Google Photos compiles your 'best of 2021' highlights, whether you want them or not

A smartphone showing the Google Photos Memories feature
(Image credit: Google)

It's the perfect time of year to get enraged by end-of-year lists, so Google Photos has decided to get in on the action by rolling out a new 'Best of 2021' Memories feature.

Some Google Photos users, as spotted by 9to5Google, are now seeing the AI-powered reel at the top of the Photos view in the smartphone app. While it's not yet been rolled out to everyone, you should see it appear alongside other themed galleries (like 'three years ago') at the top of the app's homepage.  

The collection has a similar style to other Google Photos 'Memories' reels, which means algorithms pick what it thinks are your 2021 highlights, and run through them in five-second bursts.

The 'Best of 2021' feature follows a recent expansion of Google Photos' Memories galleries. Your Memories section can now include AI-generated takes on your 'recent highlights' and 'themed memories' (about people, places and things).

Last week, Google also said that it'd be rolling out new types of Memories based on holidays like New Year's Eve or Halloween, plus milestones like birthdays and graduations.

While it's possible to control which Memories appear in the Google Photos app (by going to Settings > Memories > Featured Memories), these are all turned on by default. So unless you've been previously dug into the app's settings, you can expect to see a 'Best of 2021' highlights reel coming to your feed soon.

Analysis: We're a long way from a Spotify Wrapped for photos

A phone screen showing Google Photos Memories settings

(Image credit: Google)

The popularity of Spotify Wrapped shows that auto-generated highlights reels can be a fun addition to web services, but photos throw up unique challenges that today's algorithms simply aren't sophisticated enough to navigate.

For most people, photographs are far more personal than their music choices. Also, part of the appeal of Spotify Wrapped is that drills into invisible data that tells us something new or unexpected about our tastes. 

By contrast, an AI-powered photo reel like Google Photos' 'Best of 2021' collection is a fairly blunt algorithm choosing our highlights based on simple, and often clichéd, markers of what 'highlights' should look like.  

Like Facebook and Apple Photos, Google has responded to criticism that its AI-powered galleries can be insensitive by adding tools to help you manage what it surfaces. In the 'Memories' section of the Google Photos app, you can now tell it to avoid certain date periods, or types of memories, in its auto-generated galleries.

But the problem is that all Memories, and their notifications, are turned on by default in the app. This means that the chances of Google Photos serving up unwanted reminders (particularly for casual users) grows as it rolls out more types of AI-generated highlights.

A more mundane issue is that these auto-generated reels also seem to lack the sophistication to create galleries that don't include irrelevant or blurry photos that would be obvious to human eyes. But Google's keenness for us to see and interact with its growing Memories collections is, perhaps, the only way to train its algorithms to become something like a photographic equivalent of Spotify Wrapped.

Mark Wilson
Senior news editor

Mark is TechRadar's Senior news editor. Having worked in tech journalism for a ludicrous 17 years, Mark is now attempting to break the world record for the number of camera bags hoarded by one person. He was previously Cameras Editor at both TechRadar and Trusted Reviews, Acting editor on, as well as Features editor and Reviews editor on Stuff magazine. As a freelancer, he's contributed to titles including The Sunday Times, FourFourTwo and Arena. And in a former life, he also won The Daily Telegraph's Young Sportswriter of the Year. But that was before he discovered the strange joys of getting up at 4am for a photo shoot in London's Square Mile.