Dropbox Cloud Storage
Dropbox is probably the best known name in the world when it comes to cloud storage, this is partly due to their good reputation along with their long history in the cloud storage industry (they have been going since 2007!). Dropbox have also been continuously improving their product since launching all this time back and what we see today is much more than a simple cloud storage drive as the name might imply, in-fact, the Dropbox we see today has many new and innovative features making it still relevant in a world of many newer, faster and cheaper alternatives.
With these new features aside, Dropbox has secured a very good reputation over the years and is trusted by many personal and business users. Their smallest plan is 2TB and is priced at $9.99 / month which is a relatively good deal for 2TB however, since there are no smaller plans, any users requiring smaller amounts of storage (say 100GB) might find themselves paying way over the odds as a result (e.g. Google Drive has a 100GB plan for only $1.99 / month).
Whilst there are many great features to Dropbox (which we will get into soon) one notable feature missing at the time of writing is the lack of any built-in “zero-knowledge” encryption. To clarify, whilst their service does make use of TLS / SSL for transferring files you data will be stored in an encrypted state to which Dropbox themselves are in control of access. This might not be an issue for many (especially given the reputation of Dropbox) but with many newer players (such and IceDrive and pCloud) building zero knowledge encryption technology directly into their offerings it might be time Dropbox started to take notice!
Key Features of Dropbox
- Well designed interface which is easy to use
- Free account featuring 2GB of free storage
- Great value for larger accounts (2TB is $9.99/m)
- Many great features included (including useful desktop sync software)
- Integration with Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365
- 30 days of file version history provided on all accounts
- Dropbox Paper – a new and innovative tool for collaborative work
- Downloadable desktop app for Windows, Linux and MacOS
- Smartphone apps for iOS and Android
- Supports 2FA (SMS or Google Authenticator)
Signing up to Dropbox
Signing up for Dropbox is quick and easy via the Dropbox website, only a name, email and password are required to get started and a Google account can be used for registration making the whole process just a couple of clicks if you are already signed into Google on the device in use.
Once signed up the full free allocation of 2GB will be added to the account instantly, whilst this isn’t a massive amount of storage Dropbox do offer ways of increasing it by performing tasks such as installing the client software and sharing the sign-up links with friends.
At this point the account is crated, the free storage allocated and everything is ready to use via the web based console which supports dragging and dropping files into from the word go!
Installing and Using the Windows 10 Client
Dropbox have a very reliable and easy to use web console which supports drag and drop and (in general) makes working with cloud storage very easy. Being one of the oldest and biggest cloud storage providers it is probably to be expected that their web-based software works so well and it does.
In this section, however, I will be having a look at the Dropbox desktop software which is available for Windows, Linux and MacOS. I will be focusing on the Windows platform for the purposes of this review given this will be the preferred platform for the majority of Dropbox users.
Once signed into a Dropbox account the desktop tool can be downloaded from the account menu found at the top right of the page.
Once downloaded and the installer set running installation takes only a few moments and involves hardly any user interaction before the app login screen is reached. From this screen the Dropbox account can be logged into.
Once logged in for the first time the app will ask us some basic set-up questions, these include whether the files in Dropbox already should be synchronised and kept locally or stored online only and accessed only as and when are required. After this the app will have been installed successfully and will minimise itself and open up the local Dropbox synchronisation folder for us to begin our work. We can easily check on the status of the app by clicking on the Dropbox icon in the system tray which will open up a status preview screen as is shown below:
The app install is very straight forward so far, this is great as it means users of any ability can easily sign-up to Dropbox and have a working app installed in just a few simple clicks. Should you want to fine-tune the app this can be done by accessing the preferences menu (found under the user account menu) on the preview screen as is shown above.
Once in the settings window the full power of the Dropbox desktop app becomes apparent, from here we can further configure the key parts of the app, for example we can:
Turn on Selective Sync – By default when synchronising with a Dropbox account all of the files and folders are included, using selective sync allows us to specify that only certain folders be included.
Notifications – The Dropbox app integrates into the Windows notification service, this means we can select certain Dropbox events to trigger Windows notifications such as when a shared folder is opened by others and when a new file is shared with the logged-in user.
Backups – Under the backup tab the app can be set to automatically backup any new photos added to the device.
Bandwidth – Should you need to limit the bandwidth for uploads, downloads or both this can be set from within the app settings screen.
General – The general tab contains many additional options, these include the ability to set Dropbox as a “save to” location within Microsoft office apps and the option to start the Dropbox app whenever Windows itself starts up.
