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If your phone's full of photos and videos, or you need to back up your computer, you can use free online storage services to bag yourself 35GB+ of free extra space. This guide explains how online storage services work and how to make sure they're safe, then rounds up the best of the free services out there.
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Online storage systems, or 'cloud' services as they're also known, allow you to store digital media online by uploading via your computer or mobile device. Though transferred and accessible via the web, the data is actually physically held on mammoth servers, often owned by whoever provides the particular service you use (Google, Microsoft etc).
Once you've registered then downloaded and installed any relevant software or app, you can either back up files manually or adjust the settings so that certain folders (such as the one you keep your photos in, for example) are backed up automatically. You can then delete backed up files from your device to free up space.
You can also access your files via your web browser by logging into your online storage account at the relevant company's website.
Most services let you share your photos, videos and documents with friends and family by generating special links too.
Below we list the top free online storage options, including where's best to store photos at higher resolution. There's no limit to the number you can use – so depending on how much space you need you could sign up for them all and grab 35GB+ of storage for free.
One of the main things to consider when it comes to using cloud storage is security, as you are relying on the service to keep your files secure. If your account is hacked, there's a chance any files stored there could be stolen and used for the likes of identity theft, so always weigh up the risks before uploading anything that contains sensitive info.
Cloud storage companies typically use encryption to keep your information safe and two-step verification to ensure the right person has access to the account.
Encryption scrambles your data so that anyone unauthorised is unable to get to it. The strength of the encryption is at three levels, starting at 128-bit, rising to 192-bit and with 256-bit as the most secure. Two-step verification involves sending a notification or text message to your mobile phone that will ask you to respond or enter a code when logging in or amending your account to prove you're the authorised account holder.
See below for our full help on how to keep your account secure.
The level of storage you'll need depends on what you'll be using it for. If you typically only back up documents and emails, then 5GB will be plenty for most. If you want to back up photos, music or videos then you'll probably need more.
It's impossible to estimate exactly how many files you can store in a set allowance, since it very much depends on the resolution of your photos/videos and quality of your music files.
As a general rule of thumb, 10GB should allow for about 2,500 high-resolution photos, about an hour of full-HD video OR 2,500 songs.
There are a whole load of online storage services available, with many offering free space – typically 15GB or less. They're largely similar in what they do, although a few have special functions. There's no limit to the number you can use – sign up for them all and you can grab tens of GB for nowt. Yet be aware these services can and do change the amount of free storage they offer, though they'll usually give you plenty of prior warning.
We've also info on specialist free photo storage services, which only let you store photos and videos.
If you have a Google account (eg, if you're a Gmail user), you can use Google Drive to store and access files wherever you are. Google accounts are free to create.
What you get for free: 15GB of free storage. This allowance is spread across three Google services - Google Drive, Gmail and Google Photos (for high-res photos - Google Photos gives free unlimited storage for photos of 16 megapixels or less).
As Google Drive uses your Google account login details, it's important you keep these safe. Google offers some top tips on making your account more secure.
With Google Drive covering three services, consider at how to make the most of the free space so you don't have to buy more. Try converting PDFs to Google Docs documents and giving your Gmail inbox a spring clean. It's also worth clearing out your Google Drive trash as any deleted files in there will continue to take up space..
Although more geared towards businesses, Box offers personal plans too. You can install the desktop app for syncing between your computer's hard drive and your account, or download the mobile app to upload and access files online from your smartphone or tablet.
What you get for free: 10GB with an individual file size limit of 250MB.
If you pay: For £4/month you get 100GB of space, and a file size limit of 2GB. Compare this with others.
Box offers the ability to share files via links with passwords, expiration dates and restricted download access, as well as assign tasks, leave comments and get notifications when files are altered. This makes it particularly useful if you store and access files for collaborative work regularly.
Popular with MSE's tech team, OneDrive (previously SkyDrive) is Microsoft's free online storage offering. You need to have an Outlook.com (previously Hotmail or Live Mail) account, but as this email service is free, it's worth setting one up just for the free storage.
What you get for free: 5GB. Students get 1TB of storage free.
If you pay: 100GB costs £1.99/month. Those who subscribe to Office 365 Personal, which costs £5.99/month or £59.99/year, get 1TB of storage and those who subscribe to Office 365 Home, which costs £7.99/month or £79.99/year, get a total of 6TB. Compare this with others.
You can share OneDrive folders by creating a link. These folders are then visible to anyone you share the link with. You can set an expiry date for the links so shared folders are only visible to others for a specified period.
Following in the footsteps of Google and Microsoft, online shopping giant Amazon runs a cloud-based storage service called, straightforwardly enough, Amazon Drive.
What you get for free: Anyone with an Amazon account can get 5GB of free storage for photos, videos, music and documents. If you're an Amazon Prime customer, you get free unlimited storage for photos as well as 5GB of free storage for videos, music and documents. It's not worth forking out the £7.99 a month or £79 a year just for this, but if you're already a member, it's a bonus.
If you pay: You can get a range of upgrades for the 5GB of free storage, ranging from £17/yr for 100GB to £2,400/yr for 30TB. Compare this with others.
If you're an iPhone or iPad user, you most likely use Apple iCloud to backup at least some of your data. It's well integrated into iOS – though also runs on Mac and now Windows – and automatically updates and stores your files across all connected devices.
