Like many of you, I was excited to hear about the launch of unlimited storage for Amazon Cloud Drive last week. I’ve been a fan of online storage and syncing services for years, starting with Dropbox in 2008 and moving on to accumulate accounts with Google, Microsoft, and Apple. I still primarily use Dropbox for most of my data syncing needs, but it has become relatively overpriced in recent years as competitors have continued to offer more storage for less money. I remain optimistic about Microsoft OneDrive and the virtually unlimited storage included with an Office 365 subscription, but OneDrive syncing still has some serious problems on both Windows and OS X, and uploading files to the service is ridiculously slow.
Other than experimenting with some photos via a Kindle Fire tablet, I had yet to really dive into Amazon Cloud Drive, which has operated since 2011. Upon learning of the “unlimited storage” offer from Amazon for just $60 per year, however, I was hopeful that a good solution had finally arrived. After all, Amazon Web Services powers much of the modern Web, including bandwidth monsters like Netflix, and if any company can ensure adequate bandwidth, it’s Amazon. But I quickly found out, to paraphrase Obi-Wan Kenobi, that Amazon Cloud Drive is “not the online storage service I’m looking for,” and it’s probably not the one you’re looking for, either.
To me, services like Dropbox offer two important functions: storage and syncing. It’s not enough that my files are stored in the cloud; I also want real-time updates of local copies of those files on all of my devices, ensuring that I have access to the latest Excel spreadsheet or Photoshop image at all times. Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, and even Apple’s iCloud Drive all feature local syncing capabilities, allowing me to both store files in the cloud and sync the latest versions of these files to my PC, Mac, smartphone, and tablet. Amazon Cloud Drive, unfortunately, doesn’t offer this capability.
When you first sign up for Amazon Cloud Drive, you’re offered the option to download a desktop application. But instead of providing local syncing capabilities like similar apps provided by other online storage services, you quickly find out that Amazon’s desktop app is just a simple batch uploader, intended to help you get your files into your Amazon Cloud Drive account. Users just drag and drop files and folders onto the Amazon Cloud Drive app, and a shortcut in the app takes you to a Web interface where you can see your files online.
What this all means is that your files are indeed safe and secure in the cloud on Amazon’s servers, and you can access them manually from any device with a modern Web browser, but you’ll also need to manually grab a file if you want to access it, then manually re-upload it to Amazon Cloud Drive when you’re done making any changes.
Compare this relatively laborious process to OneDrive, Google Drive, or Dropbox. With these services, the files you access are stored on your local device, so when you open an Excel spreadsheet, for example, you’re opening the most recent copy of the file on your Mac or PC. When you save this spreadsheet after making changes, one of the aforementioned services detects the change and automatically uploads the new version of the file to the cloud, and then subsequently syncs the changes in the new file to any other synced devices.
Of course, this type of functionality is always optional, and you can configure any of the popular online storage services to operate like Amazon Cloud Drive, with files stored only in the cloud and no local copies synced, but all that does is make it harder to access your data, and it’s not the kind of configuration that most users would prefer. The data syncing described above is the real magic of these services, and with Amazon you’re forced to manually download files you need, or download the entire contents of your Cloud Drive at once, which will quickly become impractical as users take advantage of their “unlimited” storage.
There is, of course, an upside to Amazon Cloud Drive: backup. At $60 per year for virtually unlimited storage capacity, Amazon Cloud Drive offers an affordable solution for those who would like to secure a copy of their data in the cloud, but also maintain reasonable access to it from just about any device. When you limit the service to this framework, Amazon Cloud Drive is a pretty good deal, and I’ll probably keep my subscription active and use it as an extra online repository for photos, music, and other hard-to-replace digital data. But, as it stands now, Amazon Cloud Drive isn’t the online storage and syncing savior for which I had initially hoped, and it looks like I’ll be sticking with Dropbox and OneDrive for the time being.