Editor's note: Zoolz no longer offers Zoolz Cloud Backup for consumers on its website, but still seems to sell it online. We're trying to get an answer from Zoolz about exactly what kind of backup solution it now offers to home users, but until then, we cannot recommend purchasing a subscription to Zoolz Cloud Backup.
Zoolz Cloud Backup looks great and offers a number of well-considered features, but it has one fatal flaw that will make it a nonstarter for most users and preclude us from including it among the best cloud backup services.
Instead of using its own servers, the Zoolz service backs up your data to Amazon Glacier online storage, a cheap and slow Amazon cloud service intended for long-term data storage. As a result, restoration of any of your files won't even get started for at least 3 hours after you begin the download process, even for small files, and the mobile app can't display video files or restore any of your files.
If you can take advantage of the multiuser support and stay under the 1TB Family plan cap, Zoolz Cloud Backup is a cheap online-backup option. But the more-expensive Heavy plan, despite its 4TB cap, doesn't represent great value considering Zoolz's diminished functionality. We recommend IDrive or Backblaze, which give you more speed for less money, instead.
Online Backup vs. Online Syncing
You've probably heard of online-syncing services such as Dropbox, Google Drive, iCloud and OneDrive. Each acts as a cloud-based mirror of a specific set of files or folders on your device and also updates identical copies of those files or folders on all of your linked devices.
Unlike some other online-backup services, Zoolz lets you back up system files, applications and other executables.
Cloud backup services are simpler. They back up files and folders on your computer to cloud servers, a safer option than backing up to a local disk that can fail or get lost in a flood or fire. Most cloud-backup services offer generous amounts of storage for a monthly or yearly subscription fee that is often much cheaper, byte for byte, than an online-syncing service.
But cloud-backup services can vary greatly. Only some let you back up system files, applications, smartphones and tablets, or provide full-disk backup software to "clone" a drive to another local drive. A couple of services let you back up an unlimited number of devices, and others give you unlimited storage space for one device; you can never get unlimited space for unlimited devices.
Costs and What's Covered
Zoolz Cloud Backup has a two-tiered pricing structure, with a Family plan and a Heavy plan. As of November 2018, the Family plan was discounted to $39.95 per year (it's normally $69.99); it provides 1TB of storage that can be divided among up five users and up to three external or networked drives.
Those are real "users," with separate login credentials, not just separate machines added to a single user's account. (A designated administrator holds the primary account.) The downside is that each user can back up only one computer. Many other services let a single user back up multiple machines.
As we wrote this, the Heavy plan was discounted to $99 per year (normally $249.99). This plan bumps the storage cap up to 4TB for the same five users and adds support for an unlimited number of external or network drives.
Restoration of any of your files won't even get started for at least 3 hours after you begin the download process.
Those aren't bad rates, as long as the discounts hold. For comparison, IDrive gives you 2TB for $70 per year or 5TB for $100 per year, and it backs up an unlimited number of computers and mobile devices. Backblaze gives you unlimited storage for $50 per year, but for only a single computer (plus an attached external drive). However, both of those services have much faster upload and download speeds than Zoolz Cloud Backup does.
Zoolz recently extended its business service, formerly called Zoolz Intelligent Cloud and now rebranded as Zoolz BigMIND, to home users. This service combines online-backup, media-streaming and file-management functions and puts "optimized" (i.e., shrunken) copies of frequently accessed files on Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) servers, which Zoolz calls "hot" storage.
The actual files are kept on Amazon Glacier servers, which Zoolz refers to as "cold" storage, so restoring data may take a long time.
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Zoolz BigMIND is much more expensive than Zoolz Cloud Backup, which is the subject of this review. On Zoolz BigMIND, you can get 1GB of storage for free for a single user, but 100GB costs $36 per year for one user, 500GB costs $84 per year for three users and 1TB $156 per year for five users. That's competitive with Dropbox, but not with IDrive or Backblaze.
Zoolz Cloud Backup client software needs at least Windows 7 SP1 or Mac OS X 10.7 Lion to run. Mobile devices need at least Android 2.2 Froyo or iOS 10.
Our testing was conducted on a 15-inch Macbook Pro 2017 running Windows 10 via Boot Camp. Mobile apps were tested on a Google Pixel 2 XL. Each online-backup service was tested individually and then uninstalled from both devices prior to the next test.
The Zoolz desktop interface was probably the most intuitive of any of the six services that we tested.
Our standard set of files to back up included 16.8GB of documents, photos, videos and music. We uploaded this data to each online-backup service's cloud servers and then restored a 1.12GB subset of these files to the laptop.
We used the GlassWire application on Windows to monitor network speeds, and the built-in Windows Resource Monitor to track CPU usage. Tests were conducted in Middleton, Wisconsin, on 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 about 280 Mbps down and 120 Mbps up, according to Speedtest.net.
The initial upload of our 16.8GB of files on Zoolz Online Backup's standard settings took approximately 3 hours and 15 minutes, with Zoolz averaging 12.3 Mbps. Only SpiderOak One took longer, clocking in at 4 hours and 48 minutes. Zoolz actually wasn't far behind Acronis, Backblaze or Carbonite, which all came in at around 3 hours. IDrive was the upload-speed king, at 1 hour and 32 minutes.
