SkyDrive vs. Dropbox vs. Google Drive: iPhone cloud storage app showdown!

Dropbox-vs-SkyDrive-vs-Google-Drive-hero

Microsoft SkyDrive, Dropbox, and the newly introduced Google Drive all focus on storing your data in "the cloud" (i.e. in massive data centers) instead of on a physical hard drive in your home or office. That means not only can you free up some valuable internal storage space, but enjoy the piece of mind that comes with solid off-site backup, and the convenience of accessing your files from all your computers, many of the your devices, and almost any web browser. While Dropbox, Skydrive, and Google Drive will all get the job done, which one is the best choice for most iPhone and iPad users?

SkyDrive vs. Dropbox vs. Google Drive: Interface and Experience

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While you can access Dropbox, Skydrive, and Google Drive via the web, that's not usually not the best option for iPhone and iPad users. Apple severely limits what web browsers can do in iOS, so while web sites are great to view supported files, they're not much good for anything else. That means the first thing most iPhone and iPad owners will do when choosing a cloud storage service is to look at their native app offerings.

How to access files with SkyDrive for iPhone and iPad

SkyDrive is a universal app for iPhone and iPad users. The overall interface is incredibly straight forward and easy to use. Upon signing into SkyDrive, you'll be presented with your files and folders. You can choose to view them as a list or a grid. Tapping into a folder allows you to view the contents and open any documents inside that folder. You can also upload pictures to SkyDrive or create more folders.

If you need to edit a document, you can open it in a supported app by tapping the export button. Unfortunately you won't be able to sync changes back or save back to SkyDrive unless the individual app supports saving to SkyDrive. This is both a limitation of iOS and a product of SkyDrive's popularity relative to DropBox.

Easily access files on your iPhone or iPad with Dropbox

Dropbox functions in a very simliar way to SkyDrive and is also available for both iPhone and iPad. That's not surprising -- there are only so many ways to make a file browser. In the Dropbox app you can navigate through folders and mark things as favorites. Doing that stores a file locally for quick viewing later, even if offline. You can also pop into settings and set Dropbox to cache a certain storage amount locally for even quicker access to files you view regularly.

You can upload pictures and videos to Dropbox from within the app, but nothing else. (Again, that's an iOS restriction.) You will, however, be able to view many common files types from your iPhone or iPad such as Word, Excel, PDFs, and many image file types. You can also send supported files to other apps for editing or viewing.

Access Google Drive on your iPhone and iPad via Mobile Safari

Google Drive doesn't have a native iPhone or iPad app yet. (Google says they're working on it.) You can access your Google Drive files via mobile Safari though. It's not the most intuitive or functional solution and it has to make you wonder what exactly Google was thinking when they released Drive without an iOS companion app. (It's not like they lacked the time or resources to get it done for launch day.)

As a work around, you can use the Google Search app which provides access to Google Apps. It's not a full solution but it works. You could also add a homescreen bookmark to Google Drive for quicker access.

Until the iOS app arrives, iPhone and iPad users will probably shy away from Google Drive. Dropbox is easy to use but could definitely make do with an update. Right now, SkyDrive has the best design and interface.

SkyDrive vs. Dropbox vs. Google Drive: Features

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While SkyDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive are all cloud storage and sync services, they all work differently and offer a different set of features. Before you decide which one is for you, you need to figure out exactly which features you need most.

Share documents with SkyDrive on your iPhone and iPad

SkyDrive boasts online file collaboration, public file sharing, and version tracking. You'll be able to edit files online via the Microsoft Office web apps, or from your computer via the traditional Microsoft Office suite, and have them all on your iPhone or iPad when you need them.

If your main purpose is to use a file storing service to free up space on your iPhone or iPad, SkyDrive can help you do that with built-in media streaming, which means you can upload music and video to SkyDrive and stream it into the app on your iPhone or iPad.

