You may not know it, but if you have a Google account and you’re using an Android phone to snap your photos, there’s a very good chance they’re backed up on Google Photos. The cloud-based photo storage app can be a lifesaver for a whole library of images, but where does the line stand from free to paid service?
Google is hardly alone in offering online photo storage, except being unlimited — at a reduced resolution per image — is what makes it feel so indispensable. Years’ worth of memories stored in one place you can access from just about anywhere. And it’s meant to be seamless because you only need a Google account and to opt in for photo backup from your phone to get started.
Since a Google account is pretty much a prerequisite for using an Android smartphone or tablet, you will find access to the Photos app easy enough. It’s preloaded into every Android device, except for a few Huawei models, though you can still get to it on those, too. If your phone is incompatible because it’s old, you can still get to the images through a web browser.
There’s also an iOS app for the iPhone, plus another for the iPad. On computers, Google supports both Windows PC and MacOS through a browser by just going to photos.google.com. There is no dedicated app for either platform. There is, however, on Chromebooks, where you get a richer experience.
Various other devices will, at the very least, be able to access images. They can include TVs and streaming boxes running Android TV, like the Nvidia Shield, for example. Or the Google Nest Hub products that come with built-in screens, letting you display images on-demand, or as a screensaver.
Google Photos is entirely free from the outset, so when you opt in, Google doesn’t charge you a fee. This includes unlimited storage for all photos you back up that are lower than 16-megapixels in resolution. If your camera is less than that, like most of Google’s own Pixel handsets, for instance, all of the shots you take with it are backed up at full resolution because they fall under the limit. Videos are also capped at 1080p resolution, so if you have 4K clips, make sure to upload them somewhere else, or buy more storage.
But for other phones that can shoot beyond that, images above 16-megapixels end up in a different data bucket that maxes out at 15GB. Other image formats, like RAW, only save to the device, not Google Photos. If you edit a photo outside of Google Photos, the copy you save would also save to the device, not necessarily the cloud-based storage.
Google charges $2.79/month for 100GB of cloud storage to start, or you could go with $3.99/month for 200GB, and all the way up to $13.99/month for 2TB. If you choose to pay on an annual basis, it’s $27.99 for 100GB, $39.99 for 200GB and $139.99 for 2TB.
It’s worth noting that the extra storage is not exclusively for photos. You’re able to upload documents, video and other files to your cloud account. Whatever you add takes away from your quota, but when it comes to photos, only full-resolution shots will apply. It will exempt anything less than 16-megapixels from any caps.
Google explains some of the basic fundamentals to start with it here. You will find there’s more to the service than just safekeeping your photos.
The higher resolution may matter more if you’re also looking to print them. Google does sell Photo Books based on your chosen images. They start at $17.99 for a softcover and $27.99 for a hardcover. You choose the layout and go through the process on the app or browser before ordering one. If you like Canvas Prints, those are another option, starting at $19.99.
Once you order, Google would deliver them to you. You just might have to deal with a delayed arrival under current conditions.
If you shoot a lot, it won’t take long for your library to look disorganized. By default, Google arranges them by date, so you have a framework to start with, but it also goes further. It will recognize faces, which you can key in on by going to the People section. It tries matching faces, but if some don’t belong, you can always assign their name and move them. Personally, I advise against it because there’s no need for Google to know anything about the people in your photos, lest they tie them to friends and their accounts. If you do decide to do it, set it so that only you can see it.
It does the same with Places, where it picks up the location metadata from each image to collect them together. Things, Videos, Collages, Animations and Movies (edited versions, unlike Videos) round out the other sections. Google improved the search functions to make it easy to find images, not just through GPS data, but also from your location history and recognizing landmarks.
The editing tools are pretty basic, but not bad. You always have the option to share a photo directly with anyone through email, messaging or social media right from the app or browser. Tag people if you want, but again, I tend to err on avoiding doing that, as I don’t trust Google to know more than it probably already does.
If you plan to use Photos as a repository for shots you take on a DSLR or mirrorless camera, then the existing resolution limit will be a problem. Those cameras are almost always above 16-megapixels, and if you include RAW versions, there’s a lot of data involved. A subscription to increase the cap would make a lot of sense in that scenario.
If not, you may be able to get by with the free 15GB and not have to spend a dime more for more space.