Originally written on June 2, 2011. Updated on June 2, 2011 to include SugarSync.
With more and more people using their smartphones for more work than play, it is becoming increasingly important to have access to files across all platforms. In other words, many people desire a way to easily share files between their PC and their smartphone without a) having to be in close vicinity of their PC and b) without having to be connected with a wired. This is where cloud storage comes in. Cloud storage – also known as file syncer, file syncing, online backup, online storage, remote backup, or remote storage – is a way to upload files to a remote server from one device (i.e. your PC or smartphone) and access files on another device (i.e. your PC or smartphone) without having to have both devices be close or connected.
Before I discuss the best free cloud storage apps, I would like to clarify a point. A good cloud storage app is useless if it is not backed by a good cloud storage service; to a large degree the success of a cloud storage app depends on the quality of the service behind it. While this article is not a review of cloud storage services, when reviewing cloud storage apps I took into consideration the quality of the cloud storage service behind that app.
That said, let’s start exploring!
Table of Contents
App Name: Dropbox
Developer: Dropbox, Inc.
Download Size: 2.8 MB
Version Reviewed: v1.1.3
Requires: Android 1.5 and up
- Allows users to easily download files from and upload files to their Dropbox accounts.
- Alllows users to delete files.
- Syncs with a user’s Dropbox account, showing up-to-date information for all existing files and folders.
- Allows users to easily share files with others, either via a Dropbox direct download link or downloading the file on your phone then sharing it through e-mail, MMS, or any other app that supports file input.
- Integrates in Android’s “Send To”/”Share” context menu, allowing users to easily upload files to Dropbox.
- Has a search function.
- Has the ability to lock the app, requiring a 4 digit passcode to open.
- Has the option to wipe all Dropbox data from the phone if the passcode has been entered wrongly 10 times.
- Can be installed on SD card.
- Lacks the folder-sync capabilities such as the what is found with Dropbox’s desktop clients.
- Cannot move or rename files or folders.
- Cannot delete folders.
- Cannot create new shared folders.
- Doesn’t show how much storage space is used/left in a user’s account.
- Allows file direct download links to be copied to clipboard or pasted into any app that accepts text input (such as e-mail or SMS) but needs a way to show the direct download link to files on screen within the Dropbox app.
- Lacks the ability to use a pattern for locking the app instead of a 4 digit passcode.
- Connects with one Dropbox account; makes it cumbersome to logout and switch to other Dropbox accounts.
- There is an upload file size limit of 300 MB.
Despite recent security concerns, Dropbox is an excellent cross-platform cloud storage/file backup/file sync service. Dropbox offers free 2 GB of storage space (that can be increased by a few GB at no extra charge) with the option for users to upgrade to 50 GB/100 GB accounts for a monthly fee. The Dropbox app for Android is the official app by Dropbox Inc. that connects to Dropbox accounts. (The Dropbox app works with free and paid accounts.)
The Dropbox app for Android allows users to easily download files from their Dropbox account, and upload files to their Dropbox account. (Note: Files larger than 300 MB cannot be uploaded via the Android app.) The Dropbox app syncs with users’ Dropbox account, so all files and folders shown are up-to-date. Take note, however, the Dropbox app for Android does not have the same folder-sync feature that the desktop client has. I am not saying the files/folders you see in the Dropbox app are not up-to-date; as I just said, everything you see in the Dropbox app is up-to-date with your Dropbox account. What I am saying is on your PC you can download the Dropbox program and the program syncs the Dropbox folder on your computer with your Dropbox account: Any new files are immediately uploaded, file modifications are synced, etc. The Android app does not have this. Yes, there is a “dropbox” folder. However, that folder is not synced with your Dropbox account: Putting a file in the “dropbox” folder will only upload to your Dropbox account if the Dropbox app is running. If the Dropbox app is not running, nothing will happen. (It does, however, delete files from the “dropbox” folder once the files are deleted from the Dropbox account.)
On one hand some users may find the lack of the folder-sync functionality to be annoying. On the other hand, however, not having a folder-sync capability means Dropbox is not always running in the background. This means it doesn’t have excess drain on your battery. Some users may prefer having the folder-sync function, while others will prefer the the battery savings. To appease all users I suggest Dropbox adds this folder-sync feature as an optional feature which users can easily toggle on/off.
That said, long-tapping on a file opens up a menu that allows users to:
Opening a file downloads the file to your phone, then opens the file in your default viewer. For example, if you open a PDF it will be downloaded and opened in your PDF reader. Download downloads files into the “dropbox” folder; the folder is viewable through any file manager. Share allows users to share files with others, either with a direct download link to the file (a URL shortner is used so the direct download link isn’t very long) which people can visit and download the file or by downloading the file to your phone then sharing it through any app that accepts file input like e-mail or MMS. Delete deletes files.
