As a senior, you may have downsized your living space, but you’ve likely increased your need to store more electronic stuff — such as photos, videos, music and data files containing important personal information.
And if you’ve purchased a new phone, tablet or computer, you’ve probably noticed a couple of trends that seem to pull in opposite directions: your phone and tablet have more storage space and your computer has a smaller hard drive. This dichotomy is not as strange as it seems, and you can easily manage your storage needs at surprisingly little or no cost.
Why do we need storage for electronic files?
First, a little context. As a mobile, connected society, we are making much more use of phones and tablets. More and more seniors continue to read books, newspapers and magazines and listen to podcasts on phones and tablets because they’re easy to carry. It’s also easy to customize type size for better readability and to use earbuds or some other listening device to hear better without disturbing anyone around you.
Tablets can also be used for handling email, shopping online and streaming video content. Personally, I hardly watch anything on a TV anymore; my wife does.
In addition, we use our phones to take pictures, shoot videos, play music and do all the things we do on a tablet. Those files and all the apps we use take up storage space on the devices.
At the same time, computer hard drives are getting smaller — and you can chalk that up to a technology change. As the industry switches from mechanical hard drives to electronic ones (solid state drives or SSDs), they need less space to manage the data. To keep prices lower, they’re offering smaller drives.
However, you have more and more electronic stuff — and that’s where “the cloud” comes into play.
The industry has created huge banks of servers, all connected through the internet, to hold all the stuff you want to keep. Think of them as electronic storage lockers and understand that you can have storage lockers scattered throughout cyberspace for free or for a few bucks a month, all accessible from every device you own.
Electronic storage makes it easier to share with family and friends as needed. While we think of sharing photos and videos, we can also share music. In addition, by carefully managing access, we can store documents with important personal information or instructions that can help designated family members manage your affairs if necessary.
So, what are some of the best choices for you and what can you expect to pay? Here’s our rundown of some well-known storage providers and some you may not be familiar with.
Google is my favorite for online storage for its capacity, accessibility and capabilities for working on files and sharing them. If you have a Gmail account, you already have all of this for free in Google Drive.
For starters, you get 15GB (gigabytes) of storage, the most of any free plan. How much is 15GB? It’s enough space to store several thousand photos, plus a few hours of video, maybe another thousand songs and lots of Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and PowerPoint presentations.
It works across all devices and operating systems, and you can provide links to share files or collaborate on Word files or spreadsheets. That can come in really handy when doing volunteer work or family projects.
If you somehow manage to blow through 15GB, you can switch to a paid plan, which will be under the name of Google One. Plans start at 100GB at $1.99 per month or $19.99 per year and top out at 2TB (terabytes) at $9.99 per month or $99.99 per year.
iCloud is really designed for Apple users, but if you have an Apple account, it can work for you if you have an iPhone or iPad and a Windows-based computer. It’s built into your Apple devices, and you can easily set them up to back up your pictures and videos as well as your contacts. In fact, you should make sure you have this set up if you are planning to buy a new Apple device. That’s because your setup will depend on sending all the data on your iPhone or iPad to an iCloud account and then transferring it to your new device.
You get 5GB free, but you can easily expand it to 50GB for $0.99 per month. Plan on getting extra iCloud storage because of the ease of taking so many high-resolution photos and images and downloading music. iCloud is also good for instantly sharing files with other iCloud users.
Most iPhone/iPad users sometimes misunderstand the difference between device storage and iCloud storage — and that can lead to problems. Your device can come with 64 or 128GB storage space, but that needs to handle the operating system and the ability to run apps as well as store stuff. That storage is finite. When you hit the limit, you need to offload or delete files and apps, and this is where you need to be careful. Removing photos, videos, music and other files from your device will also delete it from your iCloud. But as long as you have iCloud capacity and automated backup, the device will move files to the cloud.
You might be tempted to dismiss Dropbox out of hand because it only gives you 2GB of free storage, but it can fill a useful role as part of an overall storage plan. I find it works best as a replacement hard drive for files I work on or need to be able to access quickly from any device anywhere in the world.
You can set up folders for documents and photos, just as you do on your computer and give access to those who need it. It’s more for collaboration with one or two other people rather than a huge group, such as you might have with Google Drive. All they need is their own free Dropbox account to share — and everyone can access the files from up to three devices. If you need more space, you can get Dropbox Pro with 2TB for $120 a year.
The best example of why I like Dropbox for fast access is when I renewed my driver’s license. Using the cellular network, which is more secure than a Wi-Fi connection, I was able to pull up the documentation I needed on my phone. I didn’t have to bring along a birth certificate or passport.
Amazon is another one of those storage places you might forget you have. Everyone with an Amazon account gets unlimited photo storage and up to 5GB of video storage free. If you have Amazon Prime, you can also use their cloud to store music, like I do. But in today’s world of integration, you can also use Amazon print and share photos and view them as virtual photo albums on Amazon devices like Fire TV, Echo Show and Fire tablets.
However, the most important benefit is that your photos can live forever on Amazon. Once you save them to the Amazon Photos app, they’re there in perpetuity, and you can safely delete them from your phones or cameras to free up space on the device.
With other services, most notably Apple, deleting photos and videos from the cloud or device deletes them from everything connected with that provider. But you can always buy more space: 100GB for $1.99 per month or 1TB for $6.99 per month.
Microsoft and OneDrive are worth mentioning because if you have a Microsoft account, you get 5GB of free storage. But if you subscribe to Microsoft 365, you get a lot of storage space on Microsoft OneDrive along with regular updates of the popular Microsoft apps Outlook, Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
The individual annual subscription of $69.99 gives you 1TB of OneDrive storage, and the family subscription of $99.99 per year for up to six family members gives everyone the apps and 1TB each. OneDrive allows you to share files, folders and photos with friends and family by sending a link via email or text. The caveat is that people must have the ability to access the internet to use the link, and it can be complicated for some. However, you can also simply attach a file or photo to an email.
Backup and Restoration
We’ve discussed five storage options out of the dozens available today. None is mutually exclusive; you can mix and match them. However, they’re not designed for automated backup/restoration operations. If you think about these services as storage lockers, putting your files there is more like putting stuff in boxes and putting the boxes wherever they physically fit. And no matter how well you organize and stack your boxes, if you need something from the back of the locker, you need to move the boxes to find what you want. It’s a laborious process.
Services such as Carbonite do the heavy lifting. They can automatically backup your computer’s files and use a special routine to restore files to your computer. They are not free, but they are relatively low cost and, in my opinion, highly valuable. Once you set them up, these services pull all recent files from your computer or device and file them in appropriate online folders. When you sustain damage to a hard drive or decide to buy a new computer, you can use these services to restore files — and even application software in some cases — in the same way you had them on your computer’s hard drive.
Backup and restoration services are not meant to be used to retrieve individual files or folders. Again, that’s what those online storage lockers are meant for.
But unlike physical storage lockers and physical things, electronic files can easily be copied multiple times and stored in multiple locations. Businesses do this all the time. They store copies all over the world to make sure a natural or manmade disaster in one place doesn’t wipe out their ability to recover and restore operations.
You can use the same tools as a Fortune 500 company to store retrievable files and backed-up files from anywhere in the world and access them all from one place with a few keystrokes. And for little or no cost, we don’t think you’ll ever run out of space.
The Digital Device Doctor cures digital anxiety for seniors and home/home-office users. A graduate of Harvard Business School, “Doctor Gene” spent more than 30 years in international business. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.