Dropbox Review – Is it Good Enough?

The marketplace for cloud storage is increasingly crowded, with productivity tools offering substantial amounts of free or low-priced storage in their standard plans and newcomers like Box retailing storage-as-a-service at low cost.

Dropbox began offering cloud storage in 2007 and has grown to become one of the world’s most valuable startups. But does their product still offer value to your business?

As we’ll see, that depends mostly on what you do and how you do it, as well as on the size of your business.

Dropbox has a simple, white-space-heavy interface and its pricing is clear, based largely around storage size and add-ons for the personal plans and management features for the business plans.

To understand what Dropbox offers and whether it’s a good fit for your business, we’ve broken it down.

Dropbox overview

Dropbox is a file-sharing and syncing program. It pioneered desktop-to-cloud syncing and still does this as well as or better than its competitors in the space. It also has its own editing tool, Paper, which lets you work on documents in the cloud, similar to the way Docs or Word 365 does.

There’s a file-sharing tool for moving large files across the internet, sharing permissions are handled well, and the search functionality is excellent — a vital point when documents are transferred quickly and frequently or without much structure. (It’s not without its limitations though.)

Dropbox also comes with Showcase, which lets you build your files into narrative displays a little like slideshows. When you share a showcase, files are presented in context and in the sequence you determine.

While it’s more expensive than its main rivals, Google Docs and Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365), Dropbox does what it does well, frequently adds new features that offer genuine utility to users, and doesn’t leave you reliant on a “walled garden” of integrated applications for productivity and sharing.

Let’s take a look at what’s included.

Dropbox pricing and plans

Dropbox divides its plans into personal and team plans, so we’ll do the same.

All plans include:

  • Access anywhere, device-agnostic
  • Camera uploads
  • Desktop sync to Dropbox
  • Document scanning
  • Shared folders and links
  • File requests
  • Dropbox paper
  • Web previews and comments
  • Viewer info

The personal plans:

Dropbox Basic

  • Free
  • 2GB storage
  • Dropbox Transfer up to 100MB
  • 30-day version history
  • Knowledgebase support

Dropbox Plus

  • $9.99 per month paid annually, or $11.99 per month paid monthly
  • 2TB storage
  • Smart Sync lets you access Dropbox files from your desktop while minimizing hard disk usage
  • Mobile offline folders let you access Dropbox files on mobile without an internet connection
  • Full-text search, including the text of documents scanned with the Dropbox mobile app
  • Remote device wipe lets you remove Dropbox files from devices remotely
  • Dropbox Transfer up to 2GB
  • 30-day version history
  • 30-day account rewind for disaster recovery at the folder or account level
  • Dropbox Passwords syncs passwords securely across devices
  • Dropbox vault to securely store files and grant permissioned access
  • Priority email support

Dropbox Professional

Offered as both a personal and a team plan, Dropbox Professional includes:

  • $16.58 per month paid annually, or $$19.99 per month paid monthly or as a business plan with more than one user
  • 3TB storage
  • Smart Sync, mobile offline folders and full-text search as with the Plus plan
  • Dropbox Transfer up to 100GB
  • Viewer history – see who has previously used your file and when
  • Shared link controls to manage access to shared files, with passwords, expiry dates and download permissions
  • Remote device wipe
  • 180-day version history
  • Dropbox passwords
  • Document watermarking – add indelible digital watermarks to documents before sharing
  • File locking lets you lock files when editing to prevent unwanted changes and conflicting copies
  • Priority email and chat support

Now let’s look at the business plans:

Dropbox Business Standard

  • $15 per user per month
  • 3+ users (don’t need to use all three licenses)
  • 5TB storage
  • Single admin login across multiple teams
  • Dropbox Transfer up to 2GB
  • Admin console and audit logging
  • Granular sharing permissions
  • Priority email, live chat, and phone support

Dropbox Business Advanced

  • $25 per user per month
  • 3+ users (don’t need to use all three licenses)
  • Unlimited storage
  • Everything in Business Standard, plus:
  • Dropbox Transfer up to 100GB
  • Advanced admin controls
  • Tiered admin roles
  • Single sign-on (SSO) integration
  • Invitation enforcement
  • Priority email, live chat, and phone support

Custom enterprise pricing is available from the Dropbox sales team, and the company also offers discounts on its Business plans for non-profits and educational institutions.

