Using a cloud-based service to store and share your files is essential in today’s computing age. Here is a comparison of two services.
A feature-by-feature Dropbox vs. SugarSync comparison with screenshots.
- Free storage – SugarSync: 5 GB, Dropbox: 2 GB
- Dropbox allows you to share files up to 1 GB via public links or email. SugarSync limits it to 25 MB.
- SugarSync has native support for music playback on the web and for smartphones. Dropbox requires a third-party app, such as groovyBox.
- Many users report that Dropbox has faster upload / sync speeds than SugarSync.
- Dropbox has been featured in the news for a few security SNAFUs. SugarSync hasn’t gotten any heat, but likely suffers from the same vulnerabilities. Best security practice for both: encrypt your important documents using TrueCrypt or BoxCryptor.
I’m a Dropbox man—always have been, always will be. So, when an assignment to review SugarSync came across my desk (not really, MrGroove didn’t give me a desk…), I raised a skeptical eyebrow. At first blush, SugarSync struck me as the Dropbox alternative that I never asked for. I must not be the only one who feels this way, because right there on the front page of SugarSync’s website is a link to a comparison chart between SugarSync vs. Dropbox and the other cloud storage/folder syncing heavyweights: MobileMe, Box.net, Carbonite, and Mozy.
As expected, most of the checkmarks were grouped beneath the first two columns, with SugarSync winning out with a few key features, namely: backup to any folder, upload/sync via email, selectively sync any folder, simple editing of files through the web, send files of any size, stream music to a web browser or smartphone, business plans and support for BlackBerry, Symbian and Windows Mobile. Granted, this chart is somewhat dated, as Dropbox has closed the gap on at least the business plans front with Dropbox for Teams. But it seems like SugarSync has a couple of things to offer that Dropbox doesn’t. So, without any further ado, here’s an investigation of what those differences are, and if they add up to SugarSync being a Dropbox killer.
Update: It’s been quite some time since I originally posted this review, and commenters have done a groovy job of chiming in with some great feedback and testimonials. See the update for a summary of this review and a roundup of some of the good points raised in the discussion. Also, check out our Dropbox vs. Box.net review.
Update: In this review, I note Dropbox’s inability to stream music as a playlist as one of it’s drawbacks compared to SugarSync. Well, we waited and waited for Dropbox to catch up with SugarSync and add this feature, but it still hasn’t happened. So, we made an app that does it for us. Check out groovyBox if you want to use your Dropbox account as a cloud music player.
There is a lot in common between Dropbox and Sugarsync, simply because both of these champs got a lot of things right. You’ll notice many of these similarities from the get-go, from the pricing tiers and storage allotments for the free version (which is kind of buried for SugarSync) to the friendly Getting Started tutorial which promises free additional storage for completing the steps and referring friends. The lowest standard tier for SugarSync is the “Starter Plan” which comes with 30 GB of storage for $4.99 a month or $49.99 a year. If you sign up for the year subscription, you are basically getting three months for free, since you get a 30 day free trial and savings of about $10 for subscribing for the whole year. If you need more space, you can upgrade to the Power Users plan, which starts at $9.99 a month for 60 GB and ranges up to $49.99 for 500 GB. There is also a Business plan, which gives you 100 GB of storage for up to 3 users for $29.99 a month. You can add storage 100 GB at a time for $29.99 per month, or add users for $9.99 each.
The free version gives you just
2 GB 5 GB of storage space and a few limitations, such as smaller file sizes for sharing, syncing for two machines only, and only two backed-up versions of each file, instead of five. But unlike the 30-day free trials, the 5 GB SugarSync plan is free forever.
If it were possible to be more user-friendly than Dropbox, SugarSync achieves it. Not that getting started with Dropbox was like passing the Bar—it’s just that SugarSync has a lot more hand-holding, even going as far as calling the mobile app walkthrough a “game.” There are ample pop-ups, helper texts and arrows pointing you in the right direction such that you’ll be able to tap SugarSync’s full potential in a little under 30 minutes.
The initial setup lets you choose a cutesy little avatar for each computer and gives you the option of an Express Setup or an Advanced Setup. Both are pretty foolproof. The main difference is that the Express Setup chooses some typical folders to sync, such as your Desktop, My Documents, My Pictures, and Music. Advanced Setup just plops you into the SugarSync Manage Folders window, which is pretty easy, too.
