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Bitcasa review

One of the newest kids on the block when it comes to cloud storage, Bitcasa offers an awful lot

Virtual impression of cloud services
Price
£7 a month / £69 per year (Unlimited) or 10GB free.
  • Easy to use; Encryption as standard; Good price - particularly for amount of storage offered.
  • Short on collaboration features.

Bitcasa is the latest cloud storage service to take on Dropbox, Google Drive and SkyDrive, but where other services have sometimes felt like me-too products, Bitcasa brings something new to the mix. That something is infinite storage: you pay Bitcasa £7 a month or £69 per year, and it stores all your data, no matter how much of it there is. Not only does it save all your files, but every version.

Bitcasa doesn’t simply want to give you an online copy of what’s on your hard drive, it wants to become your most important drive – a place where you can squirrel away all your documents, video, photos and music, and share them across multiple devices. It even throws in encryption too. It’s a service with obvious allure for consumers, but will appeal to some small businesses as well. If you’re involved in any enterprise that produces and deals with large files, including photos, video, print-ready layouts or graphics, then conventional cloud-based storage can get expensive. Bitcasa is all you can eat.

It has to be noted that while it looks like sync-based storage services like Google Drive or Dropbox, Bitcasa doesn’t actually work in the same way. While you get an icon on your desktop and a folder on your PC into which you can drag and drop files, your data isn’t being stored in the cloud and synced across your devices, but stored online with only the data BitCasa thinks you'll need cached locally. This has its downsides, in that Bitcasa's performance and usability is more dependent on your minute-to-minute connectivity, but on the plus side if hard disk capacity is limited, your Infinite Drive isn’t hogging all the space.

The other big plus for Bitcasa is encryption. Bitcasa encrypts everything before you upload with 256-bit AES encryption, maintaining three copies for redundancy. Only your account can access your files. In theory, the system of encryption Bitcasa uses allows users to be identified from their files, but in practice the risk isn't enormous, and it allows Bitcasa to de-duplicate files – such as music tracks – which might be stored by many users to save space. This, Bitcasa claims, is how it can deliver so much storage for so little.

On Windows, the service is certainly easy to set-up and use. Having signed-up, you download and install the Bitcasa applet, then follow it through the setup procedure. Bitcasa works principally in two ways: you have the Bitcasa drive mapped as a drive on your computer, and you can simply drag and drop files and folders in, at which point they will be uploaded to Bitcasa’s servers. However, you’re also prompted during setup to mirror your PC, whether the whole shebang or just specific drives. All the files and folders concerned will be replicated to a Bitcasa folder, Mirrored Folders, and any changes made to your local files will be synced.

Beyond drag and drop controls, you can copy or mirror files and folders using simple right-clicks. You can also send files from Bitcasa via email, Facebook or Twitter. Meanwhile, the system tray panel provides instant access to the settings menu and a browser view of your Bitcasa folder on the Web, and while it doesn’t provide as much at-a-glance information as the Dropbox or SkyDrive equivalent, it’s still very easy to work with.

Performance is fairly good. Our usual 500GB bundle of test files uploaded in just under 40 minutes, and took 22 minutes to copy back to another PC. Changes to a synced photo were spotted within 90 seconds and took another minute to upload. Mirroring a whole computer or uploading folders full of photos still takes time, but Bitcasa will happily do it in the background without slowing your Internet access to a crawl. Photos, videos and audio files sometimes take a while to stream, making smooth playback awkward, but much here will depend upon your Internet connection and the size and bit-rate of the files you’re working with.

Use the browser-based interface to access your files, and Bitcasa has one of the most attractive and usable UIs of any cloud-based storage service. You can easily download or share files, and access earlier versions with an intuitive calendar view. There are built in file-browsers and viewers/players for photos, music and videos with reasonable, covering the most common file formats. Free apps for Android, Windows 8/RT and iOS offer similar functionality and a similar UI, plus automated upload of photos taken with your smartphone or tablet camera.

At the moment, Bitcasa appears to have a lot going for it. It’s easy to use, seems reliable (though it is still early days) and the price for infinite storage is pretty good when you consider that just 100GB will cost you £32 per year on SkyDrive or $4.99 a month on Google Drive. Where it falls short is collaborative features – you can’t share and sync folders as you can in Dropbox – and in its integration with Office apps, which is where SkyDrive, Google Drive and Box.Net come out on top.

For some users, that won't be an issue, and if you need a lot of capacity for large files, then Bitcasa is an excellent choice. If, however, you need a solution to synchronise files across multiple PCs, or a service that enables collaboration between teams or people working on a project, then the other services are better bets. All the same, this is an impressive debut for a new cloud storage service, with plenty of potential to improve.

UPDATE

Bitcasa has now announced that customers will now have data stored in their own regions. So, European users will now be accessing a European data centre. This will improve performance but, also, offer better protection on data privacy. It also improves security, as data no longer has to be sent back to the US, cutting down the risk that it could be intercepted en route.

This review was originally published on 3/10/2013: it was updated to reflected the above-mentioned change

Verdict

Bitcasa delivers on the promise of infinite storage, though performance is heavily dependent on connectivity and other services offer stronger collaboration and teamwork features

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