Google Lens was one of Google's biggest announcements in 2017, but it was a primarily a Google Pixel-exclusive feature at launch.
If you've been waiting for Google Lens to come to more phones, you'll be glad to know that day has finally arrived. At Google I/O 2018, Google announced that Google Lens is coming to a lot more phones, and the app is now available to download on Google Play.
Google Lens is an AI-powered technology that uses your smartphone camera and deep machine learning to not only detect an object, but understand what it detects and offer actions based on what it sees. Anyway, here is everything you need to know about the feature.
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What is Google Lens?
Google Lens is a super-powered version of Google Googles, and it's quite similar to Samsung's Bixby Vision. It enables you to do things such as point your phone at something, such as a specific flower, and then ask Google Assistant what the object you're pointing at is. You'll not only be told the answer, but you'll get suggestions based on the object, like nearby florists, in the case of a flower.
Other examples of what Google Lens can do include being able to take a picture of the SSID sticker on the back of a Wi-Fi router, after which your phone will automatically connect to the Wi-Fi network without you needing to do anything else. Yep, no more crawling under the cupboard in order to read out the password whilst typing it in your phone. Now, with Google Lens, you can literally point and shoot.
Google Lens will recognise restaurants, clubs, cafes, and bars, too, presenting you with a pop-up window showing reviews, address details and opening times. It's the ability to recognise everyday objects that's impressive. It will recognise a hand and suggest the thumbs up emoji, which is a bit of fun, but point it at a drink, and it will try and figure out what it is.
We tried this functionality with a glass of white wine. It didn't suggest white wine to us, but it did suggest a whole range of other alcoholic drinks, letting you then tap through to see what they are, how to make them, and so on. It's fast and very clever - even if it failed to see that it was just wine. What we really liked is that it recognises the type of drink and suggests things that are similar.
What can Google Lens do?
Aside from the scenarios described above, Google recently updated Google Lens with the following capabilities:
- Smart Text Selection: You can point your phone's camera at text, then highlight that text within Google Lens, and copy it to use on your phone. So, for instance, imagine pointing your phone at a Wi-Fi password and being able to copy/paste it into a Wi-Fi login screen.
- Smart Text search: When you highlight text in Google Lens, you can also search that text with Google Assistant. This is handy if you need to look up a definition of word, for instance.
- Clothing and decor search: If you see a dress you like while shopping, Google Lens can identify that piece and similar articles of clothing or even household decor in order to serve up relevant reviews and shopping options.
- Search around you: If you point your camera around you, Google Lens will detect what kind of plants are nearby, what kind of cats are roaming around, what the reviews of movie DVDs on your entertainment stand.
How does Google Lens work?
Google Lens app
Google has a standalone app on Android for Google Lens if you want to get straight into the features. You can access Google Lens through a whole range of other methods - detailed below - but the Lens app will be the most direct. In truth, the experience is similar whichever approach you take and tapping the Lens icon in Google Assistant takes you through to the same view you get directly in the Lens app.
Within Google Assistant you'll see a Google Lens icon in the bottom right-hand corner. You can tap it and point your smartphone camera at, for instance, show times outside a cinema or a gig venue's information board.
You'll will then be presented with a number of suggestions in the viewfinder, such as hear some songs from the artist picked up from the information board, get tickets for the event through TicketMaster, or add the event to your calendar. Using Lens to get information without having to write it down is handy; you'll be able to call numbers, for example, without having to remember them or manually type them.
Google Lens is now integrated into Google Assistant across a wide range of Android devices, not just Pixel phones.
Within Google Photos, Google Lens can identify buildings or landmarks, for instance, presenting users with directions and opening hours for them. It will also be able to present information on a famous work of art. Maybe it will solve the debate of whether Mona Lisa is smiling or not.
When browsing your pictures in Google Photos, you'll see the Google Lens icon in the bottom of the window. Tapping on the icon will see the scanning dots appearing on you picture and then Google will serve up suggestions.
Again, Google Lens is now in place in Google Photos across a wide range of Android devices.
In some Android phones, Google Lens has been been directly added to the device's own camera app. This functionality is now rolling out, so we haven't had a chance to test it yet, though we suspect it'll be similar to the implementations described above.
Which devices offer Google Lens?
Google announced Google Lens at I/O 2017, giving us a preview of the new software, before rolling into the announcement of the Pixel 2 and Pixel 2 XL. At launch, Google Lens was integrated into Google Assistant and Google Photos on those phones. Other devices eventually followed, though you still had to use Google Assistant and Google Photos to access the feature.
Then, in May 2018, Google announced Google Lens will soon be directly added to the camera app on "supported devices" from several manufacturers, including LG, Motorola, Xiaomi, Sony, HMD/Nokia, Transsion, TCL, OnePlus, BQ, and Asus. Google Lens will arrive for these phones "in the coming weeks," though how long it takes depends on how quickly each manufacturer updates their devices.
The standalone app is now available too and this supports a lot of devices, but there are some omissions from the list - so it's worth checking on Google Play to see if you can get it.
When will Google Lens arrive?
You should already have it - open the Google Assistant app or Google Photos app and look for the Lens icon!