Google next month will stop providing unlimited free backup in Photos. Although existing Pixel phones are exempted, future devices — as of today — will miss out on a great perk that helps emphasize the camera. An update to Google Photos today reveals apparent work on a new “Storage saver” tier that will be “free and unlimited” for Pixel.

Update: Google tells us that it’s just testing “new names” for the existing backup options, rather than working on a new tier. “High quality” could become “Storage saver” if this change is pursued. Furthermore, the company says future Pixel phones will not be exempted from the upcoming storage policy.

There are no changes to what we previously announced regarding Google Photos storage for Pixel devices. We are exploring new names for our Photos backup options and have no plans to introduce additional storage options.


About APK Insight: In this “APK Insight” post, we’ve decompiled the latest version of an application that Google uploaded to the Play Store. When we decompile these files (called APKs, in the case of Android apps), we’re able to see various lines of code within that hint at possible future features. Keep in mind that Google may or may not ever ship these features, and our interpretation of what they are may be imperfect. We’ll try to enable those that are closer to being finished, however, to show you how they’ll look in case that they do ship. With that in mind, read on.

As a recap, there are two main Google Photos “Upload size” tiers. “Original quality” is straightforward and counts towards your 15GB of free storage and any subsequent Google One subscription. The original Pixel (2016) offered unlimited Original backups, while the Pixel 2 and 3 lowered forever to just over three years. 

The Pixel 3a and newer devices were sold with the promise of unlimited “High quality” backup where photos are compressed to 16MP. As such, they will retain this option even as all other devices lose this option on June 1. There is actually a third “Express backup” quality for some countries where photos are compressed to 3MP, and that will also start counting against your storage quota next month.

Version 5.41 of Google Photos reveals work on a fourth tier for Pixel phones. It’s called “Storage saver” and offers “slightly reduced quality,” while another string describes it as offering “reduced resolution.”

<string name=”photos_backup_settings_saver_title_with_description”>Storage saver (slightly reduced quality)</string>

The most notable aspect of this new tier is that it’s “free and unlimited,” with Pixel phones clearly referenced.

<string name=”photos_cloudstorage_strings_impl_policy_entry_pixel_saver”>Backing up in Storage saver from %s is free and unlimited</string>

<string name=”photos_cloudstorage_strings_impl_saver_learn_more_footer_pixel_express”>Unlimited storage in Storage saver or Express only applies to photos &amp; videos backed up from this Pixel device. &lt;a href=help:&gt;Learn more&lt;/a&gt;</string>

We get one more clue with “Storage saver” and “Express” mentioned on the same string. This implies they coexist with one another.

The name of this upcoming option might sound familiar to you as Google Camera in November introduced a “Storage Saver” that drops RAW for JPEG and saves in “medium resolution,” among other optimizations. 

Google could be introducing this “Storage saver” Photos tier to make sure Pixel devices always have unlimited backup as a key selling point, while the phones get a new software feature. Meanwhile, this new branding is better than giving “High quality” an exception and confusing customers. If we’re correct in our theorizing, this would launch with the next Pixel phone (5a 5G).

Thanks to JEB Decompiler, which some APK Insight teardowns benefit from.

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