Google Photos sounds great, but you should read the small print

Google’s new Photos service has a lot to offer. But before you sign up, make sure you read and understand the small print.

Perhaps the biggest announcement Google made on Thursday at its I/O conference, the Photos service offers consumers the ability to store all their photos on Google’s servers for free. The service offers unlimited storage and the ability to automatically upload photos from PCs, smartphones and tablets. And photos stored in it are private by default; users have to choose to share photos via other services.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? It looks particularly good when compared with Apple’s new iCloud Photo Library, for which Apple only provides 5 gigabytes of free storage. It even looks good compared with Yahoo’s Flickr, which provides a copious 1 terabyte for free, but makes it more difficult to ensure your photos are private and limits playback of users’ videos to just three minutes.

But the Google’s new service has its own limitations.

For example, Google Photos won’t store for free pictures that are larger than 16 megapixels. If users try to store pictures that are that larger than than, Google will automatically downsize them to 16 megapixels. Likewise, Google Photos won’t store for free videos that are at resolutions greater than 1080p. As with photos, if users upload a 4K video to the service, Google will downsize it to 1080p.

What’s more, no matter what size photos or videos users upload to its free Photos service, Google will generally compress them using “lossy” compression techniques. The company says that at least with photos up to 16 megapixels and videos up to 1080p, most users shouldn’t notice the difference between the compressed files and the originals, at least without zooming in super close. But the fact remains that the company will be discarding some of the data in the pictures and videos and won’t be storing the original file sizes.

The service also places some limits on the sizes of files that users can upload to it. Pictures can’t be larger than 75 megabytes or 100 megapixels. Videos can’t be larger than 10 gigabytes.

Those limitations could make the service a non-starter for prosumer photographers and videographers who shoot with high-end digital SLR cameras or 4K video cameras. But it could also give pause to average consumers who are hoping to use the service to back up files stored on their computers. Should they need to restore those pictures from Google Photos, what they download from the service won’t be exactly what they uploaded to it.

For those consumers who don’t want their photos or videos to be downsized or compressed, Google is offering another option. It has a paid version of its Photos service that promises to maintain photos and videos at their original sizes and resolutions. But for that service, consumers only get 15 gigabytes of free storage, and that space is also used to store all their other data on Google, including documents on Google Drive. If consumers want or need more space, they’ll have to pay Google’s regular rates, which start at $2 a month for 100 gigabytes.

Photo of Google Photos running on a tablet, smartphone and laptop courtesy of Google.


Tags: , , , , , ,


Share this Post

  • atg

    Why is this article so negative for a free service? 1TB of Google drive is $10/month if you want larger than 16MB pics or beyond 1080 movies after you pass 25GB.

    What’s the cost from the competitors mentioned in the article?
    icloud: 20/month for 1TB, no free past 5GB

    • pb4sc

      Totally agree. Give the author a bar of gold, and he would complain it is too heavy.

    • Toldyouso

      And why are you so negative towards the article? He’s not discouraging anyone from using the service. He’s not even saying one single word, that it is a bad thing. He’s just pointing out some things, people might not be aware of. And that is good. Nobody wants to find out about those restrictions/stipulations after their uploaded files were messed up.

      • atg

        There is quite the difference between a headline that reads “Google’s service is great” vs “Google’s service sounds great”.

        • Toldyouso

          So what. He still does nothing more than advise people to read the fine print, be informed, know what they agree to and get into before signing up. What’s wrong with that? I don’t see one word that says: Do not use the service. Or I advise against it.

          • Pascal

            I agree …because that was the exact kind of info I was looking for. I started to upload all my pictures (including ORF raw files, all under 16mb) but when downloading them back (in case I were to lose all my physical files) I noticed they were all much smaller in size than my original files. I wondered if it was me doing something wrong. But it seems that even if under 16mb they are compressed…which I don’t like in case one day I might need to retrieve them. So I’ll probably use Flicker to do all my back up of original files (if I can figure out why my ORF files are not uploadable….if not I might then use the 15 g portion for backing only the ORF files are original to google photos and all my jpgs to Flicker….oh well

    • tiger

      Free yes…but compressing (no matter how small) means that you will deal with compressed photo at a later date if you want it back to blow it up. (And very likely, you will no longer have the original.)

      It is like some Android fans complaining about Apple iPhone being only 8 MP vs. 12 MP on Android. They say that when you need to zoom in or blow it up to print, then it suffers.

      Same thing here. Unlike Android-Apple debate, what you upload to Google Photos could be a valuable family picture or something that you may later want to process.

      Not sure about other services, but Apple iCloud maintains ORIGINAL quality and stores it in the cloud (at a cost). In fact, iCloud Photos will NOT you upload a compressed photo…you can ONLY upload the ORIGINAL.

