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Reviews

Google Photos review

Unlimited photo storage in the cloud? But at what cost?

  • Storage as many photos under 16-megapixels in size for free Great organisational tools
  • Weak photo editing tools Full-resolution images count against storage limits forcing some users to pay to upgrade

Google Photos has had an interesting lifespan thus far. It is basically a spin-off from the ill-fated Google Plus. However, it is this part of that service that users really took to, hence the reason it became a standalone product, albeit one with a mild link to the social networking site it was birthed from.

The service offers users free, unlimited storage to a certain degree (there are file size restrictions of a kind and we’ll get to them in a moment. Through a browser or app, you can also see, edit and organise photos.

As of the last 12 months, you can use Google Photos without having to sign up to Google Plus. While you avoid a tie-in with that service, it is heavily integrated with Android devices and Google’s eco-system in general. But that shouldn’t be a reason to be put off from this service, iOS users can also back up their photos from an iPhone or iPad too.

In fact, backing up of photos works very well. Just install the app on your phone (Android or iOS) and it can be set to upload any photos to the service without that much configuration; the bare minimum of specifying whether or not you want to use mobile data to backup or wait until you are on a wireless network.

There is one caveat to all of this and it is an important one. The unlimited storage is only unlimited if you allow Google to resize and compress photos. But this may not be a real problem for those who use the service to back up from their phones mostly as the limitation on each image is 16 megapixels. In effect is only a real limitation to professional photographers with massive photos. If you like to back up RAW images in full resolution, you will have to look elsewhere.

This is not to say you can’t upload full-sized professional images; it’s just that if you do, it will count towards you Google Drive allowance and when that has filled up, then you will have to pay a monthly fee for more storage.

Getting started                                 

If you have any Google account, Google Photos is usable right now. Either download the app or hit the Google Photos website on a browser. If you have more than one account, there are separate libraries for each one.

In the app, once logged in, photos will start to synchronise with the cloud. If you have a lot of photos this can take a while. After that’s done, now photos are backed up pretty quickly.

This is not to say that this is only for smartphone snappers. There is an uploader tool for Macs and Windows. All this does is ask which folders you wish to upload images from, what quality setting should be used and if you want to upload from storage cards and that’s about it. The rest is done through a browser.

Can a get a resize?

With the 16-megapixel limit, it is tempting to think that quality will somehow go out of the window. Comparing photos saved locally with ones uploaded to Google Photos, we could not tell the difference in quality, no difference in tone, no noticeable artefacts, nothing. The only thing we did notice was that the file size had decreased in size a little, so clearly there is some kind of compression going on, but nothing that gives any indication of a compromise in image fidelity.

You can upload RAW images, but with the unlimited storage option in play, these get converted to JPEGs and resized to the 16-megapixel limit.

Using Google Photos

In use, Google Photos aims to be as easy as possible for the casual user, however, that’s not to say that it is light on features. 

The service uses a number of algorithms to scan through an images metadata and bring these together to form collections based on times and locations. It can turn a set of photos into a “story” album. It’s clever, but sometimes it can put separate events into one folder. Sometimes stories of images and videos can be turned into a movie complete with cheesy music. The “Assistant” feature can also collate a number of photos taken in series and turn them into an animation.

The service also boasts editing tools. For beginners, the Enhance option can improve a picture automatically with only the click of a button. For more advanced users, there are options to change light, colour, as well as options called “Pop” (which appears to change the contrast) and Vignette (which darkens the edges to make it appear older).

Filters can also be applied to images. These are named after moons in the solar system. These change the colours around, but very little else, which makes us wonder why the feature is there at all.

While editing can be a bit of a disappointment, the organisations tools are really good. Using dates, location and object recognition, users can quickly find what they are looking for by typing in search terms into the box. Place names are easy fodder for the service, but you can also type in "bike" and Google Photos will try and mostly succeed in finding photos with bikes in them. 

Overall

Google Photos offers a great service for free if you are a casual photographer and aren’t that bothered about its 16-megapixel limit. If you have any photos you care about, it is a good backup in case the worst happens and you lose your computer.

Verdict 

Great backup option to store photos in the cloud from smartphones if you don't mind the image size limits

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