Update (April 2013): Since this article was written, Amazon launched full file synchronisation for Cloud Drive, in a manner similar to Dropbox. Therefore this review is outdated.
Amazon recently launched its Cloud Drive service, which gives every Amazon customer 5 GB of free online storage. It’s joining an increasingly crowded field, competing with Dropbox, Microsoft SkyDrive and Google Drive, amongst others. I reviewed those three back in April, so how does Amazon’s service compare?
The good points
The 5 GB that Amazon offers is reasonably generous – only SkyDrive offers more (7 GB) and it equals Google Drive. Dropbox only offers 2 GB initially, although by referring your friends you can increase this up to 18 GB for free (frankly, I’m running out of friends to refer!). The paid plans are also both numerous and generous – 20 GB costs just £6 per year, and for £320 per year you can increase this to a whole terabyte. This cheapest package is the same price as SkyDrive, but cheaper than its other rivals, and none of the other services yet go up to a whole 1000 gigabytes as far as I am aware.
The web interface is reasonably good – you can upload files of up to 2 GB in size from your web browser, and you can preview images. There’s even a slideshow option if you have several images in the same folder. And you can move files around using tickboxes and menus, although there’s no drag and drop. Deleted files are held in a ‘Deleted Items’ folder. This folder counts towards your storage and works like the Recycle Bin on Windows, so it can be emptied manually but does at least allow you to recover files.
The bad points
The web interface doesn’t offer previewing of any other file types – or at least, not PDF or Word documents. And unlike the other services there’s no way to share files with other users.
I also haven’t yet mentioned the desktop client – or should I say, desktop uploader. Because all the desktop application does is allow you to upload files to your cloud drive – you can’t actually browse or download files that way. The only way you can access files once they’re in there is via the web interface. This does not compare favourably with the other services which follow Dropbox’s model of having a sub-folder of My Documents which is synchronised. Files can be uploaded either by dragging them to a status bar icon, right-clicking in Windows Explorer/Finder and selecting Upload to Cloud Drive, or by dragging files to the application when it is open, as shown in the screenshot. It’s also a very bloated application – it’s written in Java, and as such is slow to launch and takes up several times more memory than the Dropbox client, despite having fewer features.
The desktop client is also only available for Windows Vista, Windows 7 and Mac users (Snow Leopard or later). Windows XP and Linux users will have no choice but to use the web interface. There aren’t any mobile apps to use (not even an Android app, despite Amazon having its own Android store), and the web interface doesn’t have a mobile-friendly view. Plus, there’s also no API for third-party applications like IFTTT to use – IFTTT have supported Dropbox since launch, and subsequently added Google Drive and SkyDrive support.
On the whole I’m not very impressed. While Amazon can’t be guilty of copying its rivals, the service is a bit lacklustre. I suppose it’s fine for ‘deep storage’ – when you need a backup of important documents that don’t need to be accessed or edited regularly. But you can’t automate backups to it, and every time you change a file you’ll need to download it via your web browser, save a temporary copy, make your changes and then upload a fresh copy manually.
There are better services out there. SkyDrive gives you more storage for free, and Dropbox and Google Drive work on a wider range of devices. I wouldn’t bother with it.