What you get for free: The free version comes with 5GB of storage which you can use to backup photos, videos, mail, notes, calendars, app data, contacts and documents. If you're storing images or videos though you'll quickly run out of space, in which case we'd recommend one of the free photo storage services below.
If you pay: Plans available cost 79p/month for 50GB, £2.49/month for 200GB or £6.99/month for 2TB. Compare this with others.
Accessed via: Integrated into iOS and OS X; Windows. iCloud isn't available for Android devices.
iCloud requires iOS 5 or later on an iPhone 3Gs or later, iPod touch (3rd generation or later), iPad or iPad mini; a Mac with OS X Lion 10.7.5 or later; a PC with Windows 7 or later.
Additional iCloud features include Family Sharing – which allows up to six family in total to share iTunes, iBooks and App Store purchases, and photos – and Find My iPhone, in case you lose your phone or Apple device, which lets you track it down and lock it.
Launched back in 2008, Dropbox is one of the biggest names in online storage. The easiest way to use it is by installing it on your machine/device, which allows for automatic backups via its mobile apps or (of folders) on desktop.
What you get for free: With Dropbox Basic account you get 2GB free, though this can be boosted by referring others to Dropbox. For every person who signs up via your referral link, you'll both get an extra 500MB, up to a maximum of 16GB (not including the free 2GB).
If you pay: You can upgrade to Dropbox Plus for £7.99/month, which gives you 2TB of storage, or Dropbox Professional for £16.58/month, which gets you 3TB. Compare this with others.
All BT broadband customers – standard or Infinity – get some storage space with BT Cloud. Given that BT captures around a third of the UK's broadband market, that's a lot of customers with free storage to take advantage of (and not many know about it).
What you get for free: You get either 10GB, 200GB or 1,000GB depending on your broadband package. To find out your allowance, log into My BT and click on the 'Manage BT Cloud' button under 'Your included extras'.
If you pay: If your free allowance isn't enough, you can pay £3/month for an extra 50GB or £9/month for an extra 500GB (both include one month free at the time of writing). Compare this with others.
The services we've listed below are specifically designed for storing photos and videos, so if that's all you're after then they should fit the bill. If you're storing other types of files, scroll back up the page.
Whilst technically built in to Google Drive, it's more convenient to go to Google Photos directly if you want to store just images and videos. It will also help organise your photos, and is full of nifty features for doing fun and useful things with them.
What you get for free: Unlimited storage of photos of 16 megapixels or less and videos of 1080p resolution or lower. Google Photos will compress files larger than this, if you want to keep the unlimited option.
If you pay: If you tend to take very high resolution photos or videos (such as 4K), then you can store these on Google Photos, but they'll eat into your free 15GB Google Drive allowance (which you can increase, for a fee). Compare this with others.
An optional automatic backup feature saves any existing photos and videos on your device. Once activated, this function will also save every photo or video you capture with your phone from then on.
Google Photos Assistant organises and sorts your photos for you by date and location, into albums, collections and 'stories'. It can even detect certain faces and infer events, allowing you to search by keywords based on these.
Another tool within the apps, 'creations', automatically enhances photos and creates collages, panoramas and GIFs with them. You can choose to save and/or share them if they take your fancy, or them discard if not.
Now owned by photo storage platform SmugMug, Flickr is probably the world's best-known photo-hosting site. More like a social network than a storage facility, its focus is on sorting and sharing your photos, though you can use it for just backing up if you so wish.
What you get for free: Anyone with a free Yahoo account can upload up to 1,000 photos or videos. One benefit over Google Photos is there's no limit to the resolution of the images and videos you upload.
If you pay: You get unlimited storage with Flickr Pro, which costs £5.99/month or £47.88/year, which also gives users advanced stats on their photos and ad-free browsing/sharing. Compare this with others.
Flickr is very much geared towards sharing photos with others, which is one of the reasons it's popular with photography nuts. It also offers very basic image editing and a few filters (though nothing like the scale of Instagram).
As with Google Photos, Flickr uses image recognition technology to arrange photos for easier searching through your library. Equally the Flickr apps also have an automatic backup feature so every shot you taken is saved in the cloud, but this is only available to Flickr Pro members.
If you've got a fair number of photos, files and documents and want the convenience of storing them all in one place, you'll have to pay to get more space. Several companies offer an additional 50GB, though the more storage you buy the better the value.
For example, Carphone Warehouse/Currys/PC World-owned KnowHow offers 2TB for £40 a year (though it has other plans available too, see below). Pay in advance for five years and the cost drops to £100, or £20 a year, for 2TB.
It depends on your needs but generally speaking the best-value add-on is an extra 100GB from Google Drive/Google One, which costs £15.99/year, or if you really need more OneDrive at £59.99/year (including Office 365 Personal subscription) for 1TB.
Unltd photos (max 16MP)
|Flickr||1,000 photos (any res)||£47.88/yr|
|Table correct as of 24 Dec 2019. Amazon Drive and Google Drive offer plans up to 30TB. (1) Includes subscription to Office 365 Personal. (2) Plus unlimited photos for Prime customers. (3) Up to 18GB with referrals. (4) For BT broadband customers only – allowance depends on package, see how to check.|
Remember though, you're signing up for an annual cost, so if you just want to back up your data, consider buying a portable hard drive instead - at the time of writing we found 1TB drives starting from about £40.
Whether it's your pics, your financial information or just your favourite cat videos you're storing online, you need to take steps to keep your data safe.
Here are some tips to keep you, and your info, safe from more devious online users: