Online File Sharing Services Review
Why Use an Online File Sharing Service?
The top performers in our review are Hightail, the Gold Award winner; Box, the Silver Award winner; and Egnyte, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a system to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 12 services.
For most people, sharing files online means attaching a document to an email. While email is an easy way of making sure your boss gets the report you worked on, it's severely limiting if you often need to share files, especially large files. Most email accounts limit the size and the number of files you can attach. Email is good for small-scale file sharing, but what if you need to share large files or collaborate on files? That's where online file sharing services comes in.
Online file sharing services are companies that have server farms for hosting your data. You're given an account that allows you to upload files to their remote servers. Then you can share links with co-workers and clients via a download link. However, the best online file sharing services are more than file hosting platforms. They are platforms for collaboration. You can invite your friends, co-workers and clients to work on a specific file or folder. Everyone can make changes, add files and communicate ideas within the platform.
Many online file sharing services are similar to online backup services, and vice versa. There is a lot of crossover in the purpose and function of these services. Both use server farms to store data. Many online backup services allow you to share files, and many online file sharing services act as a backup for your data by keeping copies on their servers. The difference lies in the platform. Online file sharing services focus on collaboration and the inclusion of multiple people, with backing up data as more of an afterthought. In many cases, online file sharing services only store your data on their servers for 90 days, while online backup services store your data indefinitely.
Most online file sharing services offer two or three plans – a free plan, a single-user plan and a business plan. These plans are tiered according to how much storage you're allocated and how much bandwidth you're allowed each month. The free plans typically only provide 2GB of storage and a very limited amount of bandwidth. This is enough for most consumers. The single-user plan, which the service usually calls a personal or professional plan, is ideal for self-employed people or professionals within a company. The most significant difference between the single-user and the business plans is the number of users allowed access to the account. To learn more, read our articles on online file sharing.
Online File Sharing Services: What We Evaluated, What We Found
One of the great features of online file sharing services is that you can test-drive the service with a trial account. These trial accounts typically last 15 or 30 days. This allows you to gauge how the service meets your needs before you decide to make a purchase. In other words, you know exactly what you're getting when you hand over your payment information. We evaluated all these services and detailed our experiences so you don't have to do trials on every service yourself. We looked primarily at how well you can share and access files, the security of your data and the file-tracking controls.
Share & Access Features
The most important file sharing feature to consider is your monthly bandwidth, which is the amount of data that you can share and receive for your account. As such, we looked closely at the bandwidth allowed for the first non-free plan each service offers, which is usually called a professional plan or personal plan. The best online file sharing services include unlimited bandwidth on these accounts, but most file sharing services cap the bandwidth between 20GB and 7.5TB per month. For these accounts, underestimating your bandwidth can result in extra fees or a frozen account, which inhibits your ability to do business.
To give you an idea of how quickly you can use up bandwidth, consider this example. If you share a 2GB video file with five clients and five colleagues, you end up using 22GB of bandwidth – 2GB for the upload and 20GB for the 10 downloads. As such, the more bandwidth you have, the better – and the best file sharing sites offer unlimited bandwidth.
Next, we looked at the maximum file size. One of the purposes that separates file sharing services from simple email is the ability for you to share and collaborate on large files. Every file sharing site allows you to share large files, but the maximum file size that you can share varies a lot from site to site. Some services max out at 2GB, while others can share files as big as 10GB, and others have no limit to the file size.
After bandwidth and maximum file size, we evaluated the share and access features that make the service ideal for online collaboration. The best file sharing sites provide more than download links for sharing files. These sites come with interfaces designed around online collaborations with clients and colleagues through private share folders or complex digital workspaces. Private share folders simply mirror the contents of a folder with anyone invited to the folder, while digital workspaces offer a more complex platform for communicating ideas, suggestions and approvals in addition to syncing files.
Other important features include public share links that allow anyone to download a file using a URL address, device syncing for access to your files on multiple machines, mobile apps for sharing wherever you go, third-party apps that incorporate your account, plugins for attaching files seamlessly to emails, and custom branding.
