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How Much Free Cloud Storage Should You Actually Use in 2023?

If you‘re like most people nowadays, you probably have digital files scattered across multiple devices – photos on your phone, documents on your laptop, videos on an external drive, and so on. Syncing all that data seamlessly across PCs, phones, and tablets can be a headache.

That‘s where cloud storage comes in handy!

Cloud services from companies like Google, Apple, Microsoft and Dropbox let you store your files online and access them from anywhere. And many provide a decent amount of free storage to get started.

But how much free cloud space do you really need? And what‘s the catch with those tempting free plans?

Let‘s take a deeper look at what‘s available in 2023 so you can make the best choice for your needs!

How Much Storage Does the Average Person Need?

With high-resolution photos and videos, plus large work and game files, storage needs are growing fast.

According to a recent Backblaze study, the average person uses around 500GB of storage on their laptop – and that‘s before adding smartphone photos and other cloud data.

Let‘s break down average usage for some common file types:

  • Photos: 77 photos per month at around 4MB per photo = 308MB
  • Videos: Average video size is 400MB. If you shoot 10 videos per month, that‘s 4GB.
  • Documents: From essays to tax records, the average document size is 50KB. 100 documents would equal 5MB.
  • Games: Modern games like Call of Duty or Fortnite can be 100GB+ for high resolution textures.
  • Streaming video: Netflix uses about 1GB per hour for standard definition streaming. YouTube is about the same.

So adding it all up, you can easily accumulate hundreds of gigabytes per year, even if you‘re just casually using your devices!

Now let‘s see how much free space the top cloud providers offer.

Free Cloud Storage Limits in 2023

Here‘s an overview of how much free cloud storage space you get with the major consumer platforms:

Cloud Storage ProviderFree Storage
Google Drive15GB
Microsoft OneDrive5GB
Apple iCloud5GB
Amazon Photos5GB (for Prime members)

With the most generous options, you‘re looking at 15GB free across Google apps. Some other services not listed like Degoo and MEGA offer 100GB or more, but may not be as well known.

The issue is that 15GB shared between Google Drive, Gmail and Google Photos won‘t get the average user very far these days.

Let‘s say you snapped 500 photos and shot 10 videos last month. That‘s over 5GB just for your phone media! You‘d quickly run out of that free 15GB.

This is why most major platforms push you towards cheap paid plans to get more storage.

Paid Cloud Storage Options

Once you eat through the free space, cloud companies make it easy to upgrade to affordable monthly subscriptions.

Here are the starting paid plans from the top providers:

Cloud Storage ProviderPaid Storage Plans
Google One100GB for $1.99/month
Microsoft OneDrive100GB for $1.99/month
Apple iCloud50GB for $0.99/month
Dropbox2TB for $9.99/month

Google One and Microsoft OneDrive offer the best value at 100GB for just $2/month.

Apple iCloud and Dropbox plans jump to 50GB and 2TB, which may be overkill for casual users.

Overall, you‘re looking at $1 to $10 per month for enough cloud space to store your modern digital life. Compared to buying an external drive, cloud subscriptions can actually be cheaper over time.

So what‘s the catch with "free" cloud storage in 2023? Let‘s discuss that next…

The Catch with Free Cloud Storage Plans

Those free storage allowances from Google Drive, OneDrive and others may seem appealing. But the companies behind them aren‘t offering space out of generosity.

The goal is to get you hooked on the convenience of automatic syncing and file access across devices. Then push you towards a paid subscription when you inevitably need more space.

Here are some other downsides to watch for with free cloud storage:

  • Speed limits – Free plans often have slower upload and download speeds compared to paid subscribers. This can be frustrating for large files.
  • File size limits – Many providers max out single file uploads to a few hundred MB on free plans. So you may not be able to backup your largest videos for example.
  • Sync limits – The number of devices you can sync may be restricted unless you upgrade to a paid account.
  • Limited tech support – Don‘t expect much (if any) customer service to help you with free plans. You‘ll likely be on your own or relying on community forums.

The bottom line is that free cloud storage plans should really just be considered "trialware". They‘re fine for testing a service with a few small files, but aren‘t practical for serious long-term use for most people.

Tips for Getting the Most From Free Cloud Storage

If you want to maximize the free space that‘s available across multiple platforms, here are a few tips:

  • Use referral bonuses – Services like OneDrive often give you more free space for referring friends.
  • Only sync select folders – Choose your most important folders to stay under storage limits.
  • Compress large files – Use zip files for media, documents and other large items.
  • Sync infrequently accessed data manually – Don‘t auto-sync archives or other files you rarely open.
  • Delete what you don‘t need – Prune unused files and clear out clutter to free up space.
  • Shift media to a local drive – Keep photos, videos and music on an external SSD rather than the cloud.

Even with these tricks, most people will outgrow free storage pretty fast. That‘s when it‘s worth looking at paid plan options.

Comparing Top Cloud Storage Providers

Once your free space runs out, you‘ll need to start paying for cloud storage. Here‘s an overview of leading paid consumer plans to help choose the right one:

ProviderStarting Paid PlanMax. StoragePerks
Google One100GB for $1.99/month30TBExperts for help, shared family plans
Microsoft OneDrive100GB for $1.99/month6TBOffice app integration
Apple iCloud50GB for $0.99/month2TBTight integration with Apple devices
Dropbox2TB for $9.99/monthUnlimitedFile versioning, remote wipe for security
Amazon Photos100GB for $1.99/yearUnlimitedStorage specifically for photos

A few key considerations when choosing a provider:

  • Integration – iCloud meshes best with Apple devices, OneDrive with Windows PCs. Google Drive works equally well across platforms.
  • Productivity apps – OneDrive integrates closely with Microsoft Office 365. Google provides collaborative Docs/Sheets.
  • Security – Dropbox offers remote file wipe and version history to protect sensitive data.
  • Media focus – Amazon Photos unlimited plan is great for photo and video backups.
  • Max storage – Google One scales up to 30TB – best for power users with huge libraries.

