What Is Google Photos, and Should You Be Using It?

How Google's app differs from others, such as Samsung Gallery

Google Photos is more than a simple photo repository. It also backs up your photos across multiple devices, has automatic organization features, and includes a smart search tool. It's similar to other gallery apps, such as Samsung Gallery. However, when it comes to Samsung Gallery vs. Google Photos, Google Photos offers a more consistent experience across all your devices. Here's a look at how Google Photos works.

Google Photos replaces both Google+Photos and Picasa.

Search for People, Places, and Things

Google Photos is noted for its search feature. The app automatically assigns tags to your photos based on location, facial recognition, and the type of image, whether it's a selfie, screenshot, or video. It then creates folders for each image type. It also classifies animals and objects.

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

Disable geolocation in the app's settings if you prefer.

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 pictures of the same person so you can find them easily. Tag photos with the person's name or nickname to quickly pull up their pictures. This function is called Group Similar Faces, and you can turn it on or off in the app's settings. We were impressed with this feature's accuracy.

Share Your Photos With Ease

It's easy to share photos from Google Photos to other apps, such as social media or messages. You can also create a unique link to share an image with a friend. Flickr and other similar apps offer this function, as well.

Create shared albums that others can add photos to, which is handy for a wedding or another special event. For all albums, set permissions to allow people to view only, add photos, and comment on photos. Change these permissions at any time. Recipients don't need to have a Google Photos account, which is handy.

Live Albums

Sharing photos one-by-one can be tedious. The Google Photos Live Albums feature solves this problem. Choose the photo subjects you want to share (such as babies or pets), then select who you want to share the photos with. Google automatically adds relevant images to the live album.

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

Live Albums can also connect with the Nest 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 that automatically populates with pictures from your live albums. Use voice commands with the Hub, for example, "Hey Google, show my photos from Nashville."

Google Photos and Chromecast

It's easy to 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. Open Google Photos on your device.

  4. Tap Cast and select your Chromecast.

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

  6. To stop, tap Cast > Disconnect.

Built-in Editing Tools

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

Change the date and time stamp, if you like, and select several photos to turn them into an animation or movie.

Cloud Storage and Backup

Use Google Photos to back up all your photos and videos to the cloud, then access those files from other devices, including your desktop and tablet. If you're worried about using too much data, set backups to occur only over Wi-Fi.

Choose to back up the original, uncompressed photo versions, which Google calls "Original quality," or a compressed version, which Google terms "Storage Saver" (formerly called "High-Quality").

Before June 2021, Google allowed unlimited storage of what it termed "High-Quality" photos (now called the "Storage Saver" tier). Now, however, any photos you store, regardless of quality or size, count toward the free 15 GB of storage shared throughout Google services, such as OneDrive and Gmail.

Google Pixel phone owners have some Google Photos storage perks. Some Pixel models, including the Pixel 4 and 5, allow continued free storage of Storage Saver images, but not Original-quality images. Check your Pixel documentation to see your options.

If you're worried about photos eating into your storage, Google provides helpful options for managing and keeping track of how much space you're using. There's a storage-management tool that gathers your blurry shots, screenshots, images from other apps, and more, and allows you to scroll through a feed and decide whether to save space and get rid of these images.

Google also provides a storage estimator on your Google account page so you can see how much you have left. And there's always the option of purchasing additional storage with Google One.

Of course, there's still the option to free up space by deleting already-backed-up photos and videos from your device. (Don't worry, there's also an undelete option.) After you back up your photos, you can access them when offline.

Add a Google Photos folder to your Google Drive to have all your necessary files in one place, making it easy to attach photos to a Gmail message. Google Photos also lets you back up images from other apps.

Google Photos vs. Competing Built-In Gallery Apps

Each Android manufacturer (Samsung, Google, Huawei, Xiaomi, and others) supplies a gallery app to store your photos. Use these apps instead of or alongside Google Photos.

Samsung Gallery has a good search function, automatically tagging your images with available location information, keywords, and organizing them by date and time. It includes some editing tools, but not filters. The Motorola Gallery app includes editing tools and filters, as well as facial recognition. It lets you create a highlight reel out of your favorite photos. Most Gallery apps have sharing and basic editing features, depending on your device and its version of the Android OS.

The primary distinction of Google Photos is its backup feature. This ensures you won't lose important pictures 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 have to choose one as the default. Android makes it easy to set and change default apps by going into your device's settings.

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, and a timer.

  • How can I save pictures as a slideshow in Google Photos?

    Select all of the photos you want to include in your slideshow. They must all be in the same album. Next, select the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner and choose Slideshow. Your slideshow should start automatically.

  • How do you download photos in Google Photos?

    Select the pictures you want to download, then select the three vertical dots in the upper-right corner of the screen. Select Download. Alternatively, you can download photos using the keyboard shortcut Shift+D.

  • How do you upload photos in Google Photos?

    From a web browser, you can drag and drop images directly into Google Photos. Or, open Google Photos > choose Upload in the upper-right corner > navigate to the photo > select Open. On an Android device, images automatically upload if Back up & sync is on: in Google Photos, tap your profile picture > select Photos settings > turn on the Back up & sync toggle switch.

  • Where are my Google Photos?

    If you have multiple Google accounts, make sure you're logged in to the correct one. Or maybe the missing photos were archived; open Google Photos and tap Library Archive to search for them. Also, enable Back up & sync in Google Photos to save the images that you snap on your mobile device.

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