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Apple iCloud vs Google vs Amazon Cloud Drive vs Dropbox vs Microsoft SkyDrive

It's been a busy time for cloud storage and music services and Apple's launch onto the scene with Apple iCloud has officially declared it global war. The lines have begun to blur as to what you own, where you own it and just how much you have to pay for the privilege to do so and one could be forgiven for doing a little head scratching on the matter.As ever, we at Pocket-lint thought we'd best line up the five biggest cloud services from four of the big tech giants (and one very popular upstart) offering them. So, just in case you're trying to make your mind up as to which way to go, here is Apple iCloud vs Google vs Amazon Cloud Drive vs Windows Live SkyDrive vs Dropbox.

UPDATE: This comparison was first published on 14/6/11, prior to improvements in many of these services - most notably SkyDrive and the launch of Google Drive. It has now been updated to include the changes.

Space

1st: Dropbox18GB free/1TB+ max2nd: Cloud Drive5GB free/1TB max3rd= Google drive5GB free/100GB (16TB) max + Office + 20,000 songs  3rd= SkyDrive7(25)GB free/125GB max + Office5th= Apple iCloud5GB free/55GB max + Office + any iTunes purchases

The obvious place to start with cloud services is how much space you get with each but comparing the five is not as easy as it might seem. The most straight forward of the bunch are Amazon Cloud Drive, Dropbox and, to some extent, SkyDrive.

With Amazon, you get anywhere between 5GB and 1TB depending upon how much you'd like to pay for the privilege. Simple enough. Similarly, it's not too much of a brain melt to figure out Dropbox. You get 2GB for free that reaches up to 18GB with enough referrals but can go as high as a 1TB+ stash if you're willing to go with a Teams account.

With SkyDrive, the 25GB storage is a simple enough concept but it's worth remembering the other Windows Live products under the same umbrella that will help out with documents, spreadsheets and all the rest of your Office and e-mailing needs, and any of those files won't count towards your space. The reason we have the 25GB in brackets is because it's only available to those who signed up to SkyDrive before April 2012. Sadly, Microsoft has decided to downsize its free offering to any newcomers to a considerably meaner 7GB.With Google, it's a little more complicated. There didn't used to be a single locker but now the Big G has taken care of that one with the launch of the Google Drive. You get 5GB of space plus 1GB of Picasa storage for free along with any space in your Docs and Gmail section. There's an apparent maximum storage space on the Google Drive itself up to 100GB but you can rent more space from Google if you have a Google Apps account up to a total of 16TB. On top of that, there's also the Music Beta by Google service where you can keep up to 20,000 tracks. Not simple but certainly lots there.

Apple iCloud is even harder to nail down. The Cupertino way isn't just to hand you the keys to cupboard and let you fill it with whatever you like. In fact, there's very little direct access to it at all. The deal is that you get 5GB of space which looks after your mail, your contacts, your calendar, your device back up settings, your office documents, your bookmarks, your reminders and your notes. That's a fair amount of room but given how much mail we get and how many documents we make, there's certainly a ceiling of which to be aware.Fortunately, on top of that there's space for photos and videos as well. Again, it's not a question of shoving all the images you have into your iCloud space. Your last 1,000 shots or clips taken on your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch are kept up there for 30 days.As for apps, books and music you bought from iTunes, you can keep as much of that in iCloud as you like, largely because it's not stored there at all. Instead, the act of buying them in the first place allows access to Apple's version of those files on any device you own. The only limit is with music that you didn't buy from Apple. iCloud allows you to match up to 25,000 tracks - not including iTunes purchases - and that also incorporates songs that don't feature in the iTunes catalogue at all.Trying to weigh all of that up in absolute space is tricky but, ultimately, it's Apple who offers the not so great combination of both the least storage for free and the smallest maximum too. Granted there are some very nice bonuses when you buy from iTunes but that's quite some bind.

