The Best Cloud Storage Options for the iPad

Free space on your iPad with cloud storage

Cloud storage is the easiest way to expand the storage capabilities of your iPad. Not only can you get precious gigabytes of free or affordable cloud storage space, but it also serves as a built-in backup for your data. No matter what happens to your device, the files stored in the cloud remain in the cloud, ready for you to download them.

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 getting your desktop PC to see the same files as your laptop, smartphone, and iPad. The ability to work on the same document from multiple devices can be of immeasurable benefit.

How Cloud Storage Works

Cloud storage refers to storing your files on a computer that resides at Google, Microsoft, Apple, or another data center. The hard drives that store those files tend to be backed up and better protected than the drive in your PC or the storage on your iPad, so you have the added value of protection. This makes cloud storage a more secure option than buying an external hard drive for your iPad.

Cloud storage works by syncing your files to your devices. For a computer, that means downloading a piece of software that sets up a 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 to the folder on your computer.

For the iPad, this same thing happens within the app for the cloud service. You have access to the files you save on your computer or 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 good and not-so-good points, which you should review before you decide which cloud service is right for you.

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Apple iCloud Drive

iCloud home screen
What We Like
  • Seamless integration with iOS.

  • Free storage available.

  • Relatively inexpensive paid plans.

What We Don't Like
  • Lacks useful search abilities.

  • Only some file types can be edited in the cloud.

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 Photos.

As expected, iCloud Drive is an excellent all-purpose storage solution for the iPad. Although it shines in an iOS-centric world, it is somewhat limiting for users who share the workload between computer, tablet, and smartphone. It doesn't offer the same document editing, in-document searching, and other extras offered by the competition.

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

iCloud Photos is the easiest way to keep cloud backups of your photos if you use the iPad and the iPhone.

A free iCloud account comes with 5GB of storage space, but some people with large photo and video libraries may want to bump up to the $0.99 a month 50GB plan. Other plan options include $2.99 a month for 200GB of storage and $9.99 a month for 2TB.

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Dropbox free account screen
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 significant bonus. For example, iCloud Drive works great with Apple's Pages, Numbers, and Keynote apps. However, sometimes, not having a tie-in to a major platform is an asset, which is the case with Dropbox.

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

Dropbox falls on the more expensive side, offering only 2GB of free space and charging $120 a year for 2TB 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. For light editing, such as adding text or a signature, you don't need to load Acrobat. Dropbox even comes with a document scanner, although if you have extensive needs in the scanning department, you should go with a dedicated app.

Dropbox has robust search capabilities and supports saving files off-site and sharing them across the web.

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Box cloud storage
What We Like
  • 10GB 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.

  • Free plan has 250 MB limit.

  • No PDF editing.

Box is 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 to leave comments on documents, which is great for collaboration. You can edit text files on Box 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 like Dropbox.

One nice bonus of Box is the 10GB of free storage, which is among the highest of any cloud storage service. Although the free storage plan limits the file upload size to 250MB, it is attractive for moving photos ​off the iPad. The premium plan ups the file size upload limit to 5GB and the overall storage to 100GB for just $10 a month.

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Microsoft OneDrive

Microsoft One Drive cloud storage
What We Like
  • 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 ideal for heavy users of Microsoft Office. It interacts seamlessly with Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and other Microsoft products. It also does a great job of marking up PDF files without leaving the app.

Similar to Dropbox and a few other cloud services, you can set OneDrive to automatically back up your photos and videos. It is fast when loading previews for all files except 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 viewing documents, it makes the process much more awkward.

The best deal on OneDrive is the Microsoft 365 Personal plan that gives 1TB of storage and access to Microsoft 365 for just $6.99 a month.

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Google Drive

Google Drive cloud storage
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.

What Microsoft's OneDrive is to Microsoft's apps, Google Drive is to Google's apps. Google Drive goes hand-in-hand with Google Docs, Forms, and Calendar. However, for everyone else, Google Drive is light on features, has an uninspiring interface and is the slowest of any to sync your files.

Google Drive offers the ability to back up your photos automatically, and it is fairly quick when previewing documents. The search capabilities are lacking and other than editing Google documents in Google's apps, it is fairly light in the content creation department.

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

Google Drive offers a bargain with its Google One storage plan that comes with 100GB for $1.99 a month deal or 200GB for $2.99 per month. The price jumps up to $9.99 a month for 2TB, but if you only need that 100GB, the $2 deal is attractive.

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