Upload video and images to dropbox for iPhone and iPad

Dropbox also offers built-in media streaming in their iPhone and iPad app. You'll also be able to share files and folders online, create share folders publicly, and track document versions. However, Dropbox doesn't include the ability to edit documents via web-based apps, nor do they have their own desktop suite. You need to open any documents stored in Dropbox in a local editor on your desktop or mobile device.

Edit documents with Safari and Google Drive

In addition to lacking an iOS app, Google Drive doesn't currently support media streaming. So, if you were hoping to unload some music and videos to Google Drive, that's not an option yet. You will, of course, be able to access everything on your iPhone or iPad via mobile Safari but that isn't an ideal solution. Google Drive does enjoy Google Docs support, however, but unlike SkyDrive it doesn't offer a native desktop document editing suite.

Google's lack of an iOS app hurts it again here. When it comes to features, Dropbox and SkyDrive are extremely comparable but Dropbox's inability to let users edit files on the web gives SkyDrive a slight edge.

Skydrive vs. Dropbox vs. Google Drive: Workflow and syncing

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While mobile document creation has come a long way, most iPhone and iPad users will most likely still spend most of their time creating documents on their Windows or Mac PC, and will definitely need to access them there. So, a seamless workflow between desktop and mobile apps is a must.

SkyDrive on the web allows you to edit and create new documents remotely

SkyDrive, Dropbox, and Google Drive all offer both a native app for Mac and Windows as well as a free web portal. When it comes to the native Mac and Windows apps, all three apps have almost identical interfaces and functionality. They seamlessly integrate with your file system. You'll just notice a new folder in your main tree of files. They'll also all add a system tray icon to your Mac or Windows PC for quick access.

Google Drive on the web utilizes Google Docs to allow you to edit and create documents on the web

To use these services from your Windows or Mac PC, you simply drag and drop, or copy and paste your files into the folder, and then work them the same way you did previously. You won't notice any difference, but the files and folders are syncing your data constantly with each respective cloud service.

When you return to your iPhone or iPad to pull up a document, it'll just be there. And if you ever need to access your documents from someone's else's Windows or Mac PC, you can do so easily by accessing the web based version of SkyDrive, Dropbox, or Google Drive.

Dropbox on the web doesn't allow file editing the way SkyDrive and Google Drive do

Google has the better desktop clients but their lack of an iOS app kills the overall workflow model. Dropbox has great apps but once again doesn't have online editors like Microsoft or Google. That makes SkyDrive the winner.

SkyDrive vs. Dropbox vs. Google Drive: 3rd party app compatibility

Byword vs. iA Writer vs. Elements: iPad text editor app shootout!

Many iPhone and iPad apps integrate support for cloud storage. If you're looking to use text editors frequently, for example, it will matter a great deal which services are supported.

While SkyDrive and Google Drive are fully functional cloud services in their own right, neither enjoys anywhere near the support of Dropbox. Dropbox has simply been around a long time an many developers have chosen to embrace it. In fact, for many apps, you won't find support for many cloud services outside of Dropbox (and Apple's iCloud, which is not exactly the same).

Dropbox by far has the best support from other app developers.

SkyDrive vs. Dropbox vs. Google Drive: Storage space and pricing

Google announces Google Drive, gives 5GB of free cloud storage to all users

Using SkyDrive, Dropbox, or Google Drive means you get online storage that can free up local drive space, you get online backup that can keep you files safe, and you get remote access that lets you get to your files no matter where you are. All of them offer some amount of free storage, and the ability to buy more to suit your needs.