Backup to Any Folder – Merging Folders, Magic Briefcase, and Synchronized Folders
The main reason why anyone is going to switch from Dropbox to SugarSync is the ability to sync multiple folders. This is something that Dropbox doesn’t support natively (yet), though you can pull it off with symlinks (see: Make Dropbox Sync Any Folder On Your PC Using Symbolic Links). Windows Live Mesh lets you do this, but it doesn’t really hold a candle to Dropbox or SugarSync in any of the other departments. So, SugarSync is a pretty good best of both worlds mix.
There are a couple of ways you can manage synced folders with SugarSync. First off, SugarSync automatically creates a Magic Briefcase in your My Documents folder when you install the client. This syncs automatically across the web and locally on each synced machine with SugarSync installed. In this way, the Magic Briefcase is pretty much exactly the same as your main Dropbox folder would be—except with a name I really can’t take seriously (pull a rabbit out of it, and I’ll be a believer).
Now, when you add a folder from your computer to SugarSync, by default, your Synced Folder is accessible from other computers and your personal website (located at yourusername.sugarsync.com), but it won’t automatically create local copies on each machine (like the Magic Briefcase does). If you want to download files from remote machines, you can do so through your personal website or the SugarSync File Manager on an as-you-go basis.
If you want, you can take your regular Synced Folders and keep them synced on other machines, so it acts just like the Magic Briefcase. Do so in the SugarSync Manage Sync Folders dialog.
The differences between the types of folders are best visualized here as well:
As you can see here, I’ve synchronized my Desktops on both computers. When you sync a folder from a remote computer, you can choose the destination for the local copy. For example, I could’ve had a separate folder on my Macwin7 called “EEEPC Desktop files.” But instead, I chose to merge them. That way, both of my computers have the exact same files on the desktop at all times. If you have duplicate filenames when you initially merge, SugarSync will detect whether or not they are identical. If they are, a single copy is synced. If not, then a conflicting version is saved with “(from REMOTEMACHINENAME)” appended to the filename. This is also how SugarSync treats conflicted copies, say if you have the file open on two computers and a user attempts to save over a version with pending/conflicted changes.
So, to review, there are three kinds of folders with SugarSync:
- Magic Briefcase – Acts like a Dropbox folder. Files are synced in the cloud and across all computers.
- Synced Folders – Doesn’t sync across all computers, but can be accessed via the web interface or the SugarSync file manager and is backed up to the cloud.
- Web Archive – Cloud backup only—isn’t synced locally, but can be accessed via the web interface or SugarSync file manager.
Web Uploads, Mobile Uploads, Upload by Email and WebSync
Aside from the normal SugarSync Manage Sync Folders dialog, you can get files and folders into your system via the web, your smartphone or email. To upload a file via the web, simply log on to your SugarSync Personal Website and click on the folder or computer you want to upload to. This is actually pretty neat—you can upload it to your Web Archive, where it exists only on the cloud, you can upload it to your Magic Briefcase, where it gets synced across all your machines, or you can upload it to a single synced folder on one of your machines. For example, if you were at a friend’s house, and you wanted to send yourself a file, you could upload it via your SugarSync personal website, even if your computer is offline. The file will hang out in the cloud until you get online back at home, at which time it’ll rain down to the appropriate folder like a gentle spring shower.
From the SugarSync mobile app, you can upload photos or videos out of your camera roll or take photos or videos and have them save to your SugarSync Mobile Photos folder and synced down to your computer.
The upload by email feature is well thought out and easy to use. First, you have to enable it under your account settings.
When you do so, you’ll get a unique email address. The nice thing about this unique email address is that you can reset it at any time, which is useful, say if you accidentally forgot to censor your upload email address when posting screenshots for a review of SugarSync. Another nice little touch: you can have the info sent to your email, so you don’t have to painstakingly type it into your smartphone just to get it into your address book.
When you email an attachment to this address, it’ll automatically put it in your Mobile Uploads folder. This comes in handy if you’re managing emails on the go and someone sends you an attachment—you can simply forward the email to your SugarSync account and it’ll automatically sync to your computer.
