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Google Photos could keep free, unlimited backups on new Pixel phones

Google Photos
(Image credit: Google)

The clock is ticking on Google Photos' free, unlimited backups policy, which comes to an end on June 1 – but a new feature in the service's app suggests that Google could retain the perk for new Pixel phones launched this year and beyond.

As spotted by 9to5Google, the latest 5.41 version of the Google Photos Android app contains code that references a new "storage saver" option that is described as "free and unlimited".

Right now, there are two types of upload size for Google Photos files – the "original quality" tier backs up full-size copies of your snaps, which count towards your 15GB of free storage, while "High quality" is currently the option that lets you upload an unlimited number of compressed 16MP photos or 1080p videos.

It's this latter tier that will be affected by the Google Photos policy change on June 1, which will see any new photos and videos (compressed or not) count towards your 15GB of free storage.  

But the new "storage saver" feature referenced in the app's code could suggest that free, unlimited "High quality" photo backups might continue for incoming Pixel phones.

As Google says in its statement about Google Photos storage changes, "if you have a Pixel 1-5, photos uploaded from that device won't be impacted. Photos and videos uploaded in High quality from that device will continue to be exempt from this change, even after June 1, 2021."

But what isn't yet clear is what the Google Photos situation will be for new Pixel phones. It's possible that the "storage saver" option, which the app's code describes as "slightly reduced quality" will be a way for new Pixel phones to automatically compress files so they qualify for continued free, unlimited backups.

Google Photos storage saver

(Image credit: 9to5Google)

Pixel peeping

Right now, this is all just speculation based on an interpretation of the Google Photo app's code, but it certainly seems likely that Google would retain free, unlimited backups for incoming Pixel phones like the Google Pixel 5a.

Current Google Pixel phones already offer that perk, which is a pretty strong selling point for anyone who enjoys having free cloud storage for their photo and video files.

The reason for the inclusion of a new feature like "storage saver" could be to avoid the confusion that often arises with the current "original" and "high quality" Google Photos tiers.

The Google Camera app also recently included a "storage saver" option that functions in a similar way, saving photos as JPEG-only and recording videos in 1080p only.

If you're worried about the incoming Google Photos policy change, Google says it will be notifying users who are near or over their cap in the run-up to June 1. You'll also have access to new tools to help you delete older photos – or you could instead swallow the subscription pill, and subscribe to a 100GB Google One account for $1.99 / £1.99 / AU$1.99 per month for 100GB of space.

Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson is the Cameras Editor for TechRadar at Future. He writes and oversees reviews of the latest camera gear on TechRadar and looks after all the photography tutorials. Mark was previously Digital Editor (Cameras) at Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on Stuff.tv, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine.