On June 1st, 2021, Google Photos will stop offering free, unlimited backups. For many users, the change is a bummer — unlimited, free Photo backup was a huge selling point for the service.
However, for some Google Pixel owners, free photo backup will stick around in some capacity. What that looks like depends on the Pixel phone you’ve got and the date. It can all get a bit confusing, so we’ve broken it all down for you below.
But before we get into things, lets define some terms. Google Photos long offered two storage tiers: High or Original quality. Since Google launched Photos, High quality back-ups were free and didn’t count towards storage. However, Photos would compress images and video uploaded through the High quality setting, which could reduce photo quality (for the record, I haven’t noticed any significant quality reduction in my photos backed up via High quality, but your mileage may vary).
Google recently announced that it will rename its High quality setting to ‘Storage saver’ alongside the June 1st change to unlimited backup. The company also detailed new tools coming to Photos to help users reclaim storage by pruning blurry photos and other things from their collection.
Original quality would backup photos as they were on your device, no compression. However, it would count against your storage (with exceptions, which we’ll get into below).
Both Original quality and High quality/Storage saver will stick around after the Photos storage change, but both options will count against your Google Account storage. Google gives users 15GB of free cloud storage for Gmail, Google Drive and Photos. If you need more, you’ll need to pay for it.
Google Pixel owners will feel some storage relief
If you’ve got a Google Pixel smartphone, you’ll have some relief from Google’s incoming storage cull. Namely, most existing Pixel phones come with a Photos perk that grants users some level of free storage. Here’s what you get with each Pixel:
Pixel / Pixel XL (the OG from 2016)
If you’ve still got one of these bad boys kicking around, you get unlimited free storage at original quality. Further, if you’ve got a Pixel or Pixel XL, you won’t be able to upload in the High quality/Storage saver setting.
Unfortunately, that unlimited storage only exists as long as your OG Pixel keeps working. Google dropped software support for it two years ago and eventually, the hardware will give out too. Until then, make the most of your OG Pixel by uploading as many Original quality photos and videos as you can.
Pixel 2 / 2 XL
Unlike the OG Pixels, the Pixel 2 series kicked off the trend of offering original quality Photos backups for a limited time. We passed that limit in January 2021, which means Original quality uploads from Pixel 2 and 2 XL devices will count against your account storage.
However, Pixel 2 and 2 XL owners still get free, unlimited High quality backups for pictures and videos.
Pixel 3 / 3 XL
Google’s third-gen Pixel phones also got Original quality backups for a limited time. That expires on January 31st, 2022 — images and video uploaded on or before that date will remain free at Original quality. After January 31st, 2022, new photos and videos will be uploaded to High quality for free, and uploading at Original quality will count against your account storage.
Pixel 3a, Pixel 4/4 XL, Pixel 4a, Pixel 4a 5G and Pixel 5
Every other Pixel from the 3a to the 5 shipped with free, unlimited High quality Photos backups. If users choose to upload at Original quality, those pictures and videos will count against your Google account storage.
Although the rumoured Pixel 6 and 6 Pro look like excellent phones, they sadly won’t offer unlimited High quality backups. Google confirmed to The Verge in November 2020 that the current Pixels will be the last to have free, unlimited High quality backups.
Every other phone
If you own any other smartphone, your free uploads will end on June 1st, 2021. Any High quality uploads before that date won’t count towards your storage cap.