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

How Google's app differs from other apps, 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. Google Photos is 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.

Google Photos logo on a shipping box
Smith Collection/Gado / Getty Images

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, for example, whether it's a selfie, screenshot, or video. Google Photos 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 that 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 photos 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 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 that automatically populates with photos from your live albums. Use voice commands with the Hub, for example, "Hey Google, show my pictures 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 and 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 or a compressed high-quality version. High-quality gets you unlimited storage. Storing original, uncompressed photos is limited to the available space in your Google account.

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.

There's also an 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.

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 photos with available location information, keywords, and organizing photos by the 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 feature ensures you won't lose 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. 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.