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Polar Backup Review – Ice Cold Cloud Backup

Polar Backup Review

Features - 89%
Usability - 94%
Security - 91%
Support - 91%
Pricing - 96%

92%

Very Good

Polar Backup is an easy to use yet very cost effective backup solution, the inclusion of very generous lifetime plans, web based restoring and end to end encryption of all data makes this a great value choice

Polar Backup is an automatic cloud backup solution which focuses on providing a high quality of service for the lowest possible price. In addition to providing great value, Polar Backup also provide all of the really useful features I like to see in a backup solution, this includes automated operation, AES 256bit encryption, unlimited file versioning, desktop and web console access and the ability to include unlimited external drives (external hard drives, network drives etc.)

With the service being based around the use of highly cost effective AWS cloud storage, Polar Backup, can provide users with generous plans starting at a massive 1TB of storage which can be upgraded as needed. It is important to note, however, that this is “cold storage” which is used, this means that if you do need to restore data this process could take several hours to complete and as such might not be suitable for all backup applications.

Having said all of this Polar Backup sounds very promising so far, time to take a look!

Features

  • Well designed backup software which is easy to configure
  • Very low cost storage (thanks to integration with Amazon’s AWS)
  • Desktop backup software available for Windows & MacOS
  • Zero knowledge encryption built in (end to end AES 256bit)
  • Simultaneously backup locally and to the cloud with Hybrid backups
  • Unlimited previous versions of backed up files (within the account storage quota)
  • No free account (only a 15 day free trial)
  • Lifetime plans available (which are exceptional value right now)
  • No options to integrate with other cloud providers
  • No file sharing functionality
  • No smartphone apps included
  • Multi-factor authentication (2FA) missing

Usability

Signing up to Polar Backup

Getting started with the Polar Backup is as simple as navigating to the sign-up page and then creating an account using a valid email address or an existing Google or Facebook account.

polar backup review signup form

Polar backup do not have a free account, however, they do have a 15 day free trial featuring 50GB of storage should you wish to try the software for yourself, completely risk free!

Once signed up with an account you will have access to the cloud console where the backup software itself can be downloaded for both Windows PC and Mac users.

Installing and using the Polar Backup Software

Once signed-in to the Polar Backup web console one of the first things we can to do is download the desktop client software, this is done using the prominent, green “Download Polar Backup” button found toward the top right of the dashboard.

download polar backup green button

At just over 14MB the desktop software is appropriately sized and takes only a few moments to download, installation is easy thanks to the quick and simple installer which requires little input from the user.

polar backup review installer running

It is also worth pointing out here that this is the same backup software that is offered with the Zoolz BigMIND cloud services and selected other Zoolz products (due to them sharing the same parent company). In my experience this is a solid piece of backup software and it makes sense to share it out amongst their entire product line to keep costs low and service quality high!

Once this backup software is installed we can login using our Polar Backup account and start selecting what files we need to backup. Polar backup have integrated an excellent “Smart Selection” tool into the software allowing whole areas of a PC to be included (e.g. all photos, documents, email etc.) or the more conventional file picker tool for selecting specific files and folders.

polar backup review smart backup selection screen

As can be seen above, this intelligent “Smart Selection” screen makes selecting all important files such as pictures, videos and documents on the device really simple, it is also possible to easily exclude certain files and file types thanks to the “Auto Exclude” tool found towards the top right of the screen. This really is a great interface for file selection and allows users of all technical abilities to easily get a backup running quickly and easily, great work so far!

After selecting our files we are then greeted with a “Backup Settings” page before the backup can be saved and set into action.

polar backup smart backup settings - scheduling options

As can be seen in the image above, this settings screen groups together all of the main settings usually required to configure a backup, this includes the scheduling (which can be as little as every 5mins) in addition to bandwidth management for slower internet connections.

The Hybrid+ feature can also be configured at this point, this allows data to be backed up to a local device (such as an external hard drive) and simultaneously to the Polar backup cloud.

polar backup smart backup settings hybrid plus setup

The security settings found at this point allows for a user defined encryption password to be set, this allows users to take advantage of end-to-end encryption using their own encryption key. Should you omit to specify this key then the Polar backup internal encryption password will be used.