      In life, nothing is free. You pick what is best for you. For me, i have not made a choice. Apple too expensive. Google too limiting. You get what you pay for i guess.

      • harold

        That sure is a long way of saying your using the hackable icloud

        • tiger

          Unlike Google which got hacked AND resulted in deaths of many, iCloud was NEVER hacked. Never got sued either. Google did get sued by celebs I believe.

          Check your facts dummy.

          • Jim Holland

            Sounds like you are the one who needs to check your facts. iCloud absolutely got hacked. Here- here’s a CNN article to back that up: (or just Google it if the link is filtered here). iCloud was hacked.

            The celebs were threatening to sue Google to remove the images from searches. Google had nothing to do with getting those photos out of iCloud and posting them for the world. That was a weakness in iCloud.

            Know your facts and back up your post. Otherwise it just sounds like you are an Apple fanboy.

          • tiger

            NOPE. The hackers broke into iCloud via phishing from dumb celebs. Again, if iCloud did get hack, then why NO ONE sued Apple. THINK. Use that brain that God gave you and think.

            Hackers got personal videos from Celeb’s COMPUTER! Again, phishing!

          • Jim Holland

            No such thing as cordial and meaningful discourse if you can’t cite your sources. And no, it was not due to phishing (see

            The reason no one sued Apple is because data breach lawsuits have been unsuccessful in the past in light of user agreements written in legalese that no one really understands. That gives the hosting companies a legal loophole in most instances.

            So before you go around accusing other people of not thinking- once again, check your sources, then formulate a response rather than spouting off something about which you have no firm understanding.

          • tiger

            Yeah, so, it is much easier to sue Google? Remember, the “idea” by phandroids was that iCloud was hacked by brute attack…and this was from a weakness of iCloud (at the time) because it did not time out. Right?

            No matter what user agreement, IF iCloud was hacked by something that Apple overlooked, then that is an EASY KILL by any lawyer!

            How do you explain the big VIDEOS that were also taken?

            THINK. THINK DIFFERENT, as Apple would say…don’t be a dumbass and just follow your phandroid stupid ideas.

    • Flickr: 1TB free, no 16MB limit, no compression.

    • John

      There are many people who hate google: microsoft, apple, the movie industry.

      Maybe this person is a fanboy of another platform?

  • Charles ‘Chuck’ Talley

    I don’t think that “prosumer photographers and videographers who shoot with high-end digital SLR cameras or 4K video cameras” would want or need this service. I like it for backing up my cell phone photos, I think that’s the best use for it. Yes, the article seems to skewer to the negative side…

    • John


  • Greg Dove

    boo hoo, you get it for free

  • Makikiguy

    It is free. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

    • Mohannad El Edrissi

      That’s because of your internet connection and not google

      • Kevin Lai


  • Jim Holland

    Oh good night, people. It’s obvious people don’t have a good understanding of resolution. With most current smartphones, any data loss in compression will be absolutely negligible. If you’re a pro photographer or shoot with high-end equipment, stop complaining, suck it up, and pay for your storage. For 95% of the world, this offering by Google is more than sufficient!

    I currently have photos and Flickr and was thinking I would start backing up all my photos there. But this changes that for me. And Google’s mastery of natural language recognition that scans photos and groups them based on content is amazing.

    Summary: Thank you, Google. Prosumer photographers- go elsewhere if it doesn’t meet your needs.

  • marsuzter

    Does anyone know if Google will share your photos? Are your photos accessible by other users or perhaps the institutions, etc?

    • John

      No, not unless you make them so. They do make it easy to share, so be careful.

  • Looks like it’s not truly unlimited after all, some users are complaining their uploads are suspended for the “unlimited” service…

    • John

      No, its exactly as they defined it. Yes, they downsize HUGE photos and videos, but that is not a data cap nor a storage cap. The storage truly is unlimited. Good play, google, good play.

  • Mohannad El Edrissi

    Not a problem at all, I have 18 GB worth of photos and videos for years now and I do compress them to 70% original quality using multiple image resizer app on my PC and the quality remains completely of unnoticeable difference, while their size goes down as much as 50 to 70% depending on the camera used. all my photos on google photos are perfectly safe, as for the 16 Megapixel and 1080P limitation I don’t have any files that big so not a problem for average users.
    thumbs up to the service

  • mario

    get flickr. no compression. no 16mb or 1080p limit. acts as true backup and image sharing. u dont need anything else. smaller files created are compressed, not originals, and only used for sharing or other purpose

  • Poke Catz

    Compared before and after uploading. Honestly for taking pictures with your phone you’re not going to see the difference. This is for phones PHONES. Not for DSLR’s or Mirrorless Professional Cameras. This is for phones. When your taking pictures with an iPhone you don’t see the difference. Plus it’s free stop complaining.

    • Kevin Lai

      I agreed, but you have mistakenly post the same photos for both ‘before’ & ‘after’