Google’s Pixels 1, 2 and 3 shipped with free unlimited original photo backups. With the Pixel 3a, Google didn’t offer that perk. It was assumed this was as part of a cost-cutting measure to keep prices down, but it appears it was just Google making a change to how Pixel photo storage would be managed going forward.
The Google Pixel 4, despite being priced at regular flagship levels will not be benefiting from Google’s originally touted full, free unlimited original quality photo backup. Like other Android devices, the firm’s own handsets will have to use the reduced quality updates if they do not want their photo backups to count against their Google Drive storage.
Ironically enough, an iPhone user would retain that benefit. As a reddit user points out:
With all modern iPhones shooting photos in HEIC format, which is smaller than even Googles compressed JPG files, iPhones therefore get free unlimited ORIGINAL quality backups simply because it would cost Google both storage space (because if Google tried to compress iPhones HEIC photos they would actually become larger) and computing power (because Google doesn’t need to compress and process all of the billions of photos iPhones backup.)
It isn’t a situation that can’t be rectified, Android 10 supports HEIF, the same file codec that Apple uses (albeit as HEIC). If Google issues an app update to save its images in HEIF by default over JPEG, then Pixel users will gain the same benefits. Of course, one has to ask why a camera-centric phone like the Pixel would ship without such an obvious benefit, to begin with.