There’s also another feature called WebSync, which I’m not crazy about. In the features breakdown, they tout WebSync as a Remote Online Access feature that lets you edit files from any computer via the web interface. When I read that, I first thought it was going to be something like Google Docs or Microsoft Office Live, where you could launch a doc editor right in the browser. That would be legitimately groovy. But in reality, WebSync is just a Java app that lets you download the file onto a machine without SugarSync installed, make some changes, and upload it again. The changes will be reflected across your synced machines back at home, while the file will be wiped clean from the machine you used to edit it. I guess that’s handy in a pinch, but I can’t really envision a situation where I’d use this (Internet cafes?).
Streaming Music with SugarSync
SugarSync pushes its ability to stream your music collection as one of its main selling points, subtly poo-pooing Dropbox’s comparable ability to do this in the process. Both SugarSync and Dropbox can playback music and video files (file type compatibility depends on your platform) from the Web or a mobile device, but neither have particularly robust streaming players. SugarSync kicks it up a nominal notch by including an actual playlist, replete with shuffle and repeat, which you can use to play all the music files in a folder. It works the best via the personal website—I can see this as really handy, say, if you wanted to listen to your music at work without copying your library onto your work computer. The player pops out, letting you minimize it so it can play in the background. It’s definitely no iTunes killer, though. It wouldn’t be a Lala killer either if Lala hadn’t already been killed by Apple (fist shake).
The mobile version is less snazzy. You just play a file and it automatically cycles through the rest of the songs in the folder. You’d better hope that your filenames have the tracking number in them, however, because your only option is to play them in alphabetical order or according to date.
In terms of playback, I noticed some hiccups and skips on my WiFi network. I think that’s my crappy router’s fault, though, since it seemed to playback smoothly over 3G. Again, I don’t see this as a viable alternative to the iPod app built-in to iOS 4. But I suppose if your iPhone was filled up with apps and movies, and you had a paid SugarSync account with 30 GB, it would make an excellent cloud-based multimedia library. I do see potential here, especially after reading grooveDexter’s Tonido review—Tonido offers a similar service where you can stream your music from your computer to your mobile device. I think cloud-based multimedia libraries may be the future (albeit a distant one).
Folder Sharing, Public Photo Galleries, and Public Links
One thing that cloud storage and folder synchronization services are really good for is sending large files. It saves you from attaching them to emails and filling up inboxes, plus, it lets you send out a large file to multiple people without giving your email server a heart attack. SugarSync lets you get files from your computer out into the world in a couple of ways. The best way, in my opinion, is via Public Links. For any single file that is managed by SugarSync, you can right-click it and choose “Get Public Link.” This copies a unique link into your clipboard which you can tweet, email or scrawl on the inside of a Charleston Chew wrapper and distribute.
This is a direct link, and when user clicks on it, the download will begin instantly—no portals or logins or anything like that. With the free version, you can get public links for files up to 5 MB. Paid SugarSync users can get public links for files up to 2 GB.
The Public Link stays active indefinitely, and any changes to the file you make on your local machine get reflected on the publically shared file. That way, your collaborators can always get the latest version. If you want to remove a public link, simply pop into your SugarSync Personal Website and Click Public Files. Click the little chain link icon and choose Disable Link.
As a slight variation to Public Links, you can also send files via email. If the recipient doesn’t have a SugarSync account, they can just download it directly. If they are SugarSync users, they can sync the file to their account or download it. When you send files by email, the recipient has 21 days to download it before the link goes inactive.
You can also share entire folders, giving users read-only or read/write access as you see fit. I don’t like this feature quite as much, since it requires recipients to sign up for a SugarSync account—even if the folder is read-only. All you get to see is a quick preview of the contents and an invitation to sign up to access the folder. Dropbox, on the other hand, allows you to share read-only folders without requiring recipients to sign up.
While you can’t share documents and files in a read-only folder with unregistered users, you can share photo albums publicly at username.sugarsync.com/albums. The fastest way is to right-click a folder full of pictures and choose Share as an album. Here, your friends can download, share or publish your photos to Facebook. It’s a pretty groovy feature. Groovier than Facebook Photos or Picasa Web Albums? Overall, not really. But it does let make a local pictures folder on your hard drive instantly viewable via your public photo gallery. So, instead of uploading your photos, you can just plunk them in your shared photo gallery folder and they are live.
