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iCloud review 2021

iCloud is one of the best cloud storage platforms for Apple hardware owners

iCloud's homepage
(Image: © iCloud)

Our Verdict

For owners of iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks, Apple’s inbuilt iCloud storage platform is hard to pass up. It is deeply integrated, seamless to use, and exceptionally reliable.

Pros

  • Deep integration with iOS, macOS, and iPadOS
  • Standalone Photos app
  • Seamless device backup

Cons

  • Minimal end-to-end encryption
  • Only suitable for Apple hardware owners

In our iCloud review, we take a look at the features, pricing, performance, and support of one of the leading cloud storage providers on the market.

iCloud review: Snapshot

For users of iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks, iCloud’s deep integration with Apple’s operating systems make it a compelling cloud storage option. Expect seamless data syncing and automatic device backup while you sleep, with the Photos app included for an added bonus. 

However, iCloud might not be the most appropriate cloud storage platform for businesses if your employees use non-Apple devices. Although iCloud’s security and encryption framework isn’t as comprehensive as that of Microsoft’s OneDrive, it’s still satisfactory for most users. 

We also love the family features included in iCloud, making it perfect for families or small business teams. If you only use Apple devices and need a reliable, affordable, and feature-rich cloud storage platform for your business, iCloud should be high on your list. In fact, we think it’s one of the best cloud storage platforms available.

Score: 4/5

Read on for the full review. 


iCloud's competitors

Due to deep iOS and macOS integration and poor compatibility with Windows operating systems, iCloud is only really valuable for Apple device owners. If you use an Android or Windows device, Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive might be a better fit. However, when used with Apple products, iCloud comes out on top. 

In terms of security and encryption, OneDrive is the clear leader, providing unlimited end-to-end encryption through its Vault feature, with 256-bit encryption elsewhere. iCloud takes second place, with limited end-to-end encryption and a less robust 128-bit encryption level. Google Drive falls well behind here, with no end-to-end encryption offered and a vague privacy policy. 

Fortunately, all three platforms provide two-factor authentication (2FA)—a password and a secondary code, for example—which offers more security than using a password alone. In fact, 2FA is one of the easiest ways to protect your account against unauthorized access.

In terms of price, there is little to separate the platforms, although OneDrive is marginally more expensive. We think that iCloud takes the points for user experience, although OneDrive isn’t far behind. Both provide applications that are intuitive to use and packed with features. And although Google Drive isn’t bad, it doesn’t quite have the polish and ease of use of its competitors.

How does iCloud compare to its main competitors?
iCloudGoogle DriveMicrosoft OneDrive
Score4/54.5/54/5
ProsDeep integration with iOS, macOS, and iPadOS - Seamless device backupWorks well on most operating systems - Free access to Google Docs, Sheets, and FilesUnlimited end-to-end encryption with premium plans - Works well on most operating systems
ConsMinimal end-to-end encryption - Only suitable for Apple devicesWeak encryption framework - Vague privacy policy - Minimal device backup featuresMore expensive than iCloud or Google Drive - Not as deeply integrated as iCloud or Google Drive - No device backup for iOS or macOS
VerdictiCloud is one of the best cloud storage platforms for Apple users, although platform-wide end-to-end encryption is overdue Google Drive is interoperable across most operating systems, although a sub-standard security framework is worryingOneDrive is a feature-rich and highly secure cloud storage platform providing a premium user experience when bundled with Microsoft 365
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Key features

Photos automatically sorts and uploads all pictures taken on Apple devices to the cloud, and provides a wide range of organization and sharing features. For example, users can create shared albums with friends and family, or search content by media type (such as panoramas, selfies, or videos). 

Another feature we like is the ability to search photos by location. If you’ve taken pictures on any new iPhone or Android phone, it’s likely that location data is automatically linked to your photos, enabling you to view your image library on a map. 

These features and a few others have convinced us that Photos makes iCloud one of the best platforms for securely storing images and videos on the cloud. iCloud has a robust and reliable encryption framework, although it isn’t as impressive as the most secure cloud storage platforms, which may be of concern to businesses dealing with a lot of data. 

The good news is that the provider offers end-to-end data encryption for Apple Pay, iCloud Keychain, and the Health app. This is important because it means no one, not even Apple employees, can access your most sensitive data. 

That said, iCloud doesn’t provide end-to-end encryption for all other data. Instead, files are stored using the AES 128-bit encryption standard, which is much less secure than 256-bit or end-to-end encryption. However, it is still strong enough for most users to feel safe, and is unlikely to be compromised.

iCloud: Key features and highlights

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iCloud's homepage

iCloud Photos is a powerhouse at managing images and videos stored on the cloud (Image credit: iCloud)
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iCloud's webpage discussing its security features

All iCloud data is encrypted, but end-to-end encryption platform wide is lacking (Image credit: iCloud)
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iCloud's webpage discussing its backups

iCloud backs up your device automatically every night (Image credit: iCloud)
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iCloud's webpage discussing its backups

iCloud Drive enables users to upload and organize all their files directly in iCloud (Image credit: iCloud)

One of the most critical features of any cloud storage platform is its backup functionality. Knowing that your mobile and laptop data is safe and secure is, for most users and especially businesses, the top priority when investing in cloud storage.

iCloud is a leader in this department, offering seamless device backup and restoration. After linking an Apple device to your iCloud account, it will be automatically backed up every night when connected to WiFi and plugged into a charging outlet. So if you ever lose your device, you can quickly restore data on a new device.