Using the Dropbox Web-Interface
Whilst the desktop app does a great job of integrating some key Dropbox features into a PC, the web based interface is equally as impressive, easy to use and includes many additional tools hard to find with many other cloud providers.
Once logged into the web console the home screen makes it easy to find recently used files as well as browse folders and even search through your drive for a specific item.
File versioning is also an important feature which allows Dropbox users to recover versions of files changed or deleted up to 30 days into the past. The web based console makes accessing this versioning (rewinding as they call it) really easy to make use of by simply clicking the “Rewind this Folder” link fund to the right of the file explorer tool.
Another great tool built into the web interface (and available on both free and premium accounts) is Dropbox Paper!
Paper acts as a form of browser based word processor making it easy to draft up documents containing photos, web links and other media elements within it in just a couple of clicks. Whilst, at first glance “Paper” looks very basic and is no threat to the power of alternatives such as Google Docs, it does seem to put a lot of emphasis on the collaborative side of working and makes available tools for multiple users to add and comment on a single document.
Another built-in tool is the “Transfer” tool, this tool makes sending large files, typically required as email attachments possible in a world where strict limits are usually imposed on what attachment sizes can be sent.
Adding files for transfer is as simple as dragging and dropping them into the Transfer tool, this can be from the local device or within the Dropbox account itself. A Dropbox account isn’t needed to receive or send such files using this service albeit with a 100MB limit for unregistered users in place (This goes to 2GB per file for premium accounts and 100GB for professional accounts).
Whilst Paper is a useful tool, Dropbox will also allow users to integrate their Google Docs and Microsoft 365 Office accounts into the Dropbox service. Such integrations make the sharing of work created in these 3rd party platforms even easier than ever before and reduces the need to sign-in to multiple services and move files about beforehand, excellent!
Finally, Dropbox Showcase, which is for premium account holders only, allows users to make branded download and sharing pages. These go further than most other personalised download pages and make it quick and easy for creative professionals (such as photographers) to showcase their latest work with no coding or web design skills required!
Using the Dropbox Smartphone Apps
Dropbox provide smartphone apps for iOS and Android, for this review I will be taking a look at the Android offering which can, of course, be downloaded from the Google Play store.
Once installed, which, as with most Android apps was very quick and easy we can log in and begin using the app. As you sing in for the first time Dropbox will show several screens each of which prompting you to make use of certain functionality form the start, for example turning on automatic camera uploads.
Digging into the app settings a little deeper we can see Dropbox have included all of the things yo would expect form such an app with the option to turn on a passcode lock and specify that data is only downloaded over Wi-Fi connections.
Finally with these basic settings aside the app is ready to use and seems to work well on an Android device and integrate wit email apps etc. very nicely. Finally The “Paper” tool is available on Android but this is not included in this app and must be downloaded and installed as a separate app.
Sharing Files within Dropbox
As would be expected from such an established provider, sharing files within Dropbox is quick and easy, this can be from within the desktop client app or via the web-based interface.
After selecting a file or folder for sharing the link creation tool will appear, from within this tool we can copy the link as well as specify some settings for the link itself. These additional settings include setting access to named Dropbox users or making the link publicly available to anyone with a copy of the URL. We can also set an automatic expiry date for the link as well as preventing users with the link from being able to download the files and only have access to an online version. These two aforementioned features are, however, exclusive to premium users and not available on the free account.
When clicking to share a link there is also a very handy option to simply enter an email address for your sharing contact instead of copying the link, this will then mean an invite link is sent to that contact directly instead.
During my testing I found the link sharing to work well and thanks to it being free of bandwidth limits is ideal for creative professionals such as photographers who might need to regularly share a large set of files.
Finally, as was mentioned a little earlier on, the Showcase feature (for premium account holders) adds further value to the sharing features of Dropbox and allows users to quickly and easily create a branded sharing page for their public files and folders.
Dropbox Free vs Premium
Dropbox feature a free account with 2GB of storage, a Premium account with 2TB and multiple versions of business / team accounts with the option to have anything from 5TB per user up to an unlimited amount of storage for team based accounts.
The free account starts at 2GB and affords users access to many of the integral Dropbox features including the “Paper” document creator, the “Transfer” email file transfer tool and the built in link sharing system (albeit with some minor restrictions such as no ability to set automatically expiring links).
