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Google Lens used to be one of the apps I’d always uninstall before setting up a phone. It was just more bloatware that Google’s installing to Android taking up valuable MB that could be used for memes.
More recently, I decided to give the app a shot. And you know what, it’s actually one of the companies more useful apps (better not say that too loud in case Google kills it).
Google Lens is a connected camera app that turns your pictures into search queries, text you can input, or other handy information you can then use on your phone. It uses machine learning to understand the context of the snap, and report back what it can find. Granted, it’s not always right, but it’s extraordinary just how powerful the app can be.
Here are just some of the ways I’ve been using it in the past few weeks.
Hmm, that looks tasty
I recently visited a Korean restaurant for my friend’s birthday. I ordered bimimbap. While I’ve previously heard great things about the dish — how you have to stir everything together before chowing down — I wanted to make sure I received what I ordered. So I pointed my phone at the bowl, snapped a picture with Google Lens, and waited. The app then confirmed I was in fact about to enjoy a bowl of bimimbap. And yes, it was delicious.
Notably, this works for pastries you’re not familiar with, or any exotic food that has a tell-tale shape, texture or colour. Pointing it at something like noodles will give you a pretty generic response.
I’ve never seen this bug before
There’s a spider in my garden building a huge web with golden thread. It also has little stockings on six of its legs. Although I couldn’t get a great snap using Lens, I did used the Huawei P30 Pro’s zoom function. It wasn’t a great photograph either, but it was the best I could do. So I loaded the image in Lens, and the app found almost the exact spider I was looking for. It turns out it was a golden orb weaver.
This works with flowers too (I can confirm used the hibiscus in my garden as a test subject as well).
What phone are you using?
I tried this for giggles really, but taking a photo of the Nokia 9 PureView’s rear camera array actually gave me a search result for the Nokia 9 PureView. Granted, its rear cameras are extremely disctinctive, and this may not work for every smartphone. But it’s great if you want to know what phone your friend’s using in case they forget themselves.
I tried this with the Nintendo Switch too, but Lens provided a search result for Breath of the Wild (which I don’t even own). So yeah, a bit hit and miss.
Typing in a phone number the lazy way
You’re probably familiar with the fact that you can scan business cards to Google Lens. But you can also scan telephone numbers using Lens without having to type the number in manually. This is true with email addresses and physical addresses too. The latter will open a Maps navigation page. It’s actually incredibly useful.
Rocks in a red triangle
Road signs aren’t designed to be ambiguous, but you have to admit that some are just downright weird. If you’re in a jam (like an actual traffic jam), your passenger can take a picture with Google Lens of those weird road signs you almost never see. Lens will then tell you exactly what you’re looking at, and why you should be aware of rockfalls (even if there’s probably nothing you can do about it).
What the hell did you write?
I have terrible handwriting, and believe it or not, I often forget what I wrote down in my jotter. Thankfully, Google Lens seems to understand me even if I don’t. It can be hit and miss though, and depending on how doctor-like your handwriting is, Lens may not be able to help you. In that case, you should probably practice some penmanship.
Do you have a QR code scanner?
QR code are the single biggest convenience and one of the most annoying issues for digital patriots of the 2010s. They allow advertisers or marketers or companies to cram an entire web page, ticket or social media accont into a weird looking block. Often though, you don’t have a native app that can scan these things. Google doesn’t. But Lens can. Point the camera over the weird invention and boom, a link will appear. It’s great.
Are there any weird or nifty ways you use Google Lens? Let us know on Twitter or Facebook
Feature image: Andy Walker/Memeburn