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“Dropbox Killer” – is pCloud a real alternative?

"Dropbox Killer" – is pCloud a real alternative?

Everybody knows NAS drives, and everyone knows Dropbox. But my quest for cloud webspace lead me somewhere else – pCloud. Read on to learn more.

Taking the recent news of the horrible malware that simply wiped out data from My Book Live NAS drives by Western Digital in account, I wanted to write a little bit about my personal backup solutions and how I fell in love with pCloud – a dropbox alternative with killer features and a really attractive pricepoint.
We have one of these WD Drives at the CineD office, that we used to transfer files to our editors abroad before we switched to frame.io. We still had the drive connected as a backup for some template files and some fun photos, but quickly disconnected it as we read about the data breaches.

For my personal backup, sync and transfer use-cases I rely on completely different services though.

Backups: On-Site and Off-site

Experts say it’s best to have an on-site and an off-site solution. For my backups, I usually use bare HDDs in a docking station like this one . Here I can quickly create two identical backups of important data, mainly footage. Usually, I take one back home and leave one at the office. That’s very simple and should be standard :-) 

Backups: Online and Offline 

On top of that, I use a cloud-based backup solution called Backblaze. This added a third backup of important data off-site and online. Also, all of my devices kept a constant backup of system data as well – that is convenient. Network-attached devices or USB HDDs stay backed up as well for 30 days after disconnecting. And for about 5 bucks a month it’s also very affordable.

Cloud-Space & File Sync: Dropbox – the industry standard

For years I opted for Dropbox for the most current projects to stay in sync on all of my devices. For collaboration and client exchange this is defacto industry standard. For the sync with Dropbox, I used a free account and was quite happy with the limited but through friend-referrals and other offerings extended 15GB space. It was always enough. And having the complete Backup on Backblaze, this system was good for me. 

Then Dropbox introduced the limits of synced devices on their free account and pushed me to invest in cloud space. But before I simply took the “D-train”, I went searching for possible alternatives. And there are plenty of different companies and offerings – all with their pros and cons. 

The competitors

The final three options came to be Dropbox, as a proven and reliable partner in the past years. iCloud was an obvious candidate as well, as I am living in a total-Apple environment. And last but not least there was pCloud – a company that I did not have on my radar at all – but they jumped on the map with an intriguing offer: a one-time payment for a lifetime license at 65% off (an offer they have right now as well). 

Dropbox is the “top-dog”. It’s reliable and everybody knows it. It is fast all over the world and with their 2TB plan, they offer plenty of space with a lot of collaboration gimmicks. Their incremental (block-byte) upload makes it a very fast system, even if you change big files, as it just uploads the bits and bytes that changed in seconds. 

Two things really bothered me though: the sharing of a folder to collaborate always “clogs” client and partner dropboxes as well, as a folder always counts against storage space on all accounts. So if it’s a big folder and your partners are on a free plan it does not work. And then the price. It´s OK for what they offer and it’s basically the standard in the cloud sector, but as I found an alternative in pCloud I was a bit hesitant.

As an Apple user with iPhone, iPad and two Macs all working hand in hand, iCloud would have been an obvious choice. The deep system integration, automatic backups of photos and devices, shared desktop and document folders and all kinds of other magical things “that just work” were things that should have been enough unique selling points to pull the trigger. But… problem is … they do not just work. Sometimes they simply don’t. And apparently, nobody knows why … and there is no way of forcing them to do. Then a vicious cycle of logging out and logging in starts – and in the worst case – as it happened to me twice in the past years – files get deleted, that shouldn’t. (Thank god, there were a hard copies) … but that’s a no go. Also, speed is sometimes really slow here in Europe. And as iCloud does not offer incremental, block-byte uploads – every time you change a file it uploads the whole file again … not so sexy. 

pCloud?

And then there was pCloud. Who the heck are they? Never heard. The website looked a little bit outdated, the logo is horrible (they are improving though) – usually things that really kill my interest and trust in a company pretty quickly. But the One-Time Payment option and the offer got me really interested. So I took a deeper dive. And boy, it was a good one!

pClouds offering looks pretty simple at first sight. There is a free version with 2GB (up to 10GB with referrals), classic. (And, full disclaimer: the pCloud links in this article are referral links too, but CineD has no business connection whatsoever with pCloud.) They have a 500GB plan and the (now typical) 2TB plan. You can opt to pay monthly as well if you prefer (the plans are still slightly cheaper than the competition), but calculating the price with the current offer at 65% off you are about even after two and a half years – all after that, it’s a win over the others. (There are also family and business plans with additional functions, but I haven’t looked into this.)

My biggest concern was that with this offer the company won’t last, as a lot of other small cloud-based storage solutions did. But apparently, the Swiss-based pCLoud Company has been on the market for over 15 years. So I thought, they will last at least for the next two years – and that is break-even. So the financial risk is minimal I figured. And as it is now over two years that I have my account, it’s already paying out. 