Next up it's a little trickier but between Microsoft and Google. The pure storage locker deal in SkyDrive is better, with both a higher free and higher maximum amount, but the added extras from Google make it too close to make a fuss over. If you are a Google Apps account user (rather than just a normal Google Account user) then the Google Drive is going to be much better on the space front.

In second, Amazon's way of doing things with Cloud Drive is straight forward but it's Dropbox that takes the prize thanks to some recent developments and the addition of the Dropbox Team account. In fairness, this is something designed for business teams to share but there's nothing to stop you signing up and using the whole TB for yourself. Best of all though, is that anyone can achieve 18GB locker for free and that's a good deal.

File types

1st= Cloud DriveAnything1st= DropboxAnything3rd: Google driveAnything (10GB max)4th: skydriveAnything (2GB max)5th: Apple iCloudAnything

As for what you're allowed to put into your allotted cloud space, it's Amazon Cloud Drive and Dropbox that win hands down. Anything digital can be uploaded no matter what of file type it is with no apparent file size issues either. The same is nearly true for Google Drive. At 10GB, the file limit is big but not impossible to hit the ceiling of if you've got an impressive HD movie collection.Technically, you can upload anything to both the Apple system and the Google one as well, anyway. The reason is because you can attach any file you like to an e-mail and save it as a draft or send it to yourself and have it stored up there in your mail department. With iCloud, that'll use up your 5G of room rather quickly but with Google, you can buy all that extra space to boost your Gmail storage. What's more, now that Google has the G Drive itself, that makes things much more simple.

Of course, the attachment techinque is far from simple and easy. Take that out of the equation and it's largely a case of MOV, JPEG and AAC from Apple while Google's Picasa Web Albums allow many more image and video file types.As for SkyDrive, you can drag and drop anything you like into your 25GB locker with a 2GB limit per file or only 300MB if you're doing it via a browser. Again, if you want to, you can attach to Hotmail messages but it's not wildly convenient. Like Google, there's also a good leaning towards photos and videos with an online gallery viewer. It doesn't quite compete with the no holds barred approach from Amazon and Dropbox though.

Ease of use

1st= Apple iCloudFalling off a log1st= DropboxGenius1st= SkyDriveCopied genius1st= google DriveAs above5th: cloud driveSlow but manageable

It may have taken Apple quite some time to come out with a content syncing system for the iOS and Mac devices but, by golly, iCloud is where it's been done the simplest. It had to be. All of the user's files are in one place and there's no need to manage it at all, save making sure that you remember to clean out your inbox and save photos from your Photo Stream every now and then. As ever, the trick to the simplicity is by making sure the user isn't actually able to get their hands on their space at all.The concept of Drobox's "magic pocket" approach is probably a little harder to get your head around and it does require more hands on management than iCloud but it's just as seamless, if not more so, once you get going. Syncing between devices is just a matter of dropping files into a folder and there's no need to pull things down from the cloud as you want them. All you content is there all of the time on all of your devices. What's more, the recent addition of Dropbox Get Link means that you can send links to those with whom you with to share pictures, documents, videos and what have you. They can then view them online without having to be signed up to the service.

Both Google and Microsoft have cottoned on to the Dropbox way of doing things and you can now get desktop applications and mobile ones alike for both Google Drive and SkyDrive, each with their own version of that magic pocket. The SkyDrive website leaves something to be desired but, realistically, you never need to look at it. What's more there is one intriguing and slightly scary bonus feature called Fetch on SkyDrive. So, long as your computer is on, you can actually go and get files that aren't in your SkyDrive folder from a remote location.

The Amazon Cloud Drive is relatively straight forward. You get as much space as you pay for. You can put what you want in there and it's all in one place. What's a little more frustrating is that you need an extra desktop client clogging up your computer space in order to do the job and separate one to stream back music. On top of that, despite Amazon having a music library the same size as iTunes, you still have to upload all your own tracks rather then the servers matching their content with what you already own. Consequently, uploading your library takes quite some time and bandwidth. It all works, it's just not very slick.

