Box is a well-established file syncing and storage service along the lines of Dropbox. It’s a reliable and full-featured product suited primarily for businesses, but it can also serve home users well. Here we focus on the personal version of Box, which offers a relatively generous amount of free storage and connects to many different apps and web services. It trails platform players like Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive when it comes to value and built-in integration with services consumers are likely to be using.
Pricing and Plans
Box offers free accounts, paid personal accounts, and business-grade accounts. At 10GB, a free Box personal account comes with five times as much space as a free Dropbox account, which offers 2GB. Box imposes a 250MB limit on the size of files you can upload with a free account, however. That limit may be a deal-killer for designers, video editors, or musicians working with huge files, but it should be plenty for users who are just storing documents and JPGs, rather than large files from multimedia content-creation programs. A paid Box Personal Pro plan, which costs $10 per month, lets you upload files up to 5GB and gives you a total of 100GB of space.
In addition to personal plans, Box also offers business accounts. PCMag reviewed Box for Business separately. The small business and enterprise plans include greater security and encryption, as well as more administrative control for sharing files. See the linked review for additional details.
Back to that 100GB for $10 per month: As a point of comparison, Dropbox offers 20 times as much storage, 2TB, for the same $9.99 per month in its Plus plan. SugarSync is also a better deal, giving you 250GB for the same $9.99 per month.
For the most storage bang for your buck, IDrive offers 2TB for just $69.50 per year, and even its free account gets you 5GB. OneDrive is nearly as competitively priced, with a 1TB account going for just $6.99 per month or $69.99 per year. If you buy a 1TB OneDrive plan, Microsoft throws in a Microsoft 365 subscription, too, which could be a huge value-add, since it gets you the installable Office applications. OneDrive offers free users 5GB of storage space.
Google Drive gives users the most free storage, 15GB to start, and its $9.99-per-month paid option called Google One, ups that to 2TB. That allotted storage is spread across Google Drive, Gmail (including attachments), and Photos, but not all files count against your limit. Anything you create with Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides (what most people call Google Docs) doesn’t count against your limit. See Google’s help page on Drive storage limits for even more details regarding its storage allowances.
Apple iCloud also charges $9.99 per month for 2TB of storage that’s tightly integrated with Macs, iOS device, and their apps. It even offers collaborative editing in Pages, Numbers, and Keynote.
The Box Basics
To get started with a Box account, you create a login and respond to an email confirmation. Free accounts require a phone number but not a payment method. On first use, you tell Box whether your account is for personal or business use, and then it asks you to provide acquaintances’ emails for collaboration. You can bypass that step, fortunately. There’s no step-by-step guide to onboard you into using Box, and the help is community-based, requiring a separate account signup.
Unlike Dropbox and some other services, Box doesn’t push you to download a local syncing client; it seems happy to let you work completely online. You can, however, download and install desktop apps for Windows or macOS, as well as mobile apps.
In fact, there are quite a few official Box apps available on the page that appears when you choose Apps from the menu—some are for editing offline, and there’s even one for kanban. In Box’s app store, you see two pages of Official Box Apps, with Box Sync on the second page. It’s not clear which of these many choices is the main Box app. This is a far cry from Dropbox, Google Drive, or OneDrive, where there’s just one main client for using the service. If you’re not logged into your account, it’s actually clearer on the external Box website.
The main app is Box Drive, but Box Tools is another program that lets you edit with your local applications while saving the files to Box’s online storage, and there are Box Notes (more on this later) downloadable apps for local editing. Box Sync is an older tool that does brute syncing, without the on-demand downloading of Box Drive. Box also has a mobile-optimized website for other devices.
When you install Box Drive, you get a little tutorial about how it works. The program creates a new folder on your computer, and everything you put into that folder syncs across all the devices on which you’ve also installed the Box app. We appreciate that it doesn’t store all the file data on your local storage, but rather downloads it when you open it. Conversely, you can designate folders for offline availability, say, if you’re working on a laptop out of Wi-Fi coverage. OneDrive works similarly if you enable its Files on Demand option, but Google Drive only does this in its business-class G Suite client. Dropbox’s Smart Sync option works the same way, but only for paid accounts, not free ones.
The Box Drive application worked seamlessly on the Windows (both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors available) and macOS computers on which we installed it for testing, as well as on iPhone and Android. The desktop versions include a notification-area icon, which helpfully lets you search your cloud storage, open the Box folder, or visit the Box site. OneDrive’s icon pop-up lacks this search, as does the Google Backup & Sync utility. You can drag and drop entire folder structures into the Box folder, and all the contents are synced. You may prefer SugarSync’s method, which lets you sync folders wherever they are on your drive, but Box’s simpler solution works well, too, and it has been adopted by most syncing services to spare you the complexity of mapping drives between multiple computers.
