It's a sign of a strongly competitive market that the best free cloud storage services are offered by some of the best cloud storage providers. If you're seeking basic storage, have little to no budget, or are looking at reducing cloud storage costs, free cloud storage can be ideal. While restricted by lower maximum storage levels and fewer features, free plans are often perfect for the average individual's needs.
When it comes to important personal files, documents, or photos, even a small amount of storage can make the world of difference to most people, who can utilize the best free cloud storage services to securely save files, and quickly and easily access them when needed. If more space is needed down the line, it's simple to upgrade, too.
While free storage isn't ideal for bigger businesses, who should look to the best cloud storage for business to find the right solution, for freelancers and small projects free cloud storage offers the ability to collaborate and share files quickly and simply.
We ranked the best free cloud storage services based on factors including the amount of free storage offered, the strength of their security, their ability to provide file access, file size limits, and any additional features offered. However, while free plans can be great, their limitations can be an issue. We've outlined the limits of the services below, so that you don't need to and can make the right choice.
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Which is the best free cloud storage service?
For free cloud storage, our top-rated provider is Google Drive, due to its 15GB of free storage, top-drawer apps, and its integration with Google's Workspace productivity tools. pCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive, and MediaFire also make our list of the top five free providers, and merit your consideration when looking into cloud storage.
The best free cloud storage available right now
With 15GB included at zero cost, Google Drive is one of the more giving cloud providers. Do note that all files from your other Google services (Gmail, Photos, etc.) are also stored within this capacity, meaning each email attachment you download takes up space.
However, a Gmail address isn’t mandatory to sign up. Create a new Google account and you’re good to go, but don’t be confused if you see Google One, the rebranding of paid Google Drive storage as part of Google Workspace.
As for the current service, there are mobile apps for Android and iOS users, Google’s own office productivity tools, and a nifty Backup and Sync desktop app that enables you to automatically duplicate files in the cloud, just in case your laptop or PC dies or gets pinched. Read our full Google Drive review to learn more about the service, and our comparison feature pitting Google Drive vs OneDrive.
The free pCloud package starts with 10GB of file space, which can be increased to 20GB through a combination of completed offers (4GB) and referrals (1GB each). As a bonus, there’s 50GB of downlink traffic bandwidth allowance available on a monthly basis.
The appealing and highly functional interface makes storing files easy, whether through finely crafted desktop and mobile apps or pCloud’s website. File sharing features are as simple as they can be, with the ability to share files with non-pCloud users. Built-in streaming features, and no restriction on file size, mean you can freely send large files like HD videos to others.
pCloud also offers appreciable deals for upgrading to a paid service. 500GB storage will cost you $3.99 a month, while there are also affordable annual and lifetime subscriptions if you’re looking to save some money. To learn more about pCloud, read our comprehensive pCloud review, and our pCloud interview with the company's Ivan Dimitrov about its expansion, COVID-19's impacts, and the future.
Let’s get to the bad news first. For such a respected service, Dropbox doesn’t do itself any favors with only 2GB of free storage, one of the least generous allowances around. However, there are multiple ways to rake up additional space that include completing the starting guide (250MB), referring people to the service (500MB per referral, up to 16GB), and contributing to the Dropbox Community forum (1GB).
Once you get past that initial drawback, Dropbox reveals some crafty tricks. For instance, Dropbox Paper is a collaborative tool that allows seamless file sharing between different users, and syncs photos automatically via the desktop app.
You can also request users upload directly to your Dropbox account with the File Requests feature, and edit files without downloading them when working on the web version.
The service also exhibits serious flexibility, with a bundle of desktop and mobile apps that include all the regulars and some uncommon platforms like Linux and Kindle. This allows access to your storage from virtually any device, accompanied by a wide range of supported third-party apps and services.
Make sure to read our Dropbox review to learn more about the service and its features, as well as details of its paid cloud storage plans. You can also find out how it compares to one of its main competitors by reading our comparison feature, Google Drive vs Dropbox.
One would expect that a tech giant like Microsoft would offer more file storage space for free to users, but that’s not the case with OneDrive: you have to make do with 5GB. Granted, the basic paid plan offers 50GB for a fair price, and Microsoft 365 subscribers get 1TB of space for their trouble.
Therein lies OneDrive’s biggest appeal: much like Google Drive, the service will primarily find a home with Microsoft users, thanks to its close relationship with Office apps and automatic Windows 10 integration. For users on the go, there are mobile apps that allow easy cross-platform use.
OneDrive makes collaboration easy, as it doesn’t limit use to OneDrive users, and you can even customize access and how you share files with others. Remote document storage also includes the ability to work on files online without downloading them, which certainly simplifies things.
MediaFire starts you off with 10GB of free space, which you can then increase fivefold through various usual activities, such as referring other people or following the company across social media. You’ll end up with 50GB of free cloud storage, but note that you’ll have to suffer through advertisements.
The service has been around for a long time, and it has had plenty of time to work out some kinks, such as speed and ease-of-use for file management, though its security is still very poor compared to the competition.
MediaFire supports files up to 4GB in size, with no download limit. Apart from the impressive web version, the service is available for Android and iOS users through apps that work well, and have a few practical features, such as automatic photo and video syncing and streaming options.
Read our comprehensive MediaFire review to learn more about the platform.
What is cloud storage?
Cloud storage stores data on a physical drive, and shares it via an online software platform with users whenever and wherever they want to view it. Many providers rank among the best apps to share files as a result. It takes three main forms:
- self-hosted, using on-premises (on-prem) infrastructure
- storage as a service (StaaS), using third-party, externally-managed data center infrastructure for economy of scale and large, affordable storage levels
- hybrid cloud storage combines on-prem infrastructure and cloud
StaaS products are often called storage and syncing platforms, as they're designed for collaboration, allowing users to seamlessly upload, access, edit, track changes to, and share files from any connected device, thanks to cloud sync technology. This encompasses file versioning and link sharing, and consequently StaaS cloud storage products provide cohesive, integrated digital environments.
How secure is cloud storage?
Cloud storage services offer a range of security and encryption options, with two to keep an eye out for being end-to-end encryption and zero-knowledge architecture. End-to-end encryption means providers are essentially all but hack-proof, and zero-knowledge architecture means not even providers' staff can access data, even if law enforcement compels them to.
Also look for in-transit and at-rest encryption, which mean data is indecipherable even should it be intercepted. StaaS organizations' highly-secure data centers see data and infrastructure protected by round-the-clock security, biometric authorization for entry, and frequent security auditing.
It's also worth lookiing for features like multi-factor authentication (MFA), and all of this together means the best cloud storage services offer cutting-edge, strong security to protect your important data.