Google Photos will now let you make photo books, and that's a relief
USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham likes the ease of designing and making photo books using Google Photo. Video by Robert Hanashiro
MANHATTAN BEACH, Calif. — You can now make physical books from the Google Photos app, and we should all rejoice. Creating photos albums is quicker and less painful than rivals, the price is right, and the books look fabulous, too.
Google updated our Photos account so we could try out the album feature. The feature went live Wednesday, but only on desktop. Google says it will come to the smartphone app in the coming week.
Creating soft and hardcover albums from online photos has been available for years, from companies like Shutterfly, Snapfish, Apple and others. What sets the Google Photos process apart is speed and decisions. Google Photos is an app that automatically backs up your photos from your smartphone and computer, so you're one step ahead starting the album creation process because you don't have to upload a collection of photos to begin.
Here's how it works:
The beauty of two-year-old Google Photos, which now has 500 million users, is its heritage—search. It uses facial recognition to automatically sort the people whom you take the most photos of, which you can tweak by tagging as well. (Some 1.2 billion new photos are backed up on Google Photos every day, according to the company.)
So, to start an album, do a search for mom, dad, brother, son, daughter, etc., or a place or event. In my case, I did a search for photos from a recent Japan trip. Now select the ones you want to use for the album. Then click the + sign at the top right menu, and select "Photo Book."
You'll first get to decide on pricing — 7-inch square softcover for $9.99 (20 pages, extras are 35 cents a page) or 9-inch hardcover ($19.99 for 20 pages; 65 cents per page for extras) and then you get taken to a page where the photos are shown laid out in your book. (Shutterfly books start at $15.99 for a 7-inch x 9-inch softcover, while Apple starts at $9.99 for a slightly larger 8-inch x 6-inch book with 20 pages.)
Once Google brings you to the layout page, you get few options here. You can change the title of your book, delete photos from the layout and move photos to different pages. You are offered one photo per page in the layout. This is what really sets Google apart from photo giant Shutterfly, which offers many more choices that end up slowing the process down.
Shutterfly books look great, but the choices are so many, it can take hours to complete. If there's a simple, one photo per page (which is exactly how I want them) offer in Shutterfly, I've yet to find it. Usually the software takes me through dizzying arrays of multi-photo layouts and cute sayings that get over-layed over my images.
My auto-layout of the Japan photos took about 5 minutes to create, and two days for it to arrive. The book looks terrific, with excellent color reproduction. It doesn't look as snazzy as a big Shutterfly book, or a professionally produced $200 photo album, but I wasn't expecting more. It looks better than $10 should get me, and it's great to pass around a physical book instead of asking everyone to look down at the smartphone.
In other Google Photos news:
A new Sharing tab will be added to Google Photos, offering a way to send out photos of loved ones and friends from your photo sessions.
"When you live your life and do your thing, a bunch of photos are created, but only a small fraction get shared," says Google Photos product manager David Lieb. The challenge—how could Google apply machine learning to solve the problem? The answer: "We can figure out which photos you take should be shared with your friends and vice versa."
In a pre-brief with USA TODAY, Lieb showed photos from a recent bowling party among colleagues. Google recognized Lieb's friends, and sent the share suggestion to everyone in the photo, so he could see the images he took, plus the ones taken by others as well.
This new Google tool is really aimed at young moms and dads and their newborns. Parents can set up their accounts so that every new picture of the kid automatically shows up in both of their accounts, by giving each other full access to their photo libraries. The idea is that mom, or a caregiver, could take tons of photos of the baby during the day, and they will automatically show up to dad at work during the day, without either having to bother to click a share button.
Both new features will be rolled out in the coming weeks.
Follow USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham and subscribe to the daily #TalkingTech podcast on Apple Podcasts and Stitcher.