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Do you know what Google Photos is? By name, it sounds just like any other photo management app, but it is so much more.

Available on the web, PCs and Macs, Android devices, and iPhones and iPads, Google Photos is the place for you to backup, edit, and browse all of your photos, as well as create cool montage clips, shared albums, and much more. Oh, and did I mention that there’s free and unlimited cloud storage for all the photos on your phone and computer? Yeah, really.

Today we’re going to look at everything this app has to offer, starting with some of the more obvious features and moving to the more obscure features towards the end.

Browse & Organize Photos

Of course you know that Google Photos can organize your collection (in addition to many other gallery apps 4 Great Free Alternative Gallery Apps For Android 4 Great Free Alternative Gallery Apps For Android Don't like the default gallery app on your Android device? Here are some fantastic free alternatives. Read More ), but some aspects of the app might be a little confusing. For example, the main navigation method in this app is pinching to zoom. By default, the app opens up in Day view, but you can easily pinch out to expand that to Comfortable view, shown below.

If pinching isn’t your thing, you can also change views using the three-dot menu in the upper right.

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Now if you pinch in, you can move in the opposite direction, going out to Month view or even Year view.

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And if you want to edit something just tap on the photo as you normally would, or you can pinch it outward to expand it to fill the screen, as shown below.

google-photos-zoom-edit

Above, you can see the screen before pinching, while pinching, and after expanding it all the way. To go back, you can either press the Back button or — you guessed it — pinch the image back down.

One more navigation tip: If you need to select multiple photos, tap and hold on one to select it, then just drag your finger over all the other photos you want to select. It’s a small thing, but it makes batch selecting photos so much easier!

Backed-Up vs. On-Device Photos

By default, when you open Google Photos you’re looking only at the photos that have been backed up to Google’s servers. Swipe in from the left side and you can see that the Photos section is highlighted.

google-photos-landscape

The Device folders tab is home to all of the photos that live in the physical storage space of your device. These may also be backed up to Google, or not. This is indicated by a blue cloud icon, shown below.

google-photos-on-device

So, if you’re confused as to why some photos only show up under Device folders and not Photos, be sure that they are set to automatically back up. We’ll talk about how to do this shortly in the Backup All Your Photos section, but for now, let’s talk about editing.

Edit Photos

Google Photos is largely a photo editor, and as such, it has a really nice interface for it — even if it does have some strong competitors in this arena 6 Best Photo Editors for Android 6 Best Photo Editors for Android Edit photos quickly and easily on your Android phone or tablet with these apps. Read More . Once you’ve opened a photo, you’ll get three main options along the bottom that correspond to General EditingFilters, and Crop/Rotate/Zoom.

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Within the General Editing menu, you have options for LightColorPop, and Vignette. However, these don’t act like on/off switches; instead, you can either decrease or increase their intensity.

If you ever want to see how it compares to your original, just tap and hold anywhere on the photo.

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The second options for Filters gives you a similar intensity slider, and the third option, Crop/Rotate/Zoom allows you to easily and quickly adjust your photo with intuitive controls.

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At any time, you can undo your edits by going into the three-dot menu in the upper right and pressing Back to original. You don’t need to worry about overwriting your old photo forever, though, because Google Photos is a non-destructive editor, meaning that it always saves your edits as a new copy instead of writing over the original.

Backup All of Your Photos

Get this: you can backup all of your photos to Google for free. You get unlimited space to do this.

What’s the catch? Well, they have to be under 16MP. Anything larger than that will count towards your Google Drive storage.

Now, before you freak out about that, remember that even the iPhone 6s (our review iPhone 6s Review and Giveaway iPhone 6s Review and Giveaway Spoiler alert: if you like iPhones, you’re probably going to love the iPhone 6s. But are you really surprised? Read More ) takes only 12MP photos. Many other Android phones can also upload their full-size photos, like the 16MP Samsung Galaxy S6 (our review Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and Gear VR Review and Giveaway Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge and Gear VR Review and Giveaway Samsung sells more Android devices than any other manufacturer, and thanks to some aggressive marketing, the Galaxy brand is almost synonymous with Android. Read More ) and the 13MP OnePlus X (our review OnePlus X Review and Giveaway OnePlus X Review and Giveaway How do you make a single phone that pleases everyone? OnePlus seems to think that you can't. A few months after the OnePlus Two, comes the OnePlus X, a smaller, cheaper device. Read More ).

