I woke up yesterday to the news of Google deciding to put an end to unlimited storage on Google Photos. The decision did not come as a surprise to me. But here’s my take on it along with some alternatives to Google Photos that are sadly not free. (Google Photos is not going to be free anyway so you may as well just call them alternatives!)
I understand the business decision why Google is phasing out free unlimited storage, and I truly appreciate them giving us quite a long heads up. Photos you continue to upload in high-quality (not original quality) before June 1, 2021, will not count against your storage limit.
Photos of all quality that you start uploading or backing up starting on June 1, 2021, will count against your storage limit. That gives everyone ample time to either decide on a Google One plan or find an alternative.
I pay for 100 GB on Google One. There are reasons why I do that (and it’s not just for storage as I have plenty from other services). But will 100 GB be enough for me? It probably will for a bit. Google thinks, at the rate that I back up content to Google, I will be able to keep backing up photos for 4 years in my current 100 GB Google One plan.
What I love about Google Photos
Google Photos has been a favorite service of mine and many people that I know. Even if not in full resolution, high-quality backup for all of your photos from your phone at no cost is a great service.
On top of that, Google Photos has an intelligent search system (duh!) that lets you look up just the right photo from your years of archive. I personally love the ability to use the maps feature to narrow down the photos I have taken over the years.
Using the photos’ location data, Google puts them into an interactive world map that I can explore and find the exact place where I remember I took a photo.
You may be wondering, iPhone does the same thing. It does, but trust me on this, it’s not nearly as flawless as the one on Google Photos.
The great thing about Google Photos is it just works as it’s supposed to. iCloud Photo Library, which already requires me to pay since I’m way over the mere 5 GB free storage limit, is just crippled in comparison.
Why iCloud Photo Library is subpar
I pay for 200 GB of storage on iCloud. This is mostly because I’m using up space for my iPhone backup as well as the photos from my iPhone that sync to the iCloud Photo Library. With Apple One, I will soon have a staggering 2 TB of storage on iCloud. It should mean that I can avoid having to pay Google Photos for extra, right? Maybe not.
See, the biggest problem with iCloud Photo Library, in addition to it being painfully slow (it takes too long to download full-resolution photos or videos from iCloud on my iPhone even on a good internet connection), is that it forces me to keep a version of all of those photos locally on my iPhone.
iCloud forces me to keep a local copy of all photos on the iPhone, forcing me to upgrade the iPhone itself when I’m nearing storage. So if I delete old photos from the iPhone, they are deleted from iCloud as well.
Even though these are ‘optimized photos,’ they still take up space. I recently noticed my iPhone 11 with 64 GB of storage is nearing its storage capacity, even with optimized photos enabled. I have 200 GB of storage (nearly 140 GB of it still available), which means I should be able to store all photos on the iCloud Photo Library and delete them from my iPhone so that I have space for more photos.
Except Apple doesn’t want me to do that. Apple would rather have me upgrade my iPhone to have more storage. But what happens if you run out of storage even on the 256 GB model? Who knows.
The biggest pain point is that if I delete an old photo from my iPhone, it’s gone from iCloud as well. I guess, I understand Apple’s point of view. They want iCloud Photo Library to be a true copy of my iPhone and other iOS devices. But it’s really not how it should work. We should have the option to delete photos locally without having them removed from the cloud storage.
iCloud itself would be a good alternative to Google Photos. But I don’t recommend it.
That’s what I loved about Google Photos. Once the photos were backed up, the app itself would suggest (which it still does) deleting older photos to free up the iPhone storage. I would expect this to come from Apple so that I could have more use out of their device. (Then again, one could argue that Google wants you to delete the photos so the only copy you have is with them. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
I really wish that Apple would change how iCloud Photo Library works, especially in the face of Google Photos winding down its unlimited storage option and Apple One offering users more iCloud storage at an attractive price.
Google Photos Alternative #1: OneDrive
Microsoft 365, recently renamed from Office 365, includes 6 TB of OneDrive storage (Shared between 6 people, including yourself). I have the Family plan that has this. Which means I can share the subscription with 5 people, and they all get 1 TB of their own. Plus, it includes desktop versions of Microsoft Word and PowerPoint. But you can get the Personal plan too that costs quite a bit less and still has 1 TB of storage for you.
As I’m continuing my education, Word and PowerPoint are kind of must-have apps on my computer. Sure, I could create presentations on Google Slides or even using Keynote on Mac (the PowerPoint compatibility is good for the most part), but who’s going to take the chance of it breaking all formatting when it’s opened on an old (and cracked) version of Word or PowerPoint on a Windows 7 computer at the university?
