What Is Google Photos?

It has a lot of features that set it apart from a built-in Gallery app

Google Photos is much more than a simple photo repository; it backs up your photos across multiple devices, has automatic organization features, and a smart search tool. You can easily share albums and images with others and allow commenting on shared items. At first glance, it might look like just another Gallery app, but it has more in common with Google Drive. The app is available for Android, iOS, and desktops.

Google Photos replaces both Google+Photos and Picasa.

Search for People, Places, and Things

One of the most notable features is search. Google Photos automatically assigns tags to your photos based on location, facial recognition, and the type of image – such as selfie, screenshot, and video – and then creates folders for each. It even classifies animals and objects.

Google Photos screen with folders for people, places, and things.

In our experience, this feature was hit-or-miss at first (mistaking people for cars and the like), but it gets smarter the more you use it.

You can disable geolocation in the app’s settings.

You can use any search term to find a particular photo, such as the location, subject, or season. In our tests, this feature was on point, displaying accurate results for snapshots from a trip to Nashville. Using facial recognition, Google Photos groups together pictures of the same person so that you can find them easily. You can also tag photos with the person's name or nickname so that you can quickly pull up their pictures. This function is called "Group Similar Faces," and you can turn it on or off in the settings. We were impressed with the accuracy of this feature in our tests.  

Share Your Photos With Ease

As with a Gallery app, you can share photos from Google Photos to other apps, such as social media or messages, but you can also create a unique link to share an image with a friend, as you can with Flickr and the like. You can also create shared albums that others can add photos to, which is handy for a wedding or other special event. For all albums, you can allow people to view-only, add photos, and comment on them; you can change permissions at any time. The recipients don’t need to have a Google Photos account either, which is handy.

Live Albums

Sharing photos one-by-one can be tedious and live albums solves that. Choose the photo subjects you want to share (babies, pets, etc.), then who you want to share them with, and Google will automatically add relevant photos to the live album; you don’t have to do a thing.

Google Photos screen where you can choose people and pets to be included in live albums.

Live Albums can also connect with the Google Home Hub, a smart home controller with a 7-inch display.

Google Home Hub with photo of twin babies on screen

The Google Home Hub acts as a digital photo frame and automatically populates with photos from your live albums. You can also use voice commands with the Hub, such as “Hey Google, show my pictures from Nashville.”

Google Photos and Chromecast

You can also display your Google Photos on your television using Chromecast.

  1. Plug the dongle into your TV.

  2. Connect the Chromecast to the same Wi-Fi network as your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

  3. Connect the Chromecast to the same Wi-Fi network as your smartphone, tablet, or laptop.

  4. Open Google Photos on your device.

  5. Tap Cast and select your Chromecast.

  6. Open a picture or video from Google Photos to display it on the TV.

  7. To stop: tap Cast > Disconnect.

Built-in Editing Tools

Google Photos' editing features take it up a notch, with the ability to crop, rotate, and adjust color, exposure, and lighting, and add Instagram-like filters.

Photo of a snowy fire escape with editing options underneath

You can also change the date and time stamp. You can also select several photos and turn them into an animation or movie.

Cloud Storage and Backup

Finally, you can use Google Photos to back up all of your photos and videos to the cloud and then access them from other devices, including your desktop and tablet. If you're worried about using too much data, you can set backups to occur only over Wi-Fi. You can choose to back up the original uncompressed versions or a compressed "high-quality" version. High-quality gets you unlimited storage, while original is limited to the available space in your Google account.

You can add a Google Photos folder to your Google Drive so that you can have all of your necessary files in one place and also means you can easily attach your photos to a Gmail message. You can even backup images from other apps. There's also an option to free up space by deleting photos and videos from your device that have already been backed up. (Don’t worry, there’s also an undelete option.) Here's a reminder to regularly back up your Android device

Backing up your photos also means you can access them when offline.

Google Photos vs. Built-In Gallery Apps From HTC, LG, Motorola, and Samsung

Each Android manufacturer (Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, etc.) supplies a Gallery app to store your photos, which you can use instead of or along with Google Photos. Gallery apps vary depending on the manufacturer.

Samsung's has a pretty good search function, automatically tagging your photos with available location information, keywords (beach, snow, etc.), and organizing them by the date/time. It includes some editing tools, but not filters.

Motorola's Gallery app includes editing tools and filters as well as facial recognition. You can also create a highlight reel out of your favorite photos. Most Gallery apps have sharing and basic editing features, depending on your device and the version of the Android OS it's running. The primary distinction with Google Photos is the backup feature, which ensures you don't have to worry about losing important photos if you misplace your device or upgrade to a new one.

While you can use both Google Photos and your built-in Gallery app at the same time, you'll have to choose one as the default. Luckily, Android makes it easy to set and change default apps by going into your settings. You may also want to explore camera apps beyond the one built into your device. Third-party camera apps, many of which are free, offer features such as image stabilization, panorama mode, filters, a timer, and more.