Restoring our 1.12GB of photo and video files from the Zoolz "cold" servers took approximately 4 hours and 3 minutes, by far the longest restoration time of any of the six services we tried in 2018. The next longest, Carbonite, took only 25 minutes; the swiftest, SpiderOak One, zipped by in a breathtaking 1 minute and 55 seconds. (SpiderOak had the longest initial upload time, though.)
A lot of this slowness results from the delay of 3 to 5 hours before your files will even start to download with Amazon Glacier storage. Other services we tried started immediately.
The Zoolz client software used an average of about 2 percent of CPU cycles during the backup process, varying from zero percent to 5 percent throughout active testing. During regular usage, when Zoolz just lurked in the background, CPU demand dropped to below 1 percent.
The Zoolz desktop interface is minimal and was probably the most intuitive of any of the six services that we tested. The primary screen displays your backup status in a large area that is easy to interpret, and three large tabs at the bottom take you to the screens for Data Selection, Settings and Restore.
One slightly odd behavior: While Data Selection and Settings simply slide over to reveal the new screen in the same window, Restore creates a new window for that functionality. It's not really a problem but simply an unexpected user-interface choice given the other sections.
The Data Selection options for Zoolz are well-considered, with a Smart Selection screen that allows you to select categories (Documents, Pictures, Videos, etc.) of personal files that you would like to back up; Zoolz also finds those files for you. If you want to get more granular with your backup, you can switch over to the My Computer tab, which presents a more traditional file tree that lets you select just specific files and folders.
Unlike some other online-backup services, Zoolz lets you back up system files, applications and other executables; however, it can't create an online drive "clone," as Acronis True Image can.
The Settings screen for Zoolz is again simple and intuitive, with just a few options for customizing your backup schedule and tweaking the encryption settings from the default 256-AES encryption.
This is where you can also make use of the Hybrid+ option offered by Zoolz, which creates a local backup of your data. Having this additional backup is advisable, anyway, and particularly useful for Zoolz users in case they ever need to access any of their backup in a hurry.
The restore screen has you select files and folders from a traditional file tree. You then have a few options for where you would like to restore each file, whether you want to restore a previous version of the file, and what to do with any current version of the file found in the same location. Then, you hit the Restore button, and the waiting begins.
Zoolz Cloud Backup saves up to 10 previous versions of a file, even if a file was deleted. This isn't as generous as unlimited versioning, but it's better than the 30 days offered by Backblaze and Carbonite, and it should be enough for most users.
Zoolz offers a few mobile apps, some of which bear the name of its parent company, Genie9. Zoolz Archive - Cloud Viewer is the appropriate Android option for Zoolz Cloud Backup users, but the app is thoroughly disappointing due to a few glaring problems. (Zoolz Viewer is the comparable iOS app.)
Most notably, you can't actually download any of your files, due to the "Cold Storage" system used by Zoolz. In addition, the Zoolz Archive app won't even display video files, meaning you can't use the app to fully verify the contents of your backup. While most of the online-backup services have less-than-stellar mobile apps, this is by far the worst.
If you want to back up the contents of your smartphone to the cloud and aren't satisfied with Apple or Google's built-in options, there's G Cloud Backup, a freemium app available for both iOS and Android. But this app doesn't interact with Zoolz computer-backup services, and it can get pricey. You get only a certain amount of data storage for free (3GB on iOS, 7GB on Android); beyond that, you'll need to pay for monthly ($0.99 to $4.99), yearly ($9.99 to $49.99) or lifetime ($99.99) plans.
Remember the Zoolz Intelligent Cloud service mentioned earlier? There are Android and iOS apps for that as well, and they both back up your phones and interact with the backed-up Mac or Windows data. But again, that service costs at least twice as much per gigabyte as Zoolz Cloud Backup does.
The focus from Zoolz on supporting multiple users with a single account is a fairly unique offering, as most of these services focus on one user and, often, a single machine. The ability to spread your Zoolz account across five computers and up to three external or network drives makes the pricing very compelling for a Family account. (To do the same with IDrive or Acronis, you'd have to make sure that all the client software was logged in under one username.)
The problem here is that 1TB is unlikely to be sufficient storage for that many users over the long term. The 4TB plan is a better option, at $99 per year, but its normal subscription price is $249.99. That's considerably less appealing given the unlimited storage found in stronger competitors like Backblaze, which could handle five computers for the same $250 per year.
Like most of its competitors, Zoolz supports the use of a private encryption key when you initially create a backup. That's on top of the AES-256 encryption that comes standard with online backup services. Just be aware that if you lose your private key, Zoolz will be unable to help you decrypt and recover the data in your backup.
As you might imagine, cold storage doesn't really permit file-sharing or file-syncing, two features that some other online-backup services offer. Nor does Zoolz Cloud Backup offer two-factor authentication, which would have greatly enhanced account security.
We really enjoyed the desktop application for Zoolz Cloud Backup, and the uploading part of the service performed admirably. However, ultimately, the very slow restoration model and the incredibly poor mobile experience hamper the entire package.
Unless you have four or five users with minimal backup-storage needs, there is simply no reason to use Zoolz Cloud Backup, given options like Backblaze, with unlimited storage for just $50 a year, or the expanded functionality found with IDrive or Acronis.
This review was originally published May 15, 2018.