After the Pixel 4’s announcement, we were surprised to discover it didn’t offer free original quality backups on Google Photos like its predecessors. The next day, a Redditor made things even worse for Pixel users by explaining that the new iPhones do get unlimited original quality backups on Photos because they use the HEIC format. We’ve reached out to Google and got confirmation that this is indeed the case, but it’s a “bug” that’ll be fixed.
Redditor u/stephenvsawyer explained that iPhones currently save photos in the new compressed and efficient HEIC format, which is smaller than Google’s compressed JPEG. When uploaded to Google Photos, these pics don’t need to be compressed from Original Quality to High Quality JPEG, because they’re already smaller than the latter. So iPhone users are essentially getting their snaps stored on Google Photos for free, in their original size.
We tried to verify this claim on our end, but we hit a few roadblocks. We don’t have many new iPhones at hand to test this with, and checking which media files count against storage in Google Photos and which ones don’t is impossible (trust us, we’ve tried anything and everything).
We reached out to Google for comment and got a confirmation that indeed, pics captured as HEIC/HEIF aren’t compressed and aren’t charged against Photos’ quota. A Google spokesperson told us: “We are aware of this bug and are working to fix it.”
However, what that means remains unclear. Would Google start charging for HEIC images stored in Photos, even if they’re small and don’t take up much space? Would it forcibly re-convert those pics to compressed JPEG, or compress them further under the HEIC format? And will the fix apply to all HEIC images or just iPhones? (Samsung devices also support saving photos as HEIC, but that doesn’t seem widely adopted by users.) All paths seem riddled with minefields.