There’s no name in cloud storage that carries more weight than Dropbox. The plucky upstart has been around for six years and has survived attempts by much larger companies to oust it from the market. While Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft offer a competitor, many users still turn to Dropbox by default.
With that said, Microsoft has made serious improvements to OneDrive and has become one of the most viable alternatives. Over the last year the company has increased the free storage limits, raised file size caps, and launched numerous apps. These improvements have made the service far better for its users – but are they enough to catch up with Dropbox?
Free Storage & Paid Pricing
The price you pay for a service is usually important, but both Dropbox and OneDrive can be used for free. While some users will choose to pay many will never see the need. The question is not “how much does it cost?” but instead “what do I get?”
Comparing the free accounts is a bit difficult because of Dropbox’s unique storage limits. The company starts you off with 2GB, but deals out more storage for a variety of actions, such as connecting your Twitter account, referring friends or attending Dropbox keynotes. Some users have gathered over 40GB of free space. That requires dedication, however, and most people will end up with around 8GB to 10GB before their patience wears thin.
OneDrive has an edge here because it offers 15GB for free. There’s no gimmicks, no hoops to leap through, just fifteen gigabytes of storage free and clear. Microsoft does run limited-time upgrades, though, usually in conjunction with a product release. For example, if you enable auto upload from the camera roll, Microsoft will currently upgrade you to 30GB free storage.
If you want more storage you have to pay, and here again the two companies differ. Dropbox Pro offers one personal storage plan with a terabyte of space for $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year. There’s also a business plan that provides 5TB for five users. That’ll set you back $75 a month or $795 per year.
Microsoft offers up to 200GB for $3.99 per month, or a 1TB “OneDrive for Business” plan that’s only $30 per year. However, you must sign an annual commitment to qualify for Microsoft’s inexpensive Business plan.
There’s no winner in the arena of paid plans. Microsoft’s generally less expensive, but it doesn’t offer personal users as much space and its business plan locks you into a commitment. You’ll have to consider your needs and decide which better fits your budget.
Both Dropbox and OneDrive can be used entirely through their web interfaces. You can download, upload and manage files easily on any computer from which you can log in to your account. However, the look and feel of each interface differs.
Dropbox takes a minimalistic approach. The interface is simple and icons are small. A tiny toolbar on the left side presents you with options while a few buttons at the top let you manage and upload documents. There’s not much in the way of organization, which can be a pain. In my opinion Dropbox no longer considers its website to be its “main” interface, so the web client is secondary to the desktop/app clients.
OneDrive is much different. There are many options for sorting files and the overall aesthetic is more reminiscent of a Windows 8 app. It’s not busy, but it’s not simple, either. The web client is easy to use as your main interface with the service because there’s several ways to organize and the default view provides more data about each file and folder.
Each service offers a desktop client for storing files in the cloud. With Dropbox, the desktop client feels like the interface you’re expected to use. You can do almost anything from it besides manage your account and it integrates seamlessly into your Windows or Mac interface. Personally, I haven’t used the Dropbox web interface in over a year because I’ve had no reason to open it. The client even offers a handy summary view in the Windows taskbar / OS X menu bar that provides a list of recent changed documents and details about your current sync status.
OneDrive also has a PC and Mac client that integrates seamlessly into the operating system. Managing files is more difficult, however, because many tasks can’t be completed directly from the client. For example, Dropbox can generate a sharing link from a file’s right-click context menu, but OneDrive makes you launch the web client to complete the same task. Microsoft’s desktop client also won’t link you directly to a folder or file’s settings and lacks version history for everything except Office files sync’ed through OneDrive.
There’s an OneDrive Windows 8 app, but it’s not of much use unless you have a Windows 8 tablet (in which case it’s the preferred interface). The web interface and desktop client work better for anyone with a mouse or touchpad.
Dropbox offers an app for Android, BlackBerry, Kindle Fire, iPhone and iPad. Microsoft provides apps for Android, iPhone, iPad, Windows Phone and Xbox. This means both support the big two (Android and iOS), but there are omissions. There is not an official Dropbox client for Windows Phone, while Microsoft doesn’t support Amazon or BlackBerry devices.
The apps are free on all platforms, of course. While I’m sure some readers will be able to chime in with a few differences, the apps for each service function identically in my experience (on Android and iOS). They don’t look identical, though; the Dropbox app has the minimal white and pastel blue vibe, while OneDrive follows Microsoft’s bolder design.
Maximum File Size
While most people only upload small files like photos and documents, some user must upload much larger content. This can run afoul of the file size caps imposed by cloud storage providers.
Dropbox has an advantage here because it doesn’t cap the size of files uploaded via its desktop client or mobile apps. This is true whether you pay or not, though obviously you can’t upload a file larger than the storage you have available. Uploads conducted through the web interface are limited to a maximum of ten gigabytes, however.
Microsoft OneDrive, meanwhile, offers a maximum file size of ten gigabytes for personal accounts. At the time of this writing business accounts are restricted to a measly two gigabytes, but Microsoft says that cap will soon be lifted to 10GB. The limit applies to the web client and all apps.
File Sync Speed
Cloud storage can theoretically replace local storage, but its performance can be a problem. To see how well each service handles file transfers performed two tests. In the first I added five photos to my storage via the desktop client, and in the second I added a single video file weighing in at 525 megabytes. I then timed how long it took for the files to appear on my laptop.
OneDrive clearly takes the win here, beating Dropbox in both tests and defeating it by four minutes in the large file transfer test. I also found that the OneDrive files were usable almost immediately, which the Dropbox files appeared to be unusable for a brief period (about thirty seconds) after they were supposedly sync’ed.
While Dropbox was slower, the superiority of its desktop client was obvious during this test. OneDrive does not provide any indication of a file’s transfer progress besides a small syncing icon which turns into a green checkmark icon when finished. Dropbox, however, shows you what’s being synced and how long it will take to complete, making it more user-friendly.
OneDrive Is A Valid Alternative
I think this article proves that OneDrive has become a great choice, and it’s particularly good for free or Windows 8 users, who will appreciate automatic syncing via their Microsoft account. In addition to gobs of space, OneDrive offers a superior web interface and quicker transfer speeds. The file size cap of 10GB is a downside, but you’re probably not going to store files that large on a free account anyway.
With that said, Dropbox is still more appealing to paid users. Its plans offer a ton of storage and come with no file size cap as long as you upload through the desktop client. The client itself is far superior, too, and provides sync status updates that can help you understand recent file changes and estimate how long a file will take to sync. Microsoft needs to do more for its business customers.
Which of these services do you prefer, and why? Or do you use a different cloud storage service entirely? Let us know in the comments.