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Many started using Google Photos when the search giant announced free, unlimited photo uploads three years ago. Starting June 1, 2021, that deal is dead. Whenever a tech company uses the term “unlimited” for any of its services, take it with a grain of salt, especially where cloud storage is concerned. Online backup companies like Carbonite have taken heat in the past for their unlimited plans not being completely unlimited, and in 2015 Microsoft switched its unlimited storage plan in OneDrive accounts to 1 terabyte of storage. You might take this change in the terms of Google’s plan as a cue to upload a ton of photos and videos before the cutoff date; but the company has changed the rules once, so you can’t be completely sure they won’t change them again. Nothing is set in stone forever.
There is good news, however, if you’ve uploaded all your images and videos to Google Photos: You won’t lose the media you’ve already uploaded, and those files won’t count toward your free 15GB of storage or any other paid Google storage plan. Any photos uploaded after June 1, 2021, will start counting toward your limit. There’s also good news for owners of Google’s own Pixel smartphones, from the first to the latest Pixel 5. Photos from those devices are not subject to the limit that will be imposed on the rest of us. It’s unclear whether those terms will continue with future Pixel releases.
As noted, you still get 15GB of Google storage for free. A Google storage link can show you an estimate of how long your storage will last, based on your upload history. Smartphone photos from my iPhone X and Google Pixel 4 XL average around 700KB each, so 15GB would mean 21,000 photos shot with those devices. If your photos are from a full-frame D-SLR, the image files will be quite a bit larger, in the range of 15MB to 50MB each, so the number of shots that will contribute to 15GB is more like 600—and serious photographers will have far more than that. Here are your best options if you’re using Google Photos.
Switch to Flickr’s Unlimited Paid Plan
For $30 less per year than Google’s 2-terabyte plan, you can get true unlimited online photo storage. Remember, Google Photos’ ill-fated unlimited plan only stored photos of up to 16 megapixels, while Flickr stores everything at full resolution. You pay $60 per year or $6.99 monthly. You also get nifty public and private galleries, groups, commenting, sharing, and discounts on photo software and goods.
If You’re a Microsoft Office User, Use OneDrive
You get six 1-terabyte allotments for a Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) subscription for $99 per year. A single 1TB account costs $69.99 per year, and with both options you also get to download the full Office productivity suite and use the web and mobile versions of the included applications. And OneDrive does a surprisingly good job at photo presentation. You can search using AI object recognition, and your mobile and geotagged photos show a map of the image’s location in a sidebar. The hosting also includes good private sharing options and auto-creates galleries for you.
If You’re an Apple User, Use iCloud
As an iPhone user, I find that iCloud does the most reliable job of making sure all my camera phone shots are reliably shunted up to the cloud. Using iCloud for storing photos also offers the advantage of reducing the storage required on your device, since full-resolution images are in the cloud, while those stored locally are only high-res enough to satisfy the device’s screen. The web interface, however, is far less competent than Flickr, Google, or Microsoft: There are no search or photo editing tools.
If You’re a Prime Member, Use Amazon Photos
Amazon offers unlimited photo storage to Prime members with their $119 per year Prime membership. Of course, you get lots of other perks like Amazon Prime Video, product discounts, and free 2-day shipping on many Amazon items. Note that with this plan you get unlimited photo storage, but you only get 5GB for videos.
If You Want Added Benefits, Consider an Online Backup Service
If you’re more interested in photo backup than fancy AI photo tools, you could choose an online backup service. Both of our Editors’ Choice picks, Acronis True Image and IDrive, let you view your photos in their mobile apps and websites, and they can both automatically upload pictures and videos from your phone. They can also protect your PC by safeguarding a complete copy of your system’s disk image. IDrive gives you more storage than Google for a lower price—3TB for $69.50 per year. Acronis True Image starts at $89.99 per year for 500GB, but it’s cheaper than Google One when you buy in bulk; 5TB costs $284.99 per year. Google storage maxes out at 2TB.
If You Don’t Want to Rely Only on the Cloud, Get a NAS
Some would consider any pure cloud service temporary—it only lasts as long as you pay the subscription fee and as long as the service is offered, and we’ve seen many come and go over the years. A permanent option is to purchase your own hardware storage. You can buy a high-performance, high-capacity NAS drive that connects to the internet to let you access photos online, giving you the same convenience as a pure cloud service. Our Editors’ Choice winner for personal cloud NAS is the $169.99 Synology DiskStation DS220j, which lets you share videos, photos, music, and more. With that, you still need to purchase and install the actual storage drives (up to 32 terabytes). If you just want something with integrated drives, the Western Digital My Cloud Home, starts at $149.99 for 300GB. For extra security, get one that supports RAID functionality so that if one of your drives fails, you don’t lose your photos.
The company has said it won’t remove photos and videos you’ve uploaded before the cutoff date, and you get 15GB free. That’s still a lot of storage, especially if you’re not storing videos or very high-resolution images. About 20,000 smartphone photos will fit into 15GB. If that’s not enough, you can upgrade to a Google One paid storage plan. Plans start at $1.99 per month/$19.99 per year for 100GB, $2.99/$29.99 for 200GB, and $9.99/$99.99 for 2TB. The Google One plans also include support and some third-party store discounts.
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