Back in December I did a quick comparative review of Microsoft’s SkyDrive and Dropbox, and basically declared Dropbox the winner. Things have changed since then – Skydrive has become much simpler, and Google Drive has launched (literally a few hours ago). So, it’s about time to revisit the subject of which is the best.
If we’re talking free, then SkyDrive is the clear winner here. At the moment, you can get 25 GB of space for free, although this is for a limited time only; if you don’t sign up before the offer ends, you’ll have 7 GB. But this still compares favourably with Google Drive, which offers 5 GB, and Dropbox, which offers only 2 GB (although it’s easy to get more, up to a maximum of 18 GB).
If you’re willing to pay, then Google’s cheapest package is 25 GB for $2.49 per month ($29.88 per year), Dropbox’s cheapest is 50 GB for $9.99 per month or $99 per year (but you still get extra space with referrals so you may get up to 82 GB), and Microsoft’s cheapest is £6 per year for an extra 20 GB on top of your free 25 GB, for a total of 45 GB. On this basis, SkyDrive also wins for being the cheapest.
So, if it’s lots of space you’re after, go for SkyDrive.
If you want to be able to use your files on a computer, you’ll need to install a desktop client. If you use Windows Vista, Windows 7, or Mac OS X Lion, then all three services will cater for you. If not, then your choices are a little more restrictive.
If you use Linux, then Dropbox is your only option, as SkyDrive and Google Drive doesn’t yet have an official client. Dropbox and Google Drive support Windows XP, but SkyDrive doesn’t – although it is possibly to mount your SkyDrive in XP using the command line, if you’re happy to do that sort of thing. SkyDrive will also only work on Mac OS X Lion – earlier releases aren’t supported. Google Drive definitely works on Lion but I’m not sure about older OS releases.
Dropbox also seems to offer more features – files can be synchronised between computers over a LAN if they’re on the same network, thus making uploads faster between machines, and you can also enable ‘selective sync’ if you don’t want all of your Dropbox folders to be synced to certain computers. There’s also some extra options when you right-click a file, allowing you to copy a public link to that file in your Dropbox to share – SkyDrive and Google Drive only offer this on their online versions.
On my Mac, Dropbox used the least RAM of all three – around half that of Google Drive. All three apps are 32-bit only, however, and do not take advantage of the performance improvements available to 64-bit apps on the Mac.
Dropbox is also very bandwidth efficient, especially when compared to Google Drive; if you modify a file in your Dropbox, only the parts of the file that have been changed will be uploaded, not the whole file as with Google Drive. Finally, Dropbox and Google Drive put indicators on each icon to show its status – whether the file has been synced or is being synced, and, on a Mac at least, SkyDrive doesn’t do this.
Dropbox wins this round, for greater compatibility and more features.
None of the three services officially support all four major smartphone platforms – iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry. Google Drive is, at time of writing, Android only, although an iOS app is in the works and should be available shortly. Dropbox has official apps for iOS, Android and BlackBerry, and there is an unofficial Windows Phone app called Boxfiles (which I believe costs a small amount of money to buy). SkyDrive has official apps for iOS and Windows Phone, but no Android or BlackBerry client; although Browser for SkyDrive is a third-party Android app. So, chalk another win for Dropbox as it’s the only one that can be used on all four smartphone platforms, albeit unofficially on Windows Phone.
All three services are designed to help you move files between multiple computers, but what if you need to access your files on a computer where you haven’t installed the desktop client? Well, thankfully you can also access your files in any web browser on all three services.
Dropbox’s web access is basic, allowing you to do basic file and folder operations, view photos and movies and recover previous versions of files, but you can’t edit any documents stored on it. SkyDrive and Google Drive both integrate file editors – Office Live and Google Docs respectively – so you can actually view and edit documents online. Unfortunately, files created in Google Docs on Google Drive can only be edited in Google Docs unless they’re exported as Microsoft Office or OpenDocument files, so even on the desktop, opening a Google Docs file will open your web browser.
All services allow you to search your storage, but Dropbox’s search is quite basic. SkyDrive uses Bing, which should be more powerful, but Google Drive excels by including OCR support in its search, letting you search text inside image files, and image recognition, so it would recognise photos of the Eiffel Tower (for example) and allow you to search for these accordingly.
Security and Sharing
Google Drive is arguably more secure than Dropbox or SkyDrive because it allows 2-factor authentication along with the rest of your Google account, so even if someone has your password, it’s almost impossible for that person to get access to your account.
All three let you share files with others, and while Dropbox is the only one that lets you do this on the desktop as well as online, SkyDrive will also share files with your friends on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace (although you can’t control which friends can access it). Google Drive similarly offers Google+ integration.
Google Drive and SkyDrive also provide collaboration tools with other users; whereas Dropbox simply lets you share a file with another user, Google Drive and SkyDrive will let others edit the file, track their changes and allow you to chat whilst doing it.
Dropbox has an open API which means that you can allow third-parties to access your files, such as ifttt, and also means that unofficial clients can give you access to your Dropbox. Google Drive also has an open API, but having only just launched means that there are only a few sites, like HelloFax, which can use it as yet. But, this does mean that unofficial clients for platforms like BlackBerry and Windows Phone are possible in the future. Similarly, SkyDrive has an API which has resulted in the aforementioned unofficial Android client, as well as a plugin for Outlook, but there isn’t yet the breadth of apps which take advantage of the Dropbox API.
If you’re after a lot of space, go for SkyDrive, as it gives you more free space than the others and extra space is pretty cheap. If you need to collaborate on documents, or regularly work on the web rather than on a computer where you can save files, then Google Drive and SkyDrive are both worth considering. But if you want the greatest compatibility, and, in my opinion, something simple that just works, go for Dropbox.
Of course, all of these services are constantly evolving – and Google Drive only launched today – so this advice may well change in future. In the meantime, I’m personally sticking with Dropbox – and here’s my referral link for good measure.
(credit to Lifehacker for some of the information in this article)
Note that this article was updated on the 27th April to mention the SkyDrive API and the availability of an unofficial SkyDrive app for Android.