As with many Cloud services these days, IDrive offers 5GB storage for free. Just to compare, Dropbox offers 2GB storage for free, while Google Drive hands out a rather generous 15GB storage for free.
Personal plans, which is what this review looks at, start at $52.12 USD per year (get the first year for only $17.38 with our discount).
Payment is accepted by credit/debit card only.
- End-to-end encryption (optional)
- Multi-platform support
- Real-time sync
- File sharing (but not on e2ee accounts)
- IDrive Express (see below)
- File versioning (“Snapshots”)
- Remote management via web console
- Disk image backup
- Incremental backup
- True archiving
IDrive offers full apps for Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android devices. It also offers a “thin client” for Windows and macOS which allows for remote configuration using a web interface.
A Linux scripts package similarly allows automatic uploads from a Linux machine, which can be remotely managed from the IDrive GUI web interface. Setting these up, however, does require familiarity with the Terminal command line.
You can share files or folders with other users, but disappointingly this is not possible if you opt to use end-to-end encryption.
In the event of data loss IDrive involving very large amounts (gigabytes or more) of data, IDrive can speed up the recovery process by shipping a physical hard drive containing your lost data for local backup.
Alternatively, when you sign-up to the service IDrive can send you a blank hard drive to fill up with data and send back to IDrive. With large amounts of data, this can significantly decrease initial setup and upload times.
This service is free to Personal account holders once a year, with subsequent backup requests costing $59.95. Return shipping is free in the United States, but international customers are charged standard shipping rates.
IDrive’s Snapshot feature stores historical versions of files, which can be recovered at any time. This protects data from ransomware attacks and can be useful if you just want to access earlier drafts of files.
Up to 30 versions of a file are supported, a cool aspect of which is that Snapshot versions of files do not count against your storage limit.
Disk image backup
It is possible to back up and restore entire drives, including an image of your system drive. This feature only works for Windows drives, but IDrive is one of the very few cloud services to support Time Machine backup for Macs.
IDrive optimizes data transfer by only uploading blocks of a file that have changed, rather than re-uploading entire files when they are modified. This speeds up the transfer process and saves on bandwidth consumption.
Unlike services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, iDrive, and OneDrive, IDrive is true cloud backup service rather than a glorified file syncing service. This means that when you delete a file locally, it is not deleted from the IDrive servers.
In order to permanently delete files, you must manually delete them on the server or use IDrive’s automated Archive Cleanup function. Archive Cleanup should be used with caution, however, as is will permanently delete data which has been deleted locally.
Not very well advertised is that fact that as well as backing files up to the Cloud, you can opt to back up files to a local or WiFi-connected drive. You can even do this without backing data up to IDrive’s servers at all, making the IDrive desktop client a handy free local backup tool.
Privacy and Security
IDrive is based in the United States. As we know from Edward Snowden, this is a country which performs pervasive domestic and international mass surveillance and which is known to target technology companies which claim to offer their customers' privacy.
Legal instruments such as FISA , the Patriot Act, and National Security Letters (with accompanying gag orders) give the NSA and other government agencies sweeping powers to demand that tech companies assist in their data collection programs.
None of which should matter if you opt to enable end-to-end encryption using a private key, although being closed source means we can never be sure what the software is really doing.
“To maintain our quality of service and to assist in the analysis of product performance, we may also gather data on connection information, including the timing and size of all packets sent over the Internet during a session, session date and times, Device Internet Protocol ("IP") address, browser type, Device name and/or identification number, and other interactions with the Service.”
This is a lot of metadata. And, of course, IDrive has direct access to your files unless you opt to create a private encryption key.
The first thing to note is that IDrive uses closed source software. This means there is no way to independently verify the information IDrive provides or to check the software for flaws or backdoors. When added to the fact that IDrive is a US company this is not reassuring.
The second thing to note is that end-to-end encryption is not the default setting. The default option of allowing IDrive to set your encryption key is convenient, but it does mean IDrive can access your data should it wish to (or is compelled to).
If you take the default route, then your account will be recoverable if you lose or forget your key, and you can share files.
You can alternatively set your own encryption key for data end-to-end encryption (e2ee). This key is stored locally only. A hash is instead created from it which is sent to IDrive’s servers in order to verify the key.
If you lose or forget a private encryption key then IDrive will not be able to recover your data. Using a private key also prevents you from sharing files and folders. This is a little disappointing, as other e2ee cloud services manage to allow file sharing by generating a decryption key for shared files within the client itself, and which is included in the link URL.
Using a private key e2e encrypts the contents of files, but does not conceal file names or directory structure. The decision whether to use a private or public must be made when you first create your account. The only way to change your mind is to create a new account.
Data is encrypted using AES-256. We presume some kind of hashing algorithm (such as SHA) is used to ensure integrity, but no details are provided on the website. Similarly, the “special encryption technique” used so the private key can be verified by IDrive’s servers is not detailed.
Ease of Use
Signing up for a free account is as easy as providing an email address and password. Premium account holders need to provide payment details and are requested to provide a phone number to assist with support and two-factor authentication.
As already noted, you can take advantage of the IDrive Express feature to request that a blank hard drive be sent to fill up with data and send back.
The desktop client
We have to say that we are not entirely convinced about the aesthetics IDrive has chosen for its desktop software, which basically identical on Windows and macOS.
You can add and remove whichever folders you like to be backed-up. By default, files are backed up instantly, although you can instead schedule the backup times as you please.
An important difference between the desktop clients and the mobiles and web interface is that you cannot simply browse files backed up from other linked devices. You can only restore files which have been backed up from the current computer.
What you can do, though, is create a sync folder. All files placed in the sync folder will automatically two-or-more-way sync with all other connected devices.
We have seen other reviewers complain that IDrive is not the most intuitive software to use, but we found it all pretty straightforward.
The mobile apps
The Android and iOS apps are very similar bar some optimization on the iPad for its larger screen.
The app allows you to back up all data on your mobile device, including call logs, SMS messages, calendar entries, and contacts. In Android, you can also specify folders to be backed up just like you can on the desktop, although iOS being what it is, this option is not available on fruit-themed devices.
Both platforms support auto-uploading of photos, which the “People” option can perform facial recognition on (a dataset of more than 50 photos is required for this).
Files in desktop sync folders are not synced locally by default but can be viewed and downloaded as required. You can also upload files from your mobile device to your sync folder.
An advantage the mobile apps have over their desktop cousins is that they allow you to browse and download files backed up from any connected desktop or mobile device.
There are prettier desktop cloud backup clients out there. We would also love to see the ability to browse backups from different connected devices in the desktop clients as well as mobile apps.
Optional end-to-end encryption is nice, although it’s a shame this prevents you from sharing files and folders. There is also no getting away from the fact the IDrive is a closed-source product from a US company, so even with e2ee enabled there are no guarantees your data is safe from the NSA.
That said, IDrive one of the most powerful, flexible, and fully-featured cloud backup services we have reviewed. We particularly like the full disk imaging feature, and true archiving, where files are not deleted from the server when deleted locally, makes IDrive vastly superior to the likes of Dropbox and Google Drive.