Take some time to think about which features are most useful for your personal or work needs before choosing a provider.

Cloud Storage Tips from the Experts

I spoke with some digital organization experts for their best tips on managing cloud storage:

Be consistent with organizing. Set up a folder structure that makes sense and stick with it. This makes searching and browsing easier regardless of device.

Add metadata. Tag files with details like date, location, people. Services like Google Photos can auto-apply tags for you.

Have a local and cloud strategy. Use local storage for working files and cloud backup for archiving. Avoid trying to access all your data from the cloud which can be slow.

Archive old projects. If you won‘t likely access a file again, move it out of primary storage into a cold archive.

Delete the junk. Screenshots, duplicate files, temporary downloads – delete anything you don‘t need to maximize available space.

Proper organization takes some effort but ensures your data is easy to manage – and saves you from paying for unnecessary storage capacity!

Do You Need Cloud Storage for Gaming?

Gaming files take up a massive amount of storage – just look at install sizes for games like Call of Duty (200GB+) or Red Dead Redemption 2 (150GB). As a result, cloud storage probably isn‘t practical for directly running games.

The exception is cloud gaming services like Google Stadia, Nvidia GeForce Now or Microsoft Xbox Cloud Gaming. These stream games over the internet, meaning the full game isn‘t installed locally.

However, cloud gaming requires a very fast internet connection – 25Mbps or faster according to Google. Without low latency and high bandwidth, you‘ll run into lag, graphics glitches and input delays.

For the best experience, keep games installed on a high-speed solid state drive connected directly to your gaming PC or console. Use cloud storage instead for your game save files, screenshots and other smaller files.

Collaborating With Teams Using Cloud Documents

If you‘re a student or office worker, collaborating with team members on documents is a fact of life. Trying to juggle multiple versions of a shared file over email leads to chaos.

That‘s where cloud-based document tools come in very handy. Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive and Dropbox all enable real-time collaboration for:

  • Sharing up-to-date document drafts
  • Co-editing together with team members
  • Commenting and providing feedback

Cloud tools also help you avoid version control headaches. There‘s only a single source of truth for a document rather than folders full of outdated drafts and edits on everyone‘s computers.

Just be mindful of who you share documents with – you usually can‘t limit access once a file has been shared externally. For any documents containing sensitive information, make sure collaberators are trusted.

How Much Storage Will You Need in the Future?

Another factor to keep in mind when choosing a cloud storage provider is how your needs might grow in the coming years.

According to Backblaze, their average customer used:

  • 121GB of storage in 2016
  • 438GB of storage in 2020

That‘s an increase of 262% over four years! And by 2025, some analysts predict the average person may need 1-2 TB of personal storage.

Why is storage demand growing so fast? A few reasons:

  • Higher resolution photos and videos from smartphones
  • Larger game install sizes
  • Growth of streaming video services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+ etc.
  • More reliance on cloud rather than local storage

It makes sense to look ahead and evaluate how your storage needs might grow down the road. Ultimately, you‘ll want a provider that can easily scale up.

Google One and Microsoft OneDrive top out at 30TB and 6TB for consumer accounts. So they offer plenty of headroom before you‘d need to look at a business account.

Staying Private and Secure in the Cloud

With your personal data sitting on servers outside your home, privacy and security are understandable concerns with cloud storage.

Some best practices to keep your data safe:

  • Enable two-factor authentication (2FA) on your cloud accounts for an extra layer of login protection.

  • Use strong, unique passwords for each cloud service, and change periodically. Password managers help here.

  • Review permissions on shared files and folders and limit access only to trusted individuals.

  • Check for suspicious login activity in your account history and review linked apps. Revoke access for anything unfamiliar.

  • Understand the provider‘s security – Google Drive and Dropbox offer robust protection for consumer accounts.

Also be mindful of legal considerations when choosing a provider:

  • Companies like Google and Microsoft comply with GDPR data privacy regulations.

  • Ensure your provider doesn‘t claim rights to use your data for marketing.

  • Consumer plans may not meet stricter compliance needs for financial or medical data.

With good password hygiene and periodic audits of logins and permissions, your data should be secure from prying eyes – without having to wear a tin foil hat!

The Bottom Line

Hopefully this overview gave you a better understanding of the cloud storage landscape in 2023 – both the benefits and caveats.

A little bit of free space can be useful for basic needs. But you‘ll fast outgrow the 5-15GB free plans offered by most major platforms.

When you do need more room, paid subscriptions are quite affordable at around $1-10 per month for 100GB-2TB capacities from leading providers.

Consider your current needs – but also look 2-3 years down the line at how your storage demand might grow. That will ensure you choose a service that scales as your photo/video collections and work files expand.

With the right cloud provider, staying organized and backing up your irreplaceable data has never been easier. You can stop juggling USB sticks and external drives and finally have all your files accessible in one place!



Michael Reddy is a tech enthusiast, entertainment buff, and avid traveler who loves exploring Linux and sharing unique insights with readers.