Google Photos First Impressions: So Good, I'm Freaked Out

By Mario Aguilar on at

I have taken 1235 photos and videos with my phone since May 28th 2014, most of which I will never look at, Even if there are good photos, I’ll probably miss them. It’s just too much shit to crunch with my puny human brain. Can the new Google Photos help?

The new service is amongst the most exciting new products Google announced at today’s Google I/O keynote hoedown. The most appealing features are the unlimited storage for photos and videos, some neat UI tricks that make the tonnes of photos easier to navigate, and perhaps most importantly, smart image recognition technology that makes your library of photos almost endlessly searchable.

On Unlimited Storage:

It’s unlimited, assuming you’re OK with a little compression. If you want to upload RAW files or TIFFs, you can, but it’ll count against your Google Drive storage limits, And sure there are people who might need to store uncompressed files, but at the Google Photos presentation this afternoon, we were shown a side-by-side comparison, and really, it seems there might not be much of a perceptible difference.

On the UI Design:

Google Photos First Impressions: So Good, I'm Creeped Out

It’s pretty slick, and obviously designed with mobile in mind first. This makes sense to me: You take most of your photos on your phone, and at least personally, I look at more snapshot-like photos on my phone than anywhere else. (It works perfectly well on desktop as well.)

I’m used to navigating my phones using a typical camera roll or occasionally the Dropbox app. Both are a pain in the ass because you’re constantly scrolling. Google Photos is different. You pinch and zoom through time. You can even pinch directly into a photo or a video.

Here’s as good a place as any to touch on some of the many little features that Google has incorporated. None of them personally appeal to me. The Assistant is supposed to show me “fun new things automatically created from your photos & helps you stay organized.” Ok! But it hasn’t shown me anything yet.

Presumably down the line I’ll get the option to make some cool mashup videos and fun slideshows. I don’t really care. Let’s get to the goods.

On the Brains and Search:

I was sitting here with Casey going through some of my snaps on Google Photos and it’s crazy how well this works. Creepy even.

Granted, we were only working with a small smattering of the photos I currently have on this phone (I just switched to a LG G4), plus the smattering I’d previously uploaded to Google+ for whatever unthinkable reason I was using that crap. Plus I uploaded a few hundred from the last year, though not the full 1235 I snapped since last May.

Though I had a limited number of photos to work with, Google Photos was actually able to pull quite a bit of sense out of them. It correctly identified one of my best friends who I have many photos of as a unique person. Although the app does seem to think that I am a different person when I’m wearing sunglasses. Understandable I suppose.

Like Flickr and Microsoft OneDrive, the Photos correctly categorised some of the photos based on what’s in them. For example, this particular batch of photos had many photos of the sky.

But where you really start to get your brain wrecked is when you start searching for random things in your photos. Beers? It finds photos of beers. Bars? It finds photos of bars.

Google Photos First Impressions: So Good, I'm Creeped Out

Ugh, I am going to regret this, but type in selfies, and it finds selfies!

Google Photos First Impressions: So Good, I'm Creeped Out

This is all very cool!

Annnnnd it feels weird—not just because it works so well. Like how Google! What?

More importantly, Google is definitely giving you a lot here without making it entirely clear what it’s taking back. On stage during today’s I/O keynote, the company insisted that all of this image recognition would be “for your eyes only,” but you need to decide for yourself how much you trust Google. It’s a company whose business model is based on selling conclusions derived from data.

Bottom Line:

This is indeed a great attempt at making a service. We still have a lot of exploration to do, and some pain points are already evident. For example, it’s not clear to me how I might easily migrate 50GB of photos from my Dropbox to Google Photos without a headache.

It’s also worth noting that all of this has been done before in some form or another. Facebook has great facial recognition. Flickr can identify content in your photos and place them in broad categories. Google’s real accomplishment here is stringing everything together more or less seamlessly. Plus, you’ve already got a Google account. No new accounts! Just sync everything you take on your phone and this stuff all works like magic.

So far, this is the best solution I’ve seen for my endless proliferation of photos. Hopefully, the service reveals itself to be as enlightening as it appears on first inspection.

Additional reporting by Brent Rose