SugarSync handles file versioning differently from Dropbox in that it keeps track of a certain amount of instances, rather than unlimited previous versions dating back to a certain period of time. You can view previous or download previous versions from your SugarSync personal website or by right-clicking a file in Windows Explorer and choosing Show Versions… For the free account, you can access the last two previous versions. Paid accounts get five versions. Versioning is automatically applied to every synced file and folder, which is nice. But as someone who saves a file after every little change, this isn’t particularly useful, except in the case of a crash, since all of my previous versions will likely be spaced a few minutes part. I like Dropbox’s way of things better since you can really go back in time to before you messed everything up.
Under the Hood
Like Dropbox, SugarSync allows you to throttle the upload speed. But it doesn’t have an option that lets you control the download bandwidth. I’m not sure what kind of throttling SugarSync does on its end—during the setup, it told me that it would take about a day for my initial sync of 1 GB to 2 GB of data via a normal high-speed broadband connection. In reality, it didn’t—I think I was synced in just over an hour. I’m wondering if they are including that statement as a CYA if they ever have to nerf the upload speeds in the future.
Again, SugarSync is in lockstep with Dropbox in terms of proxy support. But other than that, the cupboard is relatively bare in the preferences pane—not that that’s a big deal. Aside from the download throttling option, the only material addition in Dropbox’s preferences tabs is LAN Sync, which bypasses the cloud and zaps files straight through your local area network if two machines are on the same router or LAN. SugarSync doesn’t appear to have this, or if it does, you can’t turn it off or on.
SugarSync for Business
Whereas Dropbox is just now dabbling into enterprise solutions with Dropbox for Teams, SugarSync has long offered SugarSync Business plans. As mentioned above, this gives you bulk storage starting at 100 GB to share between three users, with the ability to add storage and users incrementally. To manage your multiple users, you get administrative controls that let you add/remove users and set unique access and storage limits for each employee. So, let’s say if you want to give your design team 75 GB for their high-quality proofs but want to limit your accountants to just 5 GB for their docs and spreadsheets, you can. SugarSync is a bit vague regarding their security, other than assuring you that they use SSL encryption during the uploading and downloading and 128-bit AES encryption once it gets to the server. It doesn’t say so on their website, but I believe SugarSync uses Amazon’s S3 service as one of the two geo-redundant carrier-grade data centers it uses to back up your data. If so, then security-wise, SugarSync is the exact same as Dropbox.
The other important perk you get with the SugarSync Business plan is unlimited phone support. With the other plans, you get free support via email and chat, but if you want to talk to a real-life human being, you’ll have to go to Business.
Summary – Dropbox vs. SugarSync
If this were simply a review of SugarSync, the verdict would be easy. Is SugarSync an excellent cloud storage/folder synchronization/back up software? Definitely yes. But is it better than Dropbox? I can’t tell you that. I can tell you that I like Dropbox more, but all that tells you is that I am a devoted fan of Dropbox. It’s more my style—I don’t mind being confined to a single synced folder, which is arguably Dropbox’s biggest drawback, and I prefer Dropbox’s laidback integration into Windows Explorer (or Finder or Nautilus) over SugarSync’s various graphic user interfaces. I feel like I spent a lot more time on SugarSync’s personal website than I do logged into Dropbox.com, and I prefer it that way—the fewer windows I need to have open, the better, I always say. But that’s just the way my mind and workflow function—it’s more of a Pepsi vs. Coke judgment call than a Mac vs. PC call.
That being said, SugarSync is more flexible overall. You’ve got three kinds of synchronized folders—the Magic Briefcase, the Web Archive, and regular Synced Folders, all of which are accessible from other machines, the Web, or your smartphone. And then there are some extra features that SugarSync boasts loudly, but I feel are just gilding the lily—the public photo gallery, the streaming music player, and the upload via email. All these features are nice (and absent from Dropbox), but I feel like the email upload is the only one that brings real value.
In terms of pricing and storage allotments, as long as we are comparing the free versions, Dropbox and SugarSync are evenly matched.
Both give you an initial 2 GB Dropbox gives you 2 GB of space, while SugarSync recently upped its free version to 5 GB–plus, both give you the opportunity to earn bonus storage by referring friends. Through December 31, 2010, you can get double referral bonuses, so both you and your friend get 500 MB of additional space when he or she signs up. Also, during the promotion period, there is an unlimited amount of bonus storage. By comparison, Dropbox offers bonus storage in 250 MB allotments that top out at 10 GB. I’m not clear on what the limits for SugarSync’s bonus storage will be after December 31, but I think it’s somewhere around 105 GB. Plus, you get a juicy 10 GB bonus when you refer someone to a paid account.
