The cloud storage scene has changed a lot since Dropbox launched in 2007, propelled by the falling cost of storage, the rising speed of internet connections, and the proliferation of powerful mobile devices. There is no shortage of options for your storage needs, many of which are free. So why would you pay for it?
Dropbox’s original valuable feature—syncing your files effortlessly across multiple devices—now comes standard on Windows, macOS, Android, and iOS. Unfortunately, you only get a paltry 2 GB of space with free Dropbox accounts, which isn’t enough to do anything serious. (Google Drive, for its part, starts you off at 15 GB for free.) If you’re going to use Dropbox, then you need to pay the $12 a month for a Plus account or $20 a month for a Professional account. Surprisingly, there are a few features that might make a Dropbox subscription worth it for you.
iCloud’s online word processor isn’t much to write home about; Microsoft offers a free version of Word on the web which feels like a desktop app crammed into a browser; and while Google Docs is undoubtedly impressive, it’s not as streamlined as it once was.
Enter Dropbox Paper: Part online word processor, part collaborative workspace, it’s built with the web and with sharing as top priorities. It’s super-light, super-responsive, and packed with more features than its minimal aesthetic might suggest. Non-paying users can get involved too, so we recommend trying it out if you haven’t already.
And of course, it all integrates very neatly into Dropbox as a whole. If you’re working on Android or iOS, it’s just as easy to make edits, add comments, and keep up to date as it is if you’re working on the web.
One of the newer features added to the Dropbox stable, Dropbox Rewind, acts like a time machine for your files. You can jump back to a particular point in time and undo any recent changes (such as those wrought by a virus or a particularly over-eager colleague).
If you’ve got a Plus account, you can go back 30 days; if you’ve got a Professional account, you’ve got 180 days of leeway. File edits, renames, additions, and deletions get undone, actions in shared folders get rolled back, and so on. You can make the change from the web or the desktop.
Changes can be restricted to just one folder, if necessary. It’s only one of several ‘undo’ options that Dropbox provides—including file version history—that are more comprehensive and more intuitive than anything offered by the Apple, Google, or Microsoft services.
One of the biggest reasons to upgrade to the top Professional level of Dropbox is for access to the Showcase feature. It essentially turns your Dropbox folder (or part of it) into one massive portfolio, where you can share files of most common types on the web, either individually or as collections.
Say you have a group of designs to show off, or a series of presentations, or several videos—Dropbox Showcase takes the pain out of sharing them because your intended audience gets a simple link. In our experience, everything works in the browser quickly and elegantly, adding to the usefulness of a Dropbox sub.
Comments can be added and monitored, and from your end, you can see who has viewed the stuff you’ve put up. Messages and logos can be added alongside your work too, and the layout editor is a breeze to use, if you want to tweak how everything looks.
Want your files on all your computers and devices? Or just some of them? Would you rather free up space on your hard drive and keep all your stuff in the cloud? Dropbox makes working through all these permutations a lot easier than it really should be.
Selective Sync (choosing which folders appear on which computers) has now been augmented with Smart Sync: That means files can live in the cloud but still look as though they’re on your hard drive (as soon as you need them, they get downloaded). What’s more, Dropbox will automatically shift older, unused files to cloud-only mode, if you want.
It’s with this sort of cloud-first thinking that Dropbox is staying ahead of iCloud, Google Drive, and OneDrive—though you can do something similar with those services too, in our experience, it’s just easier and more intuitive with Dropbox, for now.
This is one area where Dropbox has always excelled and led the way (iCloud Drive is finally getting folder sharing this September, by the way). It’s one of the best ways to share files, whether it’s one image or a group of huge folders.
You can set who can see and do what with the shares you create, you can set up passwords and expiry dates if needed, you can easily pass on files to non-Dropbox users, and so on. Use email addresses, or a link, or a plug-in to like Slack, it’s up to you.
This ties in with a recently launched feature called Dropbox Transfer: A way of sending big batches of files (up to 100GB) and then forgetting about it. It’s like email attachments, but super-charged. The feature is in beta now, and rolling out to all users soon.