On Monday, Google effectively pounded one nail into the coffin of Google+, its attempt at social networking, when it said that you’ll no longer need a Google Plus profile to login to Google services like YouTube.
But Google+ wasn’t a total failure, because it spawned the best way to manage and store your photos: Google Photos.
The current state of photo storage on phones is a nightmare. Do you remember the last time you backed up your camera roll? If you don’t, you probably do remember the last time your phone ran out of storage while you were trying to take a pic.
And making sense of all your photos can be an exercise in pure madness. But the good news is that there’s hope!
If you aren’t already using Google Photos to backup and manage your smartphone’s photo collection, it’s time you gave it a try.
The easiest and smartest way to store your photos
The easiest way to describe Google Photos is the same way Google does: it’s like Gmail for photos. It’s by far the easiest and most convenient photo management service I’ve ever used.
When you first download the Google Photos app for iPhone or Android, it will start backing up your entire camera roll to Google’s servers. The best thing for most people will be that Google offers unlimited storage for free with one caveat: it compresses images larger than 16MP to conserve costs.
For most people that only take pictures with their phone, that limitation will never be an issue. If you’re like me and you occasionally use a DSLR that takes bigger pictures, you can opt for the free 15GB of full-res storage or upgrade to a paid plan. But it’s unlikely that amateur smartphone photographers will notice or care about Google compressing their images.
Google’s paid storage plans are better than Apple’s. The base $US2 per month plan gets you 100GB, which is more than enough for the majority of people out there. But plans go all the way up to a whopping 30TB ($US300 per month), so there are plenty of options for even the most serious photographers.
The real magic happens once your photos are uploaded. The app can do fun things like make animated GIFs out of a burst of similar photos or even combine videos and photos into a movie. Dragging your finger across photos automatically checks or un-checks them, which makes batch editing and deleting much faster than in Apple’s Photos app.
Your life’s collection of photos available to be instantly searched
Google Photos is scary good at search. It scans your photos to find faces you can sort by, but it also recognises places based on popular landmarks or characteristics, like the Yosemite National Park mountain range. The end result is your life’s collection of photos available to be instantly searched, and it’s quite compelling.
The Google Photos “Assistant” automatically recommends albums and collages to create based on what you’ve uploaded. You can swipe through to dismiss the suggestions or let the app do its magic. I found myself immediately immersed in my last several years of photos by how Google surfaced old collections.
I only have a couple of qualms with Google Photos. I wish you could tag certain faces by name like you can in Apple’s Photos app instead of just trusting Google to get it right. The facial recognition isn’t always perfect, but it’s amazingly accurate most of the time.
I also wish there was a better viewing experience for Google Photos on the desktop. Right now, all you can use is the website to view photos. There’s an app for backing up photo folders on your desktop in the background, but it doesn’t have a built-in viewer and editor like Apple’s Photos app does.
If you’re an iPhone user like myself, you may still feel inclined to use Apple’s stock Photos app and iCloud for storing your pics in the cloud. But I’ve found it to be a less than ideal setup.
Apple’s photo management is a mess
When Apple lifted the curtain on its revamped iCloud Photo Library last June, it appeared to address many of the concerns that have plagued the company’s cloud services for years.
Paired with the new Photos app on the Mac, Apple showed off an upgraded cloud technology that made a simple promise: keep your photos backed up and synced on every Apple device you own.
The result has been an experience that’s better than before, but still far from perfect.
As a writer who has been covering Apple for years, I still find the process of managing and syncing photos with iCloud to be extremely confusing. When my iCloud Photo Library decides to work (and sometimes it just doesn’t), it rarely syncs photos in the right order between devices. Sometimes it just doesn’t sync certain photos altogether.
I wanted to use iCloud and Apple’s Photos app, but I got sick of not knowing why certain photos didn’t sync or why my camera roll wouldn’t back up for over a month.
iCloud Photo Library is great as an idea. It keeps low-resolution versions of older photos on your device and stores their hi-res counterparts in the cloud to save space. It’s integrated directly into every iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, and Mac.
But with syncing that’s less than reliable, a slightly confusing interface, and a measly 5GB of free storage, Apple can’t come close to matching what Google has to offer.
If you’re unsatisfied with Apple’s Photos app, give Google a try
You might already be content with Apple’s Photos app and iCloud, and if that’s the case it’s probably not worth switching over to Google Photos. You’ll need to upload all of your photos to Google’s servers, which could take a long time depending on your internet connection and how many photos you have.
There’s a usually a knee-jerk reaction when Google unveils a new service that says, “But can I trust Google with protecting my privacy?”
Google Photos isn’t going to sell your photos or data to advertisers
The company confirmed to Business Insider that it has no plans to monetise Google Photos at this time, so you don’t need to worry about your vacation family photo appearing in an ad next to a Google search term. Could that be a reality one day? Maybe. But for now, Google Photos isn’t going to sell your photos to advertisers. That would cause a public uproar, and it’s something Google would likely want to avoid. Instead, it’s more likely Google will use the data it collects from your photos to show you targeted ads based on your location and the stuff you take photos of.
When you do a feature-by-feature comparison of Apple and Google Photos, it’s hard to tell the difference. They promise a lot of the same things. But in everyday use, one falls short while the other excels.
Google Photos is a superior experience to Apple’s iCloud in just about every way, and unlimited storage for free makes it a killer deal.
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