Gadget Review: Storage Made Easy

SME's Personal plan has a basic free level and a paid option that includes more features.

By , Columnist
Saving documents, photos and media in the cloud is common practice these days but it's not as easy as it once was to find major cloud storage providers offering large amounts of storage for free. If you don't want to pay for extra storage, one alternative is to use the free space offered by various providers and divide your files up among those services. This is not the most elegant solution but it keeps your costs down.

Storage Made Easy (SME) is a cloud storage provider that has designed a system to facilitate this by allowing you to access files and folders you've saved on major supported third-party cloud storage services from one web interface. It also gives you 5GB of additional free storage space and some other handy features that will enhance your experience in the 'cloud', too.

SMESS7 (Custom).PNGSME comes in two flavors: Personal and Business. This review will focus on the former, which has a basic free level and a paid option that includes more features. The free plan allows you to link up to three cloud storage providers to your SME account. SME boasts that you can choose from over 45 supported cloud services, including Amazon, OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, Dropbox and Box. Some popular providers are not currently supported, however, including Mega. Moreover, those 45+ services include several that aren't really an option for personal users because they are aimed at business and enterprise scenarios.

Once you have registered for an SME account, you link a third-party cloud service to it by selecting that from a menu in the dashboard in SME's well-organized web interface. You will then be prompted to login to that service and grant SME permission to access its data. After that, SME will create a cache of the folders and files you've stored on that third-party cloud. This allows SME to display that information in its File Manager but it doesn't affect the files and folders themselves.

SMESS5 (Custom).pngEach of the third-party cloud storage providers that you add is displayed in SME's online File Manager as a root folder. The default name of these folders includes the name of the cloud service provider. One nice feature of SME is that you can change this to whatever you want. This is helpful if you use different cloud providers for storing different kinds of files and want a root folder name to indicate the content saved on a given cloud.

Another thing you can do if you have more than one e-mail address is open multiple accounts with one cloud storage provider. You can do this without SME, of course, but you can only log in to one account at a time through a third-party storage provider's own website or desktop sync software. With SME you can link multiple accounts with the same provider to your account and give each account a unique name in the SME dashboard. The you can access them all side-by-side from SME's File Manager.

SMESS4 (Custom).pngSME also allows you to set up WebDAV access so you can bypass its web portal and get to your cloud folders directly from Windows File Explorer. This applies to any third-party account you have linked to SME, even if the storage provider doesn't offer WebDAV independently. Using WebDAV basically creates an internet link to your SME account. When you are on SME's free service, you will have to enter your username and password whenever you want to open this link but your data are then accessible from your desktop just like the local folders on your PC. With free accounts  SME also limits file uploads and downloads via WebDAV to a 150MB/month. If you use SME's web interface, data transfers are capped at 2GB/month.

To overcome these limitations, you can sign up for SME's paid Personal Cloud plan, which costs $59.99 per license for lifetime access and support for one year. Thereafter, there is an annual cost of $13.20 for maintenance and support. It might sound like this defeats the object of combining free cloud storage options. Yet, if you need extra space at reduced cost and you can live with dividing your files among multiple third-party accounts, it's a lot cheaper than paying one provider for more space. Major providers generally now charge around $10 to bump free accounts up to the next level.

With a paid Personal Cloud you can link unlimited supported third-party storage providers and get unlimited data transfer via WebDAV, FTP or SME's online portal. You have to keep in mind, however, that linking a third-party storage provider's free account to SME does not allow you to circumvent any limitations that provider imposes on your use of their service. For instance, Box caps the size of files that can be uploaded to their free accounts at 250MB. Even with SME's paid plan this limit still applies.

SMESS3 (Custom).pngPaid SME plans also come with desktop software packages for the three main operating systems: Mac Cloud Tools, Windows Cloud Apps Suite and Linux Pro Tools. These are easy to install and provide a range of features that aren't available with SME's free personal account. Among these is automated setup of a WebDAV folder. With SME's desktop software installed you also don't have to login every time you want to use WebDAV access.

With both the Windows and OS X versions of this software (I didn't test the Linux edition), you can also setup real-time updating of SME's cache of your cloud-based files and folders. With SME's free service you have to refresh this cache to ensure that SME is showing you the most recent versions of everything. With a paid account this can be done automatically using SME's desktop tools (for me this seemed to occur more rapidly in OS X than in Windows). Either way, you have to accept that it makes opening files from the cloud slower than opening them from local directories. If you have decent internet speed the delay is generally only a few seconds.

SMESS6 (Custom).pngSME's paid Personal Cloud service also lets you sync a third-party cloud to any folder on your computer. Again, syncing might be less frequent using SME's software than a storage provider's proprietary desktop client. On the other hand, you aren't tied to the restrictions that some cloud storage providers put on where you can put local folders for syncing

With the exception of MS Office integration, most of the other features in SME's desktop software probably won't be important to the home user. The mobile app is definitely worth installing, though, and SME is one of the few cloud storage providers to have produced one for iOS, Android, Blackberry OS and the Windows mobile platform.

SMESS8 (Custom).pngOverall, there are enough features in SME to make this lesser-known cloud storage provider worth investigating if you want one convenient way to access multiple cloud storage accounts. Furthermore, the additional features in the paid Personal Cloud plan are good value in the long-run if you want to bump up the amount of storage space you have without committing yourself to one provider.

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Michael Simpson is a freelance writer, editor, presenter, researcher, instructor, gadget freak and sci-tech consultant based in British Columbia’s beautiful Okanagan Valley. Formerly from the UK, he’s converted from tea to coffee and written and presented on film, TV, science, nature, technology,…

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