The Best Cloud Storage Options for the iPad

Woman in living room with cloud above head
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Cloud storage is the easiest way to expand the storage capabilities of your iPad. Not only can you get precious gigabytes (GB) of storage space for free, cloud storage is also a built-in backup for your data. No matter what happens to your device, the files stored in the cloud will remain in the cloud ready for you to download them.

But cloud services aren't just about expanding your storage options. They are also about collaboration -- whether this collaboration is working on documents with your co-workers or simply getting your desktop PC to see the same files as your laptop and as your smartphone and as your iPad. The ability to work on the same document from multiple devices can be of immeasurable benefit. So how does it work?

It's not quite as magical as it seems. Cloud storage simply means that you are storing your files on a computer that happens to reside at Google, Microsoft or Apple or another data center. Even better, the hard drive that stores those files tends to be backed up and better protected than the hard drive in your PC or the Flash storage on your iPad, so you get the added value of protection. This makes cloud storage a more secure option than buying an external hard drive for your iPad.

Cloud storage serves work by syncing your files to your devices. For a PC, that means downloading a piece of software that will set up a special folder on your hard drive. This folder acts like any other folder on your computer except for one difference: the files are regularly scanned and uploaded to the cloud server and new or updated files are downloaded back to the folder on your PC.

For the iPad, this same thing happens within the app for the cloud service. You have access to the files you've saved on your PC or your smartphone and can easily save new photos and documents from your iPad to your cloud storage.

There's no one "best" cloud storage option. Each has their good and bad points, so let's go over the best options and point out why they might be right (or wrong!) for you.

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Apple iCloud Drive

What We Like

  • Seemless integration into iOS.

  • Free storage available.

  • Relatively inexpensive paid plans.

What We Don't Like

  • Lacks useful searching abilities.

  • Can't edit files in-app.

Apple's iCloud Drive is already part of the fabric of every iPad. iCloud Drive is where the iPad saves backups and is used for iCloud Photo Library. But is it worth expanding past the 5 GB of free storage offered to every iPad user?

As expected, iCloud Drive is a good all-purpose storage solution for most iPad apps that have cloud capabilities. It is written into the DNA of the iPad, so it should be a good all-around solution. But it shines the best in an iOS-centric world, and for those who share the workload between PC, tablet, and smartphone, iCloud Drive tends to be the most limiting. It simply doesn't have the same document editing, in-document searching and other extras offered by the competition.

One area where it rules the roost is refresh speed. It's lightning quick to get a file you just popped into your iCloud Drive folder on your PC to show up on your iPad.

Despite the faults for folks in the non-iOS world, many people may want to bump up to the $.99 a month 50 GB plan simply for device backups and iCloud Photo Library. If your entire family uses iOS devices, it's easy to use more storage for backups than is freely available. While iCloud Photo Library has its faults, it is still the easiest way to keep cloud backups of your photos if you use the iPad and the iPhone. Other plan options include $2.99 a month for 200 GB of storage and $9.99 a month for 2 TB.

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What We Like

  • Free plan available.

  • Useful sharing options.

  • Previews most file types.

  • Camera upload support.

  • Edits some files.

  • Sorting options.

What We Don't Like

  • Can't preview archives.

  • Pricey paid plans.

Sometimes a tie-in to a platform is a major bonus. For example, iCloud Drive works great with Apple's iWork suite. And sometimes, not having a tie-in to a major platform is a major asset, which is the case with Dropbox.

While the choice of cloud storage will come down to your particular needs, the big advantage of Dropbox is how well it works with all platforms. Do you use Microsoft Office a lot? No problem. More of an Apple iWork person? Not an issue.

Dropbox falls on the more expensive side, giving only 2 GB of free space and charging $99 a year for 1 TB of storage, but it is worth it if you need the flexibility to work with any platform. Dropbox is one of the few cloud storage options that allow you to boot into Adobe Acrobat to edit PDF files on your iPad, and for light editing such as adding text or a signature, you don't even need to load Acrobat. Dropbox even comes with a document scanner, although if you have major needs in the scanning department it is better to go with a dedicated app.

Dropbox also supports saving files offsite, sharing them across the web and has robust search capabilities.

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What We Like

  • Lots of free storage space.

  • Advanced settings.

  • Offline access.

  • Simple and easy to use.

  • Several search filtering options.

  • Collaboration features.

What We Don't Like

  • Sometimes slow.

  • Occasional syncing problems.

It is fitting to put Box next on the list because it is the closest to Dropbox in terms of being an independent solution. It has many of the same features as Dropbox, including the ability to save documents for offline use and the ability to leave comments on documents, which is great for collaboration. Box also allows you to edit text files right in the iPad app, which is awesome. However, it doesn't allow PDF editing and isn't quite as ubiquitous in working with other apps as Dropbox.

One really nice bonus of is the 10 GB of free storage. This is some of the highest of any cloud storage service. However, the free storage limits the file size to 250 MB. This makes it attractive for moving photos ​off the iPad. The premium plan ups the file size limit to 2 GB and the overall storage to 100 GB for just $5 a month.

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Microsoft OneDrive

What We Like

  • Free plan is completely usable.

  • Inexpensive paid plans.

  • Drag-and-drop support.

  • Built-in file previewing.

  • Multiple account login.

What We Don't Like

  • Editing requires other apps.

  • No advanced link sharing options.

  • Few customizable settings.

As expected, Microsoft's cloud storage options are awesome for heavy users of Microsoft Office. It has great interaction with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and other Microsoft products. It also does the best job of marking up PDF files without leaving the iPad app.

Similar to Dropbox and a few other cloud services, you can set OneDrive to automatically back up your photos and videos. It is also very fast when loading previews for all files except those noted Microsoft files. For a Word document or Excel spreadsheet, OneDrive launches the Word or Excel app. This is great for times when you intend to edit the document, but for simply viewing documents, it makes the process much more awkward.

OneDrive allows 5 GB of free storage and has a cheap $1.99 a month plan with 50 GB of storage. However, the best deal is the Office 365 Personal plan that gives 1 TB of storage and access to Microsoft Office for just $6.99 a month.

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Google Drive

What We Like

  • Lots of free storage.

  • Fluid drag-and-drop.

  • Mimics the desktop version.

  • Save files for offline access.

  • Sharing options.

  • Advanced search tool.

What We Don't Like

  • Storage is shared with other Google services.

  • Doesn't automatically upload files.

  • Editing documents requires other apps.

  • Can't make new text files.

As Microsoft's OneDrive is with Microsoft's apps, so is Google Drive with Google's apps. If you use Google Docs, Forms, Calendar, etc, Google Drive will certainly go hand-in-hand with these apps. But for everyone else, Google Drive is light on features, has a dull and uninspiring interface and is the slowest of any to sync your files.

Google Drive does offer the ability to backup your photos automatically, and it is fairly quick when previewing document. But as irony would have it, the search capabilities are fairly lacking and other than editing Google documents in Google's apps, it is fairly light in the content creation department.

Google Drive gives a whopping 15 GB of storage for free, but this is somewhat offset by Gmail eating into that storage -- something you'll experience if you tend to save emails indefinitely. 

Luckily, Google Drive offers a nice bargain with their 100 GB for $1.99 a month deal. The price jumps up to $9.99 a month for 1 TB, which is on par with other services, but if you only need that 100 GB, the $2 deal is very good.