After conditioning us with years of free, enable-and-forget cloud backup, Google Photos is flipping the switch next month: Media backups will now count towards the free 15GB Google account limit, and you’ll need a Google One subscription to go beyond. Time to switch, right? Maybe…not. Google Photos is arguably the most convenient cloud backup service out there, and instead of hunting for a bargain elsewhere, you might be better off just sticking with it.
Made for humans
Google Photos meets most of the basic requirements users are likely to have from a service of its kind. It can automatically back up images and videos from your gallery and make them available across devices — on Android, iOS, and the web. Even if you’re not very selective about what goes to the cloud, the 15GB of storage (shared between all Google services, including Drive and Gmail) should last you longer than the free tier that competing services have to offer.
But the real Photos experience only begins after you’ve backed up your media. It does an impeccable job of serving you the photos you need and makes the search experience feel quite human — it knows that you can’t always pinpoint dates for when a particular event happened, so all it expects you to do is describe it. Panoramas from Yosemite, videos of me at the beach, and selfies of Mokshita and me are all valid inquiries that will return the expected results.
If you don’t want to search for images manually, you can even ask Google Assistant on your phone (or anywhere else) for them. Tight integration with Google’s ecosystem lets you turn Assistant displays into digital photo frames or share your memories on a bigger screen with the help of Chromecast.
Left: Google Photos search, Middle: Lens integration, Right: Memories
Google can also search for text within images, and Lens integration comes in handy, making it a breeze to translate words within images or give you more information about a product, place, or animal.
Another element that adds a personal touch to the experience is Memories. Google makes use of artificial intelligence to group together a bunch of images either by theme, location, or who’s in them, all for your viewing pleasure — have a look at some of them it’s concocted over the last few months. In a world that has forgotten the joy of stumbling upon physical photo albums, Memories is doing a damn good job of reminiscing.
Photos doesn’t only show your media as-is; it even brings more out of it by automatically creating GIFs, themed videos, or some unreal cinematic animations. It’s only safe to assume this list will keep growing — we’ll soon also see collections of images grouped by a common pattern.
This is all to say that Google Photos doesn’t just hold your memories; it makes you interact with it and renders it utterly easy to give you what you’re looking for. No other cloud backup service comes close to what Google Photos’ search experience has to offer.
Editing & collaboration
Google Photos also has a built-in editor that can suggest fixes and give you a plethora of tools to paint your canvas. Those include ones like cropping; resizing images; adjusting factors like brightness, contrast, highlights, and skin tones; and filters. You can even change how the sky looks, denoise images, and play around with HDR. If you’re a Google One subscriber, you also get access to some editing tools that are worth talking about.
There’s portrait blur where Google gets to show off its image processing prowess. You can use just about any image, even one shot from a couple of decades ago, and Google will add creamy bokeh as long as it identifies the face. If you use a phone that doesn’t do a good job with edge detection, this is a nifty way of turning regular images into portraits. Take a look at a sample below.
Original vs. Google Photos Portrait Blur
Then there’s Portrait Lighting (it’s fascinating how Google developed it) that can change the position of the light after the image has been shot. It’s pretty darn cool when it works. If you’re interested in monochromizing the background, the Color focus tool will serve your needs.
Videos aren’t left behind, either. Photos offers a one-click button to stabilize shaky footage, and you can make edits similar to ones you can for images.
All in all, Google Photos offers a pretty comprehensive editing suite that should more than be sufficient for editing on the go.
Google Photos handles collaboration pretty well, too. It’s normally a lot of work, sending photos or begging your friends to do so. With Google Photos, you can create auto-updating albums and share them with your friends. Now, every time you back up a photo that includes your friends, they’ll already have access to it.
Left: Shared albums, Middle: Partner Sharing, Right: You can like and comment on images in shared albums.
Even if you’re looking to share pictures of a particular event or trip, you can simply create an album and send invite links. Now, everyone will be able to upload and access the media without having to send these images on WhatsApp or Telegram groups. Seriously, stop doing that!
With Google Photos, if you’re looking to share your entire gallery (and vice versa) with your partner, simply enable partner sharing. If you don’t want to give them complete access, you can also choose to share images of particular people or dates. The control’s in your hands.
Pricing and perks
Every Google Account comes with 15GB of free storage, and how much you use up for Photos is entirely up to you. How quickly you’ll consume this also depends on whether you save media in original or compressed quality (aka High quality). Either way, this is considerably more than what competitors like Amazon Photos, Microsoft OneDrive, or Dropbox have to offer. Once you use up the free storage, you’ll need to opt for a Google One plan — the cheapest one offers 100GB for $2/month (or $20/year).
|100GB||$2 / €2 / ₹130||$20 / €20 / ₹1300|
|200GB||$3 / €3 / ₹210||$30 / €20 / ₹2100|
|2TB||$10 / €10 / ₹650||$100 / €100 / ₹6500|
The storage you purchase can also be extended towards Drive and Gmail, which is handy if you rely on Google’s services. What’s more, the Google One plans also bring a few other perks to the table. You get 24/7 access to Google support (invaluable if Google locks you out of your account), a free VPN (for 2TB+ and above plans), 10% back as Google Store credit (for 2TB+ plans), and perks like free Stadia Pro trials or Nest Minis from time to time. You can even share your storage with up to four other family members, and they’ll all get their own private space.
We agree that paying for yet another service, especially after using it for free for years, is a bummer, but there’s no such thing as free lunch — at least not forever. Besides, Google Photos isn’t really that expensive when compared to competing offerings. If you ask me, it’s well worth its asking price because there’s no other backup service out there that can match it, feature for feature.
So, if you’re invested in the Google ecosystem, maybe don’t look for a Google Photos alternative. Stick to it.