Devices

1st: DropboxAny, lots of clients but no Windows Phone2nd: skydriveAny, lots of clients but no Android or BB3rd: google driveAny, lots of clients but no iOS (yet), Windows Phone or BB4th: cloud driveAndroid, PC, Mac & any Flash device5th: apple icloudPC, Mac & iOS

There's the question of how many devices you can access your files from and then there's the question of how easy it is to do so. In terms of pure numbers that make access possible, then it's Google's, Dropbox's and SkyDrive's way of doing things that wins. With that lot, if you can get online, you can get to anything you need. What separates the three is their lack of dedicated apps for certain popular platforms but expect them to fill in the blanks going forward.

Linux users should note that Dropbox is the one that's got you covered but, then, you're probably using Ubuntu One anyway. Android user can find a work around for SkyDrive with something like Browser for SkyDrive instead. Sadly the popular Sorami app seems no longer to be available on Google Play.

Amazon Cloud Drive offers the next best levels of access because, so long as your device can work with Adobe Flash, you'll be able to both manage your content and stream your music. So, you're all good with Amazon unless you're on iOS or Windows Phone 7.

Naturally, access to iCloud is all about that Apple walled garden but there has been some compromise. iPad, iPod touch, iPhone and whatever iOS devices the company comes out with in the future will all be compatible but you can sync with your Mac and, would you believe it, a Windows-based PC too, certainly as far as anything in iTunes and your photos and videos go. On top of that, there's even some imaging link up with AppleTV too.

All the same, the tight ecosystem approach does put Apple at the bottom of the pile for this category. In absolute numbers, it's probably not the case but in terms of number of different OSes with which it's compatible iCloud falls short.

Music

1st: Apple iCloudYour library + 18 million to buy2nd: Amazon CloudYour library + 15 million to buy3rd: GoogleYour library only5th= skydrivePossible on Android5th= DropboxNone

The scope of exactly what you can listen to is one of the most important battlegrounds when it comes to making your choice given that some of these storage solutions come backed with a music service.Apple's iTunes enables you to download songs that you've already bought over the air and onto any device you have. That effectively means the end of all the tedious cable-based music transfer and trying to work out which file is where. What's particularly good about the way iCloud does it is that you don't have to spend weeks uploading your tunes. The system simply recognises what you have and makes it available from the iTunes archives instead. Of course, the downside to that is that you do need to store tracks on your mobile device in order to listen to them, so you may find yourself pulling tracks down, deleting and then downloading again some other time. Bit of a waste of data.

The other great feature, of course, is iTunes Match. That will offer the same kind of access to songs that you didn't buy from iTunes at all. iCloud will scan your system once, see what you own and then allow you to treat it like the others you bought and send it down to your device at 256kbps quality as standard. Very nice indeed. Anything it can't match, it will upload to your iCloud for you.

Since Amazon launched its MP3 sales, it's certainly done a good trade and these days has a catalogue that's a match for anything Apple has. The difference is that playback is only over Android devices and laptops, so you are rather locked down when on the go.Aside the pain of having to upload all the tracks manually - which is quite a pain - the dubious area is around the quality of the tracks you can listen to and, ultimately, what it probably comes down to is that Cloud Drive and Cloud Player is one for the purists. You get what you're given in terms of quality. You listen to the file that you uploaded rather than Amazon's version of it. So, if all of your MP3s are recorded at 320kbps, then you'll be happy. If your collection is a set of 128kbps trash, then iTunes Match is probably the way to go.At the bottom of the pile sits Music Beta by Google. It's essentially identical to the Amazon Cloud option but the difference is that there's no music store to back it up. Not terrible by any means but solely a case of BYO.And while Google brings up the rear, it's Dropbox and SkyDrive that never even turned up to the races. You can store music on both of them, and even sync it between devices with Dropbox, but playing it from the service is just not possible using official channels.Do bear in mind that when we're talking about quality of tracks that bitrate is only one part of it. Compression is, of course, the other big factor but one would hope that the music that Amazon MP3 and iTunes sells isn't too bad in that department.

