Hands-On: Google Docs App for Android
We’ve been scratching our heads about the absence of a native Android app for Google Docs since version 1.5 of the operating system. Now, with version 2.2 out on most phones, Google has released the Docs app, a full service mobile Google Docs alternative that lets us access our Word-esque documents, data spreadsheets, and presentations without logging in from the smart phone’s web browser.
Compatible with Android 2.1 software and above (no mention of iPhone support), the Docs app packs more than the ability to search for and edit your content across multiple GMail accounts. Its biggest feature is undoubtedly the built-in OCR technology for shooting a picture of a book or magazine and uploading the text from it as an editable Google Doc (more on that below).
On top of that, you can upload files from your smart phone, open attachments directly from email, and put a widget on the home screen that includes buttons to create a new document or launch a starred file.
How easy is this feature-filled Docs application to use? Very. We tested the new app on a Sprint HTC Evo smart phone and the ASUS Transformer tablet. Read on for some of our hands-on thoughts.
Landing Page and Documents List
The Docs app’s first screen is a landing page with 6 large buttons that launch All Items, Collections, Starred content, Documents only, and Images only (pictured above left). There’s a More button there too, that includes Text, Spreadsheet, and Presentation files, all grouped into a secondary menu. Above those larger buttons are two smaller options for searching your library and creating a new document.
The document list page is pretty similar to what you’d find using a browser on your notebook. A long list of files are laid out in chronological order, and there are two sorting options, one will list your Starred files and the other lists any files you “Own”, or created yourself. Tapping the e-mail address displayed on the bottom lets you switch to other docs saved in more Google accounts. Likewise, you tap a secondary menu button near each doc to share it with others.
The document view is pretty straight forward. Tap to open a file and the Docs app spits you into a read-only version. There’s an Edit button in the top right, along with a drop-down to print the document via Google CloudPrint. When we tried to launch a spreadsheet, we were pushed into our mobile web browser, so it looks like you’ll only be editing text documents in the actual application (at least for now).
Luckily, text editing worked okay. Like the mobile web version of Google Docs, you select a line of text and it’s rimmed in blue outline while you add or delete that particular chunk. That’s helpful for keeping track of cursor placement. One thing to look out for: Be careful about changes, there’s no undo button/command, though you can sign in online and try to revert to an older version if needed.
Image to Text
The image-to-text feature, which only reads English, produced some whompy text from an ad in our magazine. Part of that was due to some blurriness in our shot, but most of it was the software which Google says can’t read some fonts well yet.
Docs almost nailed a large print headline that read “Two New Ways to Go Mobile” (if turned the “t” into an “f”), but smaller print below was pretty jumbled. A sentence that read “The TravelScan Pro, our most popular product, is now available in two bundled versions” was turned into “iw: Pro, our mosi popuior produci, is now ovdilobie in iwo bundied versions.” So yeah, not very accurate right now, but Google says it will get better.
Anxious to start editing Google Docs on your smart phone (or tablet)? Download the Docs app from the Android Market and let us know what you think!