Google Photos Review

Photo albums with plastic pockets and pasted edges for holding the photos are relics of yesterday.  Yet no one has come up with a first class way to organize today’s digital photos – until now. Google Photos not only lets you organize your digital photos, but it can identify the people in your photos and backup and store your photos in one place. It can even enhance your photos, help you use them to tell stories, and let you share them with others.

Getting Started with Google Photos

To get started with Google photos, if you have a computer, you simply install the free Google Photos program on your Windows or Mac. If you use mobile devices to take and/or store photos, you will also want to download the app on all of your Andoid or Apple devices. You will need a free Google account and will log into the same account on all of your devices. No need to worry about what type of devices you own. Whether you only use mobile devices or you have a computer and several mobile devices, Google Photos will work on them all.

The installation process is easy. Once you set Google Photos up on the first device, it will automatically copy your photos to the Google Cloud. The only decision that you will have to make is the choice between two storage options.

The High-Quality option gives you free, unlimited storage, but your photos must be 16 megapixels or less, and video must be 1080p resolution or lower. If photos are larger than this they will be compressed to that size. This option gives you free storage and it will be the best choice for the average user whose camera and/or cell phone is less than 16 megapixel resolution. This includes most cameras and cell phone on the market today.

The other option is to store the photos in their Original Resolution. This option is good if you take Raw photos or have a very high resolution camera. It will, however have an added cost as Original Resolution photos count toward your Google account storage limits. With your free Google account you get 15GB free storage. This storage is divided between Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Photos. Additional storage starts at $1.99 a month for 100 GB.

If you have photos stored on DVD’s or camera cards you can upload them directly to the Google Photos on your computer.

Fantastic Face Recognition

Depending on how many photos you have, it can take hours (and hours) for all the photos to be processed, but the results are very impressive. All the pictures from all of you devices will appear on each of the devices where you installed Google Photos. They are arranged in an easy-to-see display of photos arranged by date. You may be pleasantly surprised to see old photos that you may have completely forgotten about.

While the finding and syncing of photos alone is remarkable, even more impressive is the way that Google uses face recognition and other high-tech methodology to sort the photos into groups. Just bring up the search by clicking or tapping and you will be amazed by the results. The photos are separated into groups like People and Places, Flowers, Christmas, Cars, Lakes, Dogs, etc.

google photos groups

The face recognition that Google has developed is remarkable. Google correctly identified and grouped together all the pictures of people who I had photographed a lot. Each of my family members and friends were in their own groups. Amazingly, pictures of adults when they were children were also put in the proper group. A photo of a one-month old baby at his christening which only showed him being held by his Godmother and Godfather was correctly identified.

When I first ran Google Photos, it found about 8,000 photos and only a few were put in an incorrect group. In one photo my granddaughter was identified as me and in another I was identified as my daughter. In Google’s defense, all three of us have similar facial features and Google identified us correctly in hundreds of other pictures.

If you find a photo in the wrong group you can remove it if you are using the app on an Apple or Android device, but you cannot yet do this on the Windows desktop app.  Removing a photo from a group will not remove it from your Google photos, but will only remove it from that group.

Google Photos Assistant

Google Photos has a new tool called Assistant. This is where you can check on the progress of your updates and syncs. The Assistant also sorts through your photos to find pictures that it can augment. For instance, if it finds that you have taken several pictures in a row, it will automate them into a short video clip. If it finds photos that it can stich photos together it will automatically create a panorama.

Google Photos also creates stylized photos. It might take a photo and put a frame around it, or turn it into a sepia image. It actually does a great job of enhancing your photos with subtle lighting and color changes, but may also add a filter which changes them quite a bit.  These changes are usually quite good. You always have the option of keeping or dismissing these augmented photos. In either case, your original photos always remain intact.

google photos style

Google Photos will also put your photos into stories based on the time taken and the subjects and objects in the photos. For instance I wound up with stories called “Tuesday night in Stockholm”, “Weekend in DC”, and “Trip to Chicago”. The pictures were arranged like a slide show with a moving collage of photos at the beginning. What Google Photos does with these collections is usually quite impressive. Some of the photos even give the place that the photo was taken along with a map. You can add a descriptions and do things like changing the cover photo. The only drawback that I found is that Google picks out the photos for each story rather than letting you choose from your whole album. This was a drawback when Google Photos made a great story of my trip to Chicago, but missed the last day of photos.

google photos stories

You can also easily create your own stories by choosing the pictures you want to use and adding information. You can also create albums by choosing the photos you want to include and giving the album a name.

The Google Photos app is slightly different on different devices. Simple editing tools like brightness, cropping, and rotating are included for all devices. However, the Tools and Filters are different on different devices.  For instance, on the iPad and iPhone there are also tools for Vignette, Brush, Healing, and Transforming. Filters include Lens Blur, Tonal Contrast, Vintage, Black and White, Grunge, Glamour Glow and more. On the PC Desktop filters have names like Pluto, Venus, Mars, and Saturn.

On touch screen devices, the filters and tools are especially easy to apply as you simply swipe your finger across the screen to see the effects as you apply them. On the desktop you choose the filters and see them as they are applied and you use a slider for things like brightness. While these different interfaces can be a bit confusing the beauty of it is that you can edit your photo on any device. If you have a mobile device and a computer, I suggest that you try your edits on each device to see which you like to use. Alternately, you can use several devices to edit your photos. As the app matures, Google keeps improving and adding tools and filters. It is always interesting to come back to the app and find new tools and/or filters.

You can choose any photo to post on social media or you can share them with others directly. You can also choose an entire album or selected photos to get a link to those photos to share. Your recipient can view the photos or download them. Unfortunately I didn’t find any way to download all of your photos. This would be a great feature allowing you to have a personal backup.

When you delete a photo from Google photos it is deleted from all of the devices where it resides. It is also easy to delete more than one photo at a time and you can retrieve deleted photos for 60 days.

To choose a group of photos for sending or deleting you can tap on one photo and drag your finger to select other photos. This eliminates the tedious chore of choosing each picture one by one. The zoom and selection gestures help you move through the apps seamlessly on touch devices and even on non-touch screens, this process is fairly easy. This ease of use is important for scrolling through large collections of photos. You can also zoom in and out easily and change the view to see the photos grouped in different ways.

Conclusion

For a free program with free storage, Google Photos is pretty phenomenal. It is a great way to find and organize your photos. Once you start working with the Albums, Stories, and editing tools, you will feel proud of your photographic prowess without much effort.

Professional photographers or those who shoot in RAW or in resolutions greater than 16 megapixels may want to consider a competing service like Flickr which gives you 1TB free or Amazon Prime Photos which gives you unlimited free storage with a Prime subscription. Google Photos, however, is a godsend for everyday photographers who need a little organizational and editing help.

I would like to see an easy way to download all your photos for personal storage and backup purposes, but other than that, there is not much to dislike about Google Photos and there is truly a lot to like.

Author: Sandy Berger

Sandy Berger, respected computer authority, journalist, media guest, speaker, and author, has more than three decades of experience as a computer and technology expert. Her eight books include: How to Have a Meaningful Relationship with Your Computer, Your Official Grown-up's Guide to AOL and the Internet, Cyber Savers –Tips & Tricks for Today’s Drowning Computer Users, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Better Living through Technology, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to the Internet, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Gadgets & Gizmos, Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Health & Wellness, and Sandy Berger’s Great Age Guide to Online Travel. Sandy’s newspaper column, magazine articles, feature stories, product reviews, and computer tips can be found at her website, Compu-KISS.

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