Cloud backup services are like any other kind of insurance. When nothing goes wrong, they feel like a waste of money. But when disaster strikes, you’ll thank your lucky stars that someone else is looking out for you. I spent more than a month testing eight of the most popular cloud backup solutions to find out which one is best for most users. In the end, my choice was clear: iDrive Personal(available at IDrive) provides by far the best blend of features and performance at a great price— about $5.79 a month, or cheaper if you get in on one of iDrive’s frequent sales. There are better choices for security nuts and power users, though, so I’ll detail those as well.
In general, good online backup services provide user-friendly apps that securely store your files and work on any operating system you want. They allow you to backup all kinds of files from whichever drive you like, including external and network drives. They'll keep old files you've deleted, and hang on to old versions of files you've updated. And they employ state-of-the-art encryption to ensure no one else has access to your data. Great services go even further, providing courier service to you a hard drive containing all your files when you need to bulk-restore quickly. They also allow for “seeding,” letting you send them files from an external hard drive and copying your initial backup directly to the cloud server. Most importantly, the best of the best will provide all of these features at a low monthly or yearly price, as iDrive does.
The recommendations in this guide are based on thorough product and market research by our team of expert product reviewers. The picks are based on examining user reviews, product specifications, and, in some limited cases, our experience with the specific products named.
The bottom line: For the average user, iDrive provides the best blend of features, speed, and value you can find today.
iDrive Backup details: iDrive’s Personal backup plan costs $69.50 per year (or less, if you catch a sale) and provides 2TB of storage, which will be more than enough for most users' personal documents and media. The iDrive app was easy to install and dead simple to use, even if it looks a little outdated. Looking past the surface, I was pleased to find that it uploaded my files very quickly and was able to retrieve them entirely within the app—something its primary rival Backblaze can't claim. When it came time to restore my files, the app offered to put them back in their original locations, or divert them to another location of my choosing.
iDrive offers its users plenty of other perks. You can send the company a hard drive containing the files you want to upload and they'll copy them over directly, saving you hours or days of upload time. Flipping that around, they'll also send you a copy of all your files on a hard drive if your PC explodes, so you can quickly and easily copy them back. The service is even free if you send the hard drive back within a certain time frame. If you delete files from your local drive, iDrive will keep copies so you can restore them later if you have a change of heart. It also hangs on to old versions of your files, so if you have a change of heart you can undo changes even after you've saved.
Unlike some other cloud backup solutions, which require you to pay extra for each device you want to backup, iDrive also allows you to backup files from multiple computers and mobile devices to a single account. That’s great news for families.
The bottom line: Feature-poor compared to iDrive, but if you have a lot of data, the value proposition is impossible to beat.
Backblaze Backup details: Backblaze is one of just two cloud backup solutions I tested that offers unlimited storage, and it's the better of the two. Yep, you read that right: unlimited backups. So forget 2TB—if you have 50TB, that’s fine. 100TB? No sweat. A petabyte? Sure, in theory. The app is a breeze, too, with the easiest installation and simplest interface of all the services I considered. And at $5 per month, it’s bar-none the cheapest cloud backup solution around, especially when you consider that unlimited capacity. Better still, there are no file size or type storage limitations, so if you have a huge collection of 4K videos, FLAC audio, or RAW image files, it's a great pick.
However, there are plenty of quirks that keep it from being my top choice. To start, Backblaze backs up all of your personal files by default, and there's no option to select just the files you want. This behavior runs contrary to every other service I tested, and in my opinion, it's a lot less convenient. When I tried to backup just one folder (admittedly, an extreme case), that meant I had to go through my computer’s entire file tree and manually de-select everything else.
Anyway, once your files are backed up, if you want to restore them you have to go through Backblaze's website. You can't use the beautiful desktop app. As is often (though not always) the case with cold storage, restores have to be "prepared," so you request the files you want, then wait for an email, and then download. Your files come in a ZIP archive, even when you only request one document, and there’s no option to restore files in place.
Finally, even though you have unlimited storage space to play with, Backblaze limits you to backing up a single device, and won't let you upload from network drives. Despite the stellar value proposition, these shortcomings kept it from taking our top spot.
The bottom line: For those who demand perfect privacy, this is the best choice.
SpiderOak ONE details: If you need to backup data of a... sensitive nature, or if you simply don’t trust faceless corporations not to rifle through your stuff, SpiderOak ONE is a fine alternative to iDrive and Backblaze. It's more expensive, and the app is on the techy side, but no other platform offers the same end-to-end privacy protection.
SpiderOak maintains what it calls a “No Knowledge” policy, meaning it doesn't have access to your password and doesn't know anything about the data you store on its servers. All files are protected with 256-bit AES encryption, and SSL is used while files are in transit. Every user is given a personal encryption key—an option with some competing services, but a requirement here. SpiderOak's data centers themselves are earthquake-, flood-, and fire-proofed and SAS 70 Type II compliant, staffed 24/7, and regularly audited for customers' peace of mind.
