Cubby (beta) review

Cubby is the up-and-comer of syncing services, with its choice for unlimited peer-to-peer syncing and super-clear interface.
Photo of Cubby (beta)

Folder-syncing services such as Dropbox, Box, SugarSync, and SkyDrive keep all your files accessible at all times, using cloud storage. Cubby, a new entry in this genre from respected remote-access software maker LogMeIn, adds a twist that makes storage limits a moot point: Its DirectSync feature lets you sync between your own separate computers without taking up space on Cubby’s servers. The service, still in beta, does however offer a free 5GB of online storage for syncing with Web access, a standard offer you’ll find from comparable services, too. Most important among the new service’s claims is that it offers the best middle ground between simplicity and powerful features—”Your digital happy place,” is Cubby’s motto. Let’s see if that holds water and whether this Cubby is somewhere you want to place your data.

Signup and Setup
In addition to the free 5GB storage, Cubby offers a referral program that gets you an extra 1GB for each user you get to sign up, up to a maximum of 25GB. SugarSync actually has a higher cap on referral bonuses, at 32GB and unlimited if your friends sign up for paid accounts. Cubby’s final pricing is yet to be determined, and we’ll update this review when it’s announced.

Cubby has one of the friendliest setup processes I’ve seen. After you download and run the tiny 4MB installer, you’re greeted with an attractively designed box with a single “get started” button. The small box serves as the desktop interface for all Cubby activities, and there’s no need for a full-screen app. Now comes signup: All you need is an email address and password (Cubby ensures your password is strong, too). You can’t use Cubby without downloading the desktop client, unlike some services such as SkyDrive.

Using Cubby
The desktop program for most syncing services, such as Google Drive, Microsoft SkyDrive, and FileLocker are simply agents that place an icon in your system tray, show you sync status, and link to your synced folders. Cubby’s desktop app is a bit richer, offering new folder syncing via drag and drop, sharing, and the creation of Web links to the folder or file.

Like Dropbox, Cubby creates a master folder whose contents are synced across all your devices. Like any subsequent syncing folders you create, this is called a “cubby.” To create a new cubby, you drag and drop any folder in your system onto the Cubby desktop app. It will be synced, too—but the folder’s original location won’t be moved. This is a fantastic solution to the dilemma of syncing services—should there be a single synced folder all of whose subfolders get synced, too, or should you let the user sync any folder wherever it is on the hard drive? Two of our Editors’ Choice folder-syncing services, SugarSync and Dropbox, show the extremes of each approach. Dropbox has one box, for the ultimate simplicity. SugarSync has great controls for syncing only what you want, so it’s more complicated. But Cubby deftly combines the flexibility of SugarSync with the simplicity of Dropbox.

Cubby helpfully marks any synced folders’ icons with its logo green C in Windows Explorer. And right clicking on any folder entry offers a simple single choice: “Make this folder a cubby”—far more straightforward than many other syncing services, such as FileLocker which has four choices, some with subchoices. For already-Cub-ified folders, you get two simple choices: share now and public link. Choosing the first opens the desktop app, and if the folder is non-cloud synced, you’ll be asked if you want to turn that on.

Unlike most syncing services, Cubby also has “cloud on” and “cloud off” options for synced folders. The “on” choice means you’ll be able to share live Web links to a cubby and get mobile access to it. The other option is DirectSync, which has the advantage of having no storage cap and not counting toward your 5GB cap. New cubbies you create are “cloud on” by default, but the checkbox-and-cloud icon lets you easily change this setting, after a confirmation. You could certainly use this feature as a backup system if you have two machines running Cubby at separate locations. Clicking a cubby opens its Windows Explorer window—just as it should.

One of the very few slightly confusing notes in Cubby appeared after I’d already turned off the cloud for a folder: The tooltip for the X button to the right of the folder read “remove this cubby from the cloud.” This really just meant the folder would be removed from any Cubby syncing. I was surprised that the main My Cubby was fair game for this remove—a nice show of flexibility. Another very slightly confusing element was that I couldn’t drag a folder onto a cubby, but when I double-clicked on the cubby to open its Windows Explorer window, I could easily drop in a subfolder. A drawback to this method, though, is that the subfolder didn’t stay in place on my folder structure but was copied or moved to the Cubby folder. If, however, the Cubby-ized folder already has subfolders, they remain intact in their original locations, and get synced.


Web Interface
From Cubby’s Web interface, you see all your cubbies, even if they’re non-cloud, and can easily navigate folders, download files, create links to folders, share cubbies, and even view images. For all other file types, your only choice is to download; you don’t get any of the online viewing and editing of documents like you get with SkyDrive and Box. You can also issue a sync command, and you can “lock” non-cloud cubbies. You can also delete or rename any cubby.

You can of course upload files via the Web interface, but whereas files uploaded from the desktop can be of unlimited size, Web uploads are limited to 2GB, which is pretty gosh-darn big in any case.

Cubby is generous when it comes to version-saving. Like FileLocker, it keeps unlimited versions of your synced files, until you run out of online storage, and you can erase archived versions to make more space. The number of versions that exist for a particular file shows up clearly in the Web interface, shown by a number in a cloud icon. One shortcoming, though, was that I couldn’t access previous versions on the desktop, only in the Web interface.

Cubby doesn’t offer quite the security options you get in more squarely business-targeted solutions such as FileLocker and Box. Cubby files are transferred using HTTPS, and encrypted on the servers. The ability to create a private key that not even LogMeIn’s employees can see is coming, according to the company. For DirectSync folders, Cubby’s FAQ explains security as follows: “DirectSync transfers are secured using public/private key encryption on the ‘pipe’ between computers. Each computer running the Cubby desktop application is assigned a private key that never leaves the computer.” So it’s equivalent to a VPN tunnel for your synced data.

Cubby offers both iOS and Android apps, but no Windows Phone app yet. The app, just as the site, is simple and clear, and it even goes beyond the Web interface by letting you view PDFs and docs on the phone. Cubby’s mobile apps also let me save files for offline access, search, and upload photos to cubbies. The mobile apps, however, didn’t let me see the previous versions of a file, nor could I view DirectSync cubbies.

Promising Beta
Even though Cubby is still technically in beta, it’s available for all to use, and I already feel confident giving it a high rating. Everything just worked the way I expected it to, in clear, well-designed Web, desktop, and mobile app interfaces. It offers both the flexibility of letting you designate any folder on your system for syncing, while eliminating confusion that approach introduces in other products. Its DirectSync capability sets it apart from most competitors, letting you sync unlimited data among your own computers. Cubby only lacks much in the way of collaboration and online document editing, which you get in two of our Editors’ Choice syncing services, Google Drive and Microsoft SkyDrive, but not in Dropbox. Once it’s released, Cubby will be a strong contender for the crown of syncing services.

More Utilities Software Reviews:

OS Compatibility Windows Vista, Windows XP, Mac OS, Windows 7, Windows 8
Type Business, Personal, Professional

Cubby is the up-and-comer of syncing services, with its choice for unlimited peer-to-peer syncing and super clear interface.
Published under license from Ziff Davis, Inc., New York, All rights reserved.
Copyright © 2012 Ziff Davis, Inc