Google Photos: Awesome new features you need to start using

Google has been dabbling in photo hosting for years, but it wasn’t until it released the revamped Google Photos in May 2015 that it really took photo archiving seriously. We can now back up all our photos for free, and even get our images printed in Photo Books. But Photos leverages Google’s machine learning muscle to do a lot of other cool things—you just need to know where to look. 

Favorite photos

Google Photos favorite photos Ryan Whitwam/IDG

Google Photos makes it easy to save all your photos, but there are probably some you like more than others. When you come across those pics, you can add them to your favorites for easy access in the future. To mark something as a favorite in Photos, just tap to view it and look for the star at the top of your screen. Tap the star, and your photo appears instantly in the “Favorites” album. This is a special album visible only to you inside Google Photos, but you can still share the items inside it.

Assistant tab

assistant for Google Photos Ryan Whitwam/IDG

You’re probably familiar with “Assistant” as the voice-activated AI in your phone and Google’s smart speakers. However, there’s a different Assistant in Google Photos. Just slide over to the Assistant tab to see what it can do.

The Assistant tab includes basic housekeeping suggestions like archiving screenshots or receipts. However, it also generates suggested edits to your photos. For example, you might get a fun filtered version of a pic or a little collage of similar images. You might even get a fancy “color pop” image that highlights the subject in color and fades the rest of the photo to monochrome. When you see something you like in the Assistant tab, just tap the “Save” button to add it your library.

Create custom collages

custom collage in Google Photos Ryan Whitwam/IDG

Should you poke around in the Assistant tab, you’ll probably see collages. If you want to make your own, there are tools for that in the app. Open the overflow menu and select collage. You can also go over to the Assistant tab and tap collage at the top of the screen. You can pick between two and nine photos for Photos to drop into the collage. Unfortunately, you don’t have control over which images go in which frames. Google’s AI optimizes the composition for you.

Google Lens

Google Lens for Google Photos Ryan Whitwam/IDG

Google uses machine learning to catalog all your pics in Google Photos, but you can take it a step further with Google Lens. This image analysis tool goes beyond simply figuring out what’s in a photo, and actually provides actionable information. It’s not perfect, but Lens already has some very cool capabilities.

To use Lens, find a picture to analyze and expand it to full-screen. Tap the Lens icon at the bottom of the display to turn Google’s neural network loose on the image. Currently, Lens is great at identifying books, logos, landmarks, addresses, and some more esoteric things like dog breeds. You’ll get useful web links and other actions based on the recognized objects. You can also use Lens to copy text from an image. 

Edit your videos and movies

edit videos in Google Photos Ryan Whitwam/IDG

The photos in Google Photos get most of the attention, but let’s not forget that the platform also backs up your videos. Google even included some basic video editing tools in the app. These tools come in two versions. When looking at one of your videos, you can tap the settings button at the bottom of the screen. This page lets you rotate and stabilize the video—great if you were holding the phone at an awkward angle to capture the moment.

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