Google is ending free unlimited (compressed) Photos storage tomorrow. The company first announced the move in November 2020 and later confirmed that even upcoming Pixel phones aren't going to be exempt from the adjustment later. But what does that change mean for you, and what can you do about it if you're not happy with the decision Google made? We've gathered some alternatives, some arguments for sticking with Photos, and everything else you need to know about the transition.
What exactly is changing?
Starting June 1, Google Photos will no longer offer free, slightly compressed "high-quality" uploads for most phone owners out there. Pictures you upload starting on that date will count against your shared Google account storage that includes Gmail, Drive, and Photos. However, all photos you've uploaded before this date will not count against the quota — we're only talking new images here.
Left: Most phones. Right: Lucky Pixel 3 owners.
Photos you've uploaded in original quality have counted against your account storage before that date already, except if you own certain Pixel phones like the Pixel 3 that still offer free uncompressed storage for a certain timeframe. Newer Pixels (3a to 5) still get free high quality (compressed) backups as long as you're using them. You can check if you're affected by the change by heading to Google Photos, tapping your profile picture, and looking for the "Account storage" meter.
When you run out of storage, you won't be able to back up more images to Photos or files to Drive, but you also won't be able to receive or send any further emails. Google will give you plenty of warnings before that happens, but going forward, it will be vital to keep the number of images and videos you back up in check.
How can I save storage?
If you want to keep using Google Photos, it'll likely take some time until you fill up your free 15GB of storage if you don't have a ton of emails and Drive documents saved to your account already. Google also offers a personalized time estimate for your account based on how many images you upload regularly and how much storage you've got left — though if you change your habits following the removal of free storage, you might have more time left than the estimate tells you.
To get more space across your account, it might be a good idea to check for big files clogging up your storage.
- You can use the Google One storage manager to get a bird's-eye view over what you use your storage for across all your Google apps, which intelligently suggests large files, emails, photos, and videos to get rid of.
- For a more granular approach, you can check your Google Drive for particularly big files by heading to the "Storage" section on the web interface's sidebar (also available through this link).
- In Gmail, you can also manually search for emails larger than a certain file size and see if there's anything you don't need anymore. If you clear out 10 emails each weighing more than 10MB, that'll already save you more than 100MB in total. You can use the search function on the web interface for that with queries like "file larger:10M" or any other file size you find convenient.
- Once you've uploaded a few images that count against your quota, you can use Google Photos' new storage management tool that suggests deleting blurry photos or large videos to save space.
What are the alternatives?
Photos quickly eradicated any meaningful competition back when Google launched free unlimited storage, so there aren't any alternatives that are just as perfect as Google's solution. But if you've absolutely set your mind on switching or at least testing something else, there are a few other services and solutions worth checking out.
- Amazon Photos is mostly great if you're already a Prime subscriber, as you get unlimited storage included with the subscription. Here's our hands-on.
- Microsoft OneDrive: If you're already paying for the Office subscription (Microsoft 365), you might as well take advantage of the 1TB of cloud storage offered through the service. On Samsung phones, the backup solution is even integrated with the Samsung Gallery. Here's our hands-on.
- Synology Photos: If you'd like to check out a self-hosted alternative, Synology Photos might be the way to go. It's free (other than the hardware you need to buy), comes with an interface similar to Google Photos, and even has facial recognition. Here's our hands-on.
- We've got a few more alternatives we want to dive into in greater detail, like using a first-gen Pixel phone with grandfathered free storage or NextCloud, so stay tuned for those.
Is it even worth switching?
At this point, you might be asking yourself if it's even worth switching if there are some drawbacks attached to all of these alternatives. We would agree with that assessment. Google Photos is a great service that will be well worth the money, and there's not much to hate or dislike about it apart from the pricing change. True, you could argue that Photos only got so big and good because Google could cross-finance it for a long time, pushing smaller competitors needing to pocket the bills themselves out of the market, but that's unfortunately the world we live in.
Our colleague Prasham took a deep dive into what makes Photos great and why you might want to keep using it. Check his take out here.
What are some cool Photos tricks and features I might not even know about yet?
Google Photos is incredibly powerful even beyond features such as the automatic suggestions and search. Here are just a few tricks and tips we've gathered over the years:
- How to find recently uploaded images on Google Photos, even if they date back many years.
- How to supercharge your Google Photos live albums.
- How to transition all of your Facebook photos to Google Photos — if you're interested, you should do that before June 1, when your images start counting against storage.
- How to set up live albums and recent photo highlights on the Nest Hub and other smart displays.
- How to hide people, pets, dates, and certain creation types in Photos memories.
- How to hack a GPS into your DSLR using Google Photos — again, we'd advise at least getting started on this before new photos start counting against your quota.
- How to view your recent Pixel portrait photos with bokeh off.
- How to search by date to instantly find old photos in Google Photos.