SkyDrive gives you a generous 7GB for free. If you'd like to add more storage on top of that, this is what you'll pay:

  • 20GB - $10 per year
  • 50GB - $25 per year
  • 100GB - $50 per year

Dropbox gives users the smallest amount of free storage, coming in at only 2GB for a free account. They do offer a referral program that'll allow you to rack up an additional 250MB for each individual you refer up to 8GB total. Otherwise, to buy additional storage, here's what you're looking at:

  • 50GB - $9.99 a month or $99 per year
  • 100GB - $20 a month or $199 per year
  • 1TB+ team accounts - $795 per year for the first 5 users

Google Drive gives you 5GB of free storage from the start. After that, here's what you can expect to pay -

  • 25GB - $2.49 a month
  • 100GB - $4.99 a month
  • 200GB - $9.99 a month

There are sometimes special promotions or cross promotions where you can get additional storage bonuses for free, sometimes for a limited time. It's hard to predict when these will happen or for whom they'll apply, but it's worth doing a web search before paying just to see if there are any special offers available.

Otherwise, Dropbox makes for the most expensive service by far and gives the least amount of free storage to new users. Conversely, SkyDrive offers both the highest amount of free storage and the cheapest price for additional storage. However, Google Drive is extremely competitive, so if you're already a Google user, there's no compelling difference.

SkyDrive vs. Dropbox vs. Google Drive: Conclusion

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If you take each individual category and weigh them equally, it looks like SkyDrive is the winner here. But not all categories should be weighed equally. A lot of free storage is great. Cheap additional storage is great. Arguably better desktop apps and inarguably better online document editors are great. But none of that matters if you need your cloud service to be supported by your iOS apps and that support simply isn't there.

Until Google Drive gets a proper iOS app with streaming media support, it's impossible to recommend it as anything other than a secondary or tertiary backup service to drop extra copies of your files for extra safe keeping. If you're already a heavy Google user, especially a Google Docs user, the free service is there for the taking.

If you're brand new to cloud storage and all you want to do is offload some media and documents to free up space on your iPhone and iPad, SkyDrive's combination of free storage and low additional storage costs make it the best option.

If you need to have your docs and data available in your iOS apps, then even though it's more expensive and doesn't have an online editor built in, Dropbox is still the only way to go.

Everyone's individual needs and priorities will be different, but for right now, for most users, most of the time, especially if you don't need anything more than the free storage they offer, Dropbox remains the best cloud storage solution for iOS users. iPhones and iPads are app-centric devices, and that's still where Dropbox shines.

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Allyson Kazmucha

Senior editor for iMore. I can take apart an iPhone in less than 6 minutes. I also like coffee and Harry Potter more than anyone really should.

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Reader comments

SkyDrive vs. Dropbox vs. Google Drive: iPhone cloud storage app showdown!

34 Comments

Dropbox recently increased its referral bonus from 250MB to 500MB, and it is retroactive, so long time Dropnbox users may now have more storage than they expect.

Google Drive doesn't support streaming music since Google already has their Google Play Music streaming service, with space for 20,000 songs for free. It's currently US only, but with a little trickery (read: VPN, proxy or TOR) you can get it working outside of the US. Took me 10 minutes to get it working from Trinidad :) It works great with the default Play Music app on my Android tablet, never needed it on my iPod Touch since it's got 64 GB of space and well, it isn't always connected to a network anyway..It doesn't have a native iOS app, but there are alternatives in the App Store, such as GMusic, which I've read is really good... Hope this helped!

Dropbox now also offer up to 16GB in referrals and up to an additional 3GB for beta testing. I have 22GB of Dropbox space and haven't paid a cent.

Microsoft just reduced it to 7GB right around the time the Google Drive was released. If you had signed up before that, you got 25GB and could keep it. I was also fortunate enough to sign up before they dropped the storage space.

It was 25GB and they just recently went to the new space and pricing model they lowered it to 7GB. If you already had an account you could opt back in for the free 25GB; which I also nabbed in time. :)

It shouldn't be too hard for devs to code in the SkyDrive API. Now that it operates like dropbox it will be much more desired by users.

For me, the third-party support for the Dropbox API is everything. The fact that an application like GoodReader knows all about my Dropbox is just wonderful.

I don´t understand why every review is missing SugarSync, for sure is a better service than Google Drive and is the perfect complement for Dropbox.

