The original Google Pixel phone in 2016 had a strong selling point: full-quality image backups to Google Photos for free. That bonus was missing from future models, but people are still using the first model for backups with wild setups.
The first Google Pixel and Google Pixel XL have free full-quality photo uploads for the life of the device. Importantly, there’s no check for whether the photos and videos were captured with the Pixel’s own camera — they just have to be present in the camera folder, where the Google Photos app can detect them and upload to the cloud. Images taken on other phones, tablets, and even dedicated DSLR/mirrorless cameras are all compatible, if they are in a file format the Google Photos app can recognize.
Google is sticking to its original upload promise, at least for now, which has led many people to retrofit old Pixel phones into media backup solutions for other cameras and devices. The latest example is a setup posted on Reddit’s “DataHoarder” community, which involves a rooted Pixel XL plugged into a USB Type-C hub, which provides power and an Ethernet connection to the local network.
The Reddit poster reports they are using Syncthing, a popular cross-platform file synchronization tool, to transfer media from other devices to the Pixel (which then uploads the files to Google Photos). They are also using an unspecified app to control the battery charge, alternating it between 20-50%, and using “battery bypass when possible.” The phone is remotely controlled using scrcpy.
Even though there likely aren’t too many people left using original Pixel phones and their backup features for the intended purpose, Google is still upholding its promise of unlimited full-quality backups. Google Photos now only has two backup options, Storage saver (previously “High quality”) and original quality, both of which use your shared Google account storage. Without hacky setups like the above example, storing thousands of photos and videos usually requires a paid Google One storage plan.