However, if you happen to have a megapixel-supercharged device like the 20MP HTC One M9 (our review HTC One M9 Review and Giveaway HTC One M9 Review and Giveaway Metal design? Check. Expandable storage? Check. All the most powerful internals? Check. On paper, the HTC One M9 is one beast of a phone. Read More ) or the 23MP Sony Xperia Z5 (our review Sony Xperia Z5 Review & Giveaway Sony Xperia Z5 Review & Giveaway You're looking for a new phone. Something reasonably powerful, big screen, great sound. A handset to blow your iPhone loving friends out of the water. The Sony Xperia Z5 might just be it. Read More ), you’ll have to either let Google automatically downsize them to 16MP or have them count towards your Drive storage. Given that 16MP photos are by no means low quality, it’s still a very good deal. Especially since it’s 100% free.

So now that that’s established, let’s look at how you backup photos from your phone and your computer.

From Your Phone

Google makes it super easy to ensure that every photo you take on your phone is automatically backed up. You can choose to only backup over WiFi or while your device is charging, and you can choose which folders you want it to backup.

To access these settings, swipe in from the left and tap the Settings button, as shown below.

google-photos-backup

And that’s really all there is to it. With all of your photos backed up, you’ll never have to worry about losing your photos if something happens to your phone.

From Your Computer

You probably have photos on your computer that want to backup too. Luckily for you, Google has you covered there too. Just download the PC or Mac client to get started.

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All you have to do is sign in with your Google account, and you’ll be presented with options for how you want to backup the photos on your computer.

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You can see again the High quality vs Original photo size option here again, and that’s because the desktop and mobile apps back up to the same place and use the same cloud storage. Again, 16MP and smaller photos are free and unlimited, but larger photos count towards your Drive storage.

And once all the photos on your computer are backed up, you can rest assured that all your precious memories will always be there, even if your hard drive dies and you lose your phone. Sure, there are other places you could backup your photos Online Photo Albums: Where to Host Them for Free Online Photo Albums: Where to Host Them for Free Which online photo storage service is the best? Between free price tags, unlimited storage space, and photo security, which service is best for you? Read More , but you really can’t beat free and unlimited.

Make Collaborative Shared Albums

Finally, we can get into some of the more interesting features. Shared albums are a unique aspect of Google Photos that allow you to easily share photos with friends using just a link. Even better, if you’ve had an event where multiple people took photos, you can upload to the shared album for everyone to download the photos they like.

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There are two ways you can create a Shared album. The first is simply to press the “+” symbol in the upper right, then select Shared album, and add photos afterwards.

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Or, you can select all of the photos that you want, tap the Share icon in the upper right, and choose New shared album.

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Then, just share your Shared album link with whoever you want, and you can all easily access the photos in that album!

Free Up Storage Space Easily

I’m sure you know the stereotype of the iPhone user who never accepts updates or installs new apps because they’re constantly out of storage. Yes, maybe they should’ve gotten more than 16GB of storage or gotten a phone with a microSD card slot Your Next Phone Needs a MicroSD Card Slot -- Here's Why Your Next Phone Needs a MicroSD Card Slot -- Here's Why Some popular phones don't have microSD card slots -- but a lot still do, and you need one! Read More , but it’s too late for that now. So how can you quickly and easily free up space without losing all the photos you cherish?

Well, if you’ve been following along and backed up all your photos to Google (remember, it’s free and unlimited), then you no longer need those photos on your phone. As long as you have an Internet connection, you’ll still be able to access them in the Google Photos app.

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So, head into Settings, tap Free up device storage, and press Delete. Conveniently, it will give you an estimate of how much space you’re going to get back. Even better, you can be sure that you’re not deleting anything permanently, since this feature only removes photos that have already been backed up!

Save Deleted Photos

I don’t know about you, but I often take a lot more photos than I need backed up. Do all those blurry, out-of-focus photos really need to be backed up? So I often go through and delete photos that I know I’ll never want to look back on.

But, occasionally, I’ll delete something that I should’ve have. Yikes. That’s not a good mistake to make. If I were on Windows, I’d be able to recover my photos in the Recycle Bin, or the Trash if I were on a Mac. But there’s no equivalent on Android.

