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iCloud vs. Google Photos: Which one should you use?

A series of photos punctuate every milestone in our lives. Many of those photos live on our smartphones and computers. It can be difficult to organize the hundreds, sometimes thousands, of photos we snap, especially with limited storage on devices. Tap or click here to see how you can find any photo on your smartphone.

That’s where online storage comes in. There are two prominent options that you likely already have and don’t realize: iCloud and Google Photos. Both offer a wide selection of photo storage options, organization, sharing and uploads on the go. While they are similar in terms of functionality, there are aspects of each that set them apart.

How do you know which service will ultimately be the best for your needs? We’ve put together a simple guide that lines out what you need to know about both services, from their pricing structure to shortcomings.


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For anyone using a macOS or iOS device, Apple’s iCloud storage should seem quite familiar. It’s an integrated product that’s effortless to use. In fact, when you sign in to your device, typically, iCloud storage is turned on by default.

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Each iCloud account comes with 5GB of free storage. That may sound like a ton, but with numerous high-quality photos and videos most of us take these days, it’s easy to rip through 5GB in no time.

You can opt for paid tiers instead, with an additional 50GB for $0.99 a month. Alternatively, you can spend $2.99 a month on 200GB or $9.99 for 2TB. Unless you’re taking photos constantly, you likely won’t ever need larger than 50GB. For serious shutterbugs, the $9.99 a month will last quite some time.

Uploading to iCloud is as simple as syncing your phone or device. You don’t need to select which photos to upload, as this will automatically be done for you. If you don’t want a photo to be synced to the cloud, you can delete it from your phone or go in manually to do it via iCloud.

This can be a bit frustrating, especially if you take a few selfies, forget to delete the ones you don’t want and find they’ve been uploaded. This same process can be a blessing and save you if you have pictures you want to keep, as they’ll be uploaded. But organizing the images you want to save isn’t the most user-friendly part of the experience.

Unfortunately, photo sharing is not as intuitive with iCloud as it is with Google Photos. iCloud doesn’t offer family sharing for photos other than shared albums that multiple users can upload to. There isn’t a way to enable automatic sharing like Google Photos offers, however, outside of using AirDrop.

That’s about the extent of how you can share images you upload. Unfortunately, this can become cumbersome, especially if you want to keep all of your photos organized neatly and share them with others. iCloud is more about keeping things organized for you. That may be a dealbreaker for some users.

If you don’t care to share your photos, iCloud storage has plenty of positives, including ease of use, amount of storage available and automatic uploads. It’s a perfectly viable way to keep all of your images, especially if you can’t be bothered most days to tag photos, name albums, or even remember to make sure you manually upload them. iCloud has your back, and you can always go in and delete things later.

Google Photos

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Google Photos may not be completely integrated with the Android ecosystem the way iOS is, but it’s a native app that’s well worth using, even if you don’t use an Android device. You can also access it across desktop and laptop computers.

Google Photos used to offer free unlimited storage for all users, but that is about to end in 2021. From now on, it will offer three tiers of paid storage plans: 100GB for $1.99 a month, 200GB for $2.99 a month, and 2TB for $9.99 a month. This places the service squarely on par with what Apple offers.

Like Apple’s iCloud, Google Photos will automatically scan your device for images and begin uploading them. You only need to be logged into the Google Account you want your photos to live on. You can turn on the “Back up & sync” option or keep it off and choose to upload individual images when you feel it’s necessary to do so. Google Photos makes this much easier than iCloud.

Google Photos has one major area where it absolutely usurps iCloud, and that’s in terms of its organization and sharing methods. iCloud users don’t have many options for sharing pictures with others beyond AirDrop or the tedious practice of texting and emailing pictures.

With Google Photos, you can share the entirety of an album, photos of one person or thing or even your entire collection. There are various ways to divide images up and share them, and your collection follows you everywhere you have a Google account.

Which service should you choose?

It isn’t easy to name an overall winner between iCloud and Google Photos. In the end, it will all come down to which ecosystem you prefer to use more.

Apple’s iCloud options are embedded deeply within all of its products, whether you shoot on an iPad or organize images on your MacBook Pro. On the other hand, Google Photos has far more options when it comes to sharing the photos you take with your loved ones.

Both have shortcomings and even seem to complement each other in many ways. For instance, where Google Photos lacks in terms of photo editing prowess, iCloud makes up for with a robust set of editing tools on the device of your choice. Both services offer automatic syncing, while Apple’s organization can be frustrating. Google’s album sharing is a major boon for anyone who needs an easy-to-use solution.

Your best bet is to give them both a try and see which one you like more. Once you’ve made your choice, stick to that one.

Tap or click here to see how to organize your photo collection in four simple steps.

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