The choice I made over two years ago was not all about price. I was used to Dropbox (and annoyed by iCloud) – so I did not want to compromise. Google Drive, Box.com, Sync.com and others I tried over the period of a few months and my choice, in the end, was about usability and features as well as speed and reliability. 

Sync, Backup & Virtual HDD

One thing with pCloud that stood out for me was the possibility to connect the cloud space as a virtual external drive into the finder on Mac (as you can on Windows). That way I have access to all my files in the cloud. I can work directly from this drive, copy files to it, delete, rename … like it’s a local drive. (In the background it uses a cache folder on the local disk, so even if the wifi drops, files are usually not affected. As soon as everything is in sync the symbol in the menubar will show it.)

Sync is handled differently than Dropbox, as you define the folders you want to have in sync by hand. You are not forced into a filesystem, you can keep your (messy) structure as it is.

sync-folders can be anywhere and do not even have to have the same name online

So while I have access to all my files on the drive (you could define this as “backup”) I can just have a few project folders on all my devices in sync. And I don’t even have to have all these syncs on all my connected devices. I can have a folder synced on one of my Macs, but not on the other for example. That’s nice, if local space is limited, or you want to have stuff separated. In my case, I use an old mac as an office station to scan contracts, receipts and do my taxes. I have these databases sync on all my devices. But I keep the video projects on my new Mac, cause the old one is way too weak to handle it anyway.

The Swiss-based company uses either US or Europe based server farms and keeps copies of your data on at least 5 different servers. So even if one of their farms burns down, all is redundant. That also helps with speed. Here in Austria it is as fast as my cable goes – so that is exciting. They also do incremental, block-byte uploads, so data transfer keeps as low as possible and is blazingly fast with changes. 

Sharing Files

Now to one of my favourite features: Sharing folders.

pCloud gives you the option to share a folder with other pcloud users – as does dropbox. A neat trick though is the “fair share” option. So shared folders only account against storage space on the account it was originally shared from.

You can also share files and folders with people without pCloud. Like WeTransfer, but without the upload to a website or file size limits. It’s fast, reliable and is password protected if needed. You can set a date range for the accessibility, get statistics of when and how often files get downloaded and you can even design the page with your own branding. And that’s great as clients love to see their logo on a website while downloading stuff. 

Though file sharing does not stop here: A very unique feature of pCloud (and the one that made me pull the trigger) is the function to request files. It’s a way of having clients upload data to your account – without them having to have a pCloud account. It works flawlessly on mobile and desktop and is not only great for collaborators uploading footage but also for friends and family to send photos to a folder that everyone can access and download as well. These request links point to a folder on your pCloud drive or a synched folder on your local disc. When people upload stuff, pCloud creates a folder inside with their name and sends you an email as a reminder that there is new stuff happening. 

You can share a folder, that has a request inside or – if you want to separate these links can lead to different folders in a parent folder. Or have no relation at all. I love that not everyone who can upload to a project folder is automatically also able to download and see what’s in the folder. 

sharing links can get long – but you have a convenient short-link option available right there

Mobile use

pCloud offers mobile apps for android and iOS. I use it on my iPad and iPhone. You have access to all your files on the road. There is an integrated media player as well to listen to music or watch video files on the go. A handy feature for mobile is an automatic backup of your photos and videos. You even have the option to transcode HEIC images from iPhone to JPEG. I keep the HEIC version though.

This is also one of the little things that could get improved: the app stores all images and videos in one folder. So accessing this folder with a few tens of thousands of files gets very slow depending on your internet and system speed. A folder structure by date or something would maybe help bring that down. Also, the mobile viewer in the app can not read the HEIC files – so there is no preview in my case. 

Additional features

pCloud has a document viewer online, for preview – but not for editing. So compared to dropbox or google drive you can’t edit your documents directly in the app or on the web. But pCloud integrates to the files.app on iOS, so editing from any other app is convenient.

Then there is the very neat function, that pCloud can create backups from other cloud spaces. This includes Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive. You can even backup your photos from Facebook and Google Photos. And as they do it with their full speed internet access its really fast.

An upgrade that they offer is client-side encryption. They use secure upload and downloads and encrypt server side, but if you want maximum security, you can encrypt end-to-end at your computer – so only you have the key. 

Of course, there are file versioning and data recovery options. 30 days on the paid plan, 15 days on free (There is even a paid 365 days option). While file versioning gives you access to previous versions of an individual file, data recovery can bring deleted files or whole folder structures back to life. That would come in handy if you were attacked by … malware for example. And here we close the circle ;-) 

Some of these features were also available in other solutions, but in sum pCloud stood out to me. Finder integration, flawless sync, speed and customizable sharing features. I did not regret my decision any day.

All these things are currently offered with 65% off. Just use this link.

What cloud space provider are you relying on? Are you happy with it? Let us know in the comments below.

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