Tuesday, October 18, 2016
Google's secret weapon with the Pixel and Pixel XL is the unlimited Google Photo storage
When you buy a Pixel Google lets you back up all the pictures and video you shoot for free, at full resolution. That's a pretty big deal.
Google has made much fuss about the camera on the Pixel and Pixel XL (they share the same specs). A hearty endorsement from DXOMark, samples from the camera development team, and even some 4K footage with image stabilization have people interested because a great camera is one of those things we want the new phone we buy to have.
Along with the new camera hardware and image processing chops inside the Snapdragon 821, an overhauled camera app means we're going to be taking more and better pictures and video. The one thing that is pure icing on the cake is that we're also going to be able to back up all of them to our online Google storage through the Photos app at full resolution without paying for any extra storage.
That's a huge draw if you're planning to get the most out of the camera on the Pixel.
Anyone with a Google account is given 15GB of free storage through Google Drive, and if you use the Google Photos app (Android and iOS only) you have unlimited backups — but not at full resolution. Google gives two choices for camera backup to the photos service — High Quality and Original. The Original setting backs things up as an exact copy of what came from the camera. There are no size limits for pictures or video, and there is no compression or optimization. However, these backups count against your 15GB of free storage.
The High Quality setting allows for video (of any length) at 1080p quality and photos of 16MP resolution or lower to be backed up and uploaded without counting against your storage limit. The software automatically resizes both still pictures and video, and uploads them automatically. Google says these photos "will essentially look the same using either storage option" and for the most part they do, but sometimes it's easy to see the compression and the backed up copy just isn't nearly as good as the original.
If you use the Pixel to back your photos up, none of this matters. You'll get an exact copy of what came from the camera stored online where you can look at it or retrieve it anywhere you have an internet connection. With a 4K camera, this can make a big difference. A 1080p video doesn't look bad, even on a 4K screen, but it doesn't look as good as UHD 4K does. That's why we wanted 4K cameras on our phones in the first place. But a high-resolution video has a cost: file size. After compression algorithms kick into gear, it takes about 370MB to store a minute of 4K video. A gigabyte of storage holds a video of two minutes and 45 seconds in length. Start adding up all those short videos you take with your phone, and that 15GB of free storage is going to be able to hold about 40 minutes of footage. Google Drive storage is cheap, but a large library of your 4K videos makes for a monthly bill that can easily exceed the price of the Pixel's finance options.
A phone with a good camera means you want to be able to snap a pic or two when you see the opportunity or to shoot a few minutes of UHD 4K video when you see something worth remembering. Having a place to store it all that doesn't break the bank is essential.