Another unique strength of iCloud is its cloud syncing capabilities. Almost every app you use on your iPhone, iPad, or MacBook will sync its data to iCloud, ensuring you never lose a thing. This includes both Apple and third-party apps.

iCloud Drive is a component that will be familiar to users of other cloud storage platforms. It enables you to upload and organize files of all types, create folders, and share documents with friends, family, or colleagues. Unlike the cloud syncing feature, iCloud Drive is not tied to any device or application. Instead, it encompasses individual files and folders uploaded directly to iCloud. 

A simple and intuitive drag-and-drop interface makes iCloud Drive highly accessible, while seamless syncing across all connected devices means you will always have access to a file when you need it. Although there is nothing particularly innovative about iCloud Drive and the web app is somewhat uninspiring, it is reliable, easy to use, and will perform as described.

There is a client for Windows devices, but not for Android devices.

What’s new?

The most significant recent change to iCloud is the introduction of Apple One, a bundled package providing users with access to several Apple services under one subscription. iCloud is included in all Apple One plans, so potential customers will need to consider whether an Apple One or a standalone iCloud subscription is most suited for them. 

For example, if you are wedded to the Apple ecosystem, an Apple One subscription might provide better value for money than a standalone iCloud plan. iCloud’s features and functionality remain the same whether you purchase it through an Apple One plan or an iCloud subscription.

Pricing

Pricing is based on the amount of storage space needed. Subscriptions start at 5GB of storage, increasing to 50GB, 200GB, and 2TB. Family sharing is included in the 200GB and 2TB plans, and it is the only feature not offered across the four subscriptions. 

We like the iCloud pricing model, because potential customers only have to worry about how much storage space they require, with no need to compare feature lists and bundles.

iCloud's pricing plans
Plan type/featureFree (5GB)50GB200GB2TB
Cost per month$0$0.99$2.99$9.99
Cost per year$0$11.88$35.88*$119.88
File Sharing
iCloud Photos
2FA
Family sharingXX

Testing iCloud

To better benchmark iCloud against its competitors, we analyzed its upload speeds, which are a key factor in terms of cloud storage, and the response times for its customer support.

How fast is iCloud?

To assess speed, we conducted the same test across iCloud, Microsoft OneDrive, and Google Drive for comparison. Although iCloud wasn’t able to handle a 5GB upload and download as quickly as Microsoft OneDrive, it was faster than Google Drive.

Uploading the 5GB file took 2 minutes 25 seconds while downloading the same file took 1 minute 3 seconds. This is roughly 30% slower than OneDrive, but 5% faster than Google Drive. All tests were conducted on the same WiFi network at roughly the same time. Our baseline network speed was 53 Mbps download and 19 Mbps upload. 

Therefore, while iCloud wasn’t the fast cloud storage platform we tested, it was still impressive. 

How responsive is iCloud's customer support?

iCloud's support webpage

iCloud’s support team were responsive and professional (Image credit: iCloud )

All iCloud customers can contact Apple support by phone or online chat during business hours. While some providers offer 24/7 support, many don’t include phone support, so Apple is still a strong performer. 

To test iCloud’s customer service, we logged a series of hypothetical problems with its support team, and asked to speak with a representative on the phone. We assessed how long it took to receive a reply and how helpful the advice was. 

The good news is that we were able to speak on the phone to an Apple representative within three minutes. While this is fairly impressive, phone support is only available during business hours. Outside of business hours, you’re limited to online chat. 

The agent quickly identified the source of our link-sharing issue and provided an effective solution. With the entire process taking just under seven minutes, we give Apple iCloud full marks for rapid and personalized support. Users can also access the online help center, which includes community forums and how-to guides.

The competition

iCloud’s closest competitors are Microsoft OneDrive and Google Drive, both of which also offer their own hardware. 

iCloud, however, separates itself from the competition by appealing directly to Apple device users. When using iCloud on an Apple device, everything is uploaded and synced in the background. The user rarely has to intervene. 

Therefore, few storage platforms can compete with iCloud in terms of ease-of-use and integration (when used on an Apple device). Although using Google Drive on a Google device or OneDrive on a Microsoft device will maximize how much you get out of the two platforms' features, iCloud still stands out as the best platform in this area. 

iCloud and OneDrive trump Google Drive, however, in terms of their superior security frameworks (OneDrive is more impressive than iCloud in this respect), as well as their more aesthetically pleasing and intuitive user experience. Learn more about these other two platforms in our OneDrive review and our Google Drive review.

iCloud's features compared to the competition
iCloudGoogle DriveMicrosoft OneDrive
End-to-end encryptionSomeNoYes
Maximum storage2TB2TB6TB
SupportBusiness-hours chat and phone24/7 chat and phone24/7 chat and phone
Basic plan$0.99 a month$1.99 a month$1.99 a month

The verdict

If your business predominantly uses iPhones, MacBooks, or iPads, we think iCloud should be one of your top choices for a cloud storage platform. The depth of integration between Apple operating systems and iCloud is compelling, because it provides seamless data syncing and backup across several devices. 

On iCloud, all your app data is stored in the cloud. The addition of iCloud Files also provides a more familiar drag-and-drop cloud storage experience. Although end-to-end encryption on iCloud is long overdue, the platform protects data at a level that will satisfy most small-business users. Larger corporations, however, might want to look elsewhere. 

Another strong point is family sharing. This makes it easy to share photos, music, passwords, and files between a work team (or family), making iCloud arguably one of the best-in-class for collaborative features. 

If you’re an individual or small business looking for a cloud storage platform to support your Apple hardware, iCloud is likely to be your best bet. If, however, top-quality security is non-negotiable, you might want to look elsewhere.

The Verdict
4

out of 5

iCloud review 2021

For owners of iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks, Apple’s inbuilt iCloud storage platform is hard to pass up. It is deeply integrated, seamless to use, and exceptionally reliable.