NB – If you do set your own password at this point you must remember it! There is no way to recover files if you forget your own user-defined password!

polar backup smart backup encryption settings

At this point we have completed our backup set and the software will immediately begin protecting our files with an initial backup before switching to the schedule of our choosing. Future backups can then be monitored using the Polar Backup application dashboard (shown below).

polar backup software client dashboard

Should we need to, at any point, run our backup manually this can be done by clicking the “Run Now” option found in the main application menu at the top left of the screen.

polar backup software run backup now

Unfortunately, one (small) thing which does appear to be missing is the ability to create several backup sets within this application. For example, if I wanted to backup my work files to my external hard drive every 5 mins but only to the cloud once at the end of every day this would not be possible as things currently stand. In some respects this is quite an advanced setup I have described and not really relevant for the majority of users, it would, however, be nice to see the Hybrid+ feature extended so as to allow such a scenario in the future.

Looking a little deeper into the desktop application itself we can the home screen has three big buttons which make finding the key components of the application easy, theses are the “Data Selection”, “Settings” and “Restore” buttons, all of which can be seen below.

polar backup software dashboard buttons

The “Data Selection” button simply re-opens the file selection page we looked at a little earlier on whilst the “Settings” page allows us to configure the application itself a little further. For example, under “Settings” we can edit (with more detail) the scheduling and bandwidth optimisation for the backup, enable multi-threaded uploading (for faster backups) as well as switch on presentation mode which will pause backups whilst the PC is being used for playing video games or movies.

polar backup resource optimisation settings

The Hybrid+ feature can also be optimised further in this page by setting up network locations (along with login details), filtering which files go the local devices and the ability to limit the size of the Hybrid backup set itself.

Finally, the restore functionality will, of course, allow us to restore any or all of the files already backed up to our cold storage cloud. Restoring can be initiated using the big blue Restore button found on the home screen.

Once running, the restore tool will first allow us to first navigate our folder structure and select any or all files and folders to be restored, selecting the necessary files and clicking on “Next” will then allow us to configure the restore further.

polar backup software restore configuration

As can be seen above, the restore option screen allows further configuration whereby we can select the date to restore the files from, whether to use the cold cloud storage or Hybrid+ storage location and whether or not to use the original file locations or restore files to a new location. Once these options have been selected the restore operation can be run.

It is really important to note here that we are using “cold storage” when backing up and restoring with Polar Backup, whilst this doesn’t have much effect on the backup speeds it will cause a delay of around 3 to 12 hours when initiating a restore operation. For most people who restore infrequently this is a reasonable trade-off given the very low cost of the service, if you know you regularly need access to instant restores (or just don’t like having to wait for things) then the Zoolz BigMIND Home variation of his product might be a better option.

polar backup software restore in progress

Overall, restoring worked well whilst I was testing Polar Backup and with the speed issues put aside it appears to be a solid backup service so far. One thing which I do feel needs to be mentioned concerning restores is that (unlike BigMIND Home) Polar Backup does allow an unlimited number of file revisions (old versions) to be backed up and restored (within the account storage limits of course).This is great to see this offered by a cloud backup provider, especially with no additional cost as with Polar Backup!

Using the Polar Backup Web Interface

The Polar Backup web interface is, at first glance, a very impressive management console which makes managing users, storage and any PCs connected to the account simple.

polar backup web console dashboard

Clicking on to the “view computers” link (seen below) will take us to a screen where we can see the status of any connected PCs in more detail and browse and recover files in due course.

polar backup web console view computers link

Whilst we can easily browse the files for any of our connected devices on this page it should be noted that the cold storage restrictions and 3 to 12 hour delays for downloading files still apply. If you do initiate a download (restore) on this web page it will be processed in the background and Polar Backup will email you when the selected files are ready to download.

polar backup web console restore time delay warning

Something else which is included (albeit at additional cost) is the ability to add “instant Vault” storage to our Polar backup account. This Vault storage is effectively “hot” storage, this means it does not have the same time delay restrictions which affect the operation of the normal (cold storage) product.

polar backup upgrade to vault cloud storage

Taking advantage of this instant Vault product will mean backups can additionally be made to the Vault and subsequently accessed and restored instantly. The Vault storage can also be used to make sharing files with sharing links possible, something which isn’t possible under the standard Polar Backup account.

