Top 10 file-sharing options: Dropbox, Google Drive, OneDrive and more

Most file-sharing services have evolved into full-blown collaboration platforms. We look at 10 online services ranging from basic to enterprise-level.

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File-sharing options

In 2004, if you tried to share a large file, you had basically two options. 1: Use a file-sharing service like YouSendIt, which was brand new at the time. Or 2: Copy the file to a disc and hand it (or mail it) to the recipient, a practice known not so affectionately as ‘sneakernet.’

Today, as far as file sharing goes, we have nearly endless options. Dropbox, Box, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Hightail – formerly YouSendIt – are among the services that enable you to share big files easily, as well as store them in the cloud, sync them across multiple devices, and collaborate on them with colleagues and clients. But there are plenty of others, ranging from basic services for consumers (Amazon Drive) to security-conscious, enterprise-level services (Tresorit). The services we've chosen are listed here in alphabetical order and focus on 10 that cover the range of options available. (This isn’t an exhaustive catalog of all services.) To check file transfer times for each, we uploaded a 195MB ZIP file using a connection with an average 11.88 megabit/second upload speed.

1. amazon drive
James A. Martin

Amazon Drive

Amazon Drive’s unlimited storage plan was discontinued last year. Even so, the service, formerly known as Cloud Drive, is still one of the best deals around, with a 1TB plan costing $60 a year. There are the requisite desktop and mobile apps for accessing and sharing files. But overall, Amazon Drive offers only basic functionality. You can sync your entire Documents folder from your computer, for instance, but you can’t choose specific folders within that folder to sync. Upload speed (nearly 8 minutes) was by far the slowest of all services tested. Amazon Drive is best suited for photo backup (with unlimited photo storage for Prime members) and basic document storage and file sharing for consumers on a budget.

Free account storage space: 5GB (for Amazon customers)

Free account max file size: 2GB (up to 48.82GB if uploaded through desktop app)

Paid accounts: 100GB, $12/year; 1TB, $60/year. Additional plans go up to 30TB, $1,800/year.

Paid account max file size: 2GB (up to 48.82GB if uploaded through desktop app)

Time to upload 195MB file: 7 min., 42 sec.

2. box
James A. Martin

Box

It’s nearly impossible to talk about Box without mentioning Dropbox (and vice versa), as the two are frequently pitted against each other. At a high level, what’s important to understand is that Box is and has always been geared toward businesses and enterprises, while Dropbox is – at least for now – largely focused on consumers and SMBs. If you’re looking to kick Box’s tires, there’s a free plan for individuals that offers 10GB of storage, a 250MB file upload limit, and not much else. Box has sometimes been criticized for being unintuitive. A recent refresh has helped, but with four separate desktop clients, Box could still use some streamlining.

Free account storage space: 10GB

Free account max file size: 250MB

Paid accounts: Personal Pro, 100GB, $10/month. Business plans range from $5/user/month for 100GB to $25/user/month and up for unlimited storage.

Paid account max file size: Personal Pro, 5GB; Starter Business, 2GB; Business, Business Plus and Enterprise, 5GB.

Other paid options: Desktop sync; mobile app access; version history; SSL and at-rest encryption; two-factor authentication; Active Directory and Single Sign-On integration (Business, Business Plus, and Enterprise only).

Time to upload 195MB file: 2 min., 50 sec.

3. dropbox
James A. Martin

Dropbox

Dropbox was among the first services to offer seamless upload and storage via its client software (though Box beat Dropbox to market by two years). The service is enhanced with an impressive ecosystem of third-party apps that integrate with Dropbox, including Salesforce, DocuSign, Jira Software, Office 365 and Slack. And though Dropbox has primarily focused on consumers and SMBs, its recent IPO filing document states that the company has ambitions for the enterprise market (and already has some large business customers). Dropbox gets high marks for being easy to use, and its growing collaboration features, such as the new Showcase interface for sharing files with partners and clients, continue to improve. Its free plan only offers 2GB of storage, however – a pittance compared to Google Drive’s 15GB.

Free account storage space: 2GB

Free account max file size: None

Paid accounts: For individuals: Plus, 1TB, $8.25/month and Professional, 1TB, $16.58/month; For businesses: Standard, 2TB, $12.50/user/month; Advanced, unlimited, $20/user/month; Enterprise, unlimited storage, rates not listed.

Paid account max file size: None

Other paid options include: 120 days of file recovery; 256-bit AES and SSL/TLS encryption; admin console and audit log; remote device wipe; 24/7 phone support (Enterprise plan only).

