By Casey Liss
Google Photos First Impressions

First, there was Everpix. Everpix was the first photos-in-the-cloud solution that I subscribed to. Everpix was really great, and I really liked it. It folded in 2013.

Next, Picturelife. Picturelife promised to be Everpix by a different name, and I’ve been using it for a couple years now. I really like Picturelife, but the site has been down for weeks, after an acquisition that had its own bumps. It seems obvious, despite claims to the contrary, that Picturelife is folding.

After hearing great things about it from Bradley Chambers among others, I decided to give Google Photos a try about a week ago.

There is much to like.

Search is impressive, and fast. I can type in beach 2014 and pictures from our family’s beach trip in 2014 come up nearly instantly. I haven’t tagged these photos explicitly; Google’s algorithms have inspected them, determined they are photos taken at a beach, and looked at the EXIF data to see they were taken in 2014. (To be fair, these photos do have a latitude and longitude.)

Even more impressive, I can ask for london, and sure enough, pictures we took during our vacation in 2010 show up. I find this to be particularly impressive because these photos were taken on a point-and-shoot camera. Google has almost nothing to go on: no geolocation. No descriptive filename. No descriptive path name on the source computer. I’m honestly not sure how these pictures were associated with London. The more I think about it, the more I’m impressed.

I have mixed feelings about Google Photos’ Assistant. Over time, Google Photos will attempt to make collages and animations out of your photos. When one is created, it will be shown in the Assistant tab. Sometimes, this is really awesome:

The problem I have with Assistant is that it is really chatty. I feel like I’m seeing 20+ cards in the Assistant tab each day. It feels odd to complain about that, but it does get to be a bit overwhelming. I can turn them off, but to do so I’d lose out on the gems like the one above.

Uploading the majority of a ~200 GB library took around 2 days on my 75 Mbit FiOS connection. Google Photos leverages Google Drive for storage. Thus, Google Drive pricing is applicable. For me, I need to pay for 1 TB, which costs $10 monthly. This is $5 cheaper than Picturelife was.

Interestingly, if you’re willing to store compressed versions of your images, you can have unlimited space for free. Very impressive.

I do miss some things about Picturelife.

My favorite feature of both Everpix and Picturelife were the Timehop-style “this day in” emails. Each day, I would receive an email with pictures that were taken in that day in prior years. For today, I’d see pictures taken 9 May 2015, 9 May 2014, etc. Google Photos doesn’t have any such feature, though I can do a search each day. I’m told by Bradley that there is an Assistant feature that will accomplish this for me, but it doesn’t seem to be enabled on my account. Perhaps it will be after more time.[1]

I also wish that I could find photos by means other than search. For example, in Picturelife, there is a map view that will let you pan and zoom and show you where pictures were taken. So, for example, I can zoom into a family member’s house to see what pictures we’ve taken there.

I’m not sure how to do the same on Google Photos. Searching landmarks like London is easy. Even searching for BMW works. But I’m not sure how to search for “my brother in law’s house”. Arbitrary addresses don’t seem to work either.

Finally, I really like having a web component I can use to find and download pictures. On the surface, Apple’s iCloud Photo Library should be a natural solution for an all-Apple house like ours. However, I really like having access to our photos via the web. I don’t like to rely on Photos, as I’ve never found it to agree with me. Furthermore, I trust Google to get this sort of cloud service right far more than I trust Apple.

By and large, I’m very happy with Google Photos so far. Search is the work of magic, and is nearly instant. The Assistant has its warts, but does come up with some really great auto-generated photos and movies. The service is cheap, and I can upload full-resolution pictures to it.

If you’re looking for a cloud-based photo management solution; I recommend Google Photos.

But then again, I recommended Picturelife, and Everpix before it. Fingers crossed Google can hang on longer than them.

  1. UPDATED 14 May 2016 7:45 AM: Today, ten days after subscribing to Google Photos, I got asked if I wanted to enable the “Remember this day” assistant. Additionally, the assistant has gotten far less chatty, now that is has seemingly processed my bulk upload.