Whilst this Vault upgrade does bring a lot of additional functionality (and restore speed) to the Polar Backup service it needs to be stressed this is at an additional cost (currently $1.67/m for 100GB of additional storage, with other denominations available). It is also necessary to point out that whilst Polar Backup do have (genuinely) very competitive lifetime plans it is not (as of writing) possible to have a lifetime option for upgrading to the Vault storage service, a potential miss-match in pricing strategy maybe?

Finally, one other thing to mention regarding the web interface includes the user settings menu (top right) which is where things such as email addresses and password can be changed (although the option for multi-factor authentication seems to be missing at time of writing).

Sharing Files with Polar backup

By default, sharing files from within Polar Backup is not available without first upgrading the account to include the Vault cloud storage option. Once upgraded this will allow files to be shared and (optionally) password protected should this be required. More details on the Vault pricing can be found in the Pricing section further down.

Polar Backup Security

One of the biggest security features of Polar backup is the ability to enforce zero knowledge encryption on all data. Setting up of this end-to-end encryption this involves setting a user-defined password to encrypt backups so that only the end user knows the passphrase to decrypt them.

polar backup password protection settings

For various reasons zero knowledge encryption is not standard in the world of backup software so it is great to see that Polar Backup have included it as an option. If this is not appealing to you then Polar Backup do allow users to make use of their own encryption for cases when ease of use is of more importance (this also removes the worry of forgetting the master password and potentially losing files).

With encryption aside, the only notable security feature missing from Polar backup is the ability to turn on multi-factor authentication (2FA). This is becoming a standard now for many other backup software providers and I hope to see this implemented at Polar Backup soon!

Polar Backup Support

Polar have a very useful support section featuring a detailed knowledge base and the ability to contact the support team via an online ticketing system or via live chat if required. All-in-all a very clear, easy to use and well laid out support system!

Polar Backup Pricing

Polar backup is available on a subscription basis or via one of the very competitively priced lifetime subscriptions. Whilst this service is very competitive on price whichever route you choose it should be noted that upgrades (e.g. the Vault cloud storage add-on) are all priced on an additional subscription basis as of time of writing (in other words only the basic subscription is available as a lifetime plan).

There is no free account available for Polar Backup although you can take advantage of a 15 day free trial by clicking here.

The pricing (at time of writing) for the core service is:

1TB: 1 x user, 1 x device = $2 / month ($39.99 lifetime)

2TB: 1 x user, 1 x device = $3.5 / month ($59.99 lifetime)

5TB: 1 x user, 1 x device = $5.99 / month ($99.99 lifetime)

Another big plus points to the Polar Backup service include the ability to include an unlimited number of external hard drives and network drives in the backup set (this is included within the costing already).

A Vault service (cloud drive / hot storage) is available separately as a subscription costing:

100GB: $1.67 / month

500GB: $3.33 / month

1TB: $5.83 / month

For more information on the lifetime pricing please click here.

Summary

Polar backup is a great backup service given the generous storage offerings for the price and how solid the backup software itself is (the same as is used in the Zoolz BigMIND service). The inclusion of end-to-end encryption and the ability to include unlimited external hard drives and network drives combine to help to make this a very strong offering, especially given that many other backup services limit such external devices to usually only 1 or 2 per account.

Pricing wise, Polar Backup is very good given the amount of storage on offer, but the fact that this is “cold storage” needs be stressed to anyone who is thinking of using Polar Backup. Cold storage essentially means that users may be required to wait between 3 & 12 hours for any restores to complete, so please bear this in mind if you are thinking of signing up (but note that backups themselves generally work as normal).

All-in-all, with the missing multi-factor authentication and slow restores aside, this is a great backup service and with the lifetime plans (currently discounted) to as little as $39.99 for 1TB is an absolute steal!

A great job Polar Backup, well done!

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