Poor Mark Zuckerberg must be biting his fingers right now as a result of the amazing success of Google's new social network. Google has been really generous to its Android users and developed a Google+ Android app from the very start! In today's test report, I'll try to shed some light on what makes Google+ so new and special.
Features & Use
Circles are the center of Google+'s concept of a social network and they are what differentiate it from Facebook. With Google+ you can and should divide your friends into circles. These could be labeled as “friends”, “co-workers” or “family”, for example. It is also possible to have one person be a part of multiple circles.
Circles are especially important when it comes to publishing content on Google+. With every piece of information that I post, I can determine who will have access to it. That way you can keep those embarrassing pictures from last night away from the prying eyes of your family members. But that's just the tip of the iceberg because Google+ also places itself in direct competition with Twitter! Every user can add me to their profile, but this doesn't mean that they are part of my circle. These people can only view messages that I choose to make public – just like on Twitter. Anything that I post to my circles is thereby off-limits to random people. And that's the best part about Google+: you always have total control over your shared content. There's just one big problem that ruins the whole experience: people that you've shared content with can repost it on their profile and share it with people outside of your circles. Now that's something Google needs to get rid off immediately. Right now the only way to disable this function is to turn it off manually every time you post something – but this option is not available in the app version.
Switching gears a little bit, let's talk about the app itself. When you start up the Google+ app, an overview window pops up similar to the one on the Facebook app. At the bottom of the screen there is a notification bar, something the Google people shamelessly copied from Facebook. You can click on the notification bar and pull it up to check out the details. Aside from that, there are a total of five menu points:
- Stream: the Google equivalent of Facebook's Most Recent button showing a chronological list of activity.
- Huddle: basically a form of group chat.
- Circles: manage your circles here.
The stream lets you know what's going in your circles which are divided into the following categories: All Circles displays the news from all the people in my circles. In Incoming you'll find news from people that have added you, but are not in any of your circles. Nearby is a innovative category that shows posts from people in your local area. In small rural areas you won't be able to find a lot of content, but there's a lot of stuff from major cities around the world. It's really cool to be able to read posts from people in your surroundings about current events etc.
But the stream can do more than that. Using the three buttons at the top you can do check-ins, upload photos and update your status. Check-ins work exactly as they do in Facebook Places via your current GPS or mobile network location. You can also publish your check-in with a comment or picture. At the moment, Facebook has got the upper hand in terms of the sheer number of locations. Moreover, Facebook allows you to create your own locations – something which is not possible with Google+. Fortunately, this function has been added to the Google Maps app and will surely make its way onto the Google+ app. Even with regular status messages you can provide your current location.
There's one thing that I just cannot understand: why are there separate symbols for posting status messages and sharing pictures? Both options are integrated into one another, so what's the point? You can update your status and add up to eight pictures at the same time. When posting a message, you can directly select which people will see the message. It is interesting to point out that every time you add a picture you aren't redirected to the Android Gallery, but all of your pictures are displayed directly inside the Google+ app.
Like is to Facebook what +1 is to Google. It's just two different names for exactly the same thing. Like a photo or comment? Let other people know about it by clicking on +1. More and more +1 buttons are being added to different websites. But the +1 button can do something that Facebook can't: Google can learn your preferences and tastes based on what you've plussed and adjusts your Google search results accordingly.
Stream Summary: I really liked the three different circle categories, especially the Nearby option. As far as check-ins are concerned, Google+ is still a ways behind Facebook. Posting pictures and status messages is simple and easy. Some of the buttons are a bit redundant, but everything works well enough.
Huddle is actually an app within an app sort of like Facebook chat. The difference, however, is the fact that Huddle is much more comprehensive. Instead of chatting with just one person at a time, you can add multiple people and circles to your chats. That's extremely practical! Huddle displays all active chat conversations. When you click on one, you can see a scrollable horizontal list with all the invited people below which you will find a regular chat history. You can easily add someone to chat by tapping a button at the top right corner. Huddle is definitely very impressive!
Here you can view photos from all of your circles along with your own albums. It would just a regular photo album if it weren't for the Instant Upload feature. When it's turned on, every picture and video taken with your phone's camera is automatically uploaded to a private Google+ album. From there you can decided whether to keep them private or share them with others. In the Settings you can set the automatic upload to only work when you're connected via Wi-Fi and you can even allow it to work only when your device is charging. Oh and one more thing: the picture comments are a bit hidden, but they are located all the way at the bottom of the screen. Just make sure to scroll all the down.
Photos Summary: The Instant Upload feature is awesome! I may not have any use for it personally, but I think it's a great idea.
Nothing really new here. You can add information, posts and photos to your own profile, just like you can on any website.
In Circles you can view your own circles, their status updates as well as create new circles. In addition, Google+ suggests people that you may know so that you can add them to your circle (based on your Gmail contacts). You can even add people to Google+ that don't even have a Google+ account. They'll receive news from you via email. Definitely, a very practical feature.
Circles Summary: I think it's great that you can manage your circles on the go. It's definitely a step up from Facebook.
The offers a ton of functions ranging from Huddle to the instant uploading of photos. And the great thing is that it's kept all together in an organized stream and distributed through very useful circles. I especially liked the fact that I could determine if I would like to share my current location with every post. Obviously, the Google+ app has a couple of drawbacks: the check-ins need some more work to make it more accessible to people across the world. Also, there should be a way to make your content unaccessible for reposting by your circle mates in the app – as is the case with the PC version. All in all, the Google+ app may not be perfect, but it's sure has gotten a good start.
Screen & Controls
With the launch of Google+, Google has given itself a complete makeover. The changes are definitely noticeable and they are undoubtedly for the better. Anyone who is familiar with Gmail's new look will surely know how to work Google+. It's a nice, minimalist, almost “Scandinavian” design that is mostly black and white with Google colors in the corners. The design may be a question of taste, but few can argue about how great and functional it is.
The main menu and stream have a much better layout than the Facebook equivalent. Things that take two clicks in Facebook, require just one swipe in Google+. The only thing missing is the ability to post statuses directly from the main menu. You'll have to go to Stream first. I also came across a small glitch: if you're zoomed into a picture and take your finger away, the picture reverts to its original state. All in all, the design is very convincing and solid. I'm sure Google can take care of the small stuff very quickly.
Speed & Stability
Google+ works perfectly! Once the stream has loaded, you can switch between categories with zero waiting time. Everything is really lightning fast. In comparison to Facebook, it takes way less time to upload stuff to Google+. With instant push notifications, Google+ deserves all five stars!
A free and ad-free app with amazing features - Google+ has earned the best possible rating!
Please refer to our forum for Q&A and further discussion of the app.