Carbonite is one of the most recognizable names in online backup. It’s also one of the easiest-to-use online backup services around, has decent mobile apps, and is a good value for your money. However, Carbonite recently removed its file sharing and folder-syncing features, limits you to a single PC or Mac, and restricts external and network drive backups to premium accounts. Carbonite is a solid “set it and forget it” option, but other services such as IDrive, SOS Online Backup, and Acronis True Image are more capable.
Carbonite’s pricing is straightforward. For $59.99 per year, the Basic plan gets you unlimited backup space for one PC or Mac. The Plus upgrade option ($94.99) adds the ability to back up external drives and automatically upload video. The Prime plan ($149.99) adds a courier recovery service, in which Carbonite ships you a copy of your
Covering only one PC for the base price is not uncommon, but Editors’ Choice IDrive offers 2TB that you can use on as many computers as you like for about the same price. Carbonite offers a free 15-day trial (with no credit card needed), but there’s no permanent, low-storage free plan like those offered by OpenDrive and MozyHome.
After downloading Carbonite’s PC software, you use a wizard-driven process to set up your initial backup. First, you choose a nickname for the computer. That way, if you add other computers to your account, you know which one has the files you want. The wizard then offers to automatically choose what to include (documents, photos, email, and music) and when to schedule the upload. If you do decide to go for the
The Advanced option lets you manually choose folders to back up and their upload schedule. You can use it to fine-tune Carbonite’s default selections or to start from scratch. If you spring for the Plus plan, you can back up a connected external drive (only one, mind you). The higher-level plans also let you create a duplicate backup to local storage so that you can recover files without an internet connection or in case of emergency.
Backup Scheduling and Security
Next, it’s time to choose when backups should occur. We like the default option, Continuous. You can also simply tell the software to back up once a day. If your internet connection isn’t the strongest, you may prefer that, though you can set Carbonite to not upload during your busy hours. The Continuous option only uploads file changes and new files, however, so it shouldn’t tax your connection too badly. We’d like to see additional options for setting hourly or weekly backup settings, as well.
Keep in mind that Carbonite employs an “all or nothing” approach to scheduling, so you can’t schedule different folders to upload at different times. Acronis True Image 2018 gives you the option to specify per-folder backup options, which we prefer.
Carbonite encrypts your data before sending it to its servers. By default, Carbonite manages your encryption key, but those who want to lock down their data can choose to manage their own key. No one at Carbonite can access your files if you use private encryption keys, even if compelled to by a search warrant. However, it also won’t be able to recover your data if you lose the key, either.
This super-secure-and-private option also means that you don’t get web access to your files. Mozy, by contrast, allows web access for accounts using private keys. If you pick Carbonite, we recommend the still-secure, but less restrictive, managed-key option. We like that it lets you set up two-factor authentication during the account-creation process and requires you to set up security questions.
Your final options before Carbonite starts preparing and uploading your data are to have the service prevent your PC from sleeping during a backup and to add any files not covered automatically—videos, program files, and files larger than 4GB. The setup wizard explains that the initial upload could take a couple of days. It also explains Carbonite’s File Explorer dots. The software adds a red dot if a file’s waiting to be backed up, a half-filled-in dot for folders in progress, and a green one if it’s all set. You can right-click on any allowable file to add it to the backup set. IDrive and SpiderOak ONE offer similar Explorer integration, which we appreciate.
We tested the software on Windows and like the clean interface and clear indications of the backup process, even if it doesn’t offer as much information as it could. After going through the initial setup, the main screen shows the status of the current backup process. There are icons for accessing backup settings, viewing your backup online, and restoring files. Across the top, you can access basic account settings, but you need to log in online to manage things like payments and subscriptions.
During upload, Carbonite’s interface shows you the current file in the upload queue, along with an overall progress bar. A system tray icon lets you launch the main Carbonite application, Search and Restore data, or enter Recover mode. The Settings tab allows you to turn off the Explorer dots, change the backup set and schedule, and reduce bandwidth usage, though there aren’t any fine-tuned options for bandwidth control as there are with Backblaze.
We wish there were another way to select folders and files on Windows to add to the backup, rather than just right-clicking them in the File Explorer. Carbonite’s Mac software has a file-tree system built into the desktop application, so we’re not sure why that didn’t make it over to the Windows version. There’s also no quick way to delete items from a backup. After you deselect a file from backing up with Carbonite, it takes 72 hours for that file to disappear from online storage.
For performance and bandwidth testing, we timed how long it took Carbonite to upload two 100MB sets of mixed file types and sizes. We used PCMag’s superfast 100Mbps (upload speed) corporate internet connection so that bandwidth wouldn’t be the limiting speed factor.
We were surprised by how quickly Carbonite completed the backup test until we checked to see if all the files were present. Oddly, Carbonite left out a few audio files and photos from the backup, even though they were nowhere close to the 4GB limit. After manually adding all of those files to the backup and calculating the aggregate, Carbonite ended up completing the upload in a decent 1:22 (
Carbonite’s desktop app makes it easy to restore files. There’s a prominent Get My Files Back button, which lets you choose between grabbing specific files and downloading everything from your current online backup. When you search for files to restore, you can either replace them in their original location or download them to a new folder. One problem we have with Carbonite is that if you delete a file on the backed-up PC the service only keeps the file for 30 days. SOS Online Backup keeps those files forever.
Carbonite saves multiple versions of files as you edit and save them. They’re kept for a bit longer than deleted files—three months. However, you’re limited to 12 versions, compared with SOS’s unlimited versions. In our tests of a document we updated several times, Carbonite correctly saved all versions.
Note that when you do a full restore to a new machine, you lose the ability to back up the original PC, since the service only covers one PC per account. Otherwise, you can just save all the files to a separate folder. A search box in the Restore window lets you specify the particular folders and data you need first. Carbonite estimates how long the restore will take, and you can access already-processed files any time during the restoration.
Carbonite’s web interface is functional, though its inconsistent green accents and old Windows-style icons detract from its overall appeal. The main view shows a sortable file tree and a quick search box, as well as a side menu for accessing account settings and support pages. To download a file, all you need to do is click on it. However, file-version choice and file-sharing features are missing from the web interface. You can’t create a direct link to a file or extend editing access, as you can with several online backup services. Nor can you play music or videos from the web UI, though you can view photos.
Navigating through the folder tree is painfully slow. There’s noticeable lag when moving between folders, and image thumbnails took a while to display. Further, it takes a long time for newly backed-up files to show up online, even after the desktop app says everything has been backed up. Surprisingly, only the search function worked efficiently.
Carbonite offers mobile apps for Android and iOS; the latter ran well on a Google Pixel in our tests. The main screen lists all the devices associated with the account, while large button tiles in the app offer access to Pictures, Documents, Music, and Desktop folders. We were able to view photos and documents, and even play uploaded music right inside the app. File sharing on mobile works the same as with any other app and relies on the services you already have installed on your phone. You can also set it to automatically back up photos and videos from your device in the app settings.
Easy, Unlimited Online Backup
If you just want to back up your PC files to prepare for the occasional crisis, Carbonite is a solid choice. It stands out in the crowded online backup space with a simple “set it and