When Box is active, icons in File Explorer show a cloud badge to indicate the file isn’t locally stored and whether syncing is in progress. If your device is offline and you add something to its folder, Box syncs all your changes the next time you’re online. Box only adds right-click options in its own File Explorer folder for sharing, locking, and viewing cloud-stored files; other syncing services add context menus for adding or sharing any files on the drive. Right-click options also let you designate whether a folder should be available offline (i.e., locally stored) or only stored in the cloud.
Box’s Web Interface
The web view of Box is clean and clear, with lots of white space, blue borders, and a prominent search box at the top. Unlike Dropbox, the site doesn’t respect your Dark Mode OS setting. Seven menu options are along the left, with four buttons across the top. The main window shows a File Explorer-like list of folders and files, which you can switch to a thumbnail grid view, which is useful for images and videos.
The menu options include All Files, Recents, Synced, Trash, Notes, Admin Console (for paid accounts only), and Favorites. The buttons next to the search box let you get help, see your tasks, notifications, and account info. It’s a little tricky to see how much storage you’ve used and have left, but you can get there by scrolling down on the Account Settings pages. Most online services show this info more clearly in the interface.
Anything you put into the syncing Box folder also becomes accessible via Box’s Web app, and the Web app is worth using. Oddly, though we’d installed the Box Drive program and had added folders and files via that app, which appeared in the web interface, the latter’s Syncing tab said we had no synced items and told us to download the Box Sync program. Apparently, that view is maintained for users of an older Box Sync desktop program. Nevertheless, the Box site does offer more than just letting you see, download, and share files, which is roughly what Dropbox offers.
Explore Box’s web app and you see rich tools for actually working with your files. There are buttons for creating new folders, bookmarks, Box Notes, Microsoft Office documents, and Google Docs. You can obviously create documents from Google Drive and OneDrive, but Dropbox doesn’t offer this as a built-in option.
Box Notes is a reasonably robust Web-based text editor. Like Dropbox’s Paper, Box Notes have a completely separate web page and interface from the main Dropbox site. Both even use different site icons. But Dropbox has the advantage of letting you embed images and video windows into Paper documents.
Box’s ability to create files right from the website would be a huge deal if it weren’t already available in Google Drive and OneDrive. Those services support more file formats and can convert files to other formats, such as .xlsx, .txt, .odt, and so forth. One handy thing you can do with documents in Box is assign a task to someone who’s associated with the document. For example, you could assign your sister the task of editing a file or ask a friend to change some graphics. These features are well suited for business settings, but individual users can use them, too.
Also on the collaboration front, Box’s Web app cleverly lets you import contacts from several major services, such as Outlook and Gmail, or from a .CSV file, making it much simpler to enter email addresses when you need to share files. Another useful collaboration feature is the ability to comment on any shared document.
When you share a file, anyone with the link can view it, but to edit, they need a Box account, which is standard for online collaboration tools. You can also share via email with two simple choices: Invite as Editor and Invite as Viewer. Business accounts get more granular sharing options, like expiration and password protection. OneDrive gives any user these options, but Google Drive doesn’t.
Viewing images you save to your file-syncing account via a Web app is part and parcel of most syncing and storage services, but Box goes the extra mile by providing a built-in music player, too. That means if you store music or audiobooks in Box, you can play the tracks on any computer just by logging into your Box Web account. The same goes for the Box mobile apps. The playing capability doesn’t extend to video files, however, unless you have a Business-level account.
Both Box for iPhone and Box for Android are extremely responsive and easy to use. Like all Android apps and iOS apps these days, they want to send you notifications, but those could actually be of value if you use Box collaboratively. Navigating the apps is easy, and they include a few unique mobile features, such as the ability to add a passcode and an auto-upload option for backing up photos and videos you take on your mobile device to your Box account. The Box app can even play cloud-stored videos.
Most of the other online storage and syncing players also offer automatic photo and video uploading. It’s a wonderful way to make sure you have copies of your smartphone photos, should your device go missing.
One of Box’s strengths is how well it plays with other apps. You can connect a Box account to a long list of services and programs, from Salesforce to Chatter to Asana, and more. Our test account included Chatter and DocuSign integrations, available from the sharing menu by default. Recent additions include integration with QuickBase, Otka workflows, and Globalink translation.
Some of these companion services are suitable for individuals, but most are better suited for businesses. Businesses that use Box will be pleased that it’s exceptionally good at integrating with other tools. Beyond the native integrations, Box also supports IFTTT and Zapier, which in turn can connect to a wealth of additional services.
Inside the Box
Box syncs your files, gives you 10GB space for free in a Personal account, and offers some convenient features. The paid personal accounts cost 10 to 20 times as much per unit of storage as much of the competition, however. Its online document editing isn’t as strong as the offerings from Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive either. If you’re willing to set it up, Box connects with so many other great tools that it’s easy to add to your toolkit without feeling the need to give up something else in exchange. For a better deal, look to PCMag Editors’ Choices for file-syncing and cloud storage services, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive.
Box (Personal) Specs
|Emphasis||Business Use, Compatibility|
|File Size Limit||5GB|
|Free Storage||10 GB|