Whilst 2GB is a small amount (by today’s standards at least) Dropbox do offer their free account holders the option to gain additional storage by completing tasks such as sharing a file for the first time and recommanding Dropbox to family and friends (this is delivered as an additional 500MB per successful recommendation, up to 16GB max).
The most prominent account for many will be the standard premium account which offers 2TB of storage for a very reasonable cost of $9.99 / month. Having access to a premium account also affords users access to the full set of sharing features (such as automatically expiring links) in addition an increased limit of 2GB for files transferred using the “Transfer” email file sharing tool.
Whilst $9.99 / month is a very reasonable cost for those needing a relatively high storage quota (and the advanced tools included in the premium account) it is also the smallest premium account available. This being the case anyone needing a relatively small amount of storage (say 100GB) might find better value else ware.
As would be expected, Dropbox take data security very seriously and offer multiple high-level security features which help protect their users data and privacy.
One of the most obvious security features is that of encrypting files, both when at rest on Dropbox servers and whilst in transit from a users device to the Dropbox infrastructure via the internet. Whilst this will tick the box for many users it is important to note that Dropbox controls the encryption in this scenario and this is not the “zero knowledge” encryption we are starting to see become popular with newer players such as IceDrive and pCloud.
Although not zero-knowledge encryption, Dropbox themselves are a very reputable provider and many users will happily trust them to secure their data safely. Having this approach also allows for the integrations with other cloud providers such as Google Drive and Microsoft Office 365 which wouldn’t be practicably possible with a zero-knowledge encryption model in-use.
Other security features include the implementation of multi-factor authentication (2FA) and the regular security testing and security auditing which Dropbox themselves regularly perform to ensure all systems are as safe as possible.
On top of everything else (as was mentioned a little earlier on) Dropbox also have, by default, 30 days of file versioning enabled on all accounts which means even in the worst case scenario users have the option to go back 30 days and attempt a file recovery if needed!
Dropbox operate a very detailed knowledge base with information covering all of the Dropbox features in great detail. There is also a very detailed account profile section which makes it way to manage account and billing settings without having to contact the support team in many cases.
Should you require additional support there is a community support forum but seemingly no option to use a ticketing support system along with no obvious support email addresses or phone numbers! Potentially a big let down for an otherwise very forwards thinking provider!
Dropbox offer a free account (with 2GB of storage) alongside two Premium accounts (Premium and Professional) providing either 2TB or 3TB of storage respectively. There are also multiple business offerings ranging from a massive 5TB per user up to an unlimited storage quota for team based accounts.
The pricing (at time of writing is):
Premium 2TB: $9.99 / month or $119.98 / year
Professional 2TB: $19.99 / month or $198.96 / year
Business Standard: $12.5 / month per user for teams of 3+ (5TB each)
Business Advanced: $20 / month per user for unlimited storage
Dropbox has cemented itself as a reputable and innovative cloud storage provider and remains a popular choice for many business, professional and individual users alike.
What I have really found great about Dropbox is that they are clearly thinking hard about collaboration and with features such “Paper” and “Transfer” alongside integration with Google Docs and Microsoft Office 365 they are working hard to be the best in this field. With this said and the keen pricing on offer it is no wonder they are still one of the most sought after business collaboration services in use today.
Unfortunately, despite being a very useful cloud storage provider for businesses they do see to be slipping behind some newer competitors in certain areas, for example:
Encryption: Although Dropbox do store and transfer all files in an encrypted state, this is encryption controlled by Dropbox themselves. Whilst this wont be an issue for many it is worth been aware that many newer cloud storage providers are offering built in zero knoweledge encryption whereby the account holder controls access the file and no-one else.
Pricing: If you are a business orientated user and looking to take advantage of all the collaboration tools and the massive storage allocations on offer then Dropbox pricing is actually very reasonable. If, on the other hand, you are a much smaller user just looking for say, 100GB of cloud storage then Dropbox might not be the best choice for you (especially with their smallest plan being 2TB). Whilst $9.99 / month is resonantly good value for 2TB you you only need, say 100GB there are much more economical alternatives available
Support: Unfortunately this does seem to be an area in which Dropbox are starting to fall behind in by seemingly moving more towards a community based support system. Whilst this is not always too bad of an offering I feel they should be offering more 1:1 support options, especially given the relatively high pricing of their premium accounts.
In summary, Dropbox really is a useful tool and particularly useful for small business and freelance workers who need quick and easy ways to work collaboratively with others. If you just want a simple cloud storage drive then there are probably better and more cost effective options available else ware these days!