iCloud vs. Dropbox vs. Carbonite: Online Backup Review & Comparison
Cloud storage has become one of the buzzwords of the tech industry today. It offers the advantage of freeing up precious space on your mobile device, while offering access to your files anytime, anywhere. Previously, I wrote a comparison between SugarSync, SkyDrive, Google Drive and Dropbox, but today, we shall bring two new competitors into the fray: Apple iCloud and Carbonite.
As before, this consumer guide will take the form of a shootout between Dropbox, Apple iCloud and Carbonite using certain key metrics to aid your final decision.
In this shootout, I felt that device compatibility had to be on top of the list, due to certain peculiarities with Apple iCloud in particular.
Device Compatibility at a glance:
- Apple iCloud, due to its closed ecosystem, only works on certain Apple devices, including iPhones and iPod touches running iOS 5 or later, Macs running OS X Lion 10.7.5 or later, and the Apple TV. There is a Windows app, but it mainly serves only a limited functionality which is to sync information to your iOS device.
- Carbonite, meanwhile, supports Android devices in addition to iOS ones. It supports Windows across all its plans, but does not support Mac on certain plans.
- Dropbox, being one of the oldest players out there, supports Android, iOS and BlackBerry in addition to Windows and Mac.
Device compatibility wise, Dropbox is the obvious winner. However, if you have bought into the Apple ecosystem, perhaps iCloud would be the most natural choice, since it offers the most integration (which we will cover later) among Apple devices.
Storage and Pricing
Now that the elephant that is device compatibility is out of the way, the next most important factor is storage and pricing.
Amount of free storage at a glance:
- Apple iCloud offers 5GB of free storage. This free storage contains iCloud Mail, Documents in the Cloud and iOS device backups. Photo streams as well as purchased items from the iTunes/App Store do not count against this.
- Carbonite does not have a free option apart from a 15-day trial.
- Dropbox offers 2GB of free storage, with numerous ways to extend your storage space, such as by referring friends or through periodic offers.
For the price of nothing, iCloud would be the most compelling option, with 5GB of free storage, and the best thing is that purchased music, movies and apps as well as your photos do not count against this. However, many companies have tie-ins with Dropbox that give you extra space. For example, purchasing a Samsung Galaxy S4 would entitle you to about 50GB of free Dropbox storage for 2 years. Paid storage and pricing structure:
- Apple iCloud: Offers several plans to fit everyone's storage needs. Their most popular plan is 50 GB for $0.99 per month. Other plans are 200 GB for $2.99 per month and 1 TB of storage for $9.99 per month.
- Carbonite: Offers several plans with unlimited storage that include one computer for $6 per month, multiple computers for $24 month, and computers plus servers starts at $50 per month. All plans are billed annually.
- Dropbox: Has a Plus and a Professional Plan, each offering 1 TB of storage. The Plus plan costs $99/year and the Professtional plan costs $199 per year. The Professional plan offers more features than the Plus plan offers. A few of these extra features include Smart Synch, full text search, and 120-day history.
From a value-for-money perspective, if you're willing to pay, then Carbonite is the cheapest option to go for unlimited storage. What more, paying $72 per year would entitle you to backup everything under the sun, for storage is unlimited. Of course, if you're looking to not pay a single cent, then Carbonite would immediately be struck off your list.
Apple iCloud is by far the cheapest option for most individual and family storage needs.
Despite all three companies being cloud providers, their main goals and purposes are rather different. It is important to know what each company is striving to do, because this affects the features they offer.
Apple iCloud was born to provide the best experience within the Apple ecosystem. It embodies the typical design principles of Apple products, which is to keep things simple and elegant. As such, compared to Carbonite or Dropbox, you have comparatively little control of your files.
With iCloud, everything is accessed through a beautiful web-based interface. Everything is synced automatically from your iOS device and your Mac, so there's nothing for you to upload or download for that matter.
