Google Photos – Unlimited, free, smaller.

I was chatting with family friends at a dinner the other night and this retired gentlemen was telling me how he stores all his photos on Google Photos and it’s unlimited.  I know as a tech there there’s always fine print.  So, I had to find out but I wasn’t going to start testing and confirming while we were having dinner, so I had to wait.  Once I had a chance to investigate and do tests of my own, I confirmed what really happens.  Yes, Google offers unlimited storage of your photos in Google Photos; But if you look on their website when you go to upload a photo, it pops up a dialogue box showing you have two options:

Option 1: High Quality (free unlimited storage)
Great visual quality at a reduced file size

Option 2: Original (28.1GB storage left)
Full resolution that counts against your quota

As you can see from their options above, you can have unlimited storage of all your photos for free, but it comes at a cost of smaller file size.  Option two looking at my storage that has a 30GB account because I have Google Business Apps, I have 28.1GB of storage left.  If you have a free Google account you would have 15GB of storage free.  That can get used up fairly quickly, which is why many people will go for the free unlimited option.

So unlimited free sounds like a great alternative to 15GB or even 30GB maximum storage.  But what does Google consider high quality?  If you look at the photos on your computer with your preferred photo viewing program/app, you may not notice a difference at all, but if you open it with an image editing software such as MS Paint which I have in the screen shot below showing a side by side comparison, you can clearly see the difference.  The screen resolution is a huge difference where you maybe fine if you wanted to print 3×5 photos at some point with only a tiny loss in quality.  But if you wanted to crop the photo, never mind even get a portrait size print, forget about it!  It will be all pixelated and it will look horrible.

So in the image above, you can see the image on the left was what was uploaded to Google Photos after they automatically resized it and so you can see the entire image at once.  The image on the right is the original, which you can only see a portion of the picture because the resolution is so high as it was originally on my phone.

I have the screen resolution and sizes showing if you click the picture above to see more detail.  It shows the original image (on the right) was 1.78MB.  The resolution you can’t see in the screen shot but it was 2322x4128px.
The image on the left Google resized before uploading to Google Photos is 61.5KB and the resolution is 520x925px.

So as you can see from this one example in particular, a photo taken from my phone having a great quality photo, get’s lost when uploading to Google Photos if using the free option.  We Go from 1.78MB to 61.5KB.  To put this in perspective, 1,024kb is 1MB.  We have a 1.78MB photo which makes it 1,822.72KB.  That’s about 29.6 times the size of what Google reduces it to, so Google could store 29 photos for every one photo you take using the same space.  They can then justify offering unlimited.

What this means in screen resolution you can figure out more easily.  It’s about 4.5 times the size, which you can kind of guess from the screen shot above.  Perfectly fine for viewing on your computer, phone or tablet, but may not be suitable for printing in high quality.

In summary, Google Photos in my opinion is great for sharing and storing memories digitally, but if you ever wanted to print a photo in high quality, especially a large portrait style, you will need to still keep a local copy of the original photo in high resolution.  So just beware of what your intentions are for those photos now and in the foreseeable future.  You can not make those photos big again by increasing the screen resolution size without losing the quality.