Unlimited storage space is always nice to see in a cloud backup service. But the number of file restrictions put in place by Carbonite, which defends against users overindulging in this generous offering, makes the notion of no-bounds storage somewhat meaningless and prevents us from including it among the best cloud backup services.
There are nonetheless several things to recommend about Carbonite Safe, which is the least expensive Carbonite plan.
In particular, the folder-flagging system, which lets you know what you have backed up, is a unique and handy visual cue.
But for users who have any kind of video library — most of them, we presume — the Carbonite Safe Plus plan is the lowest level to consider.
However, at $111.99 per year, it’s too expensive to recommend when there are so many other options, such as IDrive or Backblaze, that provide nearly identical services for a fraction of Carbonite’s prices.
Online backup vs. online syncing
You may be familiar with online-syncing services like Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud and OneDrive, which maintain copies of a specific set of your files or folders on all of your computers, and let you share those files with friends and colleagues.
But it would cost too much to use one of these services to back up all of your personal files, which is where true online-backup services step in.
Carbonite’s file restrictions make for a hostile user experience.
These services back up all the personal files on your computer to cloud servers, placing your files beyond the reach of fire, flood or drive failure. If you have thousands of files that you can’t imagine losing, an online-backup service may be the solution you need.
Most of them offer unlimited, or nearly unlimited, storage for all of the files on your computer — and in some cases, on connected external drives, too — for a reasonable yearly fee.
However, not all of these services back up operating systems or applications to the cloud, presuming that you can always get those again from installation disks or app stores. (Carbonite is among those that don’t.)
To archive that data as well, you’ll have to do a full-disk backup to a local hard drive.
Carbonite Safe: Costs and what’s covered
Carbonite has a fairly straightforward cost structure, offering unlimited storage even at the Safe Basic tier. But you have to purchase at least one full year at a time at $71.99 for one year, $115.18 for two years or $151.18 for three years.
That’s the price for a single computer, and you’ll pay the full price for each additional machine. (You can try out the software for free for 15 days.)
Upgrading to Carbonite Safe Plus adds the ability to back up external hard drives and, perhaps more critically, the ability to back up videos by default.
(In Safe, you have to select videos individually for backup.) As of late 2020, it also includes Webroot SecureAnywhere antivirus software.
This plan bumps the cost up to $111.99 for one year, $179.18 for two years or $235.18 for three years, for a single machine. Again, there’s no discount for additional machines.
Carbonite’s desktop interface is extremely simple. This isn’t a complaint.
Finally, the Safe Prime plan also offers a Courier Recovery service, which ships you your backed-up data on a hard drive to get you up and running quickly in case of a catastrophic data loss. These plans cost $149.99 for one year, $239.98 for two years or $314.98 for three years.
To put this pricing in perspective, for $60 per year, Backblaze backs up a single PC, including video files and attached storage, and throws in a similar drive-shipping recovery service that you can use for free, up to five times per year.
That’s less than half of what the comparable Carbonite plan costs.
Let’s say you, instead, have three machines to back up. Carbonite Safe would cost $216 per year, even without automatic video backups or courier service.
IDrive would give you both of those missing features at $69.50 per year for 5TB of backup space, or $99.50 per year for 10TB.
Carbonite Safe and its Plus and Prime versions run on Windows 7, Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite and later versions of both operating systems.
The Carbonite mobile apps, which were really just file browsers for the backed-up computer files, were discontinued in December 2019.
Carbonite Safe: Performance
We installed and tested each online-backup service on a 15-inch MacBook Pro 2017 running Windows 10 via Boot Camp, and we tested mobile apps (when they still existed) on a Google Pixel 2 XL. We uninstalled each service from both devices prior to the next test. Our set of files to back up included 16.8GB of documents, photos, videos and music. We then restored a 1.12GB subset of these files from each service to the laptop.
We used the GlassWire application to monitor upload and download speeds, and the built-in Windows Resource Monitor to track CPU usage.
We conducted our tests in Middleton, Wisconsin, using TDS Telecom Extreme300 Fiber home internet service, which theoretically provided up to 300 megabits per second (Mbps) down and 300 Mbps up. Real-world speeds during testing were typically closer to 280 Mbps down and 120 Mbps up, according to Speedtest.net.
Our initial upload of the 16.8GB of files to Carbonite’s servers took approximately 3 hours and 5 minutes, with an average transfer speed of exactly 13 Mbps. This put Carbonite on the slow end of the six online-backup services we tried. It was just ahead of Zoolz, but behind Acronis and Backblaze; it was well behind IDrive, which took first place by uploading the same set of files in 1 hour and 32 minutes.
