- Unlimited storage for photos under 16 megapixels and HD videos
- Great organization and search features
- It's free
- Basic editing features
- Search still a bit wonky
- With Google come privacy concerns
Probably the best thing to come from Google since Gmail, Photos is sort of like having a photo organizer, archivist, and designer working for you.
Every so often, cool new photo organization apps come along and impress us with their ability to automate what for many is a laborious process. Then Google comes along and releases Photos and blows everything else out of the water. Probably the best thing to come from Google since Gmail, Photos is sort of like having a photo organizer, archivist and designer on the payroll – one that works around the clock, never takes breaks and doesn’t even call in sick.
One of the first things we discovered about Photos is that it’s an inaccurately named app. Either that, or it’s just being modest. The fact is, Photos organizes snapshots and video. Its principal functionality is to do the dirty work of organizing everything into one central location (the Google cloud, more on that later) and it performs this impeccably well. But that’s really just the tip of the iceberg.
You see, Photos doesn’t just catalog pics and vids into folders by date. It does that, yes. But it also groups photographs and videos by subject, leveraging facial recognition and geotagging. This results in the ability to automatically identify people, places and things, and thus making it possible for you to search “dogs” if you want to find all of the snapshots of your pooch, or “lake” if you want to find last year’s vacation pics.
The accuracy is pretty darn good, with the occasional misfire that causes you to scratch your head and wonder where Photos got its schooling. For example, in testing it inaccurately identified a photo of a falcon and lumped it in with the dog pics – but to be fair, the falcon was wearing a hood, which has a tendency to make all birds of prey look a bit goofy. In another amusing error, it identified a slice of pizza as a tree. Those that have used Google’s image search since its launch know how far Google has come in terms of image identification. We’re confident this feature will only get better in time.
As if to make up for any growing pains the technology will occasionally experience, Google has also thrown in free, unlimited cloud storage for photos and video. The catch is that photo size can’t exceed 16 megapixels and video quality is limited to 1080 HD. Google will compress the files to enable quick browser viewing (it does this with all photo and video uploads regardless), but users can still access the original file, uncompressed, by downloading it.
Backing up to the cloud is facilitated via auto backup, which you can turn on and off or set to occur only when there’s a Wi-Fi connection available. You can also configure photo backup settings to automatically compress larger photos and videos if you don’t want to be bothered.
If you want to store images and video in their original (and likely higher) quality you can do so, but you won’t be able to take advantage of the free cloud storage and will instead have to use your Google Drive space. Only the first 15 GB of space are free on Drive. Exceeding that limit costs extra. You can read the fine print on compression and choosing a storage size in Photos Help, but some issues remain unclear – like whether or not there are limitations imposed on videos that are shot at certain framerates.
Basic editing from within Photos is also possible, with standard cropping, light exposure and color controls. There are also a modest number of filters, but none that’ll give Instagram anything to worry about. Sharing options are also what you’d expect, offering support for any app you have installed to your mobile device.
Where things get fun and a bit cheesy is with a feature called Assistant. This feature automatically takes photos and creates cool things like collages and animations using photos taken from similar angles. You can also do this manually (or if you’re a total killjoy you can disable Assistant in settings), but the real fun is in seeing what the app comes up with on its own. We found some of the results pretty impressive.
Designed for mobile devices first and desktops and laptops second, Photos boasts a sleek and simple user interface that makes operation easy. Instead of being forced to scroll through listings, the interface lets you pinch and zoom to adjust your file view. You can pinch in to the individual snapshot level or you can pinch out to view groups by year.
If you’re not scared off, you can download the app for free for your Android or iOS device. iOS users will need 8.1 or later and Android users are required to be running 4.0 and up. Google Photos is also available as a web app for desktops and laptops.