For me, the subscription made sense. The Office suite is one of the best productivity suites out there and I still often write longform articles on Microsoft Word to avoid having Chrome tabs just a Cmd + T away. When it comes to working offline, these are hard to beat.
Microsoft Outlook has also gotten better in recent times if you’re juggling multiple email accounts. I’m not using it yet, but it’s there in your subscription. Microsoft OneNote is also included and works flawlessly on Mac and iPad. Some people swear by it. I’ve used it and I can understand its potential. If you haven’t tried it yet, you probably should.
1 TB of online storage on OneDrive is the icing on the cake, made more delicious by the fact that you can share it with five people and they all get their own 1 TB of OneDrive storage. That’s a total of 6 TB!
Plus the addition of 1 TB of online storage on OneDrive is the icing on the cake, made more delicious by the fact that you can share it with five people and they all get their own 1 TB of OneDrive storage! I’ve recently switched to OneDrive from Dropbox (More on that later). But OneDrive makes Office 365 subscription that much worth it. The OneDrive app is still rough around the edges on Mac, but it’s been working remarkably well.
The phone app has the option to turn on camera upload. That’s what I’ve been using so far. There is one problem though, it won’t upload optimized photos. So, in order to upload full-resolution photos to OneDrive, you must have the full-resolution photos downloaded on your iPhone.
I lost many photos (but I blame iCloud, not OneDrive) when I turned off optimized storage thinking all full-resolution photos were downloaded, uploaded them to OneDrive, and then deleted those photos from the iPhone, only to later discover those photos weren’t actually backed up to OneDrive because iPhone did not download the full-resolution from iCloud.
It’s probably a minor thing, but it’s something to keep in mind. If you’re low on your iPhone storage, iOS become aggressive in how fast photos are uploaded to iCloud and replaced by a low-res version on the iPhone. So if you don’t open the OneDrive app and let the app upload the photos (it doesn’t work very well in the background, another area where Google Photos shines bright), those photos will not be on your OneDrive backup.
Google Photos Alternative #2: Dropbox
I’ll tell you this: I’ve used Dropbox for nearly or over a decade and I’ve never had any issues with syncing or files being lost or corrupt. Not once. Ever. Even today, as I’m about to bash Dropbox, I have to admit, its reliability is top notch. iCloud and even Google Drive pale in comparison to how well Dropbox works.
I have a free Dropbox account, though. With 19 GB of storage (earned by referring many people to Dropbox before Google Drive was a thing), I was happy. I mostly store important documents and some files on Dropbox, so I was not even using the half of my available storage.
But the problem is, Dropbox put a stupid device limitation on the free plan. That means I have to upgrade to 2 TB of storage for $120/year only to connect Dropbox to more than 3 devices. That’s nuts! I was setting up a new computer last year when I got hit by this limitation. I paid for it, but I wasn’t happy about it. My search for an alternative (which eventually landed me on Microsoft’s offering) started right that moment.
Dropbox, like most other cloud storage apps, also has the option to turn on camera upload on its smartphone apps. You can back up your photos to Dropbox if you’d rather not pay for Google Photos. I haven’t actually used it since I had already moved to OneDrive, but if past experience with Dropbox is any indication, it would probably be pretty flawless.
Of course, by upgrading to a paid plan, you remove the Dropbox’s device limitation. I just found OneDrive to be of better value. But if you have no need for desktop Office suite and you don’t need to share it with anyone, Dropbox may very well be a good alternative to Google Photos for you.
What about Google One?
Like myself, you may end up deciding that there’s nothing that replaces Google Photos because of its myriads of features and functionality. In that case, you would want to look at Google One, the paid storage bundle that Google is promoting (and is indirectly the reason why unlimited free storage is going away on Google Photos).
I think Google One is relatively inexpensive. For $1.99/month or $19.99/year, you get 100 GB of storage. And for $29.99/year, you get 200 GB of storage. It spans across all of your Google services (Gmail, Drive, Photos). So you would have to keep that in mind. It’s not just for photos on Google Photos.
Also, if you have Android phones, you can back them up to Google One cloud storage as well. Not to mention this too will count against the quota.
Still, considering that Google Photos has far superior features than anything else mentioned above when it comes to backing up photos and videos and organizing them automatically, if the sole reason for paying is for storing your photos, you really can’t go wrong with Google One.
There may be other services out there that offer private photo backup services. But none of them are likely as trustworthy (in terms of not vanishing with all of your photos) as these three.
If you have personal recommendations, feel free to let me know in the comments below!
As for me, I’ll keep Google Photos as part of Google One. It’s just too good to move away from!