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Google Photos is adding some great new features on Android, but there’s a catch

Published Feb 11th, 2021 9:30PM EST
Pixel 5 Photos Editor
Image: Google

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  • Google announced that some of the Google Photos editing features available on Pixel phones would be available on all Android devices from now on.
  • The machine learning-based Photos editor features are available free of charge for Pixel users. To access the editor on other Android devices, users will need a Google One subscription.
  • Google One is Google’s cloud service, which starts at $1.99 per month for 100GB of storage, Google Photos editing perks, and Google Store rewards.

The main advantage of the Pixel 5 is Google’s camera, which offers advanced photography features that are on par or better than the latest iPhone or Galaxy phone — depending on who you ask.

The problem with the Pixel 5 is that the handset itself isn’t on par with any 2020 smartphones, let alone a handset like the Galaxy S21 that just launched. If you’re envious of some of the Pixel 5’s photo capabilities but don’t want to replace your flagship with a mid-range phone, you should know about Google’s latest Photos upgrade. Google is ready to bring various Pixel-exclusive features to other Android devices, with one huge twist. You have to pay for the Google One cloud storage subscription if you don’t own a Pixel.

Google usually offers plenty of apps and services free of charge, and it has done so for years with Google Photos storage, especially for the Pixels. But Google also runs a cloud service, and not everything will be free forever.

Take the Photos features that were exclusive to Pixel phones. They’ll now be available to any Android user as long as they’re a paying subscriber of Google One. Plans start at just $1.99 per month, which nets you 100GB of storage space, so the deal is worth it.

Under Google One, Google Photos will support the machine learning editing tools previously seen on Pixel phones, including Portrait Blur, Portrait Light, and Color Pop.

Google explained to The Verge that Google Photos users who still have free access to these editing tools will not lose them now that the One cloud paywall has gone up. And Pixel owners will still get access to these features free of charge.

But those Android users who also subscribe to Google One will be able to use these powerful machine learning tools to edit older photos regardless of whether the images contain depth data or not.

Aside from Portrait Blur, Portrait Light, and Color Pop, Google is launching new machine learning-powered effects for the new Google Photos editor. “Think of these as super filters that apply complex edits with just one tap. With the Dynamic suggestion, you can enhance brightness and contrast across the image where it’s needed, so you get a dramatic, more balanced photo,” Google explained in a blog post. A different feature is called sky suggestions and will let you change the color and contrast of the sky in your photos.

Google One subscribers will get the new Photos editor via an update, but they’ll need at least 3GB of RAM and Android 8.0 or later to take advantage of them.

Google also announced a new editor for videos that will include more than 30 controls. The video editor is already available on iPhone and will hit Android next. And iPhone users should also get the improved Google Photos editor that Google introduced last fall.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.