4. google drive
James A. Martin

Google Drive

If you’re firmly ensconced in the Google ecosystem, Google Drive is a no-brainer, since it integrates with Google’s productivity and other apps (such as Google Photos). Even if you’re not locked into Google’s world, Google Drive is worth considering, particularly since Google gives users 15GB of free storage (shared with other Google services).

Google recently combined its Drive and Photos desktop apps into one desktop client, Backup and Sync. Using the app, you can choose which of your Windows or macOS computer folders to continuously sync to Google Drive – you don’t have to keep files in a designated folder, as you do with some services. Google Drive’s file organization isn’t as intuitive as it could be. But collaborating on documents in real-time, via Google Drive and Google productivity apps, is as easy as it gets.

Free account storage space: 15GB

Free account max file size: 5TB (with some exceptions)

Paid accounts: For individuals: 100GB, $2/month; 1TB, $10/month; 10TB, $100/month. For businesses: Unlimited, $10/user/month.

Paid account max file size: 5TB (with some exceptions)

Other paid options: 24/7 phone and email support; controls for security, privacy and compliance; centralized admin console; audit and reporting.

Time to upload 195MB file: 2 min., 45 sec.

5. hightail
James A. Martin

Hightail

Formerly YouSendIt, Hightail features an interface built around Spaces, making it well suited for group collaboration. When you create a new Space, for instance, you name it and define the project’s goal. You can request approvals on video, photo and other files in your Space from others, track all recent activity and keep drafts private while still sharing them with access codes.

Hightail plays well with other file sharing services, too. You can drag and drop files into a Space from your computer, Dropbox, Google Drive and OneDrive. Hightail is versatile, with third-party app integration, apps for iOS and Android, and macOS and Windows apps, with automatic desktop folder syncing. There are two different types of plans: file sharing and creative collaboration, which includes file sharing and additional features with plans starting at $125/month.

Free account storage space: 2GB

Free account max file size: 250MB

Paid accounts: Pro, unlimited storage, $8.25/month; Teams, unlimited storage, prices not published.

Paid account max file size: Pro, 25GB; Teams, 100GB.

Other paid options: Expiration date control; delivery notifications; tracking for sent files; password protection; phone support.

Time to upload 195MB file: 2 min., 27 sec.

6. mediafire
James A. Martin

MediaFire

MediaFire is a lesser-known file sharing/storage service, but with a free plan offering 10GB of storage, it’s worth considering. The free service lets you upload files up to 4GB in size, and uploads are scanned with the BitDefender antivirus engine. You can share file links on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, and Blogger and generate a one-time download link. MediaFire is easy to use, too, with an intuitive interface.

Heads up: While there are capable mobile apps for Android and iOS, MediaFire discontinued its Windows and macOS desktop apps in 2016.

Free account storage space: 10GB

Free account max file size: 4GB

Paid accounts: Pro, 1TB, $7.50/month, currently discounted to $3.75/month; Business: up to 100TB, $80/month, currently discounted to $40/month.

Paid account max file size: Pro and Business plans: 20GB

Other paid options include: Ad-free downloads and sharing; download entire folders; upload from any website; customizable branding; detailed security log.

Time to upload 195MB ZIP file: 3 min., 17 sec. (includes BitDefender virus scan)

7. onedrive
James A. Martin

Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft’s OneDrive had an awkward youth, stumbling from Windows Live Folders, Windows Live SkyDrive, SkyDrive and now OneDrive. And it’s not quite as polished and easy to use as some competitors. For example, to share a file stored in OneDrive, you must go to the OneDrive website, while other services such as Dropbox let you share by right-clicking on a file on your hard drive. Nonetheless, OneDrive integrates nicely (no surprise) with Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft’s mobile apps, and it offers real-time collaboration in Office documents. A free plan gives you 5GB of storage –  more than Dropbox but considerably less than Google Drive. Office 365 personal subscribers get 1TB or 5TB of included OneDrive storage, a nice bonus.

Free account storage space: 5GB

Free account max file size: 10GB

Paid accounts: For individuals: Storage only, 50GB, $2/month; Office 365 Personal, 1TB, $70/year; Office 365 Home, 1TB per user, $100/year. For businesses: Storage only, 1TB, $5/user/month or unlimited, $10/user/month; Office 365 Business Premium, 1TB, $12.50/user/month.

Paid account max file size: 15GB

Other paid options include: 24/7 phone support; advanced data-loss protection; preservation of deleted and edited documents for eDiscovery.

