During its unveiling of the Pixel 3a at its I/O Developer’s Conference Tuesday, Google highlighted several of the $399 phone’s best features: Night Sight, Call Screen, and of course, the price. But one of them had me scratching my head: Free unlimited storage in high quality with Google Photos. It was spotlighted on the main stage and also earns a spot on the Pixel 3a overview page. But make sure you read the fine print.
It might sound good, but note the promise is for storage of high quality, and not original quality. In fact, every person with a Google account who downloads the Photos phone app gets high-quality storage—even iPhones. The upshot is the 3a doesn't share the same Photos policy as the more expensive Pixel 3. Just check out this Google Photos support page if you don’t believe me. As Google states, high-quality backups are a benefit of singing up for a Google Account and downloading the Google Photos app:
"High quality backups
- Unlimited free storage.
- Photos are compressed to save space. If a photo is larger than 16MP, it will be resized to 16MP.
- You can print good quality 16MP photos in sizes up to 24 inches x 16 inches.
- Videos higher than 1080p will be resized to high-definition 1080p. A video with 1080p or less will look close to the original. Some information, like closed captions, might be lost.”
To reiterate: Unlimited free storage is standard with high-quality backups on all phones. So whether you have an LG G7 or an iPhone 6 or a Pixel 3a, you’re getting the same storage at the same quality. And what’s more confounding is that Google does offer a Photos perk to Pixel, Pixel 2, and Pixel 3 owners. They get unlimited storage of everything they shoot at original quality, no matter how much space it takes up. The offer has a three-year cap for Pixel 2 and Pixel 3 owners, but by then you’d probably be ready for a new Pixel anyway. So the claim of unlimited storage could be confusing for Pixel 3a buyers.
However, on the Pixel 3a, you’re only getting the same high-quality backups as everyone else. Don’t get me wrong, unlimited photo storage at any quality is nice, and I completely understand wanting to give premium Pixel owners an extra bonus. But Google is promoting it as a Pixel 3a benefit when in fact it has nothing to do with the new phone. So enjoy it, but don’t include it in your buying decision.