Dropbox recently added the ability to sync photos with the incentive to get up to 3 more GB. I just plugged in my devices and let dropbox import my photos. After 2 days my storage space went from 2GB - 5GB. I've never done the referral thing.

Honestly, because Apple never got cloud services right, it is a major weak point on their strategy. We all like to celebrate their profits, but I wish there was a couple billions less on their bank accounts and a better iCould service, with larger storage and a file system like Skydrive. It is inexcusable, after all, both run on Microsoft Azure.
IMO, if you cannot get the cloud right, it is premature to talk about a post PC era.

Hey, here's a crazy notion... instead of being cheap and storing all your personal files on someone elses server who dont you just pay the money to get your own??? I got a NAS drive and its the best thing I ever bought. It does the same thing these other lamoe's do but I get 2 terabites of storage and the secure feeling of knowing some guy high on Mountain Dew is not looking at my stuff and sharing it with his friends.

OFF SITE BACK UP, ooohhhhh all in bold too. I suppose you think what can happen to your house can't happen to the building housing the other guys servers??? NEWSFLASH..... data can be lost from ANYWHERE, and ANYTHING can burn. Try harder next time K (^_^)

You can’t plug a NAS drive onto your iPhone, and it’s not exactly the epitome of portability. Try harder next time, K?

Technically yes, but companies like Google and Microsoft have huge investments in backup, redundancy, climate and energy control, and use enterprise hardware designed to last much longer and to be much more reliable than any home NAS.
So, unless you invest tens of thousands of dollars failproofing both your home and your NAS, you're gonna be much better served by a off-site solution.

You can't plug a NAS drive onto your iPhone, and it's not exactly the epitome of portability. Try harder next time, K?

I need to throw my suppost behind Sugar Sync as well! I use all of these services (Dropbox, SkyDrive, Google Drive) as well as Sugar Sync and Box. While I use Dropbox as my primary service because of the app integration, Sugar Sync is my second go-to cloud storage system. Not sure why you don't even mention it here!

just killed you guys to come out and say SkyDrive was the out right winner, huh? I kid...
Well done Allyson. Just a note, some people start with 25 GB of space with skydrive if youve signed in to claim it and had a live ID for a few months...so anyone with xbox live or a hotmail account

Hi! Wow, this article has some really amazing information in it--very well-written, and so comprehensive! I'm the social media and content strategist for CX, another cloud storage company with lots of apps (you can find them here: https://www.cx.com/software/) Our apps allow you to auto-sync your content with your CX account, and they enable you to work with your documents super-quickly and effortlessly. You also get a whopping 10GB free with us. Please check us out, and let me know what you think!

One thing should be noted that there is a 300MB file size limit on Skydrive, so putting your torrented 350MB episodes of your favorite show is not possible GDrive can take up to 1GB/file.

Too many cloud service options already and people are totally confused to choose the right one or end up using many. I have been using Dropbox and Box for a while, but would definitely consider looking at Google Drive and SyncBlaze for personal and business purpose respectively once their iOS app is released.

I've personally used them all for Business and Personal (on Mac). So far my Fav is SkyDrive. But Microsoft needs to get off the NTFS crap and allow file names to have any characters we want!

I've got to chime in on SkyDrive. I've been a big fan for over a year now. I was very happy to see the iOS apps added. 
 
In your article, you mention SkyDrive doesn't offer the ability to sync back or upload changes back to the cloud, but this isn't so. On many file types, if you have an Open in button available, you can choose SkyDrive from the list. For example, if you choose SkyDrive to open a PDF from an email, it will give you a preview of the file. In the bottom right corner is an up arrow. Click that and the PDF will upload to SkyDrive. 

I want to point out that amazon has UNLIMITED music uploads for the 20GB plan.  For people with large music libraries, amazon is the only choice worth considering.

Everyone here keeps forgetting that if you're using Google Apps and live in the Google Cloud, then Google Drive is an excellent choice. I still use Dropbox for a few things, but I've migrated all my documents to Google Drive and couldn't be happier.