Offline

1st: DropboxYes2nd: google driveYes3rd= skydriveYes3rd= apple icloudYes5th: Cloud driveNo

Music streaming and online file access is all very well and good but if you've got no internet connection, you're going to run into problems. Fortunately, most of these services haven't left you out in the cold on this one.King of the hill this time is Dropbox for the headline reason that it's all about synchronisation rather than storage as such. The point is that everything you put in there is automatically pushed out to every other device on which you have the Dropbox client installed. Yes, a connection is required for that process to take place but chances are that all of the transfer will have taken place long before you come to need to access your files again. Now that Microsoft and Google have wise up to this one both SkyDrive and Google Drive have been redesigned to work the same way.Apple iCloud's syncing system also means that the majority of your files are still kept on your devices and simply updated over the air rather than accessed through it. In other words, apart from music, you'll be able to access whatever you need when you need it regardless of connection to the web. You won't be able to update any of the files, photos or videos or download any tracks that you've left off-device when there's no internet access but a small bit of planning should see you through.

The Google Music Beta allows you to select tracks for offline play but only down to the album level (not individual songs). Android mobile devices can cache the recently played but it's not quite to the same degree as something like Spotify that can power your portable long enough to get you from A to on the Underground  B without running out of beats. As for the rest of the cloud equation, the Google Drive will have you all synched and sorted.At the bottom of the stack for this one, sadly, is Amazon Cloud Drive. While there are some fiddly ways of making sure certain music tracks are available offline, it's just a little bit too much of a faff to be practical without having to plan too much in advance. Essentially, it's a case of no connection, no content.

Cost

1st: skydriveFree to 25GB, then $0.50/GB2nd: google sriveFree to 5G, then $0.60/GB3rd: Amazon CloudFree up to 5GB, then $1/GB4th: dropboxFree up to 18GB, then $2/GB or $0.80/GB5th: icloudFree up to 5GB (except iTunes match), then $2/GB

One might not normally associate Microsoft with chucking it away but on the storage front, they're offering a very good deal. SkyDrive is free for 7GB of space - unless you were quick off the mark and have 25GB - after which it's either $10/25/50 per year for an extra 20/50/100GB on top. That's 50 cents per GB per year.Google has said that the Music Beta service will only be free for a limited time but while that time lasts, that puts it high up in the cost category. So, that's 20,000 tracks up there and streamed to your device for free. As for the Google Drive, it's free up to 5GB. Beyond that, you can switch to a total of 25/100/1000GB for around $30/60/600. The economics of those work out as a pretty terrible $1.2/GB/year at the bottom deal but $0.60/GB/year for the other two; and that's a bit mean given that you can buy space elsewhere for your Google Apps account at $0.25/GBAmazon Cloud Drive gives you 5GB for nothing which you can even boost to 20GB for a year if you purchase an album from Amazon MP3. Beyond that, it's time to get your wallet out and the price you're looking at is $1/GB/year although Amazon MP3 purchases don't take away from your storage space.

The only cost with Apple iCloud is for the iTunes Match service and that's at $25/year. If you want to up your storage space with either a 10/20/50GB bump, then that costs $20/40/100 per year which is an eye-watering $2/GB/year.  Like iCloud, Dropbox probably offers the least value dollar for dollar - certainly until the very top end. The freemium model offers all users 2GB for nought (which can be maxed up to 18GB if you invite enough people to join) but after than it's a fair bit of cash to go to either the Pro 50 or Pro 100 membership. You're looking at $100/year for 50GB and $200/year for the 100GB which, of course, work out as a pricey $2/GB/year. The basic Teams 1TB package is from $795/year which is makes things considerably more efficient at $0.795/GB/year.As for which represents the best value, well, purely for music, it's Apple with as many iTunes bought tracks as you like plus 25,000 of your own for just the $25 but Google's totally free if all you need is 60GB of space or so, and while Google hits a very decent spot indeed, it's the SkyDrive that gives you the most bang for your buck.

