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How do you make sense of all the photos you have stored on your phone? Send them to the cloud.
Thanks to smartphones, it’s never been easier to take photos. As the old saying goes, the best camera is the one you have with you — and our phones are always in our pockets.
But let’s face it: the current state of photo storage is a nightmare.
Do you remember the last time you backed up your photos? When was the last time you bothered trying to sort your camera roll into albums? Or worse yet, how many times have you tried to capture a precious moment and been interrupted by your iPhone saying you’re out of storage?
For a modern photo storage service to be useful, it needs to do the hard work for you. You should never have to worry about if your pictures of your kids are safe. It needs to be easy to use, offer an array of cloud storage options (both free and paid), and let you quickly find that one funny pic you took of your weird uncle on vacation two years ago.
Out of all the options out there — and there are a lot of them — Google Photos is the best overall.
Amazon, Flickr, Dropbox, and plenty of others are all contending to be the locker of choice for storing all your photos in the cloud, but they’re either too confusing to use or don’t offer the same level of features as Google.
But let’s not ignore the elephant in the room.
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.
Even when I have it enabled, iCloud Photo Library chooses not to work.
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, I realized it was time to look elsewhere.
Google Photos is a dream come true
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 $4 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 ($300 per month), so there are plenty of options for even the most serious photographers.
Easily select multiple photos and share them to other platforms with Google Photos.
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.
Google Photos is scary good at search. It scans your photos to find faces you can sort by, but it also recognizes 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 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 monetize 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 or data 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.
Mike Nudelman / Business Insider
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