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Except Google Photos has a Trash. To find it, swipe in from the left and tap Trash. To move any photo there, just select it and then tap the trash can icon in the upper right.

Anything you delete will be kept there for 60 days, just in case you make a mistake. This feature makes it just a bit easier to hit that delete button now.

Create Amazing Montages & More

There are a lot of great tools for doing exactly this 3 Automated Editing Tools for Android to Easily Create Amazing Movies 3 Automated Editing Tools for Android to Easily Create Amazing Movies Google's Photo app automatically creates awesome little videos, but now it has some competition. Let's compare them. Read More , but Google Photos has it all in one place. To access any of these, just press the “+” icon in the upper right of the app. This is a little hidden for some people, so I want to emphasis this: Press the “+” icon in the upper right to access all of these features!

Now let’s take a look at the different kinds of things you can create here.

Movies

Movies in the Google Photos app are simply short video clips that can include photos and/or videos, and have music playing in the background. You can choose up to 50 photos or videos, and Google will slap them all together for you in a few seconds.

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The theme and music are automatically chosen, and it will pan or zoom through photos to make the whole thing a bit more dynamic. However, you’re free to edit this however you’d like using the three buttons that appear along the bottom when you open it.

Change the theme, change the music (Google provides a good number of tracks for free), trim your video clips, or rearrange your photos and/or videos.

google-photos-edit-movies

It’s actually surprisingly intuitive and fast, and the outcome is pretty cute. You can see a quick one that I made below.

It’s not professional video quality, but for having little summaries of a trip, it’s not bad at all!

Stories

Stories are a little harder to explain. They’re interactive, which means you have to open them in the Photos app or in your Web browser — it’s not just a video file you can share. Also, there’s no music to these. Instead, you choose photos and videos, and it puts them together in a kind of digital scrapbook that you can swipe through.

Above, you can watch a Story I made. Remember, Stories aren’t video files, so I just recorded my screen as I swiped through and even edited one of the captions in the Story. The best way to share one of these with friends or family is to use the shareable link that it gives you.

Animations

Google calls these Animations, but really, they’re just animated GIFs. Select a few photos, and Google Photos quickly throws together a GIF for you. Here’s an example.

google-photos-animation-resized

If you just need a simple way of making animated GIFs without too much customization, this’ll work.

Collages

This is another one of those “throw something together quickly” tools, but this time, it squeezes a bunch of photos into one photo, as seen below.

google-photos-collage

Unfortunately, there’s no customization here, so the size and placement of the photos is entirely up to Google. At least for collages, you’re probably better sticking to Layout by Instagram, which is an amazing app Create Easy Photo Collages for Instagram With Layout Create Easy Photo Collages for Instagram With Layout While there are plenty of ways to create collages without Photoshop, Layout's focus is on simplicity and the ability to share the images quickly with Instagram and Facebook. Read More (and even has an Android version now).

Do You Like Google Photos?

Google hasn’t really marketed this service too much, so it’s understandable if you didn’t know about it or didn’t know everything it could do. I think what’s most surprising to some people is that it’s even available for iOS. Don’t forget to give it a try yourself!

Try it yourself: Google Photos for the web, PC and Mac, Android, and iPhone and iPad.

And if you need to take some photos to populate your app, try out the official Google Camera Google Camera: The Official Vision for An Android Camera App Google Camera: The Official Vision for An Android Camera App Today I'd like to tell you about a camera app that doesn't do very much -- by design. You should still try it, though, because it comes direct from Google. Read More  app, which also has some really great hidden features Three Secret Features Of Google’s New Camera App That Will Blow Your Mind Three Secret Features Of Google’s New Camera App That Will Blow Your Mind Google’s recent update to the KitKat camera app boasts a few secret abilities, including an accidental tilt-shift effect, 3D image capability and something of a wide-angle effect. Read More !

So what do you think of the Google Photos app? Are any of these features particularly useful for you? Is it missing anything major? Let us know in the comments!

  1. Michelle Finnegan
    September 27, 2016 at 12:51 am

    One has to wonder why the "new and approved" lacks the functionality to send photos or an album to an email recipient. Not everyone in the world wants their photos to be "shared".
    Give us a break......if you really want your product to be the most popular, most used, most loved...... then let us send a photo or an album to a simple email address. If not, then don't let us choose that option if it doesn't work!!!!! Gone are the days when you could create an album of 60 or more images and send them easily via LiveMail. If you think this is "progress", get yourself a dictionary.