One of the unfortunate realities of any information stored and shared online is the nefarious people who attempt to access and steal the data. As such, we evaluated the security protocols to determine which sites are the most secure file sharing services. This begins with 256-bit encryption for when the file is in transit and when it's idle on the servers. File encryption acts as a protective shell around a file so that a hacker can't view the contents if they intercept it at any point. In addition, we looked at whether the service uses firewalls and virus scanners to protect the servers from unwanted external and internal attacks.
Another important security feature to consider is the remote wipe. This feature allows you to delete files remotely from any device synced to your account. For example, if an employee leaves your company or someone steals a smartphone synced to your account, the remote wipe feature allows you to remove the files even though you don't have access to the physical device. In addition, a password protection tool is one of the most basic security features for protecting files with customized passwords, ensuring that only people you want to receive files can download and view the contents.
Keeping track of your files is like keeping track of your finances. It's important to know how many times you've shared a file, whom you've shared it with, when you shared it and how much of the bandwidth quota it used. As such, we favored file sharing services that provide comprehensive audit logs, folder permissions, identity verification, file locking and file-access expiration settings. The best file sharing services allow you to control how you track the files, including how long share links are available.
One of the most important file-tracking features is file versioning, which is critical for share folders and digital workspaces because it allows you to reverse errors and unwanted changes. Instead of overwriting the previous version of a file every time you save changes, file versioning maintains the earlier version. Every time you make a change to the file, you create a new version of the file. The best file sharing services maintain every version you create, while others only maintain a limited number.
Top Ten Reviews seeks, whenever possible, to evaluate all products and services in hands-on tests that simulate as closely as possible the experiences of a typical consumer. We obtained access to the services in our comparison either on loan from the companies or through retail purchase. The services had no input or influence over our test methodology, nor was the methodology provided to any of them in more detail than is available through reading our reviews. Results of our evaluations were not provided to the companies in advance of publication.
What Else Is Important in Selecting an Online File Sharing Service?
After evaluating the core of the features online file sharing services offer, we looked at a few additional features that are important. For some, these features are superfluous, but for others, especially small businesses, they are critical.
Many file sharing sites provide a platform that allows you to accept and receive electronic signatures for documents that require signatures. This streamlines many business practices by eliminating the time wasted on traditional mail. You can send a contract to a client and have it signed in minutes, as opposed to waiting days or weeks for the mail to transfer the contract.
The best online file sharing services allow you to customize your sharing platform to match your brand. You can change the color scheme and upload logos so that your clients feel secure when they download a file you're sharing with them. This reinforces your brand and builds trust with clients.
Help & Support
Most file sharing websites are intuitive to learn and navigate. This doesn't mean that you won't experience confusing functions or encounter frustrating problems. To help you learn how to use all the features effectively, your file sharing site should have a FAQs page, user forums, tutorials and training videos. These are educational resources meant to help you get the most out of the service.
If you encounter an urgent issue, you'll need to contact a customer support representative. The best file sharing sites offer three methods – 24/7 phone, live chat and email ticket support. Just because your business closes down at 5 p.m. doesn't mean that you won't need to urgently send a file to an important client in the middle of the night. If you run into an issue sharing the file, you should be able to get help. While some file hosting sites include 24/7 support with their subscriptions, others require an additional fee for this service.
Online File Sharing Services: Our Verdict and Recommendations
The best file sharing service in our review is Hightail. Not only does this service offer unlimited storage, but it also provides unlimited bandwidth. When you combine this with the comprehensive sharing features, security and file tracking, it's the clear winner of our Gold Award. The runner-up Silver Award went to Box, which also provides comprehensive sharing features, security and file tracking, but lacks unlimited storage and bandwidth. Egnyte earned our Bronze Award because of its business-friendly plans with a great platform for online collaboration. However, it also lacks unlimited storage and bandwidth.
Dropbox is the best-known file sharing service and features the most affordable business plan at just $15 per user, which includes unlimited storage and up to 6TB of bandwidth. Dropbox's easy integration with devices and other software makes it a great service for online collaboration. However, it lacks some key security and file-tracking features that you get with higher rated file sharing services.
It doesn't matter if you're looking for a site for sharing large files or if you want to collaborate on a project with a client who lives across the country – you'll find the best file sharing service to meet your needs in this review.