Availability

1st= DropboxEverywhere1st= SkyDriveEverywhere1st= apple icloudEverywhere4th= Cloud driveEverywhere (no Player outside US)4th= GoogleEverywhere (Music Beta US-only)

There's bags of potential in each of these systems but, at the time of writing, there are three which are slightly hobbled. Google takes the Music Beta hit unless you're in America. Everyone else has access to the lot apart from anywhere to store and stream their music.The other problem is with Amazon Cloud Drive outside of America. You can use it for storage from anywhere via Amazon.com rather than your local service but the Cloud Player music streaming system is only available in the US.

As for Dropbox, SkyDrive, iCloud and Google Drive any user in any country can play with all of the features.

Conclusion

A lot of pros, a lot of cons but this is the way it seems to boil down. So, in alphabetical order...Amazon Cloud Drive

Cloud Drive definitely has potential. There's a good wedge of storage on offer and, if you're willing to buy an album each year from the MP3 store, then what you're looking at is 25GB for free where you can put whatever you like, access from a good range of devices and even play music from too. Where it crumbles a little on inspection is in terms of usability. It's not that pretty, it's a little clunky and time consuming and there's no syncing so you have to do all the leg work yourself. All the same, expect some fine tuning from Amazon if the service begins to get traction.Apple iCloud

Typically with Apple, it's slick, easy to use and highly unflexible to the point where there's almost no contact with your cloud cupboard whatsoever. It's probably the music part of things which works best although a streaming and caching system would have been preferable. Obviously iCloud is a must if you're on Apple's system but not worth making the switch for.Dropbox

Dropbox is probably closest to iCloud in the way it works but is more elegant at the same time. There's no store nor specific music access associated but the sheer number of devices that the service is compatible with is very compelling. The only thing that really lets it down is that you don't get a lot of space and if you want more you either have to badger your friends or pay quite the premium. All the same, if you can manage it, Dropbox offers more free for nothing than any other of these services and that goes a long way.

Your only choice for value beyond, though, is to go for a Teams account for work purposes. That said, if enterprise is really what you're after, the Box.net might be worth a look in.Google

Rough and ready is how we would have described Google's cloud living experience, that is until it launched the Google Drive. With so many of us already tied into the Google apps, Gmail and everything else, it makes a lot of sense and is probably something that everyone will dabble in even if it's not their main syncing and storage software choice. Extra space could be cheaper and device link up stronger but this doesn't strike us as one of those things that the Big G will be shutting down in 18 months to come.Microsoft SkyDrive

What SkyDrive brings to the party is quite a lot for nothing and a good dollop of simplicity as well. It's a real shame that Microsoft is cutting down what used to be 25GB for free to just 7GB. That really could have been the feature that set it above all the others. Instead, it's very healthy device compatibility, cheap add-on price and now decent ease of use that makes it a very compelling option. If they could only get an official Android app going, it would be hard to refuse.

The Answer

The answer of where you should put your cloud content is going to be slightly different depending on what you own and what your habits are. If you're all about the music, then go with either Apple iCloud, Spotify Premium or both. Music Beta is a good option if you're on Android and happen to live in the States but if you need space for photos and videos too, then you may want to consider Amazon Cloud Drive instead.

If it's purely about storage capacity and syncing ability for you, then, to some degree it's going to depend on how much space you need and what mobile/tablet platform you use. SkyDrive is a cracker but frustrating for Android users. For that reason, those on Google's mobile OS are going to find Google Drive hard to resist. If you can keep you storage needs down to 10GB or below though, then it's still Dropbox that's going to be the best, provided you can bump up for free capacity.

Possibly the best advice of all is to use them all. Use them all up until the point where you have to pay for them. Grab that free 25GB from SkyDrive if you can still get it and stick your big files in there; your photos and videos. Any really big ones can go into Amazon Cloud Drive with its unlimited file size. Use your 5GB in Google Drive and do your very best to make your Dropbox as big as possible. That's the real way you'll max out your storage and minimise your cost, but perhaps use each service for just one type of media each. That way you might actually be able to keep track of it all.




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