In November 2020 Google announced that it was ending the unlimited free storage for photos and videos backed up to Google Photos.
That’s a blow for many people who use (and love) the service. Not only is it a simple way of storing your photos in the cloud, it’s also great for finding photos thanks to Google’s powerful search, as well as for showing you photos from ‘this day’ in past years.
The only catch in it being free is that videos in particular are noticeably worse quality than the originals: most photos are indistinguishable from originals.
Until 1 June 2021, you can carry on backing up photos and videos for free, but after that date they’ll start using up your Google storage until it’s full.
When that happens, the backups will stop, and you’ll have to decide what to do. The obvious option is to pay for more Google storage. As standard you have 15GB, but you could pay a small monthly fee (£1.59/$1.99) for 100GB, or £2.49 / $2.99 for 200GB. If you want to store your whole family’s camera rolls, the 2TB Premium plan could be the one you need, but it does cost £79.99 /$99.99 per year.
However, you can share any paid-for plan with your family. And while it may sound crazy, paying for Google Photos is the best alternative to (free) Google Photos for most people!
But if you were never that bothered about the service itself and are determined to find an alterative, here are five options, one of which is ‘free’.
1. Back up to your computer
If you don’t mind the inconvenience, you can set a reminder every so often to copy the photos and videos you’ve taken on your phone to your PC or laptop. As long as you have plenty of spare hard drive space, this is the cheapest option since you already own the storage.
If storage is lacking, you could buy an portable USB drive and copy the photos and videos via your computer to that drive instead.
It’s not the greatest alternative, and becomes labour intensive if you have to do all your family’s devices.
2. Buy a NAS drive
These are essentially hard drives that attach to your home network and become your own ‘personal cloud storage’.
The good ones, including those from Synology, have mobile apps which will back up photos and videos from your phone(s) to the NAS automatically. Synology’s DS Photo app for Android and iOS can do this.
It’s a much more convenient solution to connecting phones to a computer. NAS prices start at under £100/$100 but you’ll usually have to buy the hard drives separately.
3. Use an ‘on-the-go’ USB drive
If a NAS seems too expensive and too much hassle, a simpler option is a USB drive which can plug into your phone and backup its camera roll. One example is SanDisk’s iXpand Flash Drive Luxe.
It’s mainly designed for iPhones and iPads, but will work with Android phones (which have a USB-C connector and support on-the-go device) as well.
It comes in capacities up to 256GB and has an iOS app which can automatically back up your photos and videos when you plug it in. It isn’t the best app ever, and certainly no substitute for Google Photos, but it does mean you have a back up of your camera roll which you could also copy to a computer, albeit one which has a USB-C port, since the drive has no standard USB connector or an adapter.
If you have only Android phones, you may be better off with an OTG flash drive since they’re cheaper for an equivalent capacity. Indeed, SanDisk’s own Ultra Dual USB Flash Drive (which has micro- and full-size USB connectors is under £20/$20 from Amazon.
4. Use a cloud storage service
If you pay for Google One storage, that covers all Google services, not just Google Photos. So you can use it to store documents and files as well. But if you’re against the idea of a subscription, there are cloud services which offer a one-time payment for lifetime access, a bit like buying an online hard drive.
An example is pCloud, which has an app that will automatically back up photos and videos to your cloud storage when you take them.
Like the other options here, this deals with the backing up of the photo and video files, but doesn’t give you the slick interface you get with Google Photos.
So it really depends upon whether you value the way Google Photos surfaces your photos, or if you simply want them stored safely somewhere that isn’t eating up your phone’s storage space.
If you are tempted by a lifetime cloud storage deal, pCloud offers 500GB for a one-off payment of £159 or 2TB for £309.
In the app, it’s just a case of going to More > Settings > Automatic Upload and enabling it.
For $6 / £4.66 per month, Flickr Pro is a good alternative to Google Photos for enthusiasts. Auto-upload is only available with a Pro membership, but as well as storage there are good photo editing tools.
Flickr’s not so good for videos. Though you can upload videos, they can be a maximum of 1GB in size and up to 10 minutes long.
The benefit is unlimited storage, so you can upload your entire photo library and not worry about how long it will be before your storage is full.
For Families that exclusively use iPhones and iPads, Apple’s cloud storage is a great alternative to Google Photos.
This is mainly because the Photos app on iPhone is already very good at displaying and searching for photos, and has several AI-boosted features which do useful things such as automatically creating highlights videos.
iCloud seamlessly works in the background to store those photos and videos without taking up space on your iPhone. Apple still only offers a paltry 5GB for free – the stingiest of all cloud services – but the prices to upgrade to more substantial figures are reasonable – and certainly in line with the costs for Google One storage.