iCloud may well be the default choice for keeping documents, photos and data synced across all of your Apple products, but there are plenty of alternatives available. One you may not be that familiar with is pCloud, which offers a wide range of features and compatibility with not only your iOS and macOS devices, but also Windows and Android. We take a look at how the two services compare.
What is iCloud?
On the surface, iCloud looks like a normal online storage service along the lines of Google Drive, Dropbox or OneDrive. But, due to the fact that iCloud is Apple’s own product, it integrates far deeper into macOS, iOS and iPadOS, giving it some unique abilities.
As well as providing a virtual drive on your device that you can use to store files, iCloud can also sync your contacts, messages, calendars, notes, and email. It should be noted that these features only work on Apple apps, and you’ll need to grant permissions first and ensure that any device you want to sync is signed in with the same Apple ID.
You should also remember that as these files are synced, any changes made on one device will affect it on all others. So don’t delete a contact on your iPhone and expect it to still appear on your Mac.
What is iCloud? guide for more details on how it works and what capabilities are on offer.
What is pCloud?
pCloud is more of a traditional backup-and-sync service. Once installed, you can create folders or use the existing ones within the pCloud Drive to copy and store files in the cloud. These are synced across your devices via the apps.
Alongside the pCloud Drive you can also select different folders from your Mac which will be automatically backed up to the pCloud servers. This is a handy way to create a continuous backup of important data, without having to move or alter your existing folder layout.
The service also provides the ability to back up other cloud services, such as Google Photos, Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox and Facebook.
How are they different?
As you can see, there are some similarities with the two services, but even the implementation of these can be a little different. Here’s how they compare:
Which devices are compatible?
iCloud is baked into Apple’s software and as such covers the extra data we outlined above. You don’t have to download any apps, as everything is part of iOS, Macs and iPadOS.
In many ways iCloud is a suite of services rather than just a cloud storage facility, with iCloud Drive and iCloud Photo Library being there to store your documents, files, photos and videos. iCloud is available on iPhone, iPad, Mac, Apple Watch and Apple TV.
pCloud doesn’t have the access privileges granted to iCloud, so it acts as a separate app that you can use to store your files on whichever platform you desire. This makes it a better option if you regularly move between Apple and non-Apple devices. There are apps available for iPhone, iPad, Mac, Windows, Linux and Android.
Both have web-based versions you can use, but the better user experience is definitely found in the apps.
What can you back up with iCloud and pCloud?
In many ways, iCloud is essentially an extension of the storage on your device. This is not a back up – it’s a way to store all your files in the cloud so you can view them on all your devices. It’s also a great way to save space. For example, you can store high res versions of your photos in iCloud, rather than on your iPhone, freeing up space on your iPhone. You’ll still be able to view the photos on your device, but these will be lower-res versions that won’t take up as much space. As mentioned above, this is a file-syncing service rather than a back up, so deleting a photo on one device deletes it on all of them.
The iCloud Drive folder acts as a synced drive with the iCloud servers, so whatever you put in there will be available across all your devices. The only limitation is that you’ll need enough iCloud storage capacity to be able to store all the data (we discuss the costs below).
iCloud also links straight into Apple’s iWork apps (Pages, Numbers and Keynote) so you can use it as your document storage online. While you can access iCloud through the web version, which makes it available for non-Apple users, it’s not great. So, really, iCloud is purpose-built to be Apple-only.
On the other hand, pCloud is a classic ‘virtual’ drive, meaning you have a drive folder on your device into which you can drag or send various files, all of which will then be synced up to the pCloud servers.
By default, pCloud has a variety of folders in place where you can store Music, Pictures, and Videos alongside documents and any other files you want to back up. You can also select various folders on your Mac that will be backed up automatically in real time.
Maximum file sizes and versioning
While the maximum file size available on iCloud is 50GB, pCloud doesn’t have any restrictions. The latter also provides full support for file versioning, which is when it retains previous versions of a file in case you want to return to an early iteration.
iCloud doesn’t really support this, which makes it less useful if you work on documents that go through multiple versions and could contain previous information you want to access.
The standard versioning from pCloud is 15-days, but if you sign up to a paid tier (see below) then this can be extended up to a year.
Security is also different for the two services, with iCloud offering end-to-end encryption only for elements such as the Keychain (passwords), payment information and health data, while other areas (Mail, Notes, iCloud Drive etc) are securely transferred to Apple’s servers where they are then encrypted. This means that with the latter, Apple can technically see the files in an unencrypted format.
pCloud offers client-side encryption via its Crypto Folder, though it is a paid extra. Any data you store on the service is accessible only by you, as the encryption key is held on your device rather than the pCloud servers.
With the introduction of iCloud+ (the paid tiers of iCloud) towards the end of 2021, Apple did add Private Relay to the feature-set. This protects your browsing from any prying eyes, so long as you use Safari. There’s also Hide My Email, which allows you to instantly create disposable email addresses you can use when signing up to things online, so your real one is never exposed.
How much do they cost?
You get a free allocation with both services.In addition you can pay for the following:
iCloud offers a free 5GB tier, then you can move up to these monthly paid tiers of iCloud+:
- 50GB: £0.79/$0.99/€0.99
- 200GB: £2.49/$2.99/€2.99
- 2TB: £6.99/S$9.99/€9.99
pCloud gives you a base free allocation of 2GB but this is immediately upgraded by completing basic tasks such as downloading the apps and saving a file, so that you end up with 7GB. This can be extended further by recommending the service to friends, with an extra 1GB for any that sign up, topping out at 10GB of free storage.
There are fewer options when it comes to storage amounts, with these options available:
- 500GB: £42.99/$49.99/€49.99 p/a
- 2TB: £85.99/$99.99/€99.99 p/a
There’s also the option to buy a lifetime subscription with the following one-time costs:
- 500GB: £149/$175/€175
- 2TB: £299/$350/€350
If you want the Crypto storage option, that uses the ultra-safe client-side encryption, then it costs an additional £4.29/$4.99/€4.99 per month or you can buy a lifetime subscription £107/$125/€125.
Can I use iCloud or pCloud to back up my hard disk?
Both services give you the ability to save specific files and folders, but neither creates full system backups you can use to recover from things like a hard disk crash. For that you’ll need to read our
best backup software for Mac roundup.
If you’re looking for a seamless way to keep your various Apple devices in sync, then iCloud makes life very easy indeed. Thanks to its deep system integration, your contacts, calendars, passwords, photos, files and other important data are all automatically backed up to the iCloud servers, where they can be accessed via apps or the web. The free allocation is pitiful, but if you’re happy to pay the (we think quite reasonable) monthly subscription then it becomes an excellent solution.
pCloud is probably a better option if you’re looking to permanently store large numbers of files in the cloud. It’s not particularly cheap, but if you think long-term, then the lifetime subscriptions do offer good value.