Photo & Video

Trialing Google's New Monthly Photo Print Service

Once upon a time, printed photos mattered to me. I spent hours in Photoshop correcting and cropping and prepping.  I invested in expensive printers.

As I tired of replacing ink cartridges and toner, I shifted to print services like Shutterfly. Eventually, even that was too much work. I resorted to quick print jobs at Walgreens. The quality wasn't spectacular, but I'd have my photos same day.

In those days, I had young kids, and I took a lot of photos on digital cameras and, eventually, phones. There was no easy way to manage them (the photos OR the kids). Photo management tools sucked. Early digital photo frames emerged, but in the beginning they didn't have wifi. You had to mess with memory cards and transferring files from you camera or pc, only to see the same 20 or 30 low resolution images in eternal rotation.

Then Google+ arrived. Shortly thereafter, Google+ died. But during its brief life it birthed Google Photos, and the photo management game became much more fun.

I loved Google Photos immediately. My first Pixel phone offered unlimited free Google Photo storage, which sweetened the deal further. I recommended it to everyone, and even my iPhone friends adopted it quickly. Recently, I've been digitizing old family VHS tapes and uploading them for sharing with my parents and siblings, because sharing is so simple.  It easily syncs with Google Home Displays, my Pixel phone ambient screens, and even my Android TV, eliminating the need for memory cards or even complex screen/device management. Honestly, it might be one of the best services ever, as many of you already know.

So a month or two ago, when I received an invite to try Google's new Monthly Photos Prints Program, I was intrigued.

I don't have a huge need for printed photos. I no longer have many frames on my walls. I have a Google Home display in the kitchen constantly cycling through memories. My phone sits on a Pixel stand while I work, displaying my best (and sometimes worst) recent shots.  Arguably, I now see more photos more often than ever before. Why print them?

Nevertheless, I'm a sucker for being an early adopter, and I thought I'd give it a whirl. Note: this is by no means a professional review. Just sharing my thoughts.

How the Service Works

It couldn't be simpler. You sign up. Then you'll receive an email each month notifying you that your selection is ready.  Google's fancy AI scans your recent photos for ideal print candidates. You get the option to swap photos and/or edit the selected ones.  Once you're happy with your selection, that's it. The photos arrive in the mail a few days later.

How The Photos Look

Photos arrive in a strangely pleasing cardboard envelope. Once you have the satisfying pleasure of tearing it open, you'll find a small envelope inside protecting your photos.

The photos are 4x6 with a matte finish and white border. The quality is as good as anything I remember getting from other online services. The card stock feels stiffer than a traditional photo stock, but barely. It's also possible I'm remembering poorly. As I said, it's been a while since I've held a printed photo. Overall, the quality is perfectly adequate. If you intend to use the photos professionally or in some way I can't imagine, you might want a more professional service. I also have no idea how quickly the photos might fade over time, and I'm not planning to conduct any aging experiments, so you'll have to let me know. The colors are not highly saturated, but that might be due to the matte finish. Here are some examples:

Overall

To be honest, this is a fun service. The quality is better than I expected, but the photos don't feel like keepsakes you'll be afraid to part with. I hung a few on the fridge and gave away others. They're a delight to open, especially if you don't remember which photos you selected. In a way, it reminds me of the days when you dropped off a film canister to be developed. A week later, you'd be excited to see if you shot any gems. Of course, here you've got the luxury of swapping out any clunkers to avoid unpleasant surprises, an option we couldn't have imagined back in the day.

It's not an essential service (for me), but it offers several moments of delight each month.  If the AI improves to the point where I don't feel a need to preview the selection, the surprise factor will improve, adding to the delight.  Whether it's enough for anyone to pay $7.99/month, I can't say, but I'll continue to try it. At some point, I may end up with a stack of printed photos I don't need or want. When that happens, maybe I'll change my mind about the service. For now, if you like having printed photos around the house, give it a whirl.

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