TIME Microsoft

Microsoft Doubles Free Cloud Storage Space

Microsoft is boosting its cloud storage offering in an effort to better compete against the likes of Google, Box and Dropbox. The company announced today that it will begin offering 15 GB of free storage space in its OneDrive product, up from the current amount of 7 GB. The company is also increasing the storage space for Office 365, its online subscription service for productivity software like Word and Excel. Customers will now get 1 terabyte of storage space with Office 365, up from 20 GB previously. Microsoft is also slashing prices for purchasing additional storage on OneDrive. 100 GB of space will cost $1.99 per month, down from $7.49 per month. 200 GB will be $3.99 rather than $11.49. All the changes will take effect in July.

The new prices give Microsoft’s offering parity with Google Drive, which already offers 15 GB of space for free and additional 100 GB for $1.99 per month. It also further distances the tech giants’ offerings from cloud storage startups like Box and Dropbox, which give away less space for free. Everyone competing in the space has been racing to slash prices and expand free offerings over the last year in hopes of luring customers.

TIME cloud storage

Microsoft Office Subscriptions Just Got a Lot More Tempting

For the same price as other cloud storage services, Microsoft is essentially throwing in Office for free.

There was a time when you couldn’t convince me to buy Microsoft Office, let alone pay the recurring cost for an Office 365 subscription. My word processing needs are basic enough that I can survive on free options like Google Drive, OpenOffice or even Microsoft’s Office Online. Paying for Office just never made sense, and subscribing to Office 365 seemed like madness.

But now, I’m tempted to take Microsoft up on its latest offer for Office 365 subscribers: For $7 per month or $70 per year, you can get Office on a single computer, plus one terabyte of OneDrive cloud storage. Paying $10 per month or $100 per year gets you Office on up to five computers, and up to five users each get their own terabyte of storage.

That’s a big jump from the measly 20 gigabytes per user that Microsoft used to give to Office 365 subscribers. And according to our cloud storage comparison chart–which I’ve just updated–an Office subscription now gets you the most storage for the money, edging out Google Drive ($10 per month or $120 per year for one terabyte) and Bitcasa ($99 per year for one terabyte).

I started using OneDrive in earnest last fall after purchasing a Surface Pro 2. The tight OneDrive integration in Windows 8.1 made it easy for me to sync Word documents and .TXT files, so I could move between the Surface and my main Windows desktop without having to manually transfer files back and forth. (The free version now includes 15 gigabytes of storage, up from 7 gigabytes previously.)

With a terabyte of storage, I could start syncing all my photos as well. OneDrive’s iOS and Android apps can automatically back up any photos you take, so I could then manage those photos–along with any from my DSLR–on my Surface or desktop. Currently, I use BitTorrent Sync to automatically send photos to my desktop, while also auto-uploading them at reduced resolution to Google+ and occasionally doing a manual upload to Flickr, which offers 1 terabyte of free storage. Sending everything to OneDrive and managing it all through Windows Explorer sounds like less of a hassle.

In my case, Microsoft’s Office suite would be icing. My wife wouldn’t have to use the outdated version of Office she gets free from work, and I wouldn’t mind having a touch-optimized version on the Surface once Microsoft actually gets around to releasing it.

I haven’t decided one way or another yet–indefinite payments of $100 every year is still a big commitment–but what Microsoft is offering no longer seems crazy to me.

TIME cloud storage

Pogoplug’s Cloud Storage Is ‘Unlimited’ Unless You Use Too Much of It

A cloud storage provider reveals its throttling policy in response to complaints from heavy users.

Online storage provider Pogoplug offers what seems like an incredible deal for keeping your data safe in the cloud. For $50 per year, the company promises “unlimited” data backups, supposedly ideal for preserving your cherished photos and videos.

But over the last few weeks, some Pogoplug users have run into a previously undisclosed catch: If you upload more than 1 TB of data, your upload speeds could be throttled.

