Sunday 18 August 2019

Ask Adrian: Our technology editor tackles your trickiest tech problems


Picture this: storing photos on a cloud service can save space on your phone
Picture this: storing photos on a cloud service can save space on your phone


Question: I have 2,000 pictures on my phone and I really want to keep them all. But I don't want to upload them to the Samsung Cloud because I worry it could get hacked and I'd lose them all. Am I right to be worried? What's the safest place to store photos?

Answer: In general, it's a long shot that your photos would be hacked in a mainstream cloud service like Samsung's. (Even though data breaches for big online companies are now common, it's rare that user data is actually stolen or corrupted.)

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The only reservation I might have is that if you change phone brands at any point, it may get trickier accessing them. I'd say the same thing about other proprietary photo-storing services, by the way, including iCloud. They're handy for using in and out of the manufacturer's ecosystem but can be a pain to retrieve or copy from outside that system.

An alternative I often recommend is Google Photos. It's free and gives you unlimited storage space online to store photos. Best of all, because it's a standalone app and website like Facebook or Twitter, it works with any phone, tablet or laptop.

When you download the app to your phone, just use the same login and password as you would for Gmail or Google Docs or YouTube (it's the same account because it's part of the same company). You can set it up a few different ways. The catch-all option is that you take a photo and your phone automatically uploads it to your Google Photos account (online). You can then set it to delete the photos from your phone, knowing they're accessible at any time (from your phone, tablet or laptop) by just opening the app or site ( and browsing them. You can even re-download them to your phone (or any other device you own) if you want to share them or do something else with them.

As well as the unlimited storage, you get pretty huge individual photo and video limits (75MB for photos and 10GB for videos - far more than 99.9pc of holiday snaps and videos are going to measure), meaning that this is a good utility to have as a general backup no matter what you do with your phone photos.

This is especially good for people who have older phones that often have no more than 16GB (or sometimes just 8GB) of storage built in. While this may have seemed like enough a few years ago, it's a tiny amount these days. This is particularly so given that such phones have "system requirements" that take up something like 4GB or 5GB of that 16GB (or 8GB), leaving you with a truly piffling amount of space.

It gets even worse, because that tiny amount of storage is also supposed to be used for storing apps like Facebook or Whatsapp, which increasingly take up more and more storage themselves. So there really is very little left for photos. This is one reason why most new phones today give you at least 64GB of storage (although some ultra budget models still skimp with 32GB).

There are some paid (subscription) alternatives to Google Photos. Flickr is probably still the most prominent dedicated online photo (and video) storage service. But whereas it was once free for 1,000GB of photo storage, now you can only store 1,000 photos for free. If you want to keep more up there, it costs €10 per month.

After that, you're looking at general storage services like Dropbox and OneDrive. These give a few gigabytes of free storage, after which you have to pay a monthly subscription, typically around €10. They're very handy as a general online storage backup (for most kinds of files), but they can quickly become a bit of a trap as it's an auto subscription that you almost forget about.

If the idea of online storage is simply too freaky, you can always buy any number of external hard drives to back your photos up. In general, you'll get a reliable drive that will hold between 500GB and 1,000GB (over 50,000 photos) for around €50 from any large electrical store like Harvey Norman or Curry's.

One slight irritation here is that it can be tricky to get the photos from a phone on to such a hard drive. Android phones are generally a bit easier in this regard, although in some instances (depending sometimes on the external drive) it's a lot easier to go through a PC or laptop.

Again, being realistic, there are drawers in half the households of Ireland with old hard drives containing files such as photos, projects, old CVs and other documents. If you store your photos here, be semi-prepared never to see them again - simply out of indolence or neglect.

Relatedly, I would strongly advise an old-fashioned remedy to your problem, whether or not you choose a new storage solution. Print some. Ultimately, a digital photo never quite has the same permanence as a printed one. If you have 2,000 photos that are precious to you, pick 100 of them and print them. It doesn't matter what size. In years to come, you'll be glad you did.

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