Hands on with Google Photos

On Thursday, Google announced Google Photos, a cloud storage option for photos and videos. It is available free for iOS and Android devices, and has a web interface for uploading from a computer. There are a few things to know before you decide to go with Google Photos.

First of all, you have two options for storage: There's unlimited storage if you agree to some file compression, but if you want original file size it is tied to your existing Google storage, like Gmail and Google Drive.

Once you determine which plan to use, you can start uploading. On your Mac, just use the upload window and you can start dragging images into the window. You can only drop files (one or more) right now—when I tried to drag in a folder full of pictures, nothing happened. Once you've dragged, you get a progress bar showing how long your uploads have left, but the thumbnails leave a bit to be desired, as shown in the image below.

There's way more to that picture than the airport carpet...

Something nice about this is that if you upload pictures with valid metadata, they get tagged with the right date automatically. When I uploaded images from 2013, they showed up as being from two years ago, not from today.

On iOS you allow access to your camera roll and Google Photos will show your photos the same way the stock Photos app does; sorted by date. From there you can select particular items to go into albums.

NOTE: One of the interesting interface elements introduced by Google is how to select things. You long-tap on a single item, then slide to the end of the selection, and everything in between is selected. If you've ever tried to do anything in Photos with more than about three pictures, this is going to prove super convenient.

Once you create an album your photos will be uploaded, and you can then view them wherever you have access to Google Photos. One of the features pointed out during the presentation was that there are no logins required, and you can share with anyone you like, whether or not they are Google users of any kind. Just send an email. Then your album shows as shared if you log in on the web.

Here's the standard album view in Google Photos.

One advantage to this is that you can create an album on your iPhone or iPad, and then download that album on your computer. This comes in handy if you want to be sure you get some photos copied off your device, or even just as an easy way to send something from your device to your computer if you suffer from an utter lack of Luck Using AirDrop To Move Files.

Downloading a whole album is two clicks. 

You can also share albums publicly via Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, if you want to go that route. So far there doesn't appear to be a way to share an album with someone so they can also add photos, so it won't take the place of those Shared Photo Streams you use to let the whole family swap photos. For its initial public release, however this is definitely an option to take a good look at, especially if you have a mixed-platform setup with an Android device or a Windows machine.