, albeit basic cloud storage service offering users a free 10GB of storage. Whilst this 10GB is a fairly generous free allocation, it does need to be noted that MediaFire is lacking many of the additional features found in some other cloud services (there is no 2FA or desktop software for example).
If a simple and free cloud storage service is all you need and the lack of any built-in encryption, desktop software or password protected sharing links isn’t an issue then MediaFire should be a contender. The overall, web-based service does work well and is easy to configure and easy to share files within.
Upgrades to the pro plan start at $7.5 / month and among some other features bring an additional 1TB of storage to the account, business accounts with up to 100TB of cloud storage are also available.