So long, Google+ Photos, and a big hello to Google Photos. What’s the difference, besides the missing plus sign? Plenty, as it turns out.
For those who need a recap: On August 1, Google+ Photos, the photo storage and sharing service that’s integrated into the Google+ social network, started a slow fade. Replacing it is Google Photos, a revamped, standalone photo service that comes with a pair of apps: one for Android, another for iOS.
What this means for Android and iOS users is that there’s a new way to use Google to store, share, view and edit your precious pictures (and yes, your Google+ Photos will automatically appear in the Google Photos app), as well as new apps to learn. The good news is that the Google Photos app is clever, easy to use (much easier than the confusing iOS Photos app, if you ask me), and loaded with some powerful features.
Yes, you’ll be able to back up your photo albums just as before (an automated Assistant will take care of that once you fire up the app), and you’ll still be able to crop, add filters, and share your pictures on your favorite social network. But the new Google Photos app will also let you create instant photo collages, pinch the screen for a bird’s-eye view of your snapshots, tap and drag to select batches of images, and more.
Read on for six ways that the new Google Photos app can help you capture the moment, starting with…
1. Search for anything in your photos
Sure, many photo-management apps let you search your pictures by location, face or tags (although how many of us really take the time to tag all our photos?). Google Photos takes the concept a step further, letting you search your photo albums for…well, almost anything in the picture. Just tap the floating blue Search button (it’s the one with the magnifying glass icon) to get started.
A search on “boats,” for example, pulled up snapshots from a fishing trip my wife and I took a few years back. Searching for “train” popped up pictures from a train museum that I took my three-year-old to last winter. And speaking of my daughter, “smile” found dozens of photos of my little girl beaming happily.
Google Photo’s search capabilities are still very much a work in progress. For example, my “train” search gave me hits for just one picture from our train museum trip, skipping photos of my daughter holding Thomas the Tank Engine, while my “boats” came up with snapshots of my little one sliding down a red slide … which, perhaps, looks like a boat?
Still, the ability search for anything in your Google Photos albums is intriguing, and I’m hoping it will improve over time.
Bonus tip: When you tap the search box, a series of suggestions based on people, places, and things in your photos will appear just below the search box.
2. Take charge of (or dismiss) the Assistant
By default, Google Photos will start backing up your photos (just over Wi-Fi, unless you specify otherwise) and creating collages, animations (kind of like digital flipbooks of a quick burst of photos), “stories” (events based on, say, a group of photos taken at a single location) and other so-called “collections” all on its own.
All these photo-management duties are handled by the Assistant, a Google Now-type digital secretary that proactively suggests new photo collections.
Tap the menu button in the top-left corner of the screen and select Assistant to check out the suggested collections the Assistant has created for you. If there’s a collection you don’t like, just swipe it away. Tap Save to library to keep a collection you like.
If the Assistant is doing little more than bug you, silence its suggestions by tapping Menu > Settings, then toggling the “Suggest new creations” switch.
3. Make an instant collage, animation, album or story
You don’t have to wait for the Assistant to suggest a cool photo collage or animation. Instead, create your own on-the-fly collections using any photos you choose.
Just select up to nine images (tap the three-dot button in the top-right corner of the screen, then tap Select), tap the + button, then pick an option: Album, Movie, Story, Animation, or Collage.
For example, tap Collage, and Google Photos will have your collage ready in a matter of seconds. Tap Edit at the bottom of the screen to crop, rotate, tweak the color, or add a filter to your collage. (No, you can’t rearrange the individual photos in the collage.)
If you tap Story instead of Collage, Google Photos will create an instant photo book based on the images you selected, complete with an animated cover page, a self-generated title (“Sunday afternoon in Brooklyn” was the one I got for group of Mother’s Day brunch snapshots), and even a nifty map pinpointing the location of the event. Neat—and yes, you can edit everything from the title of the story to the captions and map locations.
4. Tap, hold and swipe to select a batch of images
Creating instant collages and stories starts with selecting a series of images, but having to tap the three-dot button followed by Select can be something of a pain. Luckily, there’s an easier way.
Here’s the trick: Tap and hold an image you’d like to select, then drag your fingertip one way or another to select nearby images. You can also scroll and tap more images anywhere in your collection.
5. Pinch to see more—or fewer—photos
The Photos section of Google Photos defaults to what’s essentially a daily view of your snapshots, good for perusing the pictures you took on a given afternoon.
If you’d rather see all the photos you took in a month, a season, or a year, there’s a clever way to do it: Just “pinch” the screen. The more you pinch in, the more photos you’ll see. Spread your fingertips apart to zoom in. If you spread your fingers enough times, you’ll end up opening an individual photo.
Bonus tip: If pinching isn’t for you, just tap the three-dot button in the top corner of the Photos screen and select a zoom option: “Comfortable,” “Day,” or “Month.”
6. Tweak your backup settings
One of the first things Google Photo’s Assistant will do is suggest you back up all your photos to your Google account. Turning on the backup feature is just the first step, however. Tap the top-left Menu button, then tap Settings > Back up & sync to customize your backup settings.
You can (and probably should, if you have a capped mobile data plan) set your photos to back up only when your phone is connected to Wi-Fi. There’s a separate setting for videos, although Android users will notice the setting is grayed out if photo backups are set to the “Wi-Fi only” option.
You can also choose whether to back up “high quality” versions of your photos or full-resolution images. Why choose mere “high quality” (which offers “great visual quality at reduced file size,” according to Google) over full resolution? Because photo backups using the “high quality” setting are free. If you choose full resolution, you’ll have to pay up for extra storage depending on the size of your image library. The first 15GB of online storage is free (including whatever’s in your Google Drive account). After that, you’ll need to pay $1.99 a month for 100GB of storage or $9.99/month for a terabyte of storage.
Android users have two more backup settings to consider: whether to allow photo backups when roaming on a different data network than your carrier’s (not recommended, unless you love big surprises on your monthly wireless bill) and the option to restrict backup unless your device is connected to a power source.
Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read ouraffiliate link policyfor more details.
Ben has been writing about technology and consumer electronics for more than 20 years. A PCWorld contributor since 2014, Ben joined TechHive in 2019, where he covers smart speakers, soundbars, and other smart and home-theater devices.