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Google Docs – Documents are just a fingertip away

Google Docs – Documents are just a fingertip away

Google Docs was released on April 24th 2011 and has since been downloaded over 1 million times. Not too shabby, but how good is the app, really? How easily can photos of printed texts be converted into documents?
Find out if this app packs as mighty a punch as we all hope(d) it would in today’s review.


Reviewed version Latest version
1.0.6r Varies with device

Features & Use

Test device: HTC Desire
Android-Version: 2.3.3
Mods: Root, CM7 Custom ROM

A pop-up greets you when you first start up the app, informing you of the Google Docs app’s most important function:

• Dashboard
• Filtering (swiping right/left lets you access other categories)
• Accounts (how to select another account)
• Upload (how to upload files)

This information can be revisited at any time via ‘Quick Hints’ in the menu.

Hit ‘OK’ to access the app itself. The first thing you’ll see is an overview in classic Google apps style: a nice, clear display granting instant access to the app’s main functions. Return to this overview at any given time by clicking on the icon in the upper left corner. The icon is always displayed, meaning you needn’t waste your time navigating backwards. There’s a ‘Create new’ and a ‘Search’ button to the right of the icon.

The following functions can be found and accessed in the main overview:

• All items
• Collections
• Starred
• Documents
• Images
• More (this opens up a drop-down menu via which text/table/presentation files can be accessed)

The ‘Send feedback’ option displays a small window (similar to the one that pops up after an app has crashed, grrr) via which you can send information regarding system data and a screenshot to Google.

There are settings, but the only the cache size can configured. The caches can also be deleted.

Text editing:
As was to be expected, editing texts with the Google Docs app is a breeze. Only the way in which formatted documents are displayed leaves quite a lot to be desired (more details in the Screen & Controls section).

Table documents can be viewed as well as edited, but, in all honesty, looking at graphs and tables on a smartphone screen is exhausting. Long texts are never displayed in their entirety; in order to display it click on it as though you intended to edit it, it will then be displayed in full.

PowerPoint files can also be viewed. Click and you will see options for skipping ahead or navigating backwards. Editing PowePoint files is not possible.

Another function that works brilliantly: looking at pictures. Swipe across the screen to navigate through the images. There’s also a pinch-to-zoom function.
Click on any file in the overview and an options menu appears:

• Private (this is not being supported yet)
• Owner (this is not being supported yet, either, but in the future you can assign an owner in case you have more than one Google account)
• Add Contacts (as well as select contacts you can also allow them to view and/or edit files; contacts will receive an email with the relevant information)

Google Docs is registered in the Android Share Function, meaning you can send certain file formats from all other apps to Google Docs. When doing so, pick a file name and account and select whether the file should be converted to a Google Docs document.

The image-to-text function:

OCR (Optical Character Recognition) is a pretty great thing in and of itself. Take a picture of a text and have it transformed into a real text that can be edited and copied.
In order to use this function, click on the ‘Create new’ button followed by ‘Document from photo’. Unfortunately, I have to report that this only worked sporadically during my test run of Google Docs. For instance, only the first paragraph was recognized and turned into text for every multi-paragraph text photo I took. That being said, the texts of every first paragraph that successfully underwent OCR were spot on.

It works like this: you take a photo, the file is uploaded to Google where it is ‘transformed’ into text—all this takes but a moment. The new document is not adapted to the screen size, meaning it isn’t zoomed down but rather stays in its original size, which does not exactly make for optimized viewing…
The app comes with a 4x1 widget via which marked documents can be accessed and new files/docs can be created.

Lastly, there’s also an option for printing, provided you’ve integrated a printer to Google Cloud Print.

Bottom line:
Google Docs already is quite a mighty little thing: with it you can view your files (texts, tables, presentations and images) as well as edit texts and tables. That being said this doesn’t always work optimally. The share function is a great tool for sending files to contacts as well as to Google Docs.
A few functions are still missing but will be integrated into the app as soon as they are ready.

Screen & Controls

As mentioned in the previous section, editing tables using Google Docs isn’t exactly a walk in the park. At times only a few letters a re displayed, but what can you expect—smartphone screens aren’t exactly gargantuan.

The formatting of text files is equally problematic. For instance, space characters are not displayed well, meaning that if you have a two column layout it can happen that words from the right column spill over to the left, or else to the next sentence.

Text displays are not always adapted to fit the width of the screen—in one case a letter had slipped off to the right even though it was meant to be at the beginning of the sentence.

Aside from these minor (but annoying) glitches, the app can be navigated quite easily and the information window is very helpful.

Google, take note: there’s still room for improvement on this front!


Speed & Stability

Google Docs crashed once at the beginning of my test run, but that kind of thing never reoccurred. I should add that the app hasn’t been on the market for very long.

Aside from this the app performs quite well, though loading files does take a while, seeing as they have to be accessed via Google servers.

Price/Performance Ratio

Google Docs can be downloaded for free (and without ad banners) from the Android Market.


Google Docs – Documents are just a fingertip away Google Docs – Documents are just a fingertip away Google Docs – Documents are just a fingertip away

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