In regards to sharing files, I found one thing to be very annoying. When sharing files through a direct download link, Dropbox allows you to paste the download link into any app that accepts text input, such as e-mail or SMS, or you can copy the download link to the clipboard and manually paste it wherever you want. However, the app does not give you the option to view the direct download link from right within the app (such as in a popup box). I find this to be very annoying because sometimes I don’t necessarily want to share the direct download link with others. Rather, I want to use the direct download link to quickly download the file on a computer I am on (such as a public computer). To do this I have to copy the download link to clipboard and paste it in a text editor or in draft SMS so I can view the download link and type it on my PC. I would like Dropbox to add the ability to view the direct download link from directly within the Dropbox app.
The Dropbox app for Android isn’t perfect; as you can see in the “Cons” list above, there are still some features missing. However, compared to the competition, the Dropbox app for Android is a very good app backed by a very good service. Without a doubt, this app is the best free cloud storage app.
App Name: SugarSync
Developer: SugarSync, Inc.
Download Size: 1.1 MB
Version Reviewed: v3.2.2
Requires: Android 1.5 and up
SugarSync is a cross platform cloud storage service that focuses on syncing files across devices. While it does have paid options, users can get 5 GB of free storage with SugarSync.
With SugarSync users can download files from their SugarSync account, and upload files to their SugarSync account. Additionally, SugarSync can actually sync files: It has the “folder-sync” feature mentioned above, with users having the option to select which folders they want to sync. SugarSync also has the ability to sync all photo files: Any new photos – such as ones taken with your phone’s camera – are instantly synced with the SugarSync account. Both autosync features – folders and photos – are optional (you can turn them off, if you want), users can control the interval the syncs occur (default is set to 1 hour), set autosync to turn off when roaming, and set autosync to only happen when connected to WiFi (enabled by default).
Obviously the advantage of SugarSync over Dropbox is the sync feature which Dropbox lacks. However, on the flip side, because SugarSync syncs files, it is continuously running in the background and drains battery faster than the Dropbox app. In addition to draining battery faster, running as a service means SugarSync cannot be installed/moved to the SD card.
Interestingly enough, I found uploads to Dropbox to be faster than uploads to SugarSync*; downloads were of similar speed. I also found the Dropbox app to be superior in regards to sharing files. While Dropbox adds itself to Android’s “Send To”/”Share” menu and allows users to share files via direct download or by actually sending the files (such as through e-mail or MMS), the only way SugarSync allows users to share files is by e-mailing people a direct download link; and even that is buggy. I tried to share a file with an e-mail address twice. The first time gave me an error message telling me the share failed; the second time it told me the share went through just fine. Turns out, both times it worked just fine. To bash on SugarSync’s file sharing capabilities a little more, when sharing files through e-mail, the e-mail is plastered with SugarSync ads and reveals to the e-mail recipient the e-mail address associated with the SugarSync account that shared the file. That means I cannot use SugarSync to share files with anyone whom I don’t want to have my e-mail address.
(*Note: The Dropbox app has a 300 MB file size upload limit. I am do not know if the SugarSync app also has an upload file size limit and, if so, what that limit is set at.)
All in all, like the Dropbox app SugarSync has its drawbacks; but overall it is still a good app. In regards to Dropbox vs SugarSync, I find the Dropbox app to be superior than that of SugarSync. However, for those users looking for an app that syncs files as opposed to just cloud storage, SugarSync is the way to go.
App Name: Wuala
Download Size: 2.2 MB
Version Reviewed: v1.18.12
Requires: Android 2.1 and up
Wuala is a another cross-platform cloud storage service that competes against Dropbox. While Wuala provide half the free storage of Dropbox (1 GB), it claims to be more secure and privacy oriented. Recent reports by some PhD students seem to imply the same conclusion. (An FYI, I find Wuala’s connection to be a lot slower than Dropbox’s. However, may be primarily due to the fact that I live further from Wuala servers than Dropbox servers: Wuala is based in Europe with servers in Europe whereas Dropbox is based in USA with servers in USA.)
The Wuala app for Android is the official app from Wuala. While I am sure the decision of Dropbox app vs Wuala app will highly depend on which service you use (I doubt many people will switch services based on which one has a better Android app), even with its shortcomings the Dropbox app is far superior than the Wuala app.
The Wuala app is cumbersome to upload files with (it doesn’t integrate with the “Send To” context menu like Dropbox does and it requires users to have specific apps installed to upload files, such as the “IO file manager” if users want to upload any files beside image/video/audio files); it doesn’t have any file sharing features; it is continually running in the background (if it had a folder-sync feature, it would make sense to continually run in the background, but it doesn’t have this feature so it makes no sense to continually run in the background); you cannot signup for a new Wuala account from the app (you must have an existing account); etc.
App Name: sorami-skydrive Beta
Download Size: 254 KB
Version Reviewed: v0.5.1
Requires: Android 1.6 and up
Sorami-skydrive is an app that connects to SkyDrive accounts. The app is still in beta so it has some bugs (some users have trouble logging in) and is not fully integrated with all SkyDrive account features. Nonetheless, it is a good app for accessing your SkyDrive account and I thought I should throw it out there for SkyDrive users.