Jimmy Cohrssen, a professional photographer, discovered this while using Pogoplug to back up his pictures. Cohrssen signed up for Pogoplug roughly eight months ago, and had stored 6 TB worth of photos on Pogoplug’s servers. He had no complaints until earlier this month, when the same 500 photo uploads that used to take an hour or two were suddenly taking days to complete.

“Their advertising is very deceptive, really pushing the idea that they are one of the only services out there that provides unlimited services, when the truth is the opposite,” Cohrssen said in an e-mail.

Cohrssen spent weeks hassling Pogoplug tech support, until they finally offered him a pro-rated refund. He’s still deciding what to do, and isn’t thrilled with the prospect of re-uploading 6 TB of files to another service like Backblaze or Drivepop.

Eventually, in response to weeks of complaints, Pogoplug gave an explanation to affected users. In a message drafted by Chief Product Officer Jed Putterman and distributed by the company’s tech support, Pogoplug said that it has to divvy up its limited bandwidth among heavier users to keep things fair for everyone:

Our primary goal is to get people’s initial back up done as fast as possible. In order to do this, for the first 1TB of storage we allow files to be backed up as fast as our users can send them. We chose this amount of storage because we felt it was well beyond the initial amount that people would need to back up to feel safe. For users beyond 1TB, we take our remaining bandwidth and evenly distribute it across those users. We are constantly adding additional bandwidth and infrastructure, and when we do everybody benefits.

In an interview, Pogoplug CEO Daniel Putterman further explained that the company uses lots of other factors to prioritize speeds. For instance, streaming video gets greater priority so that users don’t get any interruptions while watching. The 1 TB throttling cutoff was actually a response to users who wanted fast speeds on their initial backups.

“There’s this long list of QoS-related features, because if you don’t do that, you’re going to have a crummy cloud,” Putterman said.

There’s nothing wrong with having such a policy. The problem is that Pogoplug doesn’t mention potential speed limits anywhere on its website or its terms of use. The company’s FAQ page promises “no restrictions on storage or file size,” but says nothing about speeds. The letter from tech support was the only acknowledgement that a throttling policy exists.

Danny Dausend, another Pogoplug user, said the sudden throttling was a “huge surprise,” given that there was no indication of the policy before he signed up. Like Cohrssen, he’s also not sure what to do now. “I need to find a new place to house my stuff,” Dausend said in an e-mail. “But I have over 1.8 TB, and that’s not an easy task.”

Putterman said the company debated for several weeks whether to reveal the throttling policy, because it’s just one of many factors that can affect speeds. “The point is, there’s so many of them, why isolate this one?” Putterman said.

Still, Putterman acknowledged that Pogoplug could be more transparent about its policies. He said the company would at least consider adding some disclosure to its terms of service.

“We’re going to be, probably, very open, and dramatically more so than other companies in the space, and hopefully we’ll set an example for others,” Putterman said.

There is another silver lining for affected users: A few days ago, Pogoplug discovered and fixed a failed port that may have caused some of the more drastic speed issues. The fix doesn’t explain the previous weeks of complaints, but some users on Pogoplug’s forums have indeed reported speed improvements over the last few days. Putterman also pointed out that if users were able to upload more than 1 TB in past, that means most of the time, Pogoplug is able to offer a satisfactory level of service.

Still, Pogoplug can’t predict every spike in demand, especially as it works to acquire users in new ways, such as a recent promotional deal with Sprint. With finite bandwidth and no guarantee that users won’t notice slower speeds in the future, the best thing Pogoplug can do is stop leaving its users in the dark.

TIME Gadgets

5 Tech Products Under $50 Everyone Should Own

I get asked quite a bit what my favorite tech products are. And because I have access to all the best stuff for testing as a tech journalist, sometimes my choices are a little beyond the reach of most consumers, such as a $4,000 UHD TV set or a $1,500 dSLR.

