It seems like there are almost as many options now for storing your photos online as there are photos in your library. Google has raised the stakes with its new entry into the field, Google Photos.
Aside from being free and unlimited, the service offers search capabilities that border on spooky. Google Photos is capable of recognizing objects in an image without the use of tags, so you can type in text to return all photos in your library containing that text. They can be objects ("dogs") or activities (“running").
Initial reviews say the level of sophistication in recognition is impressive. It can even identify and get pictures with specific breeds of dog (retrieving "retrievers"?), or strings with multiple criteria such as "drinks by a pool". It reportedly can detect faces even as ages change, so you can easily make collages of subjects over long periods of time.
The only real downside of Google Photos so far is the resolution limitation. The photo limit is 16 megapixels and 1080p for videos. Photos will be stored, displayed, and shared as compressed .jpg files. For most people that is not an issue, but photographers may balk.
If the resolution concerns you, you can avoid the limitations by using Google Drive with its existing 15GB of storage and the ability to scale up to 1TB for $9.99 per month. You can use both Google Photos and the paid Google Drive option, but you cannot use both free options.
If you are not a fan of the "Googleverse," you have plenty of alternatives to Google Photos and Google Drive. Here are some of the better alternatives as listed by PC Advisor.
- Dropbox – Dropbox is unique in that it supports Linux and Blackberry and also has a Windows Phone app — it’s about as multi-platform as you can get. Free storage is a relatively small 2GB, but there are frequent upgrade offers combined with social media and smartphone deals. You can also upgrade to 1TB straightaway for $9.99 per month or $99 annually.
A local folder on your device syncs with the online folder to give you access either online or offline. Photos and folders can be shared through links or a collaboration mode, while the paid upgrade allows you to set passwords and viewer permission criteria. The files are protected with two-step authentication.
Dropbox is a proven cross-platform system that has worked well for many consumers, but it does not have the added capabilities of Google Photo.
- Onedrive – Microsoft's entry offers 15GB for free along with other Microsoft-based upgrade incentives (including 1TB free with Office 365 subscriptions). Onedrive's operation is quite similar to Dropbox, but it does offer permission settings even with the free version, and it is designed to make social media sharing easy. If you already use Microsoft Office or a Windows Phone, this may be a good choice.
Microsoft does retain the right to look through your files for objectionable content, as does Apple with iCloud drive. If this bothers you, read on for a better alternative.
- Mega – Mega may be the best choice for the highly security-conscious. Multiple levels of encryption are available to ensure that your files are opened only by you or those you authorize. Sharing within Mega is straightforward through invitation with other members (like Google Drive and Onedrive); outside of Mega you will need to send an encryption key. There is 50MB of free space available, and it works across almost all platforms. The only major downside is that you cannot schedule regular system backups.
PC Advisor reviewed many other cloud storage services for photos and videos such as Box, Tresorit, MediaFire, Mozy, iCloud, and Amazon Cloud. You can read the full PC Advisor reviews (minus Google Photos, as it had not been announced yet) here.
Check these and other reviews in depth and decide what the most important variables are to you — social media sharing vs. privacy and security, high resolution vs. convenience and space, the types of devices you wish to use, etc. — and try out some of the services. Start with all the free options, and if you find a feature that you think is worth paying for, go for it. With all these options, there is simply no reason to avoid cloud photo/video storage and the convenience that it provides.