Time to upload 195MB file: 3 min.

8. sharefile
James A. Martin

ShareFile

ShareFile, which Citrix acquired in 2011, creates a custom file-sharing site for your business, so you can share files easily with clients, partners, co-workers and others. The service offers numerous compelling features and tools for business users, including workflow management, document collaboration, e-signatures and integration with Microsoft Outlook and Gmail. Security is robust, too, with up to 256-bit AES encryption and customizable permissions settings.

The ShareFile dashboard makes it easy to add new users and toggle between personal and shared folders. Full-featured apps are available for Android, iOS and Windows. But ShareFile is pricey and clearly not for consumers, as there’s no free plan. You can try ShareFile free for 30 days, however – no credit card required.

Free account storage space: N/A

Free account max file size: N/A

Paid accounts: Personal, 100GB, $16/month; Team, 1TB, $60/month for five users; Business, unlimited storage, $100/month for five users; Virtual Data Room, 5GB, $295/month.

Paid account max file size: Personal, 10GB; Team, 10GB; Business, 100GB; Virtual Data Room, 5GB.

Other paid options include: Unlimited client users; feedback and approvals workflow; activity logs; versioning; third-party integration; file check-in/check-out (Business plan only).

Time to upload 195MB ZIP file: 2 min., 44 sec.

9. sugarsync
James A. Martin

SugarSync

SugarSync has a slightly confusing usage model. Unlike, say, Dropbox, you can designate any file folders on your hard drive to be synced to the cloud; you don’t need to keep everything in a designated folder. To sync folders, you right-click them (after installing the SugarSync desktop client). But just in case you want a designated folder, the service automatically creates a syncing folder on your computer called My SugarSync (formerly Magic Briefcase). As of now, there are no collaborative editing tools – or even two-factor authentication, either of which could be a deal breaker for business users. Also worth noting: Aside from a free 5GB trial (good for 90 days), there’s no free plan.

Bottom line: SugarSync checks most of the standard file sharing/storage/syncing service boxes but misses some of the bigger ones.

Free account storage space: N/A

Free account max file size: N/A

Paid accounts: For individuals, 100GB, $7.50/month; 250GB, $10/month; and 500GB, $19/month. For businesses: 1TB, $55/month for up to 3 users; ‘custom’ for 10 or more users (price not available on website).

Paid account max file size: None

Other paid options include: Outlook integration; 256-bit AES encryption; user management.

Time to upload 195MB file: 5 min., 27 sec.

10. tresorit
James A. Martin

Tresorit

European cloud storage company Tresorit gained recognition with its hacking contest a few years back, offering $50,000 to anyone who could hack into its servers. Tresorit claims no one succeeded. Clearly, the company is going after the security-conscious, promising end-to-end encrypted file sharing and syncing, HIPAA and GDPR compliance, the protection of Swiss privacy laws, and other security measures.

Tresorit offers a variety of personal, business and enterprise plans. It’s fairly easy to use, and you can designate any folder (called a ‘Tresor’) on your hard drive for syncing. But with no free file storage/syncing option and plans starting at $10.42/month for 200GB of storage, Tresoit is by no means your least expensive option. The free trial period is only two weeks and requires a credit card.

Free account storage space: N/A

Free account max file size: N/A

Paid accounts: For individuals, 200GB ($10.42/month); 2TB ($24/month). For businesses: Small Businesses, 1TB per user, $20/user/month; Business plans all offer 1TB per user, with different features at rates up to $24/user/month. (The Business plan is currently available at $12/user/month). Enterprise plan prices aren’t posted online.

Paid account max file size: 10GB

Other paid options include: Outlook integration; admin console; branding; zero-knowledge protection.

Time to upload 195MB file: 3 min., 27 sec.

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Conclusions (and a recommendation)

Chances are, by now, you’re already ensconced in a file-sharing/syncing service. If so, there may be no need to switch, especially given how similar many of these services have become in terms of features.

However, if you’re dissatisfied and ready for change, Dropbox is my top choice. I’ve been a user since 2008 and never had an issue. The service is supported by a large ecosystem of apps, it’s easy to use and share files with others, and it continues to evolve in positive ways. That said, Box, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive are all good choices, too.

Of the 10 services I checked out, I’m least impressed with Amazon Drive and SugarSync. Both have their good points. But Amazon Drive is just too basic for my needs, while SugarSync is too expensive and lacking in compelling features that justify the cost.