Beyond security concerns, SpiderOak ONE is an all-around decent service with a few problems. The Windows app didn't scale properly on my 4K monitor (an issue the company says it's working to address), and less tech-savvy users may find the array of options on offer a little overwhelming. Transfer speeds were solid for me, which is good since SpiderOak doesn't allow for hard drive seeding or restoration. All told, though, we don't think it's worth springing for SpiderOak's higher yearly cost—$129 a year for 1TB of storage—unless you're truly fanatical about security.
I loved using Acronis TrueImage 2018, but there's no getting around the fact that it's extremely expensive compared to the competition. In large part, this is because TrueImage isn't really cloud backup software—Acronis's main focus is on local backups, disk cloning, and ransomware protection. Its Acronis Cloud service is essentially an add-on that comes with the software if you pay for a higher tier of service. Acronis offers several subscription tiers, starting at $50 per year for 250GB of cloud storage and going up to 5TB for $260.
The TrueImage 2018 software is slick and polished, with a deep feature list and rich customization options that nevertheless shouldn't feel too overwhelming for newbies. Uploads are extremely fast, in part because Acronis does something none of its competitors do: it allows you to choose your storage facility. It also simply has more storage facilities than most rivals, so the chances that you’re close to one of them is likely higher—particularly if you don't live in the US. Speed aside, TrueImage comes with all of the features we look for in a cloud backup solution. If you're willing to pay the asking price, it's a solid pick. We just don't see why you would when iDrive does all the same stuff for less.
If you’re an NPR listener, Carbonite is probably the first name that jumps to mind when you think of cloud backup, and subconscious images of Harrison Ford encased in unbreakable stone lend a certain ineffable sense of security. But the brand’s news radio prominence and Star Wars associations unfortunately don't translate into a world-beating cloud backup experience. There’s nothing really wrong with Carbonite, but there's nothing to recommend it over rivals like iDrive and Backblaze, either.
Though it allows for unlimited backups, Carbonite costs more than Backblaze and offers fewer features. Its app is also less intuitive (and less attractive), and there are more restrictions on what you can upload. (Files over 4GB are a no-no, for instance.) Perhaps the biggest flaw in Carbonite is that its Mac app is missing two important features Windows users enjoy: versioning and personal key encryption.
Retrieving files is simpler with Carbonite, since you can do it through the app, but I don't think that's enough reason to choose it over the generally more polished Backblaze. Compared to iDrive, Carbonite is slower to upload and offers far fewer features, though it's a little cheaper most of the time.
Sometimes an unknown brand can surprise you. That was largely the case with Zoolz, which I had never heard of before researching this guide. Based out of the UK, this small company provides a smooth cloud backup experience with a polished-looking (if occasionally slow) app. It offers a lot of great features, including personal encryption keys and the ability to backup external and NAS drives, and it also allows for backup from multiple devices by default.
But all is not rosy with Zoolz. For one thing, it doesn’t allow for continuous backups. Instead, it only runs on a schedule, so there’s a chance that if your system goes down at the wrong time, crucial files might not be backed up. For another, restores take far longer to prepare than with other services; in one instance when I wanted to restore a single photo, it took nearly a full day before the Zoolz app started to download it. Rival services took mere seconds to retrieve the same file. Finally, Zoolz's pricing isn't great; when it's not on sale, you can expect to pay $70 per year for just 1TB of storage, or you can upgrade to 4TB for $100 per year.
If you're interested in purchasing a cloud storage service to back up your files, it's important to define what is and is not a cloud backup service.
Services like Dropbox, Google Drive, and MEGA are not cloud backup services. Sure, they're a great place to store files you access frequently, like documents or photos you want to share with family and friends, or files you want to move between your PC and phone. But they're not designed to restore everything on your PC in case of disaster.
Collectively, these services are known as "hot storage." That has nothing to do with the actual temperature of the server farm where the data is stored—it’s simply a term meaning your files are meant to be accessed frequently. Conversely, services like the ones I tested for this guide are called "cold storage," because the data is meant to sit untouched for months or years.
Cold storage comes with pros and cons compared to hot storage. On the plus side, it's cheaper per gigabyte. And of course, cold storage services like the ones I tested come with lots of features that ensure you can easily restore your system after a total loss—features you won't get with Google Drive and Dropbox. On the downside, it can take a lot longer to retrieve your data, and it's not easy to quickly share files you've backed up to cold storage with other people.
Ben is an experienced industry journalist who formerly served as Senior Editor of News and Features at Reviewed. He now contributes as a freelance writer and editor. Most recently hailing from the vast wilds of the American southwest, he is an avid photographer who is deeply disturbed by the lack of wide open landscapes in Boston.
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