What is unique about iCloud, however, is that it integrates really well with other Apple services. From the iCloud website, you can access the 'Find Your iPhone' feature in the event that your phone is misplaced or stolen. It also backs up all your purchased music, apps, TV shows and movies (though technically, they are probably not 'backed up' since they exist on the iTunes Store anyway) and allows you to access all your songs if you are a subscriber to the iTunes Match service. Furthermore, the Photo Stream feature allows you to easily share photos with another iOS device.
Carbonite's bread-and-butter, in contrast, lies in being a complete backup provider. It allows you to monitor folders and files which will automatically be backed up on their server. It caters heavily to businesses, which is why they heavily advertise their security and privacy features. Unlike iCloud or Dropbox, Carbonite does not have any sharing or collaboration options.
Where Apple iCloud is ecosystem-centric and Carbonite is backup-centric, Dropbox focuses heavily on the aspect of collaboration. Dropbox is hugely popular among college students, for they can easily share a Dropbox folder where they can easily access and modify group project files. It is less of a backup solution (especially given its limited initial storage space) than a collaborative one. It allows users to share an entire folder or just a file, and choose whether to share it to the public or to certain selected users. Files that are to be synchronized have to be placed in a designated Dropbox folder (hence the name), unlike iCloud and Carbonite which chooses the files to be backed up from their existing locations.
This section examines how each provider's applications and services ties in with their host system (i.e. the desktop or the mobile device).
As mentioned before, Apple iCloud serves only the Apple userbase, and it aims to provide the most seamless experience at that. Indeed, all iWork documents can be automatically backed up to the cloud, as well as all photos, contacts and application data. iCloud is built into every modern iOS device, and is heavily integrated to such an extent that users will probably not want to turn it off since it comes free-for-life with the device.
While not as integrated as Apple iCloud, and Carbonite offers several integrativefeatures that makes backup really simple. By default, it offers to backup the entire C:Users folder, which, for a typical Windows user, is where documents, pictures and music are stored. Apart from that, you can easily select the files and folders you wish to select with just a click. Once this is done, you can just go about doing your own routine; Carbonite will handle the rest.
On Android and iOS devices, full-resolution photos and videos are backed up automatically to the server. It also offers additional security features, such as a locate and destroy function in the event that your device is stolen.
Dropbox operates out of a typical folder on Windows or Mac, and essentially everything within the folder (as long as the file format is supported) will be uploaded to the cloud. It is probably as integrated as it gets, for you do not need to access a separate app just to use Dropbox (it merely resides in the system tray as a tiny icon).
On certain Android devices, such as the Samsung Galaxy range, Dropbox is rather ingrained into the user interface. Photos taken using the phone's camera can be easily (or even automatically) uploaded, and Dropbox sharing options are readily available in a few clicks.
In terms of integration, all three providers are rather evenly matched, although they go about doing this in different ways. Apple iCloud offers automatic aggregation of your content across all Apple devices. Similarly, Carbonite automatically aggregates content and uploads them into the cloud, but you have more flexibility in choosing exactly what you want to backup. Lastly, for Dropbox, you have to aggregate the things you want into a designated folder, but putting things into that folder is just a simple drag-and-drop process and is rather speedy since this is done through the native system interface.
In order to decide which of the three cloud provider you should opt for, you should firstly determine your own needs.
If you are a user of current Apple products, Apple iCloud is a no-brainer option, since the cost of your 'free' storage is probably factored into your purchase price in the first place, and iCloud offers the most integration for Apple products.
Otherwise, it all boils down to whether you are looking for a pure backup option or a collaborative option. Using Dropbox for backup may be cumbersome with the 2GB free storage limit, and the fact that you have to drag everything into the Dropbox folder first (which may sometimes lead to unnecessary duplication of data). As a pure backup provider, Carbonite's is more sophisticated since it allows you to back up from whereever you like. However, Dropbox's collaborative options (through its sharing functionality) is probably second to none.