  2. RonS
    August 20, 2016 at 12:14 pm

    I would be really careful about trusting all your photos to any of these cloud services. I made some photo albums up on Picasa in 2010. Now when I click on the link I get 404 NOT FOUND. And a funerial black screen that says "LOOKS LIKE YOU'VE REACHED THE END". Google says I can find these photo albums on google photos, but not so. No trace of any of them, all lost. WHAT WORKS TODAY, MAY NOT WORK TOMORROW. If you are going to use these cloud apps, keep all your pictures backed up on a local removable drive. And be prepared to lose all the sorting and editing effort you made.

  3. LoucyCusin
    July 19, 2016 at 8:00 am

    I just found a iPhone Cleaner on makeuseo fhttp://www.makeuseof.com/tag/free-tons-space-iphone-imyfone-umate/ and i got the license at only 9.95$. With it, i can compress my photos to reclaim 75% of photo space, or just mass delete all the unwanted photos to free up iPhone storage, so amazing!

  4. Joyce Kwon
    June 17, 2016 at 11:03 pm

    Justin, I loved your article because your pics and directions helped me to easily understand the value of Google Photos. I backed up my photos on Flickr because they have free storage too. After reading your article, I wish I backed them up on my Google Photos. What is the difference between the Flickr & Google Photos?

    If I need my videos backed up online, would you recommend Google Drive, YouTube or another cloud source which is not in the Google universe?

    I am looking forward to your next article. Joyce

  5. Tahmidul Islam
    May 4, 2016 at 5:59 pm

    I have discovered a hidden feature! Try searching for more than one person, each name separated by a comma. You'll get photos where all of them are present! Very handy when you're searching for a photo of you and someone together, maybe for a birthday card.

  6. Meg
    March 19, 2016 at 2:53 am

    Up until now, I've been leery of "cloud" storage of any kind. Using Google Photos, is there a way to save photos, edited or not, to a disc to take to your favorite local photo developer? I know, I'm so old school.

  7. Scott Saftler
    February 17, 2016 at 4:39 am

    This looks like another way for the Google monster to suck up more revenue. First, they tell you that you have "unlimited, free" cloud storage for your photos. Then after people start putting Terabytes of photos, movies, etc. out there, the "free" storage will drop and the price for "unlimited" storage will start to climb. And climb. And climb.

    I really like Picasa for it's organizational capabilities, the simple editing you could do on your pictures (crop, straighten, red eye, stuff like that) and the plain and simple printing interface. Maybe I missed something, but now it looks like Google Pics will only support photo files that are on their cloud system.

    Oh, well, time to look for a replacement, though I hope that my copy of Picasa will continue to work locally.

  8. MacDillon
    February 1, 2016 at 10:14 pm

    ¿Hua? What's the difference from Google's Picasa & Goggle Photos?

    • Riley J. Dennis
      February 25, 2016 at 4:10 pm

      i believe Picasa is being shut down and Google Photos is now their official photo storage/management app

  9. Dav Akers
    January 29, 2016 at 3:00 am

    I didn't know the limit was 16MB files sizes before it started counting against your Google drive limit. I thought it was much smaller. Anyway, use google photos a lot and think it's awesome.
    You can DL any album you have created as well

    Dav

    • Riley J. Dennis
      February 25, 2016 at 4:11 pm

      yeah that's pretty nice, isn't it? 16MB is pretty big for a photo. and good tip! you can also download ALL your photos by going to Google Takeout, which is a cool feature, though not very obvious.

  10. Laurie
    January 28, 2016 at 12:48 am

    I am wondering if Google photos can identify duplicate images with different file names?

    • Ross Inman
      January 29, 2016 at 4:59 am

      Nope and that is my huge issue with it. All my photos are now sorted by date created rather than the folders they were initially categorized in. My image library was 4k pics. Google photos has 32k pics... All duplicates with slightly different sizes and different dates and some had image meta data deleted! It's a mess...

      • Laurie
        February 1, 2016 at 9:33 pm

        I have similar problem since I have transferred images from old Mac to laptops and from other peoples devices! Anyone know of a program that will pick out dupes by file size or similarities? I have been putting this project off for years and I don't want to leave it for my kids to sort out!

        • asd
          June 8, 2016 at 2:37 am

          Try using freecommander

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