Dropbox pros and cons you need to know
Fact: the modern workplace lives on the cloud. This has been increasingly true for years, but the pandemic-induced work from home revolution confirmed it. With team members unable to work in-office and spread across the globe, software tools meant to facilitate remote work thrived. Synchronization is the new name of the game.
Video conferencing software like Zoom takes the cake for biggest software success story of 2020, but other categories also thrived. Cloud storage, popular for over a decade already, became even more important. Dropbox pioneered the space when it was founded in 2007 by two MIT students — iCloud wasn’t released until 2011, and Google Drive only came out in 2012. Fourteen years later, Dropbox is as significant as ever. That said, there are now many competitors: the aforementioned two, Microsoft’s OneDrive, Box, Air...the list goes on.
Within this competitive landscape, it can be difficult to decide which tool is best for you, with different platforms offering varying degrees of functionality. Let’s explore some Dropbox pros and cons!
Dropbox shares many similar features with other, newer cloud storage solutions. Before we get into where the platform shines and where it doesn’t, here’s a laundry list of Dropbox features, from another Air blog post comparing Dropbox and Google Drive:
Cloud file storage and backup
File sharing and large file transfer
File recovery and version history
Document collaboration and editing through Dropbox Paper
Syncing across devices
Password sync and storage
Desktop app and mobile app
Integrates with tools like Zoom, Canva, Slack, and more
Access from Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, and Android devices
256-bit AES and SSL/TLS encryption
Priority email support
In its fourteen-year history, Dropbox has become much more than just a simple cloud storage service. In the beginning, it was essentially a folder on your computer that also existed on every other computer logged into Dropbox with access granted to that same folder. Cloud storage remains the core of their business model, but now you can actually act on documents and files, not just store them for others or yourself to access from different devices.
Start for free
Though a starter Dropbox account has limited storage, it retains most of the capabilities of the full product. This is a great way to try the platform out and see if it works for you.
Use it anywhere, on any device
Dropbox has desktop apps for every operating system, and mobile apps for every mobile device, from iPhone to iPad to Blackberry. You can access all your files where and when you need them.
Ease of use
Once you’ve installed Dropbox on your computer, the basic features are effortless to use. It creates a self-titled folder on your computer wherever you wish, and places an icon in your operating system’s respective menu bar. Once that’s set up, all you have to do is place files in the folder. As soon as you put a file in the Dropbox folder, the software automatically syncs it to every other computer or device that shares that particular folder.
Secure and backup your files
One of the most clear benefits of any cloud storage solution, including Dropbox, is that your files are safe in any situation where your computer is not. Accidentally left your laptop out in the rain? Forgot your backpack on the train, with everything you need for work inside? Any files you’ve stored using Dropbox will be accessible on any other device you connect to your account. Also, you can access deleted files within a certain timeframe if you’ve trashed them accidentally.
On top of securing your files from physical risks, Dropbox also has measures in place to secure them within the cloud and while they’re in transit — while they’re being uploaded or downloaded. The company uses an AES 256-bit protocol, which stands for Advanced Encryption Standard. Secure storage means a little more peace of mind for you and everyone at your organization.
One downside to some cloud storage solutions is that you need an internet connection to access anything. As we’ve moved further into the digital age, this has become commonplace in all sorts of areas: Netflix used to peddle physical DVDs; now you need to be online to watch anything. iTunes used to be about storing music locally; now Apple Music is about streaming music that doesn’t have to live in your hard drive unless you want it to.
Within Dropbox, you can mark any file, or whole folders, that you need to access at all times. If you know you’ll be somewhere without internet access they’ll stay synced on your hard drive until you change the setting. This works on mobile devices as well. Online backup is great, but offline abilities add functionality.
Dropbox Paper, officially launched at the top of 2017, is the company’s best tool for collaborative work. You can create a Paper, which becomes a collaborative document. Add videos, images, tables, beautify with emojis, you name it. Comment, tag collaborators, make to-do lists, pin a comment to a specific area of an image. Paper is meant to serve as a collaborative document workspace. There’s always been real-time collaboration opportunities within Dropbox, but never on this level.
The downside to Paper is that it doesn’t happen within the Dropbox app itself — it exists in your browser or in a standalone mobile app. That said, you can export Paper documents as Word docs, PDFs, or markdown files and send them to whomever you like. It’s exciting to see Dropbox adopt collaboration tools like this, but other (newer) products, like Air, were built to accommodate collaborative workflow from the ground up. Both products support versioning, which is key to cloud collaboration.