Restoring our 1.12GB of photo and video files from Carbonite took approximately 25 minutes. According to Speedtest.net, our connection provided 299-Mbps download at this time, while Carbonite delivered the files at 6.4 Mbps.
Carbonite’s download speed is not bad, but it was in fifth place among the six services we tried. SpiderOak, which had the slowest upload time, restored the same set of files in less than 2 minutes; Acronis and Backblaze took about 10 minutes each, while IDrive took about 18 minutes.
During the initial backup process, the Carbonite application used an average of approximately 7 percent of our MacBook’s CPU resources. Usage fluctuated between 3 percent and 11 percent throughout testing. This dropped to approximately 2 percent following the initial backup.
Carbonite Safe: User interface
Carbonite’s desktop interface is extremely simple. It’s there just to show you the current status of your backup, provide access to the fairly limited settings options and link to the Carbonite website, which allows you to view and manage your backed-up files.
To be clear, this isn’t a complaint. Given the feature set in the desktop software, and the tasks it is carrying out, there is no reason to have more options.
You have three options for your backup schedule: continuous backup, backing up once per day or not backing up at all during certain hours. The application recommends that you select continuous backup, and given the limited impact that option had on our system, it should be fine for most users. But it’s nice to have the other options if you often use resource-intensive apps, such as games, and would prefer to have your PC running at full speed for those tasks.
The initial backup, if you are going by Carbonite’s recommendations, is simple and doesn’t require a lot of thought from the user. But if you want to select specific files and folders to back up, then things get a little more confusing.
You designate files and folders by right-clicking on them directly in the folder structure of your PC. You will see a Carbonite item in the menu with the option to Back This Up. Carbonite will then flag these files with a tiny circular icon in the lower-right corner, showing their current status.
One important note is that Carbonite will not automatically back up video files unless you purchase the Safe Plus plan ($111.99 per year) or higher. Users on a Safe Basic plan have to individually click on a video file to back it up, and regardless of which tier you purchase, you must specifically select any file over 4GB for backup as well.
Carbonite no doubt put these file restrictions in place to protect against abuse of the unlimited storage on hand, but frankly, they make for a hostile user experience. I would rather deal with storage limits or higher costs than to have to jump through hoops in order to make sure I really have all of my files backed up.
In the file-restoration process, you can either restore everything or select some files via a standard tree menu. You simply toggle the status of each folder or file with the checkbox on the right, and when you have everything you want, you hit the download button at the top of the menu.
Carbonite Safe: Mobile apps (discontinued)
The Carbonite mobile app, which is no longer available, did an excellent job of handling all of the features we would consider necessary, but it didn’t set itself apart beyond that. The app offered a clean interface of stored files that you could view as a list or grid.
Image and video files had a convenient thumbnail view, making it easy to track down the file you were looking for. With a single tap, you could bring up a preview of the file without actually downloading it to your device.
Long-pressing on a file bought up an option to open the file, save it to your smartphone, share the file with someone else or view its properties. You could also easily share any file by tapping the share icon in the lower-left corner of the app, which brought up the standard share menu.
Some smartphone-backup features would have been nice to have. Carbonite used to offer the ability to back up photos and videos from your smartphone but discontinued this in October 2017. Backup functions now come standard with iPhones and Android phones, but some other online-backup services still offer third-party phone backups.
Carbonite offers a Courier Recovery service that, in the event of a significant loss, will deliver you a hard drive with your backed-up data. This costs $99, plus an additional $130 if you fail to return the drive within 30 days. It’s considerably more expensive than comparable offerings from Backblaze (which makes you pay only the cost of return shipping) and IDrive (which lets you do this for free once per year).
Carbonite does offer the ability to use a personal encryption key, something that more security-conscious users will appreciate. But most other online-backup services also offer this. You need to make this decision at the outset of the process, as it precludes using the aforementioned Courier Recovery service.
Like some other online-backup services, Carbonite offers two-factor authentication, forcing you to enter an additional code sent to your smartphone when logging in from an unfamiliar device. This is a valuable security protection against account takeovers, and all online-backup services should have it.
Carbonite Safe review: Bottom line
While Carbonite offers unlimited storage like Backblaze does, the service comes with higher costs, onerous restrictions and a less intuitive backup interface without providing any meaningful additional features. There’s simply no reason to opt for Carbonite while cheaper, more user-friendly competitors like Backblaze and IDrive are on the market.