But when I look at the stuff I’ve actually paid money for, the items are definitely more reasonable price-wise. That doesn’t mean they’re any less valuable, though. In fact, they’re often the items I use every day and take wherever I go. And these are my top picks for tech products under $50 that everyone should own.

Digital Treasures

Backup battery charger

Anyone who owns a smartphone knows it can run through a battery in less than a day. So I carry a backup battery charger everywhere. The Digital Treasures ChargeIt Universal 3600mAh Power Bank ($29.99 on Amazon) has built-in Lightning, microUSB and legacy 30-pin Apple device cables, so you won’t ever forget yours. And its 3600mAh battery provides plenty of backup power for even the most power-hungry cell phones.

philips-sonicare-essence-350px
Essence Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush Sonicare

Electric toothbrush

Electric toothbrushes work better than manual ones. Not only does brushing with an electric toothbrush leave your teeth feeling cleaner, according to a report by The Cochrane Collaboration Oral Health Group, it also reduces plaque and the risk of contracting gingivitis, an early stage periodontal disease that affects 50 percent of adults.

Not just any electric toothbrush will do, though. Go for a model with a head that rotates and oscillates, like the Oral-B Professional Deep Sweep Triaction 1000 ($39.97 on Amazon) or a sonic model like the rechargeable Sonicare Essence Rechargeable Electric Toothbrush ($49.95 on Amazon)

Cloud-based file storage

Imagine losing every picture, every video, every memento of the important events in your life due to a fire, flood or theft. And why risk it when cloud-based storage options are so widely available and cheap? One of the best bargains is Google Drive, which is free for the first 15 GB of storage and $1.99 per month ($23.88 per year) for up to 100GB. (You can also get 1TB for $9.99 per month or $119.88 per year.) You can use it to sync files between all of your devices and access your files from anywhere. We even trust it at Techlicious to store and share all of our business files.

Hamilton Beach

Pod-based single serve coffee machine

Every minute counts during my morning rush, so I rely on a single-serve coffee machine to give me that initial jolt, with a minimal amount of effort. There are certainly fancier options out there than the Hamilton Beach Stay or Go Personal Cup Pod Coffeemaker 49990Z ($29.99 on Amazon), but for $30, you can get a very good cup of coffee in no time. You can buy pre-made Senseo pods or make your own pods, filling them with your favorite coffee or tea. The coffeemaker is built to accommodate tall travel mugs and has a built-in stand for regular cups.

Slime

Instant tire repair

Changing a flat tire is messy, difficult and can be downright dangerous. With just the push of a button, though, the Slime Safety Spair ($38.97 on Amazon) injects a special sealant into your tire, plugging punctures up to a quarter inch, and quickly re-inflating the tire with its built-in compressor. All in 7 minutes…er…flat. There’s also a safety light for night use making it an essential part of your car safety kit. The inflator can also be used to top off a low tire or inflate sports balls without injecting the repair sealant.

This article was written by Suzanne Kantra and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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TIME cloud storage

Chart: Cloud Storage Services Compared

Getty Images

Cloud storage is a wonderful example of how we benefit from competition. A couple years ago, there were fewer good services to choose from, and the ones that were available didn’t offer as much storage–both free and paid–as they do now.

The only downside is that it’s trickier now to figure out which online storage service is the best for your needs. Allow us to help out with this chart, which takes into account Google’s recent price cuts on Google Drive storage.

To keep things simple, we’ll focus on services that have a free version, desktop software and mobile apps. And we’ll only consider personal use cases, rather than enterprise-level services that require multiple user accounts. Here’s how Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Dropbox, Box, Bitcasa, Barracuda Copy and Mediafire stack up (all prices listed are per year):