Limited storage for free users
A free Dropbox Basic account, though it shares most functions of paid plans, is very limited in space. You only get 2GB of free storage space to start, which really isn’t much. How many GB of photos do you have stored on your phone alone? You still have full access to cloud syncing, you can still share and collaborate on files, everything is still secure, but you only get a tiny slice of pie. Compare this to Air: start for free with 5GB of storage, 3 workspace members, and unlimited sharing capabilities.
There are file size limits, as well. The free version won’t let you upload files larger than 100MB. Paying users have no such limit, save for a maximum of 50GB when a file is uploaded directly through the website.
Dropbox also reserves the right to wipe Basic accounts. After free accounts are inactive for 12 months and 90 days, they get deactivated, and all files within them get deleted.
Using Dropbox for business is naturally different from using it as a single-serving personal platform. This is where pricing comes into play. The basic pricing tiers offered to organizations are Standard, Advanced, and Enterprise. Standard and Advanced cost $15 per user per month and $25 per user per month, while Enterprise is custom-priced based on client needs. Standard gives 5TB of cloud storage, the other two are unlimited. Some other features differentiate the three tiers, but Advanced and Enterprise are fairly similar. If you’re part of a small business, Advanced might be enough for you now, but you don’t want costs to run away with you as your business grows.
For large organizations, Dropbox can get costly very quickly. Compare this to Air: Plus is only $10 per user per month, Pro is $25 per user per month, and Enterprise is custom-priced based on client needs. Air’s Pro plan has more features at the same cost as Dropbox’s Advanced plan and ultimately saves time and money through deeper collaboration and sharing tools. Air is especially great for teams that work with external partners, including freelancers and agencies.
Dropbox Paper has given users a better way to work collaboratively within the Dropbox ecosystem — but the fact that it wasn’t built-in from the beginning presents a problem. To collaborate with external and internal teams in Dropbox, users still have to create a full account and navigate a confusing permission system. With Air, collaboration and creative review is a breeze. Collaborators who just need to view one file or board can simply view it in their browser. Air’s intuitive permission system means that collaborative creative work happens much faster than in Dropbox.
Organizing files and folders
Dropbox’s organizational structure is not particularly revolutionary. Sure, it’s fully functional, but it doesn’t offer the flexibility and easy navigation seen in newer products like Air. It’s more of a traditional file and folder structure that you’d see on your computer’s operating system. Air offers smart search, custom fields, and the ability to copy files between boards and workspaces without using more storage space. It’s a more modern system, better suited for the current and next generation of digital collaboration.
Though it’s been updated many times over the years, the Dropbox interface isn’t very intuitive. Compare this to a modern product like Air, with a lightweight, intuitive interface that makes navigation and collaboration as smooth as can be.
Dropbox requires you to maintain plenty of space on your local hard drive to enable file syncing. With something like Google Drive or Air, that’s not necessary. When everything lives on the cloud and in your browser, sharing files is truly a breeze.
While Dropbox does have sharing capabilities, they could be more precise. Sharing files on Dropbox, for the most part, looks like creating a folder within your parent Dropbox folder that’s been set either for full public access or for specific users to access. For many years, this was enough.
Today, with entire organizations working remotely, there’s a need for stronger and more precise sharing capabilities. Air meets that need with in-depth, in-browser sharing and permissioning. Add collaborators to your entire workspace, add them just to individual boards within your workspace, or simply share a public link to an individual file or board. Set permissions around editing, commenting and viewing. For enterprise clients, Air will even create custom permissions.
Too many tools
For some users, the fact that Dropbox integrates with tools like Vimeo, WeTransfer, Buffer, and Frame.io is a huge advantage. For others, it contributes to a heavy and bloated workflow. Modern workplaces tend to have towering tech stacks, which grow costly, hard to maintain, and annoying when it comes to onboarding new employees. Compare to Air, which has collaboration tools, particularly around visual asset editing and feedback, built in. It’s hard to beat an all-in-one platform.
Dropbox best practices
There are guides online to Dropbox best practices for all sorts of small businesses and enterprise organizations, but the best way to figure out what works best for you is to try the software out yourself. Even better, try out competing software, too. If Dropbox isn’t doing it for you, get started for free on Air. If you have any questions, the Customer Support and Growth teams are always happy to help. Why not put your assets in the home that serves them best?