As far as platform support goes, Dropbox takes the cup with its Linux, OS X, and Windows support, but falls short with its limited mobile support, offering only iPhone/iPad and Android apps. SugarSync, on the other hand, works for OS X and Windows (no Linux) and has iPhone/iPad, Android, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry, and Symbian apps. The only folks left out in the cold are webOS users, but even they can still access SugarSync via the mobile website.
For business users, it’s almost a toss-up, though I can’t speak from experience. SugarSync Business plans start at a lower rate, just $299.99 a year for 3 users and 100 GB. Dropbox for Teams starts way higher at $795, but you get 5 users and 350 GB of space. Upgrading a SugarSync Business package to 5 users and 400 GB would cost you an additional $1,000 or so, making it more expensive than Dropbox for Teams with an apples to apples comparison. But the big thing, I’d say, is Dropbox’s more robust backup and versioning support. With Dropbox Rewind, you get unlimited versioning going back to the dawn of time (or your account). SugarSync’s versioning gives you five previous versions period—so if someone updates a file five times in one afternoon, then you can kiss the version from last quarter goodbye. SugarSync, however, beats Dropbox in mobile support—the email uploads could be handy for business users, and the BlackBerry and Windows Mobile support could be a make-or-break feature.
Bottom-line: Both are excellent products. Which one is best for you will depend on your needs. If you’ve taken the time to read this 3,500+ word review, then you may as well give SugarSync a shot and make up your own mind—even the business plan is free for 30 days. And if you use my referral link, we’ll both get free storage right off the bat. And if you want to go ahead and buy a 30GB or 60GB plan, although the first 30 days will be free, after that the price will increase to 4.99/mo or 9.99/mo.
This has been one of our most popular articles and has generated lots of great comments. It’s been quite a few months since we originally posted this review, so I figured it was high time for a quick update and summary of some of the good points that were raised by you groovyReaders.
First, let’s talk about security. Dropbox and SugarSync both encrypt your data in transit and at rest. However, for your convenience, Dropbox/SugarSync controls your encryption keys (otherwise it’d be a huge hassle to get your files on the fly from mobile and web platforms) and certain high-level staff can change your passwords/access your data. (A SugarSync staffer linked us this explanation in the comments). Dropbox, in particular, has been waging an ongoing PR battle to quell controversy over its claims of security. The bottom line is that the cloud is what it is—nothing is 100% safe, and while the most recent authentication bug was a major fumble on Dropbox’s part, you really shouldn’t be trusting anyone implicitly with your personal data. Dropbox has been catching the most flak, I think because it’s the major player. You shouldn’t assume that SugarSync is more secure for a single second. Protecting your data is ultimately your responsibility. Yes, seek the company that’s going to make the best good-faith effort at protecting your privacy and data. But take action to save your own bacon when one or more layers of security get breached. Further reading: How to Encrypt Your Dropbox Folder with TrueCrypt,
Some other highlights for the TL;DR crowd:
- SugarSync offers 5 GB while Dropbox offers 2 GB for free
- The free version of SugarSync has a 25 MB limit for public file sharing. Dropbox has no such thing. That’s a deal-breaker if you’re going to be sharing large files (e.g. videos, source codes, design mockups).
- Based on commenter testimonials, SugarSync appears to have much slower upload speeds. I’ve asked SugarSync if they throttle, and they say “No, it’s your ISP’s fault.” The actual transfer speeds of Dropbox and SugarSync seemed comparable when I tested them on my machine, yet it took me days to sync ~60 GB on SugarSync. I think it’s a queuing or infrastructure issue—speed may improve once SugarSync grows.
- Dropbox has LAN sync, which makes syncing between computers on the same network much faster. It also uses less bandwidth for the initial sync, since it doesn’t have to go from your computer to the cloud and then back down again.
- SugarSync lets you sync ANY folder while Dropbox restricts you to one folder and it’s subfolders.
- SugarSync has a nifty music player that sort of rivals Amazon Cloud Player and Google Music (but much less full-featured).
- Yes, we all know that you can get 500 MB of free data if you use a referral link (I’ve racked up 223 GB of free storage to date). But before you try spamming your own referral link into our comments. please make sure you have something worthwhile to share about your experience with SugarSync, Dropbox, or a similar service ;-)