Dropbox key features

  • 256-bit AES encryption for files at rest, and AES-128 SSL encryption for files in transit
  • Accessible across devices, with native apps for Mac, Linux, and Windows desktops, and iOS and Android mobile devices
  • Automatic organization and backup
  • Fast, efficient account-wide syncing across devices
  • File sharing, including the capacity to share large files rapidly via Dropbox Transfer
  • Personalized suggestions based on past behavior reduce time spent searching
  • Offline access through apps on desktop and mobile
  • Calendar integration with notes templates and content suggestions
  • Integration with leading productivity and collaboration apps: Slack, Zoom, HelloSign, and others including G Suite and Microsoft 365
  • Dropbox Paper for productivity and collaboration
  • Reliable notification system via email, SMS and messaging applications like Slack
  • Return to previous versions of files and folders with version history and account rewind

What makes Dropbox different?

Dropbox isn’t a productivity tool that came online, like Office 365, or a collaboration tool with storage built-in, like Docs. It started life as a combination of two tools: photo-sharing service Loom and collaborative, source-agnostic document editor Hackpad. That history has shaped Dropbox: it excels at storage and transfer, especially of large files, and Hackpad descendent Paper makes it easy to work on all sorts of documents.

This means that Dropbox works unusually well as a file storage and transfer layer, tied in with whatever collaboration, communication, and productivity tools you’re already using. The basic functionality of Dropbox is very easy to use and intuitive, with a clean, slick interface, though the desktop applications are more limited than the full-fledged web version.

Here are some of the pluses and minuses of using Dropbox.

Dropbox pros

Apps for every device

Dropbox has a working app for every major OS, Linux included. You don’t need to rely on the web version on your phone and you can access files when you’re offline too.

Search scanned files

Dropbox will let you search the text of any file, including files scanned using the mobile app. This functionality is often missing and if you rely on scanned files a lot, it’s a major addition to search.

Extensive menu of integrations

Dropbox has an extensive catalog of integrations with other apps, including leaders in fields like media and entertainment (Canva, Final Draft, Frame.io), communication (Slack), project management (Asana), videoconferencing (Zoom), CRM (Salesforce), and more.

Not tied to an ecosystem

Google’s G Suite is good at file conversion, and Microsoft 365 is catching up (besides being the norm for productivity), but if you commonly work with people who use a number of different productivity tools, Dropbox would be a good choice because it’s not tied into any particular ecosystem of applications. Its Paper tool is good at editing documents from different sources.

Large files and images

Dropbox is better than most cloud storage tools for handling larger files, especially images, It has good integrations with a range of image editing tools, and offers large quantities of storage space and specialized file transfer of files up to 100GB depending on the plan.

Dropbox cons

Persistent security issues

Dropbox has suffered from persistent security issues since its inception, including some notorious hacks. Partly that’s because it’s an online store of business data — an obviously desirable target for bad actors. And partly it’s because users persist in using weak passwords and poor security habits.

Users should also be aware that Dropbox retains the right to access your data. The company doesn’t use zero-knowledge encryption — they rely on access to deliver personalized content suggestions, for instance.

No metadata search

As noted, Dropbox has some great search features. What it doesn’t have is the capacity to search by metadata: information about your files, such as when an image was taken.

Access control

Dropbox does offer access controls including sharing permissions, folder and file passwords, and even expiration dates for sharing. But these are available only for its Business plans.

Preview quality

Dropbox previews are intended to make sure you can check a document without downloading it. However, the quality of previews is low and it’s often not possible to read small text without downloading the document.

Wrap up: Here’s what we’d recommend

Should you use it?

Dropbox is a solid choice for a business that needs to store and transfer large files. There’s an unusually good provision for media and image files and the storage and transfer capacity of the Business plans is high. However, productivity and role management aren’t highly sophisticated and lower-priced plans are severely limited.

Who should use Dropbox?

Midsize businesses and up can get a lot of value from Dropbox, treating it as a storage and transfer layer in their extant stacks. And freelancers or small agencies that transfer large files can use Dropbox Professional’s 100GB transfer limit to good effect too.

Who should avoid it?

If you don’t need to store and transfer large files, but you do need a general collaboration and productivity solution, there are better options that cost less. Dropbox isn’t a full replacement for the functionality of G Suite or Microsoft 365, Paper notwithstanding. And if you need cloud storage in quantities between 2GB and a terabyte, midsize quantities of cloud storage can be purchased more cheaply elsewhere, while Dropbox’s low-priced and free pans offer relatively little storage.

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Bryan Wise
Bryan Wise,
Former VP of IT at GitLab

Incredible companies use Nira