Google Drive Microsoft OneDrive Dropbox Box Bitcasa Barracuda Copy Mediafire
Free Space 15 GB* 15 GB 2 GB 10 GB 5 GB 15 GB 10 GB***
Space Per Referral - 500 MB 500 MB - 1 GB 5 GB 1 GB
Max Bonus***** - 8 GB 20.5 GB - 15 GB None 50 GB
50 GB - - - - - - -
100 GB $24 $24 $99 $60 or $120** - - $25****
200 GB - $48 $199 - - - $50****
250 GB - - - - - $99 -
500 GB - - $499 - - $149 $100
1 TB $120 $70****** - - $99 - $260
5 TB - - - - $499 - -
10 TB $1200 - - - - - $2156
20 TB $2400 - - - - - $4196
30 TB $3600 - - - - - $5860
Unlimited - - - - $999 - -
File Size Limit (Free) 10 GB 2 GB - 250 MB - - -
File Size Limit (Paid) 10 GB 2 GB - 2 GB or 5 GB** - - -

* Includes Gmail/Google+/Picasa storage
** $60 plan has 2 GB file size limit but more business features; $120 plan has 5 GB limit
*** Ads appear during file downloads
**** Introductory rate; doubles after first year
***** May require camera uploads, social network posts, user feedback, etc.
****** Includes Office 365 subscription

A few takeaways:

  • Barracuda’s Copy offers the most no-hassle storage and, at least for now, the biggest opportunities to collect more storage through referrals. (This may change, as Copy’s website says it’s offering such generous bonuses to “celebrate Copy’s launch,” which happened last May.)
  • If you need to pay for extra storage, but can limit your usage to 100 GB, Google Drive and Microsoft OneDrive are the cheapest options. And those are based on a monthly rates of $2, so you needn’t lock yourself in for a year to get the best price.
  • If you need more than 100 GB of storage, OneDrive has the edge. It’s the cheapest, and it also includes access to Microsoft’s Office suite on one computer and one tablet. (You can also pay $100 per year for access on up to five PCs and five tablets, and up to five users with 1 TB of storage each.)

Should you consider other services for reasons beyond the amount of free storage and prices for extra storage? Sure. Here are some that come to mind:

  • OneDrive’s tight integration with Office and Windows 8 makes it a great choice for folks who live in Microsoft’s ecosystem. The same is true for Google Drive and its interation with Gmail, Android and Chromebooks.
  • Dropbox has excellent support among software developers. If an app supports saving files to the cloud, odds are Dropbox is an option, if not the only option. Box’s app support is fairly extensive as well; you can view a directory of supported apps through Box’s website.
  • Bitcasa’s desktop software works a bit differently from the competition, for better or worse. When you move a file to the Bitcasa folder, it is actually deleted from your local machine, not just duplicated in the cloud. This saves storage space but means you could be separated from your files if you lose Internet access. Alternatively, the app lets you “mirror” any folder so it’s stored both locally and online.
  • If Barracuda’s generous referral program ever changes, MediaFire may end up offering the most storage if you’re willing to jump through some hoops.

Of course, there’s nothing stopping you from spreading your files around to more than one service. You can even use services like Jolicloud and ZeroPC to manage all your storage in one place, but that’s a topic for another day.

TIME Web

Google Drive Cloud Storage Service Sees Major Price Drops

The price of Amazon Prime may be increasing, but not everything on the web is getting more expensive. Google announced a series of major price cuts to its Google Drive cloud storage service.

Google Drive’s 100GB storage plan is now priced at $1.99 per month ($23.88 per year), while a more robust 1TB plan now runs $9.99 monthly ($119.88 per year). The first 15GB of storage space on Google Drive remains free.

Existing Google Drive customers will “automatically move to a better plan at no additional cost,” says Google Director of Product Management Scott Johnston on the Official Google Blog.

A cloud service like Google Drive is a terrific option if you need to access a diverse number of files over a number of different devices. Drive also interfaces well with the Google Android mobile phone ecosystem.

Just be warned, though: Once you start paying a monthly fee for cloud storage, it’s hard to turn back.

You can learn more about Google Drive by visiting drive.google.com.

This article was written by Fox Van Allen and originally appeared on Techlicious.

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