Carbonite Review

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$54.95

Pros: Novice-friendly automated backup ; Small businesses charge based on storage instead of licenses ; Mac-compatible

Cons: Fewer options for scheduling backups than competition ; Difficult to cherry pick files to back up and restore ; Limited tech support hours

Verdict: This online backup service makes it easy to send all of your crucial files to the cloud with a single click.

We've seen a whole lot of research that suggests people know they should be backing up their computers, but for whatever reason, most don't get around to it. We suspect part of the problem is that backing up all of the important files on a computer can be a daunting task. Carbonite takes the complexity out of backup by making it easy for less tech-savvy folks to back up all of their commonly used folders--say, documents and photos--with the click of a button. We only wish it were easier to manually back up and restore individual files, especially large videos.

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How it Works

Like other online backup services, such as Mozy and SOS, Carbonite includes software that sits on your desktop, uploading files to the cloud. The software, compatible with Macs and PCs, encrypts your data before it uploads it, and keeps it encrypted in transit and when it reaches Carbonite's servers. The company recently received another $20 million in venture capital funding, bringing the total (as of this review) to $67 million. This suggests the company is doing well. However, some may feel more confident in choosing Mozy, whose parent company, EMC, happens to specialize in storage.

User Interface

The biggest difference between Carbonite and a competitor such as Mozy is that it's very easy to use. For instance, when you first launch the software, Carbonite prompts you to immediately start backing up your documents, e-mail, photos, settings, and everything on your desktop. However, you must manually add videos, executable files, and files larger than 4GB by right-clicking on them in Windows Explorer or in the Mac OS X Finder.

The problem is that backing up videos, large files, and executable files is inconvenient; we wish you could do so from within the Carbonite interface. The company says that it doesn't automatically back up videos and larger files because this would slow down the computer's performance. However, Carbonite will soon allow users to automatically upload short videos (those under an unspecified file size threshold), which would help separate short, priceless user-generated movies from larger purchased ones that could easily be replaced.

And what if you don't want everything in your My Documents folder backed up? Well, then you have to go into either Windows Explorer or Finder, depending on whether you're backing up a PC or Mac, and right-click on all those files too. Carbonite says this allows users to pluck files from within the folders and OS they're used to, without them having to learn a new interface just to back up files. We actually think it would be more convenient to select all of these files from within a single interface. Mozy, another backup service, lets you do this from within its software so that you don't have to go hunting for files on the computer.

When it comes to scheduling backups, Carbonite offers few options, making it more novice- than techie-friendly. For instance, you can set the service to back up your files at a specific time of day, or to not back up files within a given window (say, during business hours). But you can't tell Carbonite to back up files when the computer is idle, as you can with Mozy, nor can you define how long you must be away from the computer before a backup begins. And whereas Mozy lets you throttle system performance and backup speed on a sliding scale, Carbonite just lets you check or uncheck a circle in the Settings menu, asking the program to make backups a low bandwith usage priority. However, Carbonite does allow for automatic backups, while Mozy doesn't.

Online Experience and Restoring Files

Carbonite's website (www.carbonite.com) has a tabbed interface that's easy to navigate, but unless you're there to change your account settings, you'll likely spend most of your time in the My Protected Computers section, where you can restore files, reinstall the Carbonite software, or transfer your subscription to a new computer.

When it comes to restoring files, you don't have to log into the website if you don't want to; files can be restored directly from the Carbonite software on your desktop. With the click of a button, you can restore all of the files you've backed up, or cherry pick specific files. Right-click on exceptions and click "Don't back this up." Right-click and select "Restore" to do just that. Here, too, though, it would be convenient if Carbonite used a check box interface instead of forcing users to right-click on each file.

Like other backup services, such as Mozy and SOS, Carbonite lets users browse their stored files on the go. The company has already released apps for the iPhone and BlackBerrys, with Android soon to follow.

Pricing

If you have a trial account, Carbonite uploads only documents, e-mails, photos, settings, and photos. Once you subscribe, you can also upload music, videos, and files larger than 4GB. Unlike Mozy Home, which offers 2GB of free storage indefinitely, Carbonite just offers a free 15-day trial. After that, you have to pay $54.95 per year for unlimited storage. The value of this subscription increases as you commit to more years up front; a two-year subscription costs $99.95, and three years will run you $129.

Carbonite also offers a version for small businesses, Carbonite Pro (www.carbonitepro.com). What's great about this offering is that business owners only pay for the amount of storage their business needs. That means they don't have to pay a monthly license fee for each employee's computer. Pricing plans start at $10 a month for up to 20GB. Small business customers also get unlimited phone, e-mail, and online support. Phone support, however, is limited to 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday through Friday, and 12 p.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays.

Verdict

For those who aren't tech-savvy and just want to set and forget their backup, Carbonite makes it easy to protect common folders with the click of a button. Small businesses should also consider Carbonite, as it charges them based on how much storage--not how many licenses--they need. Power users, however, might find the software's relative lack of customizable features frustrating; for them, we suggest Mozy Home, which offers 2GB of storage for free. But if the prospect of online backup seems daunting, Carbonite is a smart pick.

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Laptop Mag & Tom's Hardware
Software Type Utilities
Software Type Web App
Platforms Windows
Platforms Mac
Required Processor
Software Required OS: Windows XP/Vista/7, Mac OS X 10.4 and higher
Required RAM 256MB minimum (512MB recommended)
Disk Space 6MB
Company Website http://www.carbonite.com