During last week’s Google I/O conference, the search giant announced a new version of its Google Photos service which now offers unlimited photo and personal video storage with a few caveats. I didn’t see this as a major development, but after having tested this improved version of Google Photos, I can say that I’ll be using it myself, and can recommend that you at least check it out.
I know what you’re thinking. Here I am, recommending a product that will never support Windows Phone. I know. And … Yes. I am.
Unlimited photo storage. First and most obviously, Google is offering unlimited photo (and personal video storage) to anyone. There are two caveats, neither of which will impact most people: Your photos must be 16 MP (megapixels) or smaller, and your videos must be 1080p (1920 x 1080) of smaller. If they’re not, you can pay for storage, or you can simply let Google Photos down-size them, which is what I’m doing and what I recommend. Most of my photos fit nicely under this limit anyway.
Your photos are accessible from almost anywhere. You can access your cloud-based Google Photos collection from a Windows-based PC or device using your web browser, or with native clients on Android and iOS.
You can automatically backup your photos from a smart phone. This isn’t a particularly unique feature, but it’s worth noting that those with Android phones and iPhones—i.e. 95 percent of the world—can automatically back up every single photo to Google Photos.
You can use a Windows (or Mac) utility to copy your entire existing collection to the cloud. This was the first thing that made me wonder whether this service might be useful: Using a downloadable desktop client you can upload your entire photo collection—previous photos that were scanned, downloaded, or whatever—to Google Photos. It works great, and it works with network locations, multiple locations, whatever you want.
You can use the desktop client to put new photos in the cloud too. And since the Google Photos utility will monitor the folders you specify, those with Windows Phone can simply acquire their photos to their PC and then be sure that they’ll be backed up to the cloud too. This will work for whatever new photos you get through the PC, of course, not just via Windows Phone.
It’s a new way of doing things. With existing cloud photo services—and with previous versions of Google Photos for that matter—the primary browsing model was folder-based, with the cloud-based collection mimicking the layout of whatever you had on your PC. But because most photos are now acquired with phones, this model doesn’t make sense anymore. So Google Photos is smart about organizing your photo collection by date and by other criteria instead.
Navigation is awesome. If all you want to do is look at your photos by date, go nuts: a Date slider on the right can be used to very quickly skim through time and go to exactly the date you’re looking for. Look, there are our photos from our first home swap in France. From 2006. (The performance of the mobile apps is just as good.)
And on mobile.
Search is awesome. Google obviously does search better than anyone, so you won’t be surprised to discover that search is creepily excellent. But better still, when you click in the search box you will see sections for People, Places, and Things. These let you find photos of certain kinds. People and Places are fairly obvious, and the latter uses location information stored in your photos to create views of similar places. But the Things views are particularly unique, since they use machne learning to understand what’s in your photos: in my collection I see things like Sky, Cars, Bridges, Food, Beer, Boats, Beaches, and more. But they’re just searches, really. Here are the results for sushi, for example.
A photos assistant will create new movies, collages and more. Google Photos will examine your collection and an assistant feature will recommend fun stories can create with your photos. That’s the theory anyway: my huge collection is still uploading and the only “story” is one I created myself last year. That said, it’s a multimedia masterpiece, with maps, nice layouts, and photo-based movie animations. Sort of like Sway, but without the work.
Share photos. No surprise here, but Google Photos provides simple sharing functionality too, and there’s even a dedicated view of the photos you have shared.
You can still use other photo solutions. And should. The point is, this one is free, can work alongside whatever else you’re doing, and it works great.
I know. I’m recommending Google Photos. But seriously, check it out. I think it’s going to surprise you, and in a good way.