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Google Photos won’t be free for much longer, but it’s well worth paying for

Google Photos has long been a go-to photo storage and organization tool, especially for Android users who may use Google Photos by default on their phone. But the service is making one big change: Google has long offered unlimited free storage for so-called “high-quality” photos, but that’s going away soon. Anything you store in Google Photos after June 1, 2021, will count against your unified Google One storage, which is used for Gmail and Drive, whether you just use the free 15GB or pay for more.

For some, this is a big deal. Many have relied on Google Photos as a backup for their photos and videos for over five years now, and likely have a huge library of memories stored. Thankfully, that won’t change — what you have already stored won’t count against your limits. But the question remains: Should you pay for Google Photos come June 2021? The answer is … absolutely.

You get what you pay for … if you pay for it

Let’s be clear. Google wants more customers to subscribe to its Google One cloud storage, which works across Gmail, Google Drive, and Google Photos. Not just so it can make more money, but also so it can begin to lock customers into the Google ecosystem — the more data you have in its services, the tougher it is to leave. For many people, that’s easily worth the trade-off.

As cameras get higher-resolution sensors and take videos of higher quality, photos and videos take up more and more storage — and for most, it simply doesn’t make sense to keep all those photos and videos on the phone itself.  In its most basic form, Google Photos is a place to remove those photos and videos from your phone, while still having seamless access to them. Phones get dropped, broken, or lost far more often than we’d like to think about — there’s no reason to leave photos of priceless moments solely on the phone that captured them.

Sure, you could sync them with a computer, or manually upload them to another cloud service — but Google Photos does it all automatically, in the background, without you thinking about a single thing.

But even if you had more than enough storage to keep all your photos and videos on your phone, Google Photos would still be worth the money.

The real power of Photos comes in the form of its ability to organize your photos and videos, and let you search through them without having to tag them or the people (or pets!) in them. That’s right, Photos learns people’s faces and uses location data so you can search for all the photos of a particular person, in a particular place, during a certain time period, or any combination. A lot of people would pay just to not have to manually organize albums of photos.

The real power of Photos comes in its automatic organization and search functions.

Google Photos is perhaps the best cross-platform photo storage service, too. Using Google Photos on Android is almost a no-brainer, but it also works incredibly well on iOS. You have to give the app permission to access your camera roll, but once you do, all the photos you take with your iPhone will be uploaded and combined seamlessly with your library. Any photo you take on any phone is uploaded and available on any other device. Whether you use multiple phones and tablets at once, or just switch to a new phone every couple of years, everyone can see value there.

The web version also works great, offering all of the same browsing and search functions. And it’s easy to upload photos from your computer to Google Photos, if you want to build up your catalog with pre-smartphone photos or upload some after editing them on a computer.

Are there even any alternatives?

Google Photos may be one of the most-loved photo cloud storage services out there, but it’s not the only one — and honestly, some users should turn elsewhere. The most obvious example is Apple Photos, which works through iCloud. This is probably the best service for those really locked into the Apple ecosystem, and those who don’t plan on switching over to other platforms any time soon should make use of that — even if only for the fact that paying for iCloud storage will be more useful for them.

Another alternative is Amazon Photos, which might be the way to go for those who have a Prime membership already and don’t like having to pay separately for Google Photos. Amazon Photos automatically uploads images in the background, but frankly isn’t as advanced in its apps or organization system.

Google Photos is a phenomenal product, and it’s worth the money.

Honestly though, except in the case of a die-hard Apple user who wants to remain in Apple’s ecosystem, Google Photos is seriously worth paying for. It’s not too expensive, plus the storage you buy for it can be used for Google Drive and Gmail. While you get 15GB for free, you can get 100GB for only $1.99 per month, 200GB for $2.99 per month, or a massive 2TB for $9.99 per month. Most people will be able to get by with the 200GB plan, but even the 2TB plan is a solid deal, and should be able to offer enough storage for everyone but hardcore professional videographers.

For many, it’s a bummer that Google Photos will start costing money. Having to pay for something after years of expecting it to be free forever can really hit you hard. But in the end, it shouldn’t come as a shock. Google Photos is a phenomenal product, and it’s worth the money.

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