Google has been offering free photo backups since 2015 when the current version of Google Photos was freed from the weight of Google+. At the time, Google said you could upload as many photos as you want in a compressed format, but the first-gen Pixel in 2016 had a nice bonus: unlimited full-resolution uploads. Unfortunately, Google just did finished free uploads to Google Photos– Anything you save in the future will count towards your memory cap … unless you still have a first generation Pixel. Here’s how to use this phone to keep the free upload sauce train going.
Step one, of course, is to make sure you have the hardware you need. If you’ve hidden a 2016 Pixel or Pixel XL in your closet, that’s great. If not, you can buy a used device online for $ 100 or less. It’s okay if the device is a little worn – photos will still be uploaded.
While the upload limits for other phones change, the unlimited upload guarantee for the OG pixels remains. All the pictures you take with this old, yet surprisingly powerful camera are uploaded in their original quality without going to your memory. But you don’t want a five year old phone with you, do you? All we have to do is move photos from the phone they were taken on to the OG Pixel. When these images are uploaded, Google Photos will treat them as if they were taken on the Pixel (i.e. they will not count towards your limit).
You can manually move files between phones if you like unnecessarily tedious things. However, if you set up a folder sync utility, the pixel can only be stored in a drawer somewhere. There are numerous ways to sync files, but I use an app called Resilio Sync. There is a similar app called FolderSync A lot of people use this for similar tasks, but I’ve found Resilio to be faster and easier to set up. You can also configure and run an FTP server on your Pixel if you are a do-it-yourselfer.
You can connect your devices in Resilio by creating a share of the camera folder on your non-Pixel and then scanning the resulting QR code on the Pixel. I think it’s good that the client codes only work for a few days unless you increase this limit yourself and can restrict access to certain WiFi networks. The files are synced to a new subdirectory on the Pixel when the phones can see each other. However, the default setting is selective synchronization. If you turn this off, all new files should be synced automatically as soon as they are recorded. There are a ton of advanced options to further customize the app.
When folder sync is set up, you can open Google Photos on your Pixel phone and it will ask if you want to sync the newly discovered folder. Confirm, and all of these images will be sent straight to the cloud for free. We tested this with a new Google account and can confirm that photos and videos taken with a Galaxy S21 Ultra are uploaded from the Pixel in their original quality and do not take up any storage space.
Honestly, it’s a lot easier to pay Google just a few dollars for more storage, but this is the easiest way to take advantage of the Pixel gap: new phone to old phone to cloud. Direct app-to-app connections are always at the mercy of Android’s background app handling, which can be aggressive on some phones. The Pixel can search endlessly for a connection as it can remain connected. However, you may need to give the app a kick on your new phone every now and then so that it doesn’t lose background access. That’s a small price to pay for unlimited photo storage.