Recently I have noticed that more and more smartphone apps offer you the option to automatically back up the photos (and in some cases videos) that you take (or save) on your Android or iOS powered smartphone. Being a fan of backing things up I like the option to have the same file in multiple places…just in case. One added bonus is that fact that since the services behind the apps are competing to be your go to photo storage and sharing solution they each offer a generous amount of storage for free. There’s something of a space race going on with respect to offering free storage so I can see the limits to free storage continuing to increase as time goes on. Another added bonus is the fact that you can access and share your photos on via a computer as well.
While free and automatic are the two benefits of apps that back up your photos there is still a downside to using multiple apps. Backing up your photos takes bandwidth that you may or may not want to part with at any given time. Thankfully the apps have settings that allow you to: a) opt-in to whether or not you want to auto save photos; and if you choose to opt-in b) choose between uploads on wifi only or wifi and wireless data (4G, LTE, etc.). So you do have choices. The other potential downside involves the drawing down of your phone battery that takes place when files are uploaded. You can mitigate this problem by selecting to upload over wifi only. This works for me because typically when I’m near wifi I’m also near a power outlet.
Without further delay here are the four apps that you can use to automatically back up your smartphone photos.
- iCloud Photo Stream – This is a core app within iOS and as such only works on iPhones. Photos are backed up to Apple’s iCloud. Photo Stream keeps a rolling backup of your last 1,000 photos. Frankly this is a bit stingy compared to what other services offer but for most people it will probably work just fine. Apple has also introduced shared Photo Stream functionality that allows for multiple people with iPhones to share photos with each other right from their mobile devices.
- Google+ Photo Backup – This is a core app on Android but also available on iOS. Photos are backed up to your Google+ account. The limits to the photos are based on your Google Drive storage limit, which is currently a generous 15GB. Other things (like email and docs) also share that storage so the actual storage available for photos will vary. Sharing photos via your computer is easiest on Google+ but you can also download photos to your local drive. Google+ throws in some added functionality (compared to all the others) in that they will enhance your photos (the originals are available as well) and create highlight reels that they call Auto Awesome.
- Flickr Auto Sync – Flickr is an old school web photo sharing and storage service that just recently jumped on the auto backup bandwagon. Android and iOS are supported via free apps. What’s most notable is the fact that Flickr offers 1,000GB (1TB) of storage for free. They say it’s enough for 500,000 photos. So plenty of space. In fact with those limits why worry about downloading to your computer? Automatic sharing and social networking is a bit weak unless many of your friends have Flickr accounts. You can still share photos and galleries to other networks manually via the website though.
- Amazon Cloud Drive Photos – Amazon offers free apps that support the iPhone and iOS, and includes 5GB of storage for free. Amazon’s is the most basic of all the services in terms of value added features. Considering how many people have Amazon accounts it may be worth using due to the convenience of your existing account. That and who am I to turn down 5GB of free storage?
Which service is best for you depends on what type of device you use, your network and your photo taking habits. For example if your photos are leisure oriented and your friends and family are heavy iPhone users then iCloud makes a lot of sense. If you are more artistic and tend to take lots of photos than Flickr is a great option. Frankly since you don’t have to choose one why not try multiple services and see which one sticks for you? That’s what I’m doing now.
In conclusion I also want to point out that the smartphone photo backup space is getting more popular everyday. As such there are other options including Dropbox Photos (2GB free) and Facebook Photo Sync (2GB limit) that you can use as well. While Facebook might seem to be a candidate to be one of the top services listed above I think that their billion dollar purchase of Instagram shows they’re more dedicated to single photo sharing than wholesale photo backup. That and my experience is that people don’t share that many photos directly on Facebook. Still, I expect more innovation in this space including new apps, additional free storage and value added features like automatic photo enhancing.