by Tom McNamara / May 23, 2018
Every Gmail user gets 15GB of storage space in Google Drive, and the two services are tightly integrated. But with all the news about what some companies are doing with our personal data, you might be wondering if your email and your cloud storage should be in the same bucket. If you're shopping around, Microsoft has its own competitor called OneDrive, which is deeply integrated into Office 365, the subscription version of the company's monolithic productivity suite. Is it worth making the switch? Check out these prices before you answer.
The app is easy to navigate and has some cool settings: The main window shows you your files and folders in a minimalist grid. A number on the folder indicates how many files are in it. Each folder also gets a label telling you when it was created. By default, your OneDrive contents are arranged alphabetically, but you have six other sorting options; you can sort by newest, oldest, largest, smallest, reverse alphabet, and file extension. There's a magnifying glass button in the upper right to open the search function. When you open a Word document in OneDrive, there are buttons to search within it, share it, view the metadata, open it in another app, download a copy, or print it out.
From the main window, tapping on Me in the lower right shows you how much storage you have, the email address associated with this storage account, and shortcuts to a variety of things such as the Recycle Bin, your downloaded file collection, and settings. In the settings menu, you can set a passcode to protect the app from unauthorized access and enable automatic photo uploads, among other things.
Overall, the app feels light and responsive, and it should feel familiar to anyone who's used cloud storage before.
The larger storage options are actually pretty competitive: Microsoft offers 1TB of space (1,024GB) for $7 a month or $70 a year, and it bundles a subscription to Office 365 Personal that lasts for as long as you keep paying your entry fee. 365 Personal has a one-user license, and you get Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook, OneNote, Access, and Publisher. (The latter two are available only on Windows, though.)
You can upgrade to a five-user 365 Home license for $100 a year or $10 a month, which also increases your bucket from 1TB to 5TB. Both versions of Office also grant free access to Microsoft support chat, 60 minutes of Skype calls per user, and an Outlook.com email account with 50GB of space.
For reference, Google wants $10/mo for 1TB of Google Drive, and they don't throw in any premium products (although you can store all of your photos for free, if you're willing to accept a slight loss of image quality, and Pixel phone users get unlimited uploads with no quality loss). iCloud offers twice as much storage as Google Drive for the same price, but Apple's not throwing in any premiums, either.
Even if you don't care about Office and prefer to use Google Docs, LibreOffice, or something else, $70 a year works out to just $5.83 a month for 1TB of space. If that's not good enough, Microsoft was running a promotion during our testing that offered 365 Personal for $60 a year or $6/mo, and 365 Home for $80 a year or $8/mo. If paid annually, that 365 Home promotion works out to $6.67/mo for 5TB of cloud storage.
Meanwhile, Google wants $100 a month for 10TB of space. Looks like one company needs to re-examine its pitch.
Lacks client-side encryption: All of the major cloud storage providers keep a copy of your account's encryption keys. So there's a low but ever-present possibility that these keys can be stolen, sold, traded, lost, or otherwise compromised -- without your knowing about it. And the provider can technically look at all your files at any time. In certain circumstances, law enforcement can also be granted access to your files, also without your being notified.
There's a convenience angle: Since they have your keys, they can reset your password for you. But you sacrifice a lot of privacy as a result, unless you're willing to go through an awkward process where you manually encrypt your files before putting them in the cloud. Most people don't want to manage encryption right down to the individual file.
The app is a bit pushy about subscribing to Office 365: When you first open OneDrive, you will be greeted with a full-screen ad for Office 365, instead of a log-in or account creation screen. A prominent "Go Premium - First Month Free" button is at the bottom, with a link labeled "See All Features" below that. What if you just want to access OneDrive? The only exit out of this ad is a small arrow in the upper left-hand corner.
If you tap on it, a new window pops up, asking "Is OneDrive Basic enough?" with a second pitch for Office 365 and its 1TB of space. This window gives you two options: "Go Back" or "Stay Basic." Thankfully, this pitch for Office only pops up the first time. But we'll also note that the only subscription offer mentioned is for $7 a month, despite a cheaper $70 a year option being available.
As pure storage, the prices and options could use some tweaking: If you want to upgrade from the modest 5GB you start with, your only other pure storage option is 50GB for $2/mo. After that, the next step up is that Office 365 Personal subscription. It would be nice to have an option in between. For reference, iCloud offers 200GB for $3/mo, and Google offers 100GB for $2 a month. While the price differences are ultimately small, it's underwhelming in principle. Microsoft's 50GB option feels like it's positioned to put a halo on the Office 365 offer, rather than standing on its own.
Given how generous Microsoft gets with its Office 365 subscriptions, this is a minor complaint. But if you're trying to stretch your dollar, it's worth thinking about.
If you need 1TB of storage space or more, OneDrive offers some of the lowest prices in the business, and it throws an entire world-class office suite into the bargain. However, the lack of client-side encryption means that your files are never truly private.