Cloud storage has become increasingly popular over the years because of its convenience. You can access your files wherever you are, and it's easy to share files with others, even big ones which are too large to attach to emails.

If you don't fancy paying a subscription for cloud storage, there are lots of free options: most of the well-known providers have a free tier (but not all). Typically, they offer 2 to 5GB of storage space so if you’re after anything more then you may have to pay. But a number of services including Google Drive and Mega will give 15GB of free storage.

Storage space is really the only difference between free cloud storage and paid-for plans: you're not sacrificing security, speed or features. Some services might display ads to help pay for free users, and on the odd occasion you might see a few restrictions on features, but that isn't usually the case.

Also, bear in mind that not all cloud storage offers end-to-end encryption, even if you're paying. This offers additional security for your files while they're being uploaded, but unless you have extremely sensitive data that absolutely cannot fall into the wrong hands, just about any cloud storage service will be secure enough for personal use. Read more about the security offered by cloud storage if this concerns you, and note that Mega and Drive do offer end-to-end encryption on both paid and free storage plans.

Since the services below are free, you can try out as many as you like until you find one you're happy with, and if you do get to a point where you run out of space to store all your files you can easily upgrade to a paid plan. (We've reviewed these in our separate roundup of the best cloud storage services.)

1

Google Drive

Google Drive
  • Pros
    • 15GB storage free
    • Deep integration with Google Docs
  • Cons
    • No end-to-end encryption

Google Drive offers 15GB of storage for free and if you already have a Google account then you have this already. It's shared across services such as Gmail and Photos, so you might find you've used a lot of space already and there isn't much left for documents.

Google Drive is installed on most Android devices, but iOS users can easily download the app and begin using the service, too0. 

Google Drive is the default saving location when you create a document, spreadsheet or presentation in Google's online office apps, but you can also use it to save Microsoft Office documents.

If you need more storage space, you can upgrade to a paid plan. These start from £1.59 ($1.99) per month for 100GB and you can share this with up to five people.

2

Mega

Mega
  • Pros
    • End-to-end encryption
    • 15GB+ free storage
  • Cons
    • Bandwidth may be limited for free users

Mega is a New Zealand-based cloud storage provider which is possibly best known for giving 50GB of storage away for free. But it recently dropped that down to 15GB. However, you can earn more storage (up to that 50GB) by doing certain things, such as referring friends.

One of Mega's highlights is that it's end-to-end encrypted, which is great news if you're looking for good security without paying. This does mean that if you forget your password (and don't have the recovery key from when you created the account), there's no way to reset it. That's a great example of the security versus convenience trade-off.

The only potential pitfall is that Mega says free users may run into bandwidth limits (and be prevented from uploading or downloading files), but this very much depends upon the spare capacity available on its network. And we've yet to be affected by this, so it's not a huge issue by any means.

Mega offers apps for various kinds of devices, so it's convenient to use. Unlike Google Drive, it doesn’t offer much in the way of integration with other platforms but most users - especially those wanting free cloud storage - won't be put off by that. And if you download the desktop app you can synchronise files on macOS, Windows and Linux.

If you start using Mega and then need to upgrade and get more storage plans start at £4.26 ($5.64) per month. This includes 400GB file storage and 1TB file transfer.

3

iDrive

iDrive
  • Pros
    • End-to-end encryption
  • Cons
    • Limited file-sharing options

iDrive is another well-known provider, although its main focus is backup rather than the file synchronisation that most cloud storage services use.

However, you can use iDrive as cloud storage and it offers 5GB of storage for free. 

There's support for a whole range of devices and once you sign up for an account it'll automatically install the desktop application to your computer (if you're using a web browser that supports it, that is). 

Paid plans start from $79.50 (£59.99) a year and that buys you a whopping 5TB of space. Pay $99.50 per year (around £75) and you'll get 10TB of storage.

However, if you just want cloud storage for your photos, iDrive offers a separate service - iDrive Photos - that gives you unlimited space for original-resolution images for just $4.95 per year (around £3.70)  - an absolute bargain!

4

Sync.com

Sync.com
  • Pros
    • End-to-end encryption
    • Collaboration tools
  • Cons
    • Only 5GB for free

Sync is a Canadian cloud storage provider that's designed mainly for business and enterprise use. However, it does operate a free tier which gives you 5GB of space to use. It's really for trying out the service, something that's true with many of the other free tiers from other providers here.

But even with the free plan you still get Microsoft Office and Slack integration as well as collaboration tools. Not massively useful if you're a consumer, but it's there nonetheless.

More relevant is the end-to-end encryption which keeps your files safe from prying eyes, and automatic photo upload from Android and iPhone.

Of course, if you do want cloud storage for photos, 5GB isn't going to be enough (just ask any iPhone owner using iCloud).

The good news is that the paid plans can be cheaper than iCloud and Google Drive. Opt for Solo Basic, for example, and you get 2TB of storage for $8 (£6) per month (which is billed annually at $96/£71). And that also provides 180 days of file recovery, allowing you to get back stuff you've deleted by accident. 

5

iCloud

Apple iCloud
  • Pros
    • Automatic backups
    • Reasonable pricing
  • Cons
    • Only 5GB free storage

iCloud is Apple’s cloud storage and while it's very Apple-centric, it can be used on non-Apple devices to some extent.

Of course, it works best when using on an Apple device as opposed to using it on Windows or Android for instance.

If you do have a Mac, iPhone or iPad, iCloud is the obvious choice as your cloud storage. Not only does iCloud support automatic backups from your devices (both full system backups as well as files and photos) but it also means you don't have to use a separate app: you simply use the normal Photos, Pages and other apps to view, edit and share your files. 

The biggest drawback is the fact that you only get 5GB of storage free: Apple has never increased this limit. To get more, you need to upgrade to a paid tier but prices are quite reasonable. For instance, it only costs £0.79/$0.99 per month for 50GB.

6

Dropbox

Dropbox
  • Pros
    • Easy file-sharing
    • Works lots of different apps and services
  • Cons
    • Only 2GB free

Dropbox is perhaps the best-known cloud storage provider. It supports a wide range of third-party apps and services, which means you save and share files from many popular apps, such as Microsoft Office, Slack and Zoom so that users can easily share files, create documents and even edit existing files directly in Dropbox.

Unfortunately, it only offers 2GB of storage for free and if you want more you have to buy at least 2TB of space (2000GB) which costs £7.99 ($9.99) per month, but you're billed annually, not monthly. If you want to pay monthly, prices go up to £9.99 ($12.99) per month.

You also get 30 days' file recovery and up to 2GB availability for file transfer.